Positive Space Language

Language is fluid, always changing and culturally-specific. As such, the meaning and uses of words change from place to place, and across time and place. Learn more about positive space terminology and ensure you have awareness to engage with others with respect.


A person who is not a member of a particular community, but who works in solidarity with that community (or communities) to name and to fight discrimination and oppression against the community; in this case, homophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, and cissexism. Being an ally is to play an active role and to speak with, not for. An ally interrupts and challenges queer-phobic and sexist remarks and actions of others, but also willingly explores these biases within themselves.

A person who does not have a romantic attraction towards anyone.

A person who is not interested in or does not desire sexual activity, either within or outside of a relationship. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy, which is the willful decision to not act on sexual feelings. Asexuals, while not physically sexual-type folks, are none the less quite capable of loving, affectionate, romantic ties to others. Asexuality can be thought of as a non-sexual orientation.

One who has a significant gender identity that encompasses both genders, male and female. Some may feel that one side or the other is stronger, but both sides are there.

The view that there are only two totally distinct, opposite, and static genders and sexes (masculine/feminine, male/female) to identify with and to express. While many societies view gender and/or sex through this lens and consider this binary system to be universal, a number of societies recognize more than two genders and/or sexes. Across all societies there are also many people who experience gender and/or sex fluidity, identifying with different genders and/or sexes at different times.

A person who associates with the romantic, rather than sexual, aspects of sexual orientation.

A person who is romantically/sexually attracted to or involved with people of “both”/all genders, or is open to such attraction. Note: the word “both” appears in quotation marks to reference the root of bi as meaning two, but also to challenge the binary notion that there are only two genders. (See also PANSEXUAL)

“Butch” can be used as an adjective or a noun to describe an individual’s gender or gender performance. A masculine person of either gender can be described as butch. The term butch tends to denote a degree of masculinity displayed by a female individual beyond what would be considered typical of a “tomboy”.

Refers to people whose sex assignment at birth corresponds to the societal normative gender identity and expression—a “match” of one’s sex and gender (‘Cis’- from Latin meaning “on the same side [as]” or “on this side [of]”). This term is necessary to include because it presents an awareness of gender privilege. If a female who identifies as a woman just considers herself “normal”, she does not have to elaborate or explain her identification to anyone because it is an already expected and automatically ascribed identification until “proven otherwise”. Thus, females who identify differently are considered “abnormal”—‘cisgender’ helps us to conceptualize social normativity and privilege. It should be noted that cisgender only refers to the sex and gender relationship and does not refer to sexual orientation identifications.

Also “coming out of the closet,” is a process of becoming aware of one’s queer sexual orientation, one’s two-spirit or trans identity, accepting it, and telling others about it. This is an ongoing process that may not include everybody in all aspects of one’s life. “Coming out” usually occurs in stages and an individual may be “out” in only some situations or to only certain others.

A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender. The older term “transvestite” is considered derogatory.

Refers to people who dress in a showy or flamboyant way that exaggerates gendered stereotypes. ‘Drag’ is a term that is often associated with gay/lesbian communities and is often replaced with ‘Drag King’ and ‘Drag Queen.’ Drag may be performed as a political comment on gender, as parody, or simply as entertainment. Drag performance does not indicate sexuality, gender identity, or sex identity. (See also DRAG KING, DRAG QUEEN)

Used to refer to female performers who dress as men for the purposes of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.

Used to refer to male performers who dress as women for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. It is also sometimes used in a derogatory manner to refer to transgender women.

A person who transitions from “female-to-male,” meaning a person who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and lives as a male. Also known as a “transgender man.”

A lesbian who is notably feminine in appearance.

A self-identified man who is romantically/sexually attracted to or involved with other self-identified men; also has been used as an umbrella term for everyone who has same-sex romantic/sexual attractions or relations, particularly in mainstream media. ‘Gay’ can be used to talk about both men and women or more generally, the “gay community”, but it commonly refers to men. While ‘gay’ is often used as an umbrella term for those who have same-sex romantic/sexual attractions or relations, some individuals within the lesbian community oppose its use in this way.

