As our understanding of sexuality expands, people are challenging the idea that there are only two distinct genders and a few ways to express their sexuality and feelings for another person. When people redefine sexuality, they also introduce new language and terms to communicate their thoughts, feelings and beliefs about sexuality with others.
There are many words used to describe a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity and the way certain terms are used changes depending on the context. For example, sometimes people who are gay, bisexual or lesbian might use terms like fag, dyke or queer in a light-hearted context or to identify themselves in an effort to reclaim language that has been used to put them down. But people still use these words in a mean and hurtful way as well.
It can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing vocabulary. The definitions listed here are generally respectful and acceptable for everyone to use with good intentions.
The physical and emotional attraction people have for someone of the same gender or another gender than themselves. Not everyone acts on their attractions and you can know your sexual orientation without ever having sex.
Someone who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of the opposite gender – in other words, women who like men and men who like women.
Someone who is physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same gender. The term “homosexual” has historically been used in hurtful ways, which is why many people now use other terms like lesbian, gay and bisexual.
A woman who is physically and emotionally attracted to other women. This word is derived from “Lesbos”, a Greek island home to Sappho, a poet and teacher who loved other women.
Another term for someone with physical and emotional attraction to someone of the same gender. The term was used in the mid 1800s to mid 1900s to describe anyone engaging in any “unconventional” sexual behaviour for the time (such as oral sex). ‘Gay’ can be used to talk about both men and women or more generally, the “gay community”, but it commonly refers to men.
Someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to people of the same or different genders. Bisexual people are not necessarily attracted equally to men and women and not always attracted to both men and women at the same time. Bisexuality is often thought of as a “phase” on the way to coming out as gay or lesbian, but for many people, being bisexual is a life-long sexual identity.
Pansexual or Omnisexual
A newer term for someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to another person regardless of gender or sex. This term is often used by those who wish to express their understanding and acceptance of trans and intersexed people. Also sometimes used by people wishing to express their openness to a broad range of sexual activities such as BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Sadism, Masochism).
Someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to more than one gender or sex but does not want to identify as bisexual because it is rooted in the idea of two genders (“bi”- sexuality meaning “two”).
An umbrella term for a social/intellectual/political movement that seeks to encompass a broad range of sexual identities, behaviours and expressions. It is also a personal identity that has been “re-claimed” because queer has been historically used as a vicious insult. Sometimes it is used as a short form that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and transgender people.
A shortened acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender”. Sometimes you will see this as LGBTT2Q to include “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, 2-spirit, queer”. This may appear in various combinations. You will see LGBT used throughout this website.
Drag Queen/Drag King
A cross-dresser from man-to-woman (queen) or woman-to-man (king) who dresses up and performs for shows and entertainment. Drag is often associated with LGBTQ communities.