Queer Terms

There are many words used in reference to the queer community. These words have multiple definitions and are often reworked to reflect social and cultural changes. They can also be abandoned because of their inaccuracies or because of the stigma attached to them, and this leads to the creation of new terms that work to better illustrate the different facets of gender and sexual diversity.

The power of words lies in how we understand and make use of them; we are responsible for our language and for a continued commitment to learning new words as they emerge. The following is a living list of the words used today to refer to the gender and sexually diverse community. We invite you to help us ensure that this list grows with the community.

Advocate: a person who actively and publicly works to support a cause and educate others in an attempt to promote tolerance, understanding, and change.

Agender: “without gender”; someone who does not identify with any gender on the gender spectrum at all.

Ally: heterosexual and/or cisgender individuals who believe that queer people should have the same rights as their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Allies work to confront and counteract homo/bi/transphobic and heterosexist behaviours.

Androgynous: an individual who possesses both masculine and feminine characteristics; someone who does not fit neatly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles.

Aromantic: someone who feels little or no romantic attraction to others, instead they feel satisfied in platonic or friendly relationships.

Asexual: without interest in or desire for sex. Someone who does not experience sexual attraction or someone who experiences varying levels of sexual attraction, from some to none at all, depending on the situation and person.

Bicurious: a term someone may use if they are questioning or exploring their attraction to men and women.

Bisexual: an individual who has or can have relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) with men and women.

Biphobia: refers to any aversion felt towards bisexuality and towards bisexuals individually and collectively. Biphobia is not limited to the heterosexual community; gays and lesbians have also been known to persecute bisexual people.

Bottom: someone who typically plays a submissive role in sexual interactions.

Butch: refers to a person (most often a woman and more specifically, a lesbian) who presents more typically masculine characteristics, mannerisms, expressions, behaviours or appearance.

Cisgender (gender-normative): refers to those individuals who experience alignment between their perception of their gender and the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Simply, a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth and the gender role that accompanies that assignment.

Cissexual: an individual who identifies with the physical sex to which they were assigned at birth.

Cisnormativity: the assumption that everyone you come into contact with is cisgender. Cisnormative assumptions prevent the creation of respectful and positive environments for trans people. Cisnormativity also refers to discrimination or prejudice against trans people on the assumption that cisgender is the norm.

Closeted: someone who has not publicly or privately disclosed their true sexual, romantic, or gender identity.

Cross Dressing: performed by primarily heterosexual men who wear “female attire” for a variety of reasons. The term cross dressing has replaced transvestite as a term to describe this segment of the population because transvestites are stereotyped as people who seek sexual pleasure from wearing clothes that are typically associated with the opposite sex; in this way, transvestite is a very narrow definition.

Drag King: predominantly lesbian & bisexual women who dress in “male attire” for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: as a socio-political statement, as a way to play with gender norms, as a gay relevant art form (an important part of queer culture), as a means of self-expression, or as a way to have fun.

Drag Queen: predominantly gay & bisexual men who dress in “female attire” for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: as a socio-political statement, as a way to play with gender norms, as a gay relevant art form (an important part of queer culture), as a means of self-expression, or as a way to have fun.

Dyke: a derogatory term used in reference to a lesbian, however, there is a movement to have the word reclaimed by lesbians. 

Fag: a derogatory term used in reference to a gay man, however, there is a movement to have the word reclaimed by gay men.

Femme: a woman (more specifically a lesbian) whose gender expression is typically very feminine.

Gay: even though gay is a non-gender specific term, gay is typically defined as men who have relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) with other men.

Gay bashing: when a gay man, lesbian, or anyone who is perceived as gay or lesbian is assaulted by one or more people. The assault does not have to be physical; making someone fear for their well-being by making threats or chasing them is also considered gay bashing. Subset of homophobia and homonegativity.

Gender: not necessarily related to sex, the way being masculine, feminine, neither, or both can influence a person and their interactions with the world.

Gender Continuum: the notion that, instead of a binary (“composed of two”), gender is a continuum or spectrum spanning from woman to man with an infinite number of gendered states in between. Understanding gender in this way helps to account for the obvious variety of and endless differences among human expressions of gender.

Gender Expression: the way in which a person outwardly portrays masculinity, femininity and androgyny whether through clothes, make-up or hair.

Genderqueer: Commonly used as an umbrella term that refers to non-binary genders (identities between male and female). 

Gender-Variant: often used to describe behaviours or gender expressions that do not conform to dominant understandings male and female behaviours. Synonymous with gender non-conforming and gender atypical.

GSD: stands for gender and sexually diverse or gender and sexual diversity; an umbrella term that, like the term queer, encompasses people of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Heterosexual: refers to individuals whose relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) are with or are perceived to be with members of the opposite sex and/or gender.

Heterosexism: the assumption that everyone you come into contact with is heterosexual. Also discrimination or prejudice against queers on the assumption that heterosexuality is the norm. For instance, when you ask a man if he has a girlfriend or when you ask a woman what her husband does for a living, you are making an assumption about their sexual orientation.

