Sexuality: Sexuality refers quite simply to a personís ability to experience or express sexual feelings. It does not refer to the acting out of these feelings. Most adult humans have at least some degree of sexuality. Sexuality is an inherent characteristic, referring to feelings the person experiences within themselves. "Sexual orientation" describes the direction those feelings tend to be focused in (oriented towards) when a personís sexuality leads them to become attracted to other people.
Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation is an important aspect of an individualís psychological, sexual and relational identity. It refers to oneís attraction to another person emotionally, physically, affectionately, romantically, sexually, erotically and/or spiritually. Those whose sexual orientation is to people of the opposite sex are called "heterosexual," those whose sexual orientation is to people of the same sex are called "homosexual" (or lesbian or gay) and those whose sexual orientation is to people of both sexes are called "bisexual." Sexual orientation is not defined by sexual behaviour or practices. In particular, it should not be confused with "sexual preference."
Sexual Preference: Sexual preference is how a person likes to express their sexuality. Some people like kissing. Others would rather forego kissing for a nice backrub. Some people like the lights on, others like them off. These are all sexual preferences. Sexual orientation - the predominant orientation of one personís attractions to other people - is not a sexual preference.
Lifestyle: A personís lifestyle is how they live their life. One personís lifestyle might be that they own a home in the suburbs, entertain a lot and spend the winters in Florida. Another personís lifestyle might be that theyíre vegetarian, live in a city, share a rented apartment with their cat and own a bicycle instead of a car. "Lifestyle" is not a polite synonym for sexual orientation. If you donít like the S-word, just say "orientation." Donít say "lifestyle."
Gender Identity: Gender identity refers to an individualís innermost sense of self as "male/masculine," "female/feminine," somewhere in between, or somewhere outside of these gender boundaries. Sometimes this "innermost sense" does not correspond with anatomy (e.g. a person born anatomically male, but who identifies as female). At birth, we are assigned one of two genders, usually based on our visible genitals. For many people this gender assignment fits and feels comfortable and they never think about it further. Others do not feel as comfortable with their assigned gender, either because they find the two-gender system too limiting or because they feel more identification with the gender opposite that to which they were assigned at birth. People deal with this discomfort in many ways, sometimes only in personal ways, and sometimes in ways visible to others.
Gender Expression: Gender expression refers to a person's appearance and behaviour. For example, some women feel undressed if they leave the house without make-up and enjoy wearing high heels. Other women prefer wearing comfortable flat shoes and no make-up. This does not mean the latter are either lesbians or transmen - gender expression is different from both sexual orientation and gender identity. However, conflicts can arise when one person's gender expression doesn't fit another person's expectations about what's "normal." When a tall, skinny woman wearing jeans, a loose shirt, short hair and no make-up enters a public washroom and other women attempt to chase her out because they think she's a man, a conflict over gender expression has occurred.
LGBTT2IQQ: An acronym standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersex, queer and/or questioning. Please see the following definitions of all these terms.
Lesbian: A lesbian is a female who is primarily attracted emotionally, physically, affectionately, romantically, sexually, erotically and/or spiritually to other females. Some lesbians refer to themselves and/or other lesbians as "dykes." This word is in the process of being reclaimed from a strongly pejorative history. It is not accepted by all lesbians, and its acceptance may be highly dependent on whoís using it and how. People who are not lesbians should be cautious in using "dyke." When in doubt, ask politely.
Gay: A gay male is a male who is primarily attracted emotionally, physically, affectionately, romantically, sexually, erotically and/or spiritually to other males. (Gay is also sometimes used as a broader, all-encompassing term for the community of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. However, not all lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people accept this usage.)
Bisexual: A bisexual is a male or female who is attracted emotionally, physically, affectionately, romantically, sexually, erotically and/or spiritually to people of both genders. The attraction may be stronger to males or to females or it may be approximately equal. If a bisexual person is in an exclusive relationship with someone of the opposite gender, they might appear to be heterosexual whereas if theyíre in an exclusive relationship with a person of the same gender, they might appear to be homosexual.
Transgender: "Transgender" is an umbrella term that encompasses anyone whose behavior or identity crosses gender roles assigned to them by society based on their anatomical sex. This includes a wide range of identities: transvestites, cross-dressers, two-spirit people and drag queens and kings, as well as pre-operative, post-operative and non-operative transsexual people. Transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.
Transsexual: A transsexual is a person whose inner-self gender identity is opposite to their anatomical sex at birth. Transsexuals sometimes alter their bodies with sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) to reconcile their gender identity and their physical body and/or anatomical sex.
Transsexuals are sometimes described as follow:
Non-operative ("non-op"): People who either do not want, cannot afford, or for health reasons cannot risk SRS to change their primary sex characteristics. They may or may not take hormones of the opposite gender to alter their secondary sex characteristics.
Pre-operative ("pre-op"): People who are preparing for but have not had SRS. This term covers people from the time they have begun the process of reassignment to the time just before the actual surgery.