How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.

An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.

Gender fluidity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may change, even from day to day. Gender fluid people do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of women or men. In other words, they may feel they are a woman some days and a man on others, or a combination, or possibly feel that neither term describes them accurately.

A term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.

A term used by some individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female.

The process of changing genders when one’s internal gender identity is different from the one typically assigned to one’s physical body at birth. This may or may not involve surgical intervention(s), hormones and changes in appearance, dress, mannerisms/behaviour, name and pronoun preference.

A person whose gender presentation, either by nature or by choice does not conform to culturally-specific, gender-based expectations of a male/female binary gendering system that is linked to birth sex. This may include people who don’t fit, or choose to fit, into socially defined categories of “male” or “female”, some who identify as trans* but do not view themselves as either female or male, those who are androgynous, genderqueer and who display gender traits that are not normally associated with their birth sex (e.g. “feminine” behaviour in a man or “masculine” behaviour in a woman).  (See also GENDERQUEER, TRANSGENDER)

A person may identify as “grey romantic” or a “grey asexual,” respectively, because they may feel romantic attraction or sexual attraction once a reasonably stable or large emotional connection has been created. Other terms: DEMIROMANTIC, DEMISEXUAL.

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. The term "straight" is also used.

A person who is romantically/sexually attracted to or involved with members of the “same” gender/sex. Note: the term “same” appears in quotations marks to challenge the binary notion of a two-gender system and of the concepts of same and opposite as they refer to gender, rather than similar and different.

A person who associates with the romantic, rather than sexual, aspects of sexual orientation to the same sex, as opposed to homosexual.

A term used for people who are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that does not seem to fit typical definitions of male or female. Intersex conditions are also known as differences of sex development (DSD). Intersex persons are often subject to surgical intervention at birth (with or without the parental consent or knowledge). ‘Intersex’ has replaced the term ‘hermaphrodite’, which is widely considered to be outdated, inaccurate, and offensive. An intersex individual may or may not identify as part of the trans* community, however the terms ‘intersex’, ‘transsexual’, and ‘tran*’ are distinct and should not be used interchangeably.

A self-identified woman who is physically and emotionally attracted to other self-identified women. This word is derived from “Lesbos”, a Greek island home to Sappho, a poet and teacher who loved other women.

The acronym LGBT2SQIA+(lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (transgender, transsexual, trans-identified, genderqueer, non-binary), two-spirit, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual)  is generally used by Positive Space Campaign. A plus sign (+) is added to the end in respect of the infinite variety of identities outside of, or not represented by this acronym.

A monosexual is someone who is sexually attracted to one sex (or gender) only, monosexuality being the corresponding sexual orientation. A monosexual can be either heterosexual or homosexual.

An acronym used to indicate men who have sex with men. These individuals may not necessarily identify as gay, however.

A person who transitions from “male-to-female,” meaning a person who was assigned male at birth, but identifies and lives as a female. Also known as a “transgender woman.”

Someone who is romantically attracted to people irrespective of their sex and/or gender.

A newer term for someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to another person regardless of gender or sex. ‘Pansexuality’ is a term evolved from the history of ‘bisexuality’. This term is often used by those who wish to express their understanding and acceptance of trans* and intersexed people.

A term used to refer to a romantic partner. This term is often used to promote inclusivity, to make those with non-heterosexual orientations feel safer, and to raise awareness that there is still much progress to be made in regards to heteronormative assumptions. For example, if you are talking to a man, by saying “how long have you been with your partner?” rather than “how long have you been with your girlfriend?” you avoid the heteronormative assumption that this man would engage in a relationship with a woman. If the person happens to identify as straight, then no harm is done by using “partner”. However, if the man happens to identify as gay, by using “girlfriend” you may make them feel uncomfortable.

The practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

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”).

Refers to the social, economic, and political advantages or rights held by people from dominant groups on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, social class, etc. For example, cisgender men often experience privilege that people of other genders/sexes do not have (are not oppressed in as many ways or in the same ways in such a way as to give them more opportunities).

