Affirming Language Glossary
*information taken from Affirm United Open Hearts: Resources for Affirming Ministries in The United Church of Canada: http://affirmunited.ause.ca/affirming-ministries-program/
Language constantly changes. By the time this resource is written, certain terms will have gained currency over others. Some may acquire different nuances or completely new meanings. Furthermore, some people choose words to describe themselves or their relationships that others do not feel comfortable with. Differences in language may be generational, contextual, or a matter of personal preference. If in doubt, ask people what words they prefer to use to describe themselves and their experience.
Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble is committed to using the language of sexual orientation(s) and gender identity(ies) to go beyond the use of specific labels and to include all people on the continuum of human sexuality. However, in this resource the term LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) is often used as an abbreviation. Sometimes Q is added – LGBTQ - to include people who refer to themselves as questioning and/or queer. The term is imperfect [footnote 1] but since most sexual minority justice and advocacy organizations use this term and for the sake of brevity, we use it, occasionally, to refer to people whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual and/or whose gender identity does not conform to binary male/female categories.
Bisexual refers to someone whose sexual and or romantic attraction is to both males and females. A bisexual person may not be attracted equally to both sexes—people who are primarily attracted to one sex may still describe themselves as bisexual. Bisexuality is a description of sexual orientation and does not imply that the person engages in sexual behaviour with one or both sexes. Some people continue to use the term bisexual to describe themselves. Others are more comfortable with terms such as pansexual, omnisexual, or queer.
Gay usually refers to men who have relationships with other men. It is sometimes used as a generic term for men and women; some women who love women call themselves gay while others prefer the term lesbian.
Homosexual is used in a formal sense. Many LGBT people do not use the term to describe themselves, preferring words such as gay (men who love men) or lesbian (women who love women).
Intersex [footnote 2] refers to people who may have atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish female from male—for example, someone with an XY chromosome who appears physically female, XX-male, genital ambiguity, or sex developmental differences. An intersex individual may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes. Intersexuality is a medical term introduced in the 20th century to refer to people who cannot be classified as clearly male or female.
Queer used to be a derogatory term, but this word is used, often in academic settings, to refer to those who do not conform to traditional gender and sexual stereotypes, constructs, or roles—for example, “queer studies” programs in universities, or “queer theology.” Young LGBT folk may often refer to themselves as queer. Queer can sometimes be an affectionate term between LGBT people, although it can still be a derogatory term when directed against people.
Questioning is a word often used by youth who are in the process of coming out or are still discerning their sexuality, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Sex as an adjective (in reference to someone’s sex) usually refers to body and biology, as in male, female, intersex.
Gender is what a person lives or experiences themselves to be in society (woman, man, girl, boy, androgynous, etc.).
Gender Identity is an individual's self-conception as being male, female, both or neither as distinguished from actual biological sex.
Sexuality or sexual orientation refers to a person’s sexual desire, love interest, or affiliation—heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual.
Trans and transgender are general terms that include cross-dressers, transgender people, transsexuals, intersex, and eunuchs.
Transsexual is sometimes used to refer to someone who is transitioning from male to female or female to male, or someone whose biological sex does not match their felt or lived gender. Trans or transgender may also be used with this latter meaning.
Two-spirited or two-spirit came from the 1990 Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg, and refers to First Nations people who fulfill one of many mixed or cross-gender roles found traditionally among many Indigenous groups. A direct translation of the Ojibwe term Niizh manidoowag, “two-spirited” or “two-spirit” is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. Many First Nations or Aboriginal people are not comfortable using this term, however.
1. Some transgender people do not want “T” to be included with LGB because they see themselves simply as male or female, not of a different orientation. And some folk feel that queer should be an umbrella term for everything LGBT encompasses. Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble is committed to using the language of sexual orientation and gender identity to go beyond the specific labels but recognize that this resource would be a lot longer without abbreviations.
2. The term intersex is now preferred over the word hermaphrodite. In biology, hermaphrodite refers to plants or animals that have reproductive organs normally associated with male and female sexes. Many animal species do not have separate sexes—in sexual reproduction, both partners can act as either “male” or “female.” Most plants are also hermaphrodites. Historically, the word hermaphrodite was used for people whose biological sex could not be classified as clearly male or female. When referring to people, the term hermaphrodite is considered misleading, derogatory, and outdated.
More information on non-binary gender language may be found at the links below: