Inclusive language is complex and evolving. The words we use to label each other can be empowering or harmful; liberating or outright dangerous. And when we talk about transgender and non-binary people and issues, we want to find the right words to communicate support and respect.
In honour of 2017 Pride Week and all those who celebrate the diversity and self-expression of the LGBTQ2+ community, we’ve approached QMUNITY (an awesome non-profit organization dedicated to improve queer, trans, and Two-Spirit lives) to share their glossary of queer terminology with us.
This glossary was developed by QMUNITY staff and volunteers as a suggested guide for inclusive language regarding queer, trans, and Two-Spirit issues. The appropriateness, meaning and impact of this language continually changes over time. It is important to highlight that the individual is always the expert on how they identify and on what language they consider respectful and inclusive of themselves. Always work to avoid making assumptions about people’s identities. If you aren’t sure, please ask!
Ally: A heterosexual and/or cisgender and/or cissexual person who supports and celebrates queer, trans, and Two-Spirit identities, interrupts and challenges queer-phobic, trans-phobic, and heterosexist remarks and actions of others, and willingly explores these biases within themselves.
Asexual: Someone who does not experience sexual desire for people of any gender. Some asexual people desire romantic relationships, while others do not. Asexuality can be considered a spectrum, with some asexual people experiencing desire for varying types of intimacy. This desire may fluctuate over time. Asexuality is distinct from celibacy, which is the deliberate refraining from sexual activity. Asexual people experience high levels of invisibility and trivialization.
Cisgender: Identifying with the same gender that one was assigned at birth. A gender identity that society considers to match the biological sex assigned at birth. The prefix cis- means “on this side of” or “not across from.” A term used to call attention to the privilege of people who are not trans.
Cross-dresser: Refers to people who wear clothing traditionally associated with a different gender to that which with they identify with. Some prefer to cross-dress privately, while others cross-dress publicly all or part of the time. Cross-dressers may or may not have a gender identity related to the clothing they are wearing. Some cross-dressers identify trans while others do not. ‘Cross-dresser’ has generally replaced the term ‘transvestite’ (see below for definition).
Gay: A person who is mostly attracted to those of the same gender; often used to refer to men only.
Gender Binary: The view that there are only two totally distinct, opposite and static genders (masculine and feminine) to identify with and express. While many societies view gender through this lens and consider this binary system to be universal, a number of societies recognise more than two genders. Across all societies there are also many folk who experience gender fluidly, identifying with different genders at different times.
Gender Expression: How one outwardly manifests gender; for example, through name and pronoun choice, style of dress, voice modulation, etc. How one expresses gender might not necessarily reflect one’s actual gender identity.
Gender Identity: One’s internal and psychological sense of oneself as male, female, both, in between, or neither. People who question their gender identity may feel unsure of their gender or believe they are not of the same gender as their physical body. Gender non-conforming, gender variant, or genderqueer are some terms sometimes used to describe people who don’t feel they fit into the categories of male or female. ‘Bi-gender’ and ‘pan-gender’ are some terms that refer to people who identify with more than one gender. Often bi-gender and pan-gender people will spend some time presenting in one gender and sometime in the other. Some people choose to present androgynously in a conscious attempt to challenge and expand traditional gender roles even though they might not question their gender identity.
Genderqueer: A term under the trans umbrella which refers to people who identify outside of the male-female binary. Genderqueer people may experience erasure if they are perceived as cisgender. Genderqueer people who are perceived as genderqueer are often subjected to gender policing. Related but not interchangeable terms include ‘gender outlaw’, ‘gender variant’, ‘gender non-conformist’, ‘third gender’, ‘bigender’, and ‘pangender’.
Heteronormative: Refers to social roles and social structures that reinforce the idea that heterosexuality is the presumed norm and is superior to other sexual orientations.
Homosexual: A person who is mostly attracted to people of their own gender. Because this term has been widely used negatively and/or in a cold and clinical way, most homosexuals prefer the terms ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’ or ‘queer’.
