Gender Equality Week: Understanding Gender and Sexual Diversity Terminology

(Disponible en français : Semaine de l’égalité des sexes : comprendre la terminologie des genres et de la diversité sexuelle)

On 21 June 2018, An Act to establish Gender Equality Week received Royal Assent. With its enactment, Gender Equality Week was established, occurring the fourth week of September every year.

Gender Equality Week 2018 is from 23 to 29 September. Status of Women Canada has announced the hashtag “#EveryoneBenefits” to encourage all Canadians to share why gender equality is important to them.

[A]dvancing gender equality, the empowerment, promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls” are priorities for Canada at home and abroad, as indicated by Canada’s commitment to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

As part of the commitment to advance gender equality, the Government of Canada’s use of Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) is intended to ensure that sex and gender, as well as diverse identity factors including race, age, disability, and sexual orientation among others, are taken into account when developing, implementing and evaluating legislation, policy and initiatives.

This figure illustrates some of the factors which can intersect with sex and gender. Six oblong shapes of differing colors overlap and fan out. Each oblong has two identity factors written on it. The top oblong has “sex and gender” written in a larger font. Starting below sex and gender and going clockwise, the additional identities identified are: geography, culture, income, sexual orientation, education, ethnicity, ability, age, religion and language.

Source: Government of Canada, “Gender-based Analysis Plus: What about the ‘plus’,Status of Women Canada.

Sex and Gender

The definitions and use of the terms “sex” and “gender” have changed over time and are subject to debate. Despite being distinct concepts, they are sometimes used incorrectly or interchangeably.

The UN defines sex as “the physical and biological characteristics that distinguish males and females.”

The UN defines gender as:

“the roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society at a given time considers appropriate for men and women… These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/ time-specific and changeable.”

In Canada, Statistics Canada defines gender as:

“the gender that a person internally feels (‘gender identity’ along the gender spectrum) and/or the gender a person publicly expresses (‘gender expression’) in their daily life… A person’s current gender may differ from the sex a person was assigned at birth (male or female) and may differ from what is indicated on their current legal documents. A person’s gender may change over time.”

According to the definition used by Statistics Canada, gender is comprised of a person’s gender identity and gender expression. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being a man, a woman, both or neither. Gender expression refers to the ways a person outwardly presents their gender identity.

In April 2018, Statistics Canada changed its sex-related variables. The sex of a person variable refers to sex assigned at birth, based on an individual’s reproductive systems and other physical characteristics. The gender of a person variable encompasses gender identity and gender expression.

The “Genderbread Person” image is a tool created to teach concepts including gender identity, expression and sexual orientation to diverse audiences.

Image: The Genderbread Person. Components: identity, attraction, expression, biological sex.

Source: Genderbread Person, Genderbread Person (Minimal v3.3), 2017.

Non-Binary Gender Identities

Some individuals’ gender identities may not fit within the binary concept of man or woman/masculinity or femininity. The term non-binary encompasses gender identities that do not fit within this binary system. The term non-binary may itself be used as a gender identity, and non-binary gender identities may be culturally specific. Non-binary gender identities include, but are not limited to, gender-fluid, agender, or bigender.

Transgender Identities and Intersex Individuals

The term transgender is often used by individuals whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender does not refer to a person’s gender expression, sexual orientation, physical anatomy, hormone levels, or how they are perceived by others. People whose gender identity does align with the sex they were assigned at birth are often described by the term cisgender.

The term transgender may be mistakenly substituted with the term intersex. However, while some intersex individuals may identify as transgender, the terms are not interchangeable. Intersex is a term that encompasses individuals who were born with reproductive or sexual anatomies that do not align with the biological definitions of male and female. For example, a person may be born with what appears to be external female sexual anatomy but have mostly “male-typical” internal reproductive anatomy or be born with genitals that are “in-between” male and female.

Two-Spirit Identities

The term Two-Spirit is used by some Indigenous Canadians to describe themselves. Two-Spirit “indicate[s] a person whose gender identity, spiritual identity or sexual orientation comprise both male and female spirits.” According to the Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society, the term Two-Spirit was adopted at a meeting of various Indigenous organizations in 1990 in Winnipeg.

Sexual Diversity Terminology

As illustrated by the Genderbread Person, sexual and romantic orientation are separate concepts from gender, gender identity and gender expression.

In Canada, the term LGBTQ2 is used by the federal government to collectively refer to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit community in Canada. Many different abbreviations exist to represent different identities within this community. Some organizations, such as the CCGSD, use the term LGBTQ2S+ to acknowledge individuals whose identities are not represented in the LGBTQ2 description. Global Affairs Canada frequently uses the abbreviation LGBTI to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities, which reflects the terminology often used internationally.

Additional Resources

Author: Clare Annett, Library of Parliament

2 thoughts on “Gender Equality Week: Understanding Gender and Sexual Diversity Terminology

  1. Why why why does this article quote a mainstream Queer organization for a definition of the term two-Spirit rather than the work of an Indigenous scholar or two-spirit organization?!?!?

    • Thank you for your suggestion, we have changed the resource in the text. Please also note the collection of Indigenous resources on the Egale Canada webpage cited in the Additional Resources section.

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