I remember the first time I was asked to share my pronouns at a meeting, and it felt really strange and alienating. It can be disconcerting to venture into a queer space for the first time only to feel totally out of the loop. Terms and labels are prominent in the queer community and are also ever-evolving. First, know that even people who have been part of the queer community for a long time can get tripped up by all the terms. Second, check out this totally-non-authoritative guide if you have any questions about the terms I use in my blogs, or if you just want to know more before going to your next queer event.
I’m by no means the omniscient queer vocabulary goddess. As well, I’m writing this in 2019. Words are constantly being reclaimed, redefined, and rejected. If there is a term you think I should add, take away, or define differently, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pro tip #1: Always, always, always refer to someone in the way they ask. If someone doesn’t fit the dictionary definition of what they say they are, it is the definition that needs to be expanded, not the person that needs to change.
Pro tip #2: The internet is your friend and can answer many of your questions. Of course, it’s great to ask and respect if and how someone wants to be labelled. However, if you have further questions, it’s always good to use the internet first to do basic research.
These terms are currently (2019) thrown around a lot in progressive queer circles, and convey some pretty complex ideas. Don’t be intimidated – most people don’t know exactly what they mean either. Please see my forthcoming blog on both the benefits and drawbacks of fancy words.
These terms are currently still in the process of being reclaimed or developing, so just be extra careful with them.
These terms describe identities.
This is the term in French – we are a bilingual country after all. I have a link below with a much more comprehensive list of translations, but I focused her on translating identities (where possible) and very common words. French can be more complicated around queer terms because words in French are gendered.
arranged alphabetically. identity terms are highlighted.
Agender ☺︎: This usually describes someone who does not feel an affiliation to any gender, but some people who are non-binary or who feel their gender identity is concrete, but yet to be defined may also use the term. F = agenre
All-gender washrooms: This usually refers to a single-user washroom where all genders are welcome. F = toilettes neutres
Ally: Oh, how controversial this term ca be in progressive circles! An ally is someone who isn’t a member of a particular underrepresented group but serves as a supporter and advocate. It is controversial because there is debate within multiple marginalised identity groups about whether allies are useful, positive, and/or necessary. I’ll let you decide that for yourself. F = allié(e)
Aromantic (aro) ☺︎: This usually describes someone who does not feel/need romantic attraction. Aromantic people can still form meaningful friendships and connections.
Asexual/ Ace ☺︎: This usually describes people who do not feel sexual attraction or desire. Asexual people may or may not chose to engage in sexual activity. Asexual people often have to fight the assumption that they are ‘broken’ for not feeling sexual attraction. This is not true. Asexuality is part of the universe of healthy human sexuality. Asexual people can still form meaningful friendships and connections. F = asexuel(le)
Baby Dyke: This refers to a lesbian who has recently come out of the closet, and who is usually also young. This is one of my favourite queer slang terms because I feel like a perennial baby dyke (in state if not in age) but there are so many other slangs I haven’t included. Google is your friend.
Biological Sex: This usually refers to the sex, either male or female, that you’re assigned at birth based on your genitals. It is assumed that these genitals correspond to either having XX chromosomes (vulva, female) or XY chromosomes (penis, male). There is now a growing understanding that biological sex is a spectrum, just like gender. Understanding why biological sex is not so simple may be hard for many cis people (it certainly was for me). Sara’s article provides a fantastic breakdown of why biological sex is also a spectrum. There are still biological differences in bodies, but these biological differences cluster around men with penises and women with vulvas, rather than being limited to this binary.
Bisexual erasure: This refers to when the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned or denied. It is a pervasive problem in both the queer and straight world. Some queer communities do not accept bisexual people as truly part of the queer community. Even if a bisexual person is in a heterosexual relationship, it does not make them straight.
Bisexual/ bi (Biromantic) ☺︎: This usually describes a person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender. Some bisexual people are attracted only to people who define within the gender binary, and others are attracted to all genders. See also: pansexual. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different experiences and therefore bisexuality and biromanticism may or may not overlap for someone. F = bisexual(le)
Butch: This refers to a gender expression, usually with regards to queer women, that fits societal definitions of masculinity.