Homophobia: hatred that is directed towards gays, lesbians, anyone perceived as being gay or lesbian. Homophobia has also come to include a collection of beliefs that being gay or lesbian is unnatural and abnormal and that this justifies discrimination and/or acts of hate and violence. Also includes ignorance surrounding gay and lesbian identities and experiences. 

Homonegativity: negative behaviour.s and/or attitudes towards gender and sexually diverse people. Also includes biphobia and transphobia. The term homonegativity is increasingly being used in place of homophobia because negative behaviours and/or attitudes towards GSD people are understood as the result of ignorance rather than the result of fear (as the term “phobia” implies).

Hypersexuality: the intense desire for sexual interaction or overactive sexual drive.

Intersex: a person whose biological sex is ambiguous. There are many genetic, hormonal, or anatomical variations that can make a person's sex ambiguous. The term intersex is not interchangeable or synonymous with the term transgender. As well, intersex has replaced the historically loaded term hermaphrodite.

Lesbian: a gender specific term that refers to women who have relationships (mental, emotional, physical & spiritual) with other women.

Metrosexual: a heterosexual male who is very conscientious of his appearance and enjoys putting effort into his aesthetic presentation.

Outing: revealing someone's gender or sexual identity or desire, often against their knowledge or consent.

Pansexual: from the root word meaning “all.” Pansexuality is similar to bisexuality except that pansexual individuals do not necessarily subscribe to the gender binary (the notion that only two genders, man and woman, exist) to define their desires. As such, some pansexuals refer to themselves as “gender blind” and they are open to having relationships with people who do not identify as strictly men or women. Pansexuality can also mean the attraction to a person's personality rather than their sex and/or gender.

Passing: being accepted for or appearing to be the gender one is trying to convey.

Polyamorous: having multiple romantic relationships and partners simultaneously, based on a foundation of mutual communication, respect, honesty and consent.

Polysexual: derived from the root that means “many but not all.” Polysexuality is an orientation that depends on the person—they are attracted to different characteristics of different genders. A polysexual person may be attracted to some genders but not all; for instance, they could be attracted to men and trans*men, but not women and trans*women. Polysexuality can also include the possibility of non-monogamous relationships, or polyamory; however, not all polysexual individuals are polyamorous.

Queer: used as an umbrella term to encompass the gender and sexually diverse community.

*Note:  historically, queer has been a loaded term, often used in negative and offensive ways. Because of the way this term has been used in the past, there appears to be a generational divide between people who are comfortable using this term as a positive affirmation of their identity and people who feel it still rings of prejudice and hate. If you are not sure which term to use, just ask!

Questioning: refers to individuals who are in the process of figuring out where they might fit along the sexual orientation and/or gender continuums.

Sex: the biological and physical, reproductive characteristics of an individual including chromosomes, hormones and genitalia. 

Sexual Orientation Continuum: like gender, sexual orientation can be arranged along a continuum from exclusive attraction to the opposite sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. It is usually discussed in terms of heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality.

They/Them: Gender neutral pronouns. A person may use gender neutral pronouns, they/them, instead of gendered pronouns, she/her or he/him.

Top: someone who is typically the more dominant partner in a sexual interaction.

Transgender: often used as an umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity and gender expression/behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.  This term can include (but is not limited to) the following categories:

*Note: understanding “transgender” as an umbrella term has been problematic in a few ways. For instance, some transsexuals see transgender as an inaccurate representation of their lives and experiences. The use of transgender as synonymous with transsexual by mainstream society and media has led people who do not conform to gender norms to adopt the transgender label, thus potentially excluding or further marginalizing transsexual individuals.  

Transsexual: an individual who identifies with a physical sex that is different from the one to which they were assigned at birth.  People who transition from male to female (MtF) are transsexual women or transwomen. People who transition from female to male (FtM) are transsexual men or transmen. Other commonly used terms within this category are “pre-operative,” “operative,” and “post-operative” transsexual; however, being transsexual is neither limited to nor dependent on undergoing surgery or taking hormones.

Trans-bashing: the practice of victimizing a person because they are transsexual and/or transgender. Often includes physical violence, though making someone fear for their safety by making threats or chasing them is also considered trans-bashing. Unlike gay-bashing, this type of violence is associated with the individual’s gender expression and/or gender identity. 

Transphobia: a range of negative attitudes and behaviours towards transsexual or transgender people based on the expression of their internal gender identity. Also includes ignorance surrounding trans identities and experiences.

Two-Spirit: Two Spirit is a name used by Indigenous People who assume cross or multiple gender roles, attributes, dress and attitudes for personal, spiritual, cultural, ceremonial or social reasons. These roles are defined by each cultural group and can be fluid over a person’s lifetime. Being Two Spirit is a gift from Creator.

Ze/Hir/Zir: Gender neutral pronouns such as; (Ze/He/She, Hir/Zir/His/Her).

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