Gender and Sexuality ABCs
The term LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer. But those sexual and gender identities are only a few of the unlimited types that exist. As we understand more about gender and sexuality, new identities are added to this list all the time!
The truth is, gender, sex, and sexual identity are so complex and fluid that it can be hard for someone to easily explain or describe themselves using one label or word.
Many LGBTQ and even straight people don’t like using labels to describe sexual or gender identity. They may feel that these labels limit people or that they are unnecessary. Other folks think that labels are useful and like using them. They may feel that by identifying with a particular sexual identity or gender identity label they make a powerful statement and show that they belong to a community.
This page provides some definitions of different terms used to describe some sexual and gender identities. These definitions may or may not fit how you choose to identify your gender or sexual identity.
Note: This list is not exclusive and reflects a western and Canadian bias! Different regions of the world use very different words, and understand sex, gender and sexual identity in different ways.
- Asexual A person who does not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people often still have intimate emotional and intellectual relationships, but they are not looking for a sexual relationship.
- Bisexual A person who is attracted to men and women (and potentially other gender identities).
- Gay Usually used to refer to a man who is attracted to other men. This term is sometimes used to describe anyone who identifies as a person who is interested in people of the same gender (e.g. women who are interested in women).
- Genderqueer A person whose gender identity doesn’t fit the categories of “man” or “woman.” Many different, non-traditional gender identities may fall under the umbrella term “genderqueer.”
- Homosexual A person who is attracted to or wants to have a relationship with other people of the same gender. Because this word has a history of being associated with a negative medical understanding of sexuality, some people find this term offensive.
- Heterosexual A person who is attracted to people of the opposite gender. (Another word for this is “straight”.)
- Intersex A person whose sex characteristics (hormones, penis, vulva, breasts, hair growth, x/y chromosomes) do not match their assigned sex. In the past, these persons were called hermaphrodites, but this term is now considered offensive.
- Lesbian A woman who is attracted to other women.
- Omnisexual Another term used to describe pansexual people (see below).
- Pansexual A person who is attracted to members of any gender. This term recognizes that many people do not fit neatly into a gender category like man/woman, for example, people who are 2 spirited or trans.
- Queer An umbrella term for sexual identities other than heterosexual.
- Questioning A person who is unsure of and exploring their sexual identity.
- Transgender An umbrella term used to describe a range of people who do not conform to their biological sex. Transgender people may or may not opt for surgery or hormones that change their sex or sex characteristics into those of the gender they identify with. (For example, taking hormones to increase the growth of facial hair or getting surgery to remove their Adam’s apple.)
- Transsexual A person who was assigned a sex a birth that does not correspond to how they define their gender identity. Some transsexual people have surgery or take hormones that change their sex. Others may want to do these things but lack the money or safety to do so.
- Two-Spirited A First Nations, Métis or Inuit person whose gender is seen to include both male and female aspects or who is non-heterosexual. In some First Nations traditions it is believed that two-spirited people have been spiritually blessed by the creator to house both female and male spirits in their bodies.