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The Lingo

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the identities rainbow young people might use for themselves.  What’s most important is not knowing all these terms but asking young people the words they use, mirroring their language back to them. 


Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who asexual people are. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently.

Biphobia means the negative attitudes expressed through cultural hate, individual and state violence, and discrimination directed towards bisexual and pansexual people.

Bisexual people have the potential to be attracted to more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.  Bisexual is one umbrella term for people who acknowledge attractions to more than one gender. 

Chosen family: Families of origin may be crucial support systems and places of belonging for many rainbow young people, particularly for rainbow young people who are Māori, Pasefika, migrant or from other ethnicities.  But rainbow young people will often also need support from friends and community.  It is also important to acknowledge chosen family in the rainbow community – friends, partners, peer support groups and online support groups. 

Cisgender people are comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, if you were assigned female at birth and identify as a woman, or assigned male at birth and identify as a man, you are cisgender.

Cisnormative is the popular assumption or belief in most Western(ized) societies that being cisgendered is considered normal and natural, and anything else is considered strange or pathological. 

Cissexism is the beliefs, structures and actions that promote the idea that someone’s authentic gender is the one they were assigned at birth.  Cissexism often takes the negative form of deciding trans peoples’ experience of their self-identified gender are not genuine.

“Coming out” is a broad term for the process of identifying your sexuality or gender identity whether that be with yourself or sharing your identity with others.  There is no right or wrong way to come out nor is coming out even necessary for some. The term may not fit for young people who are Māori, Pasefika or from migrant and other ethnicities.  Young people will find it difficult to come out in environments which lack support or when coming out will mean being cut off from important community supports.  They have to consider whether it is safe for them before they will be open about their sexuality or gender identity.

Cultural safety is based on the premise that the term ‘culture’ is used in its broadest sense to apply to any person or group of people who may differ from the nurse/midwife because of socio-economic status, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, migrant/refugee status, religious belief or disability.  Cultural safety is an outcome of education that enables safe service to be defined by those that receive that service.

Fa’afafine (Samoa, America Samoa and Tokelau), Fakaleiti or Leiti (Tonga), Fakafifine (Niue), Aka’vaine (Cook Islands), Mahu (Tahiti and Hawaii), Vakasalewalewa (Fiji), Palopa (Papua New Guinea) are all traditional terms for many rainbow people whom are of Pasefika descent.  These terms have wider meanings which are best understood inside their cultural context.  For Pasefika rainbow communities cultural belonging and identity is anchored in genealogy and vā relationships.

Fluid is usually used as a suffix for another terms such as gender (i.e. gender-fluid) or (sexually-fluid). Fluid describes how an identity may shift over time and/or between different options.

Gay is more commonly used when referring to men who are exclusively attracted to other men but can also be applied to same-sex attracted women.

Gender non-conforming includes a range of people who are not cisgendered.  Gender non-conformity can be expressed in an infinite number of ways, including people identifying outside the gender binary of male and female.

Gender expression-how you externally express your gender identity, through a combination of dress, behaviour and other factors.  This may change over time and be expressed in an infinite number of ways around ideas of masculinity and/or femininity.

Heteronormative means that being heterosexual or straight is considered normal and natural, and any other sexuality is considered strange or pathological.

Heterosexism is the beliefs, structures and actions that promote heterosexuality as the only valid sexual orientation.  Heterosexism often takes the form of ignoring lesbians, gay men and bisexual people, and ensures benefits and protections are granted automatically to heterosexual people that are denied to lesbians, gay men and bisexual people.

Homophobia means the negative attitudes expressed through cultural hate, individual and state violence, and discrimination directed towards lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genital, hormonal and chromosomal patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.  Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations, and is much more common than typically thought.  Some intersex traits are visible at birth while in others become apparent in puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.  Intersex people can be trans, female, male, gender non-conforming, lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Lesbians are women who attracted to other women.

LGBTQI stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.  This common abbreviation does not include Māori or Pasefika cultural identities such as takatāpui, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, leiti, fakafifine, aka’vaine, mahu, vakasalewalewa or palopa. 

Minority stress is the repeated exposure to discrimination, stigma and exclusion which creates acute and chronic low-level stress.  These negative experiences result in shame, isolation, guilt, self-loathing, lack of confidence, trauma, and results in higher risks for depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm, alcohol and other drug use and eating disorders.  Minority stress tells rainbow young people they are less important than their peers.

