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Understanding sexual diversity and gender pluralism

In terms of gender identity, sexual orientation and sex, human beings are diverse. The purpose of this page is to present that diversity.

Sex

Sex refers to a person’s biological characteristics: internal or external genital organs, hormone levels or sex chromosomes. Sex is generally described in binary terms, meaning we refer only to women or men. However, the gender binary does not consider the real diversity of the sexes because it does not include intersex people. Intersex people have biological characteristics that do not fit into the binary medical categories of male or female. Note that intersexual people is another term that designates intersex people.

Designation of sex in acts of civil status

The designation of sex that appears on a person’s act of birth or act of death refers to the person’s sex observed at birth or to the person’s gender identity. This designation is represented by the letter symbols “M”, “F” or “X”.

Sexual orientation, romantic or affectional orientation

Sexual orientation refers to the sexual attraction to people of the female sex or gender, to people of the male sex or gender, or to people whose gender identity falls outside the categories of “male” and “female”. Sexual orientation must be considered a continuum that ranges from heterosexuality to homosexuality, including bisexuality and pansexuality, as well as asexuality. For example:

  • A homosexual person is sexually attracted to people of the same sex or gender.
  • A heterosexual person is attracted to people of a different sex or gender.
  • A bisexual person is attracted to people of the female sex or gender and to people of the male sex or gender.
  • A pansexual person is sexually attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender.
  • An asexual person has little to no sexual attraction to others.

Sexual orientation can change over time: this is sexual fluidity.

Romantic or affectional orientation refers to the affectional attraction. This dimension often corresponds to sexual orientation, but not automatically.

Gender identity and gender expression

Gender identity is the profound and personal feeling of being male or female, neither or both. This feeling appears very early in childhood, sometimes even at the age of 2. Everyone has a gender identity. For most people, their gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth, based on their physiological characteristics: they are cisgender.

For other people, the gender identity does not correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth: these people are trans. Some people also feel that they belong to a gender outside the categories of male and female, as in the case of non-binary people, who do not identify as “male” or “female”.

Gender expression refers to the way in which people express their gender through their actions, how they behave or interact, their dress and how these expressions are interpreted by others, according to gender norms.

It is important to note:

  • that it is up to the individuals to choose the best words to designate their sexual orientation and gender identity, and not up to others;
  • that there is no correlation between sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and biological characteristics. For example, a trans man can be heterosexual, gay or pansexual, and a heterosexual cisgender woman can have a male gender expression.

This web page is taken in part from the Guide d’intervention psychosociale ponctuelle - Diversités sexuelles et pluralité de genre [Guide for occasional psychosocial interventions - sexual diversity and gender pluralism] created by the CIUSSS du Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean Centre de recherche appliquée en intervention psychosociale [centre for applied research in psychosocial interventions] (CRAIP). We thank CRAIP for its permission to use this material.

Last update: April 4, 2022

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