Queer / LGBTQ+ 101
Queer and trans* identities are diverse, and the ever expanding acronym LGBTQ+ remains incomplete. One of the great things about queer communities is the ways we are always coming up with new language to describe our bodies, identities and selves – but that also makes it hard to be totally inclusive of our fabulous communities. We use the acronym LGBTQ+ here to recognize the many additional identities – like two-spirit, pansexual, demisexual, questioning – but are most definitely open to other suggestions.
Although LGBTQ+ issues are getting increasing recognition in schools, among service providers, and in the media, many people are not familiar with some of the key concepts. This section introduces the concepts of sexuality and gender, and provides a quick overview of some of the diversity that makes up queer communities. If you would like to learn more, HIV/AIDS Resources & Community Health (ARCH) has a number of resources, including workshops available. Contact Jasper at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
While LGBTQ+ people have shared experiences of heterosexism (attitudes, beliefs, and policies that make processes and day-to-day life easier for heterosexual people) and cissexism (attitudes, beliefs, and policies that make processes and day-to-day life easier for people whose gender is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth (cisgender people)), there are different ways in which these operate. For example, less sexual health information and care is available for people who have sex with same-gender partners. Health care providers often make decisions about intersex people’s bodies based on the idea that intersex people are heterosexual. Although there are shared experiences among this diverse group of people, there are some issues that are group-specific. For example, HIV is most prevalent among gay men and trans* people and is less of concern for some other groups. Trans* people and intersex people have shared concerns in terms of accessing gender-affirming health care and government-issued ID.
LGBTQ+ people’s experiences of their sexuality and gender identity are also based on simultaneous identities and characteristics such as ethnicity and geographic location. This thinking is based on ideas of intersectionality, which teaches us that people’s experiences are complex and based on their individual experiences and the environments they live in. For example, people who live in an urban area may be more likely to find others who identify the way they do, which can make it easier to find supports and services they are looking for. People whose cultures celebrate sexual and gender diversity may find it easier to be out.
Sexuality “encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction” (World Health Organization). Common definitions distinguish between sexual identity (personal sense of one’s own sexuality), sexual attraction (the kinds of sexual allure we do or don’t experience), and sexual behaviours (the kinds of sexual activities we engage in). For example, we tend to assume people are heterosexual (sexual identity) even before they have engaged in sexual activity. Bisexual and pansexual people may experience sexual attraction to people of all genders, but only have sex with people of some genders at any given time.
Gender includes the way a person feels about themselves and how they present themselves to society . It is separate from biological sex that is assigned at birth based on external genitalia. Gender includes gender identity (personal sense of one’s own gender) and expression (the ways people present their gender to others through behavior, appearance, and dress). While we are often taught that gender is a binary (man/woman), people’s gender identities are not limited to any one of these elements.
There are many possibilities when it comes to sexuality and gender. People within LGBTQ+ communities are usually considered to be part of a sexual and/or gender minority.
There are many different acronyms used to describe queer communities that seek to show the diversity within these communities. Identities within LGBTQ+ communities include:
- Lesbian: women who are attracted to other women.
- Gay: men who are attracted to other men
- Bisexual: people who are attracted to men and women.
- Trans*: Someone who gender identifies differently than what they were designated at birth. This self-identification can be more or less fluid on the gender spectrum.
- Cisgender: A person whose internal sense of gender aligns with the gender they were designated at birth and the identity is a self-acknowledgement of of privilege that accompanies system-wide cissexism and heterosexism.
- 2-Spirit: an umbrella term used in English to name indigenous people who have both male and female spirits; many indigenous cultures celebrate the role of 2-spirit people in their communities (2-Spirited People of the 1st Nation, 1998)
- Intersex: people born with anatomy that a health care provider decided is not typical of a male or female (Intersex Society of North America)
- Queer: Used by some members of LGBTQ+ communities to describe themselves. Once used as a discriminatory term, some members of LGBTQ+ communities now embrace it as inclusive of a variety of fluid expressions of gender and sexuality.
- Asexual: a person who experiences no sexual attractionused to describe people who are not sexually attracted to anyone or do not have a sexual orientation but may include romantic relationships.
- Pansexual: The term “pansexual” is used to describe individuals who are attracted to other people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
- Sexual and gender minorities: people whose sexual and gender identities are less common and often less visible than heterosexual and cisgender people.
One tool that can be useful for thinking about the gender and sexual diversity is this poster of a “genderbread” person created by the website, itspronoucedmetrosexual.com. This graphic only presents a Western approach to understanding gender which is based on separate concepts of masculinity and femininity.
Many projects have popped up showcasing the diversity of our queer communities. One such project is Vivek Shraya’s project, What I LOVE about being QUEER, which includes photos and statements from many people who share what being queer means to them. There is a similar tumblr project documenting queer people in various public places, called Queer in Public.
Questions or comments? Contact us at email@example.com
This text was written by Sarah Chown (ARCH’s 2012-2014 Educator) and Jillian Brown, an ARCH volunteer.