Sexual Diversity: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Intersex
More and more, people think of Canada as a diverse society. For example, Canada is home to people of a wide variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, skin colours and languages. In other words, we are all not the same: there are many ways in which human beings are different from each other.
Sexuality is one of the ways that people are different from one another. Although the term “sexual diversity” can apply to many different aspects of sexuality (for example people are diverse in terms of their sexual likes and dislikes), it is usually used with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity.
LGBTQ Stands for…
The acronym LGBTQ is a reflection of sexual diversity within society. Some people wonder what exactly it stands for so let’s quickly review what each letter stands for in the acronym.
L is for lesbian. Lesbian refers a female person whose primary sexual attraction is toward females.
G is for Gay. Gay refers to a male person whose primary sexual attraction is toward males.
B is for Bisexual. Bisexual refers to a male or female person who is sexually attracted to both males and females.
T is for Transgender and/or Transsexual. Transgender refers to a person whose gender identity is neither exclusively female nor male. Transsexual refers to a person whose gender identity is the opposite of their biological sex.
Q is for Queer or Questioning. Some non-heterosexual people refer to themselves as Queer because they are uncomfortable labeling themselves according to the more traditional categories of gay, lesbian, or bisexual. A person who is Questioning is in the process of arriving at a clearer sense of what their sexual orientation is.
The term “sexual diversity” is often used in the context of sexual orientation. Not all people are heterosexual. Some people are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or questioning (for a more detailed definition of these terms see Sexual Orientation and Coming Out). In other words, within the population there are people with different sexual orientations and this is an example of sexual diversity.
The term “sexual diversity” is often used in reference to gender identity. In part, this refers to the fact that not all people have a gender identity that conforms exactly to their biological sex. To make this easier to understand, let’s define the basic terms relevant to a discussion of gender identity.
Biological sex: Most people are born with a body that is clearly either male or female. So, for example, when a boy has a penis and testicles, we can say that his biological sex is male and when a girl has a vagina and a uterus, we can say that her biological sex is female.
Gender identity: Gender identity refers to how a person sees themselves in terms of being male or female. In other words, gender identity is about how a person feels with respect to being male or female which is a different concept than their biological status as male or female.
Transgendered, transsexual, trans: For some people, their gender identity does not exactly match their biological sex. A person who sees themselves as being neither exclusively male nor exclusively female in terms of their gender identity can be described as transgender. A person whose sense of gender identity is opposite to their biological sex (e.g., a person who feels that they are male but who is biologically female; or vice versa) can be described as transsexual. Some transsexual people seek out medical treatments to help align their bodies with their internally felt identities. People in the transgendered and transsexual community often identify themselves as “trans”.
Western society has typically made a very clear social distinction between people who are classified as male or female. However, in terms of biology, there are some people whose genitals and/or reproductive organs are a mix of both male and female. For example, a person may be born looking female on the outside but be mostly male on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that appear to be in-between or a mix of male and female. Intersexuality is usually the result of hormonal factors during prenatal development that affect the reproductive organs. An intersex person will develop a gender identity that best reflects how they feel. Some will think of themselves as predominately male or female and some will adopt a transgender identity.
Awareness and Acceptance of Sexual Diversity
In the past, sexual diversity within the Canadian population was less apparent and visible than it is today. Over time, Canadian society has become much more tolerant and accepting of the differences between Canadians along lines of religion, ethnicity, race, and sexuality. This includes a recognition that we are a diverse community with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, transgenderism, transsexualism, and intersexuality.