Queer and Trans* people who are also Indigenous and People of Colour.

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. However, not all individuals feel the same way about the re-appropriation of this term and some individuals are still uncomfortable with its use. Sometimes it is used as a short form that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered people. Not all trans* people see trans* identities as being part of the term ‘queer.’

The questioning of one's gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or all three is a process of exploration by people who may be unsure, still exploring, and concerned about applying a social label to themselves for various reasons. The letter "Q", referring to either queer or questioning, is sometimes added to the end of the acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender).

The process of taking back and defusing terms that were once derogatory and insulting, and instead imbuing them with positive meaning for self-empowerment. Taking back language that was once used to marginalize and oppress people deflates the potential for the word to be used against a group and the negative impact of it when this does happen.

A term describing a person’s attraction to members of the same sex and/or a different sex, usually defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual.

Surgical procedures that change one’s body to better reflect a person’s gender identity. This may include different procedures, including those sometimes also referred to as “top surgery” (breast augmentation or removal) or “bottom surgery” (altering genitals). Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. These surgeries are medically necessary for some people, however not all people want, need, or can have surgery as part of their transition. “Sex change surgery” is considered a derogatory term by many.

A tomboy is a girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviors considered typical of a boy, including wearing masculine clothing and engaging in games and activities that are physical in nature and are considered in many cultures to be the domain of boys.

A term for people whose gender identity, expression, or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. ‘Transgender’ is indicative of a gender identification that could be between, outside of, or many identifications—identification with one term is not static. It should be emphasized the “Trans”ition of the term (temporal/static vs. fluidity of identification). Transgender is a broad term and “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.” (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” is often viewed as disrespectful.). Transgender individuals may or may not use binary language. “Trans*” indicates plurality (the asterisk specifically indicates plurality).

A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man (see also “FTM”).

A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman (see also “MTF”).

The time when a person begins to living as the gender with which they identify rather than the gender they were assigned at birth, which often includes changing one’s first name and dressing and grooming differently. Transitioning may or may not also include medical and legal aspects, including taking hormones, having surgery, or changing identity documents (e.g. driver’s license, legal name change) to reflect one’s gender identity. Medical and legal steps are often difficult for people to afford.

An older term for people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth who seek to transition from male to female or female to male. Many do not prefer this term because it is thought to sound overly clinical. Transsexual individuals often use more binary sex identifications than transgender individuals because of the clinical-sounding nature of the term, however the term itself can sometimes indicate flux, so it should be emphasized that it is important to listen to how people refer to themselves before ascribing language to them.

A contemporary term that refers to the historical and current First Nations people whose individuals spirits were a blend of male and female spirits. This term has been reclaimed by some in Native American LGBT communities in order to honor their heritage and provide an alternative to the Western labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Traditionally within some Aboriginal communities, two-spirit peoples were considered to be visionaries and healers who fulfilled roles assigned to both sexes and/or other roles reserved only for those who attained the highly-respected status of two-spirit.

A political identification to resist the “boxing in” of identities; the term indicates fluidity and a limitless spectrum of gender, sex, and sexual orientation identifications.

Someone who is undecided about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

An acronym used to indicate women who have sex with women. These individuals may not necessarily identify as lesbian however.

Gender-inclusive pronouns used to avoid relying on a gender binary-based linguistic system, or making assumptions about other people’s gender (HE/HER → ZE; HIS/HER → ZIR; THEY/THEM/THEIR → XE/XEM/XYRS). An example of these terms being used in a sentence: "Ze talked to zir partner about pronouns." Some people instead choose to use plural pronouns such as “they” and “their,” or similar options. An example of this in a sentence: They talked to their partner about pronouns. Some use plural pronouns because ‘they’/‘their’ are more widely understood and able to be fluently used by most people. Others, such as omni-gender people, feel that plural pronouns are most representative of their having more than one gender.


Credit to National Center for Transgender Equality and Qmunity for definitions.