Gender identity and sexual orientation: Terminology and key concepts

Please note that this list is non-exhaustive. More terminology and key concepts can be found in the Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation resources.

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  • At Waterloo, we use 2SLGBTQIA+ when referring to the Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual+ community.
  • Refers to Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning individuals. 2S leads the acronym to acknowledge that Two-Spirit people were the first sexual and gender minority in North America.


  • Acronyms meaning “assigned female/male at birth” (also designated female/male at birth or female/male assigned at birth).


  • A person who supports and celebrates 2SLGBTQIA+ identities, interrupts and challenges oppressive remarks and actions of others, and willingly explores heterosexist and cis-centric biases within themselves.
  • Being an ally requires action: telling colleagues that their jokes are inappropriate; advocating for the health, wellness and acceptance of 2SLGBTQIA+ family members, etc.


  • Typically used to describe a person’s appearance or clothing as having elements of both femininity and masculinity. The term gender fluidity (see below) is more commonly used.


  • Someone who does not experience sexual attraction for other individuals.
  • Asexuality can be considered a spectrum, with some asexual people experiencing desire for varying types of physical intimacy.
  • Different from aromantic (someone who does not experience romantic attraction to others).


  • An individual who is attracted to, and may form relationships with, at least two genders.
  • Some bisexual people describe bisexuality as being attracted to men and women while others consider it as being attracted to their own and other genders.


  • A person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.


  • Gay and lesbian are the preferred terms to describe people attracted to the same sex. Traditionally, the term gay was reserved for men, but has been adopted by people of all gender identities.

gender identity

  • One’s internal and psychological sense of oneself as man, woman, both, in between, neither, or another understanding of gender. People who question their gender identity may feel unsure of their gender or believe they are not of the same gender they were assigned at birth.

gender expression

  • How a person publicly presents their gender.

gender fluidity

  • How a person’s gender identity can vary over time and may include male, female, and non-binary gender identities.


  • The term homosexual is offensive to some and is no longer in common use.


  • The general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy, genetic makeup, or hormonal levels that do not seem to fit the "typical" definitions of male or female.


  • Gay and lesbian are the preferred terms to describe people attracted to the same sex. Traditionally, the term gay was reserved for men, but has been adopted by people of all gender identities.


  • A person whose gender identity does not align with a binary understanding of gender such as man or woman.


  • An individual who is attracted to and may form relationships with any or all genders.


  • A word used to refer to someone, without using their name(s). It is important to not make assumptions about the pronouns a person may use about themselves. 


  • A term becoming more widely used among LGBTQ2S+ communities because of its inclusiveness. “queer” can be used to refer to the spectrum of non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender people and provides a convenient shorthand for LGBTQ. It is important to note that this is a reclaimed term that was once and is still used as a hate term and thus some people feel uncomfortable with it. Not all trans people see trans identities as being part of the term “queer,” and it is important to acknowledge the different histories of queer and trans communities.


  • A term sometimes used by those in the process of exploring personal ideas of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as choosing not to identify with any other label.

sexual orientation

  • Use sexual orientation, not sexual preference; sexuality is not a choice.
  • Romantic and sexual attraction for people of the same or another sex or gender.


  • Transgender, frequently abbreviated to trans or trans* (the asterisk was intended to actively include non-binary and/or non-static gender identities such as genderqueer and genderfluid but has fallen out of frequent use throughout the 2010s).
  • Transgender is an umbrella term for a wide range of experiences and identities for people whose gender does not match with the gender they were assigned at birth. Identifying as trans is something that can only be decided by an individual for themselves and does not depend on criteria such as surgery or hormone treatment status.


  • Refers to the process during which trans people may change their gender expression and/or bodies. There are many ways a person may go about a transition, which can loosely be understood within three areas: Social Transition (e.g., name and pronoun change, wardrobe or hairstyle, legal ID, etc.), Medical Transition (including hormonal therapy) and Surgical Transition (including gender affirming surgeries).

  • There is no one “right” or “complete” way for someone to transition; it is rather best understood as a personal journey to support someone’s health and happiness.


  • Refers to an Indigenous person who identifies as having both a masculine and feminine spirit, and is used by some to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity.
  • Not all people who are Indigenous and gender/sexually diverse will name themselves as Two-Spirit and this is their self-determination.
  • Two-Spirit is something embodied exclusively by Indigenous People and is not to be taken on by non-Indigenous People.