Cis(gender) ☺︎: This describes a person whose gender aligns with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. F = cisgenre
Cisnormativity*: This is the assumptions and power structures in society that normalise cis experiences. F = cisnormativité
DOMA: This stands for the Defence of Marriage Act. It was a law passed by Congress (United States) in 1996 that prevented the federal government from recognising same sex marriage. In 2016, the part of DOMA that was against same sex marriage was deemed unconstitutional. This is popularly referred to as the legalisation of gay marriage in the United States.
Drag king/queen: Drag kings are people, often women, whose performance contains traditionally masculine appearances. Drag queens are people, often men, whose performance contains traditionally feminine appearances. Drag kings/queens are not generally trans (although they can be). Being trans is a personal identity, while drag is a type of performance. Peppermint, a transwoman who was a finalist on RuPaul’s Drag Race, explains it well here.
Dyke ¿: This word is generally a slur, but some lesbians are reclaiming it. Lesbians Against the Right organised the first dyke march in Toronto in 1981. People who use the word dyke in a positive light often see it as a word that is about claiming power and taking up space.
Femme: This word often refers to lesbians who present in a way that is traditionally feminine, or the opposite of butch. It can also refer to people of all gender identities and sexualities who express their gender in a way that that is seen as traditionally feminine.
Gay ☺︎: The original use of gay in queer circles is to describe men who are romantically, physically and/or emotionally attracted to other men. Because of its prominence, it has also become an umbrella term that other queer people use to describe themselves, and sometimes in a slang way to refer to the things they love. F = gai(e)
Gender binary: The gender binary is the assumption that there are only two genders – man and woman. Now, we realise that gender is not only a spectrum – it is a universe! F = binarité de genre
Gender Dysphoria: This is the experience of non-cisgender people when they feel that their inner sense of gender is not expressed through their physical body.
Gender expression: This is the way you display your gender, in a specific cultural context, through behaviour, mannerisms, interests, and appearances. F = expression de genre
Gender identity: This is someone’s internal sense of gender, which may or may not be expressed in a way others can easily perceive. F = identité de genre
Gender-affirming surgery: For some trans and gender-diverse people, these surgeries can give relief from gender dysphoria and, as the name implies, affirm their gender. Please don’t use the word sex change anymore. F = chirurgie d'affirmation de genre
Genderqueer ☺︎: This word describes someone who challenges social norms regarding gender with their identity, their gender expression and their sexual practices. F = de genre queer
Hetero-Patriarchy*: Society is made up of many systems and frameworks. This term is a comment on the fact that society is still organised to privilege straight (often white) cis men.
Heteronormativity*: This is the assumptions and power structures in society, often implicit, that normalise and privilege straight experiences. F = hétéronormativité
Heterosexual/ Heteroromantic ☺︎: This describes a person on one side of the gender spectrum who only has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions with a partner on the other side of the gender spectrum. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different experiences and therefore physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction may or may not overlap for someone. See also: straight. F = hétérosexuelle
Hetlagged: This is when you spend too much time with straight people (as in heterosexual jetlag). I first heard this term here, and I think it’s hilarious. It also really helped me describe my ache for a queer community. It’s not a common term…yet – help me make it one!
Hetty: This is a somewhat ironic and endearing term I use to refer to my straight friends. I want it to catch on too, so I’m putting it in the terms page. As well, labelling straight people often gives them pause, which can spark an important learning experience. I first heard the term here.
Homosexual/ homoromantic ☺︎: This is a pretty clinical sounding term that is most often found in academic writing or in use by people who think of same-sex attraction as a disease. This describes a person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions with same-sex partners. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different experiences and therefore physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction may or may not overlap for someone. F = homosexuelle
Intersectionality*: This term was coined in the 1980s by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the interaction of layers of oppression/ marginalisation that some people experience. For example, a black woman will experience sexism differently from a white woman, and racism differently from a black man – it’s not a simple matter of addition. This term contains an important concept, but I worry that it is sometimes used as a way for someone (often white) to signal that they’re aware of equity issues, rather than actually engaging with them. I also often associate its use with people who use big words to avoid grappling with complex issues and saying what they mean in a way that is comprehensible to most people.
