It’s been a little while (OK, quite a while) since I posted here. After this not-so-brief hiatus, I figured I’d come back with a bang and post something a little closer to my heart. Something a little more… important.
I had a conversation recently about asexuality. As soon as the topic came up, I realized I had very little idea what I was talking about, and that bummed me out. I consider myself an ally, in LGBTQ terms: someone who respects and supports the LGBTQ community. And honestly, the fact that this term even exists makes me want to puke because every human being should respect and support the LGBTQ community. How anyone could possibly care which gender a person identifies with or not, which gender they are attracted to or not, or which gender they engage in sexual or romantic activity with or not… is completely beyond me. It’s something I feel strongly about. So strong, in fact, that I have what feels like a big ole ball of rage in my throat, just typing about it.
Still, I wasn’t sure exactly what defines a person as asexual, nor was I sure if asexual was even the correct term. Language is constantly changing, and the language related to gender and sexuality is adjusted even faster as our society becomes more and more inclusive. This is not an excuse—it’s on me that my awareness was limited. But I thought that this would be a good opportunity to share some helpful terminology. If I’m going to call myself an ally, I better keep up to date with the language that supports people’s identities.
So I’ve compiled a small list of terms. This list is by no means complete, and the terms I’ve included are not necessarily embraced by everyone. It is merely an introduction to some of the more common terms. At the end, I’ve also included some terms to avoid.
On that note, I should mention the acronym LGBTQ. I’ve used LGBTQ because it seems to be the most common at this time, but there are many acronyms out there. LGBTQ generally refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (or sometimes Questioning). LGBT, LGBT+, LGBTQA, LGBTQQIA, and LGBTQ2S+ are among the other acronyms being used. The A usually refers to Asexual (or sometimes Ally), I refers to Intersex, 2S refers to Two-spirit, and the + is sometimes added to be more inclusive. As you can see, it can be a bit of a mouthful, not to mention hard to remember all the letters! A few more succinct alternatives are GSM for Gender and Sexual Minorities, and DSG for Diverse Sexualities and Genders.
And finally, the list. Enjoy!
agender – adj. (agender people) : not identifying with traditional genders. Sometimes called gender neutral.
ally – noun : a, typically straight and/or cisgender, person who respects and supports the LGBTQ community.
androsexual/androphilic – adj. (androsexual people) : being primarily sexually and/or romantically attracted to men, males, and masculinity.
asexual – adj. (asexual people) : experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/or desire to engage in sexual relationships.
bigender – adj. (bigender people) : identifying with both traditional genders, or fluctuating between two genders.
bisexual – adj. (bisexual people) : being physically, emotionally, or sexually attracted to those of their own gender, as well as another gender. Sometimes shortened to “bi”.
cisgender – adj. (cisgender people) : having a gender identity that aligns with the sex assigned at birth. In other words, people who are not transgender.
female to male/FTM/F2M; male to female/MTF/M2F – noun/abbr. : a transgender man, who was assigned female at birth; a transgender woman, who was assigned male at birth. Often used in a healthcare context.
gender-fluid – adj. (gender-fluid people) : having a gender identity that is not fixed to a single gender. A gender-fluid person may fluctuate between feminine, masculine, both, or neither.
gender identity – noun : a person’s innermost sense of their gender. Can be the same as or different from the sex assigned to them at birth.
gynesexual/gynephilic – adj. (gynephilic people) : being primarily sexually and/or romantically attracted to women, females, and femininity.
intersex – adj. (intersex people) : being born with reproductive anatomy and/or chromosomes that do not fit into traditional definitions of female or male.
MSM/WSW – abbr. : men who have sex with men/women who have sex with women. Used in a healthcare context to describe a person’s sexual behaviour, rather than their sexual identity. For example, just because a man identifies as straight, does not mean he does not engage in sexual activity with other men.
pansexual – adj. (pansexual people) : being physically, emotionally, or sexually attracted to members of all gender identities.
polyamorous – adj. (polyamorous people) : having, or being inclined to have, ethical, consensual relationships (sexual and/or emotional) involving multiple partners (ie., non-monogamous relationships).
queer – adj. (queer people) : an umbrella term used within the LGBTQ community to describe the entire LGBTQ community. Traditionally used as a derogatory term, but now being embraced by some LGBTQ members.
questioning – verb, adj. : the process of exploring one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity, or describing a person who is in the process.
transgender – adj. (transgender people) : an umbrella term to describe people whose gender identity or gender expression is different from what is traditionally associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. As a noun, a person may identify as a transwoman (a male-to-female transgender person who is a woman but still affirming their male assignment at birth) or a transman (a female-to-male transgender person who is a man but still affirming their female assignment at birth).
two-spirit – adj. (two-spirit people) : traditionally used in some Native American cultures to describe a person who embodies both feminine and masculine spirits. Used today to describe a person who identifies as a member of the Aboriginal LGBTQ community.
ze/hir/hirs “zee/heer/heers” – pron. : gender-neutral pronouns to replace he/she, him/her, and his/hers. Some people also embrace they/their/theirs as gender-neutral, singular pronouns.
I assume all who are reading this know the particularly offensive terms used to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and not to use them. But I’ve included some terms to avoid, that may not be thought of as offensive to some.
hermaphrodite: This term is outdated, derogatory, and inaccurate. The origin of the word is “having both sexes”, which is not necessarily true. The preferred term is intersex, and there are many more ways to be intersex than simply having both male and female parts.
homosexual: This is an outdated clinical term. Due to its history of use as a psychological disorder, many people considered the term offensive and stigmatizing. It is generally preferred to use gay as an adjective, and gay man/people or lesbian as nouns.
sex change: This term seems straightforward, but that in itself is what makes it problematic. Not only does it oversimplify a process that can take years, but the term also implies that a person needs to have had surgery to transition. Transition is the preferred term when speaking of the entire process a person goes through to change their bodily appearance to better reflect their gender identity. Sex reassignment surgery or gender confirmation surgery refers to a surgical procedure itself. Sometimes more than one surgical procedure is involved in a person’s transition.
sexual preference: This inaccurate term suggests that one’s sexual orientation is a choice, and if this is the case, that they could simply choose an alternative. Sexual orientation is a more accurate term.
transvestite: This is an outdated term to describe a (typically cisgender) person who wears clothing associated with another gender. It has a negative connotation due to its history as a psychological diagnosis. Cross-dresser is the preferred term.
I’ll say it again: not everyone embraces the terms on this list. Gender and sexuality are highly individual and personal. If you are unsure which wording to use in regards to someone’s gender or sexuality, just ask! Most people would prefer to answer a straightforward question than to have others assume on their behalf.
I’m excited to see the language that is commonplace 10 years from now. Or 20 years from now. I would love a world where people aren’t tip-toeing around topics, or stumbling over acronyms and pronouns. The generation of kids growing up today is getting so much more education around equality and acceptance than any generation before it, and that trend is just going to continue. We’re getting there, albeit slowly.
By all means, if there are any terms you’d like to acknowledge that I haven’t included, add them in the comments!