Post-operative ("post-op"): People who have undergone SRS and continue to take hormones, often for the rest of their lives. These people may identify as male, female, female-to-male (FTM) transsexual or "transmen," male-to-female (MTF) transsexual or "transwomen," etc.
Two-spirit: "Two-spirit" is an English translation of terms in various languages to describe a concept that appears in Native cultures across North America. Traditionally, the two-spirit person was one who had received a gift from the Creator, that gift being the privilege to house both male and female spirits in their bodies. Being given the gift of two spirits meant that this individual had the ability to see the world from two perspectives at the same time. This greater vision was a gift to be shared with all, and as such, two-spirit people were revered as leaders, mediators, teachers, artists, seers, and spiritual guides. They were treated with the greatest respect, and held important spiritual and ceremonial responsibilities.
Nowadays, two-spirit is the term by which many First Nations LGBTT2IQQ people identify themselves. In a broader sense, two-spirit is a term that can encompass an integration of alternative sexuality and/or alternative gender with Native spirituality.
Intersex: "Intersex" refers to a series of medical conditions in which a child's genetic sex (chromosomes) and phenotypic sex (genital appearance) do not match, or are somehow different from the "standard" male or female. About one in 2,000 babies are born visibly intersexed, while some others are detected later. The current medical protocol calls for the surgical "reconstruction" of these different but healthy bodies to make them "normal," but this practice has become increasingly controversial as adults who went through the treatment report being physically, emotionally, and sexually harmed by such procedures.
The term "hermaphrodite" is commonly heard in our society and widely used in the medical profession, but some intersex people find the term misleading and stigmatizing.
Queer: For many people dealing with issues of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the word "queer" has negative connotations. They may consider it derogatory. However, many younger people have embraced the term as a self-affirming umbrella term that is inclusive of all people who donít fit social norms. Because of its gender-neutrality and implication of social non-conformity, these people feel the term "queer" is positive and empowering.
Questioning: This term is used to explain the phenomena that some individuals are unclear as to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They are questioning it.
Homophobia: Homophobia at its most basic consists of negative attitudes, negative feelings or aversions towards LGBTT2IQQ persons and those perceived to be of these sexual orientations or gender identities. Homophobia may also involve prejudicial treatment or harassment of such people. It includes a range of feelings and behaviours from discomfort and fear to disgust, hatred, and violence. It manifests itself in four different ways. Personal homophobia (or internalized homophobia) consists of personal beliefs and prejudices. Interpersonal homophobia (harassment and individual discrimination) involves individual behaviours based on those personal beliefs. Institutional homophobia includes the ways that governments, organizations, some religions, businesses, and other institutions discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Lastly, cultural homophobia (heterosexism) refers to societal values and "norms" that privilege heterosexuality over all other forms of gender expression and sexual orientation.
Heterosexism: Heterosexism is based on societal values that dictate that everyone is, or should be, heterosexual. Intentionally or unintentionally, our society privileges heterosexuality and heterosexual persons, and devalues, mistreats, or discriminates against LGBTT2IQQ persons and those perceived to be so. Heterosexual privilege bestows unearned and unchallenged advantages and rewards on heterosexuals solely as a result of their sexual orientation. These benefits are not automatically granted to LGBTT2IQQ persons.
Transphobia: Transphobia is a reaction of fear, loathing, violence and/or discriminatory treatment of people whose gender identity or gender presentation - or perceived gender or gender identity - does not match, in the socially acceptable way, the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people, transsexuals and intersex people are most frequently the targets of transphobia, especially in its more violent forms, but they are not the only targets. When a tall, skinny woman who happens to be wearing short hair, no make-up and loose, comfortable clothing is denied access to a women's public washroom because someone else thinks she "looks like a man," a transphobic incident has occurred.
Transphobia is distinct from homophobia. Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is that if one man beats up another because he claims the other man displayed sexual interest in him, that's homophobia. On the other hand if the same man discovers that a woman is transsexual and then beats her up for "tricking" him, that's transphobia.
People who are in transition from one end of the gender spectrum to the other can be at a particularly vulnerable time because their appearance is changing comparatively rapidly. Other people who feel insecure about witnessing this change may react with violence and abuse. Once a person has transitioned, they may or may not be able to "pass." However, even someone who's "passing" bears the internal psychological burden of transphobia. Imagine, for example, never being able to tell a story that starts with, "When I was a kid..." because it's too difficult to remember to change all the names and the pronouns.
People who define their identity as being in the middle of the gender spectrum may also be targets of transphobia, as may people who are perfectly happy with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificates but whose dress, behaviour, etc. are perceived by others as "gender variant." At the root of transphobia lies the belief held by too many people that they ought to be able tell immediately by sight whether each person they meet is a woman or a man and that if they can't tell or make a mistake, it's the other person's fault.
Genderism: Genderism is the belief that there are and/or should be only two genders and that one's gender, or most aspects of it, are inevitably tied to biological sex. For example, any form that asks the person filling it out to specify their gender by checking off one of two boxes, one labelled male and the other female, reflects genderist attitudes.
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© PFLAG Canada, 2009