Intersex ☺︎: This is an adjective used to describe someone who develops more than one primary and/or secondary sex characteristics. Often, intersex babies are operated on (mutilated) at birth to fit them into the gender binary. F = intersexe
In the closet: This refers to someone who is queer but has not told anyone yet. People have lots of reasons for choosing to disclose or not disclose their sexuality. F = être dans le placard
Lesbian ☺︎: This term describes women who are romantically, physically and/or emotionally attracted to other women. Some people, like me, use the term loosely as more of an identity signifier and are open to relationships with multiple genders. Check out my journey to use the term here. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different experiences and therefore physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction may or may not overlap for someone. F = lesbienne
LGBTQ+ ☺︎: This is an abbreviation of many labels that tries to capture all people who do not define as heterosexual or cisgender. The abbreviation can get pretty long – I’ve seen up to LGBTTQQIAAP. Personally, I think LGBTQ2 is as long as it should get. Shorter and it excludes Indigenous identities; longer and it becomes comically clumsy. I generally prefer to use queer as an umbrella term to refer to the community. I will do a post on labels at a later date.
Misgendering: This is when a trans person is addressed, referred to, or treated like the wrong gender. Sometimes this is done to invalidate someone’s identity. Sometimes this is accidental, but it can still cause harm. Once you know someone’s pronouns and gender, be sure to respect it. Here is a little comic on how to respect pronouns and what to do if you slip up. F = mégenrage
Misogyny: This describes the hatred of women. A person who hates or disrespects women is a misogynist. They’re in luck – their prejudice is backed by systems of power in our sexist world.
Monogamy: This is the practice of having one sexual and/or romantic partner at a time.
Neoliberalism*: This is not a queer word, per se, but it pops up a lot in queer spaces to mean ‘the economic stuff we hate.’ It is used farm more than it is understood. Geographer David Harvey described neoliberalism in 2006 as “a theory of political economic practices which proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by the maximisation of entrepreneurial freedoms within an institutional framework characterised by private property rights, individual liberty, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices.”
Nonbinary/enby ☺︎: This describes a person whose gender identity falls outside the gender binary. Some nonbinary people consider themselves trans, some do not. F = non binaire
Oppression*: Oppression is prejudice and discrimination that is backed by systemic power. Individuals and communities can experience oppression in some areas while being privileged in other respects. Oppression can be both subtle and overt, and is often not recognised by the people who experience privilege. This handy comic explains the differences and connections between prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.
Outing: The act of exposing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without permission. F = divulgation involontaire
Pansexual ☺︎: This describes a person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/ or emotional attractions with many genders. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different experiences and therefore physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction may or may not overlap for someone. F = pansexul(le)
Passing/ straight passing ¿ : Passing is most commonly used to describe someone a trans person who is read by society as cis. This word is contentious and can be hurtful. It exists because society has powerful stereotypes and expectations around identity and appearance. Straight passing can also be used to describe a queer person who most (straight) people perceive as straight.
Patriarchy*: This describes a system/society that is organised where men hold the power, moral authority, and social privilege.
POC (BIPOC, QTPOC) *☺︎: POC stands for people of colour. When spoken, it is usually spelled out letter by letter. BIPOC stands for Black and Indigenous people of colour. It is a way to symbolically centre Black and Indigenous people who are historically the most marginalised POC in a North American context. When spoken, it is usually said as if it is a word, rather than being spelled out letter by letter. QTPOC stands for queer and trans people of colour. When spoken, it is usually spelled out letter by letter. See also: racialized.
Polyamory/poly(am) ¿☺︎: This is the practice of having more than one sexual and/or romantic partners. There are many ways polyamorous relationships can be organised. Polyamory is not cheating, nor is it the same as a monogamous person who is ‘playing the field.’ Partners are aware of and consent to the decided upon multi-relationship dynamics. Also, I had one editor who said that some people in the Polynesian community use the abbreviation Poly and have asked polyamorous people to use the abbreviation polyam instead.
PrEP: This stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is a drug that is highly effective at preventing the transmission of HIV. PEP is post-exposure prophylaxis.
