Island Sexual Health Society Be informed, not surprised!

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Everyone has a sexual and gender orientation, and we use many different names for our identities. Here are some common terms.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

We believe it is important to provide some general definitions connected to sexual orientation and gender identity but recognize that language is powerful, complex and evolving.

Here are some mainstream definitions of common terms relating to sexual orientation and gender. We recognize that definitions can feel very uncomfortable and limiting for some and for others feel very comfortable and affirming.  We believe that you are your own expert and that it’s most important that you define and express your feelings, experience and reality for yourself using whatever language feels best for you.

The following definitions are NOT intended to be a prescription but rather a basic overview that can and will evolve over time! For a more comprehensive glossary, check the great glossary listing at Qmuity – BC’s Queer Resource Centre.

  • Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation refers to one’s sexual attraction. The term “sexual preference” is misleading because it implies that this attraction is a choice rather than an intrinsic personal characteristic. Sexual orientation is not necessarily the same as sexual behavior.

  • Asexual or “Ace”

A person who identifies as asexual does not experience sexual attraction to/desire for another person or does not desire to be sexual with partners. Asexuality is often described as occurring on a spectrum Asexual people may s Some people who are asexual may still be sexually active.

  • Bisexual or “Bi”

Bisexual people may have sexual attraction to people of more than one gender. Depending upon the person, his, her or their attraction may be stronger to a certain gender, or they may be approximately equal. A bisexual person may have had sex with people of several genders, or only of one gender, or they may never have had sex at all. It is important to note that some people who have sex with both or all genders do not consider themselves bisexual.

  • Heterosexual or “Straight”

A heterosexual person’s primary sexual attraction is to people considered to be a different gender than them. She, he or they may or may not have had sex with another person, but still realize that his/her sexual attraction is mainly to people of the other sex. Some people who consider themselves heterosexual have or have had sexual contact with people of the same sex.

  • Homosexual

A homosexual person is someone whose primary sexual attraction is to people of the same or similar gender as themselves. That person may or may not have had sex with another person, but still realize that his/her/their sexual attraction is mainly to people of the same gender. Some people who consider themselves homosexual have or have had sexual contact with people of other genders.

  • Lesbian

Lesbian is one name for a female identified person whose primary sexual attractions are to other female identified/woman people. A lesbian may have sex with women currently or may have had sex with women in the past. Some people who identify as lesbians may never have had sex with another woman for a whole host of reasons (age, societal pressures, lack of opportunity, fear of discrimination), but nonetheless realize that their sexual attraction is mainly to other women. Some lesbians have sex with male identified people and some don’t.

It is important to note that some women who have sex with other women, sometimes exclusively, may not call themselves lesbians.

  • Gay

A gay man is a male identified person whose primary sexual and/or romantic attraction is to other males. He may have sex with males currently or may have had sex with males in the past. A smaller number of gay men may never have had sex with another man for a whole host of reasons (age, societal pressures, lack of opportunity, fear of discrimination), but nonetheless realize that their sexual attraction is mainly to other males. Some gay men have sex with people of other gender identities and some don’t. It is important to note that some males who have sex with other males, sometimes exclusively, may not call themselves gay.

“Gay” is also used as an inclusive term encompassing gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, and sometimes even transgender people. In the last 20 years, this has become less and less common and “gay” is usually used currently to refer only to gay males. The term is still often used in the broader sense in spoken shorthand, as in “The Gay Pride Parade in Victoria is in July.”

  • LGBTT2IQA or LGBTQ+ or GLBTQ

This common abbreviation stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, 2-spirited, Intersex, Queer/Questioning and Allies.” Sometimes people use more or fewer letters or a different combination, but the intent is usually to use an inclusive term for anyone with diverse sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • Pansexual

Pansexual is a term that is often used to describe a person who may have sexual attractions to people across the gender spectrum.

  • Queer

Some GLBTT2IQ people, particularly younger generations, use the term “queer” to encompass the entire GLBT community. For these people, the term “queer” is positive and empowering and they have reclaimed this word as such.

  • Women who have sex with women (WSW)

This is a specific term that describes any women who have sex with women, whether they identify as gay, bisexual, straight or otherwise. This description is often used in situations where sexual behaviour and activity is relevant (e.g., some healthcare programs).

  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)

This is a specific term that describes men who have sex with men, whether they identify as gay, bisexual, straight or otherwise. This description is often used in situations where sexual behaviour and activity is relevant (e.g., some healthcare programs).

  • Assigned Sex

At birth, a baby is assigned one of three sexes (males, female or intersex), usually based on genitalia, the production of chromosomes, and gametes.

  • Gender Identity

A person’s gender identity is often defined as their internal, individual, and psychological experience of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or in between. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their assigned sex.  For them, this feels comfortable and they never think about it further. Some do not feel that their assigned sex matches their gender expression and experience, either because they find a two gender (binary) system too limiting or because they identify more with a different gender(s). People deal with these experiences in many ways, sometimes only in private and personal ways, and sometimes in ways visible to others.

  • Gender Expression

Gender expression is the way a person chooses to express their sense of gender to the outside world; it may be through dress, name, pronouns,etc.

  • Gender Non-conforming/Gender Variant/Gender Queer

People who identify as gender non-conforming people do not conform to society’s binary expectations for their gender identity, roles or gender expression.

  • Cisgender 

Cisgender is a term that often refers to a person who feels that the gender they were assigned at birth, their gender experiences and expression, and identity align.

  • Cisgenderism

Cisgenderism is similar to racism or sexism – it refers to a set of values, beliefs, and/or actions that denies, devalues, oppresses, and/or violates a person who identifies as non-cisgender, gender variant or transgender.

  • Cissexual

Cissexual is a term that often refers to a person who alligns with their sex assignment at birth.

  • Trans

The word trans is often used as an umbrella term that describes a wide range of people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differ from their assigned sex and/or at birth and/or expectations (societal and/or cultural).

  • Transgender

People who identify more strongly with another gender than the one to which they may have be assigned (e.g., women who feel like men, or men who feel like women) may identify as “transgender.”

  • Transsexual

The term transsexual usually refers to a person who’s sexual identity has transitioned from male to female or female to male. The transition may involve the use of medical support such as hormones, surgery, or it may not.

  • Transphobia

This is a term that describes beliefs, attitudes, and actions that include prejudice, bias, judgement, stereotyped negativity or violence against transgender people

  • Two spirited

Two spirited is a term used to refer to people of aboriginal ancestries who embody the spirit of both genders and experience varying degrees of gender fluidity.

We really like this definition from 2Spirits “The term Two-Spirit has multiple contemporary meanings and also highlights historical elements regarding the possible positions of Two-Spirit peoples in their communities and their place in the sacred circle. Two-Spirit identity affirms the interrelatedness of all aspects of identity – including gender,sexuality, community, culture, and spirituality (Wilson, 1996).