Outing is a common fear that rainbow people (especially young people) have of having their sexuality or gender identity expressed to others without their consent.  People’s sexuality or gender identity should never be discussed publically (i.e. in waiting room or with people who do not need to know).

Pansexual people have the potential to be attracted to people of any gender identity. 

Pronouns are words which replace people’s names.  Gendered pronouns indicate gender “he, she, him, her” etc.  When we use pronouns about someone else, we are making an assumption we know their gender.  Some people prefer gender-neutral pronouns like “they”; others use pronouns in line with their gender identity which might be different from the gender they were assigned at birth.  Asking someone what pronoun they prefer is the simplest way to get this right.

Queer is a  historically a derogatory term for people with diverse sexualities, but increasingly reclaimed as a positive term, particularly by young people.   Often used to indicate that sexuality and gender identity are fluid for the person using the term.  Sometimes used as an umbrella term for identity in a way similar to “rainbow” or “LGBTQI” is used.

Rainbow is an umbrella term for people who identify under all types of sex, sexuality and gender diversity umbrellas. In Aotearoa New Zealand this includes people who identify as akava’ine, asexual, bisexual, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, FtM, gay, gender fluid, gender-neutral, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, gender variant, hinehi, hinehua, intersex, lesbian, mahu, MtF, non-binary, palopa, pansexual, polysexual, queer, questioning, rae rae, tangata ira tane, takatāpui, 同志 (tongzhi), trans man, trans woman, transfeminine, transgender, transmasculine, transsexual, vaka sa lewa lewa, whakawahine and more.

Sex is about our bodies and how they develop over time.  Although there are infinite possibilities of bodies, usually people are assigned either “male” or “female” at birth.  Sex is usually determined by a variety of things including chromosomes, reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics.

Sexuality or sexual identity is about who you are sexually, emotionally, physically and/or romantically attracted to.  Sexuality can change over time, and there are infinite possibilities.  Sexuality is not the same as sexual behaviour.  For example, many people who have sex with people with similar genders to themselves do not identify as homosexual or bisexual.  Homophobia and biphobia can influence whether someone is comfortable identifying with diverse sexuality identity labels, or people may prefer other labels which acknowledge cultural background.

Takatāpui is a traditional term meaning ‘intimate companion of the same sex’. It has been reclaimed to embrace all Māori who identify with diverse genders and sexualities such as whakawāhine, tangata ira tāne, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer.  All of these and more are included within rainbow communities.

Tangata ira tane is a Māori term describing someone who was assigned female at birth but has a male gender identity.

Transgender - people whose gender identity, expression or behaviour is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.  “Trans” is a broad term which can be used as an umbrella for anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms, including gender diverse, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people.  4% of young people in New Zealand  identify as transgender or unsure of their gender identity.  Trans people can be intersex, heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual. 

Transitioning is a process where trans people move to live in a way that affirms their gender identity rather than the gender they were assigned at birth.  It may or may not involve changing names, documentation, transitioning socially and/or medically.  Social transition is when someone begins to express their gender identity more freely, shares with others, informs them of preferred pronouns and chooses a name which feels appropriate.  Medical transition may involve taking hormones to masculinise or feminise the body and/or different surgeries to affirm gender identity.  Not all trans people will transition in all these ways.  After transition, many trans people prefer to describe themselves as a man or a woman rather than as trans.

Transfeminine people identify nearer the feminine end of the gender identity spectrum.  The term is used especially but not exclusively to describe people who were not assigned female at birth.  

Transmasculine people identify nearer the feminine end of the gender identity spectrum.  The term is used especially but not exclusively the describe people who were not assigned male at birth.

Transmisogyny means the negative attitudes expressed through cultural hate, individual and state violence, and discrimination directed towards trans women and people presumed to be assigned male at birth who are femininely gendered.

Transphobia is the beliefs, structures and actions that promote the idea that there are two types of people – men and women – who are born, raised and naturally associate with that gender and its accompanying characteristics.  This leads to discrimination of and negative attitudes toward people whose gendered identities, appearances or behaviours deviate from traditional gender norms.

Whakawāhine, Hinehi and Hinehua are some Māori terms describing someone who was assigned male at birth but has a female gender identity. 

Youth spaces includes all includes all spaces where young people hang out, access services, education, health, social services, justice, faith-based, recreational or other programmatic activities.