Privilege*: Privilege can be understood as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group or identity because of the organisation of power in society. People can have areas where they’re privileged by society and areas they’re not. Just because you have privilege, it does not mean everything will work out for you, or that you don’t have to work hard. Usually, privilege is harder to notice than oppression. Often in progressive queer spaces people will ‘acknowledge their privilege.’ This means they’re practicing self-reflection on the areas of their identity where they may receive unearned benefits. Here is a 101 introduction to privilege and oppression.
Pronouns*: Grammatically speaking, pronouns are words that replace nouns in sentences. In the queer community, pronouns usually refer to the (a)gendered word someone uses to refer to themselves instead of their name. Some common pronouns are he, she, and they. Often, in queer spaces, when people go around introducing their names, they also introduce their pronouns. If you’re new to queer spaces, it may be slightly strange to use different pronouns than you’re used to saying. This is a great app to practice using pronouns you may not be used to.
Queer ¿☺︎: Historically, this was a slur used to describe people who did not conform to gender or sexual norms. It is in the process of being reclaimed, and many people use it as a more radical umbrella term than LGBTQ to define the non-cis, non-straight community. It is the term I will use most often in my blogs as an umbrella term to describe all of us wonderful people who exist outside the norms of gender and sexuality. I like it partially because it avoids the alphabet soup, partially because it has radical undertones, and partially because it is alliterative when used in combination with the word community. F = allosexuelle refers to all non-straight and/or non-cis people; many people also use queer
Racialized *☺︎: In a North American context, this is a term that refers to all non-white people. I’m now going to try to explain why I think this is a politically useful word in as short, clear, and unpretentious way as possible. But I may fail. Racialised denotes that race is a process, a social construction, something that someone becomes. Race is not some passive adjective or ‘real’ absolute category. Yes, people have different skin tones and features. But there are no biological lines-in-the-sand that differentiate us by skin tones and features. Racial divisions have been created through a violent history of white supremacy, colonisation, and slavery (which continue to this day in various forms). Racialized emphasizes that it is not differences in ethnicity that creates racism, but systems of power that privilege “whiteness.” Racialized is therefore not only an adjective, but a call to action – especially for white people, like me – to work to dismantle the systems that privilege whiteness. If you’re white, make sure your anti-racism work is done while listening to racialized people, and respecting when and how they want you to be involved. Please note that reverse racism is not a thing because white people do not face systems of oppression based on the colour of their skin.
Sex assignment at birth: This is the sex and gender you’re assigned at birth because of your genitals. See also: biological sex. F = auto-identification
Sexual Orientation/romantic orientation: This is the inner feeling of who you’re attracted to sexually and/or romantically. When most people use the term sexual orientation they’re referring to both sexual and romantic attraction, but this can be different for some people.
Straight ☺︎: This is the most common word to describe someone who is not-at-all queer – dare I say, totally boring? This describes a person who is cis, and who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and emotional attractions with partners who identify on the other opposite side of the gender spectrum, and who also have the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and emotional attractions. See also: heterosexual. F = hétéro
Transgender (trans, transman, transwoman) ☺︎: I was silly enough to take university Latin, so I know that trans means across. Transgender therefore often refers to someone who moves across the gender binary, but it can refer to anyone whose gender is different than the gender/sex they were assigned at birth. Some trans people identify as men or women, and some do not identify with the gender binary. A transman is a man (who was assigned female at birth). A transwoman is a woman (who was assigned male at birth). TransgenderED and other colloquial terms are offensive and to be avoided. F = trans
Two-Spirit ☺︎: This term emerged in the 1990s, but it has long existed as a concept in most Indigenous cultures and teachings in what is now Canada. It describes another gender role beyond man and woman. The specifics of this other gender may differ between Indigenous communities. Check out this video for a more thorough explanation of the word and its history. F = bispirituel(le)
Thanks to the University of California glossary, the New York University glossary, the GLAAD media reference document, Sara C’s article on gender and sex, and Wharton University’s article on moving from inclusion to belonging for informing these definitions. The definitions were also informed by my own life experience and by very kind queer friends who took on the tedious task of editing this for me.
This is a fantastic (and expansive) exploration of sex and gender…and you can have it read to you if you don’t fancy a long read.
This is a series of vlogs of people explaining the queer words they use to describe themselves.
After completing this and trying to find some of the words in French, since we are a bilingual country, I found this government website that has a bunch of queer words in French and English and their definitions.