Intersex: Intersex people may have: external genitalia which do not closely resemble typical male or female genitalia, or which have the appearance of both male and female genitalia; the genitalia of one sex and the secondary sex characteristics of another sex; or a chromosomal make-up that is neither XX or XY but may be a combination of both. ‘Intersex’ has replaced the term ‘hermaphrodite’, which is widely considered to be out- dated, inaccurate and offensive. An intersex person may or may not identify as part of the trans* community, however the terms ‘intersex’, ‘transsexual’ and ‘trans*’ are distinct and should not be used interchangeably.
LGBT: Acronym used to refer to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people, interchangeable with GLBT, LGTB, etc. Additional letters are sometimes added to this acronym, such as LGBTIQQ2S to refer to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and 2 Spirit folk. Making fun of the length of this acronym can have a trivializing or erasing effect on the group that longer acronyms seek to actively include.
Lesbian: A woman who is primarily romantically and sexually attracted to women. The term originates from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos which was home to Sappho, a poet, teacher, and a woman who loved other women. Although not as common, sometimes the term ‘gay woman’ is used instead.
Pansexual: An individual who is attracted to and may form sexual and romantic relationships with men, women, and people who identify outside the gender binary. Omnisexual is another term that can be used.
QPOC: An acronym for Queer People Of Colour. Another term used is QTIPOC (Queer, Transgender, and Intersex People of Colour). Queer people of colour often experience intersecting oppressions on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and other factors.
Queer: A term becoming more widely used among LGBT communities because of its inclusiveness. ‘Queer’ can be used to refer to the range of non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people and provides a convenient shorthand for ‘LGBT’. It is important to note that this is a reclaimed term that was once and is still used as a hate term and thus some people feel uncomfortable with it. Not all trans people see trans identities as being part of the term ‘queer’.
Questioning: A term sometimes used by those in the process of exploring personal issues of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as choosing not to identify with any other label.
Sex: Refers to the biological characteristics chosen to assign humans as male, female or intersex. It is determined by characteristics such as sexual and reproductive anatomy and genetic make-up.
Sexual Orientation: Refers to a person’s deep-seated feelings of sexual and romantic attraction. These attractions may be mostly towards people of the same gender (lesbian, gay), another gender (heterosexual), men and women (bisexual), or people of all genders (pansexual). Many people become aware of these feelings during adolescence or even earlier, while some do not realize or acknowledge their attractions (especially same- sex attractions) until much later in life. Many people experience sexual orientation fluidly, and feel attraction or degrees of attraction to different genders at different points in their lives. Sexual orientation is defined by feelings of attraction rather than behaviour.
Transgender (Trans): Transgender, frequently abbreviated to ‘trans’ is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from conventional expectations based on their assigned biological birth sex. Some of the many people who may or may not identify as transgender or trans include people on the male-to-female or female-to-male spectrums, people who identify and/or express their gender outside of the male/female binary, people whose gender identity and/or expression is fluid, people who explore gender for pleasure or performance, and many more. Identifying as transgender or trans is something that can only be decided by an individual for themselves and does not depend on criteria such as surgery or hormone treatment status.
Transsexual: A person whose sexual identity has moved from male to female or female to male. A transsexual person may change elements of their body through surgery or hormone treatment, but many transsexual people do not make any changes other than their sexual identity. Many folk feel that the word transsexual has medical overtones or is used inaccurately and so prefer the terms ‘transgender’ or trans’.
Two-Spirit (2-Spirit): A term used by some North American Indigenous communities to describe people with diverse gender identities, gender expressions, gender roles, and sexual orientations. Dual-gendered, or ‘two-spirited,’ people have been and are viewed differently in different First Nations communities. Sometimes they have been seen without stigma and were considered seers, child-carers, warriors, mediators, or emissaries from the creator and treated with deference and respect, or even considered sacred, but other times this has not been the case. As one of the devastating effects of colonisation and profound changes in North American Aboriginal societies, many Two- Spirit folk have lost these community roles and this has had far-reaching impacts on their well-being.
This glossary has been abbreviated for length. We urge you read it, learn it, and share it. For Qmunity’s complete Queer Terminology from A to Q, click here.
Photo courtesy of Qmunity.