The McGill Daily has an accessibility issue. Its language has been and often remains inaccessible to students outside of critical theory. Evolving vocabulary can be useful to describe situations or identities which cannot be properly discussed with outdated, offensive terminology. However, introducing terms without providing explanations creates echo chambers which exclude the same people it attempts to empower, often along the lines of immigration status, class, and access to education.
To address this issue, the Daily is starting a public, non-exhaustive glossary of terms used in anti-oppressive activism and in our pieces, to be available on our website permanently under www.mcgilldaily.com/glossary. The glossary will help make articles more comprehensible. The issues we write about won’t change, but we will now publish them with a commitment to linguistic accessibility.
The following terms and their definitions are provided as a tool with which to understand some of the more obscure vocabulary used by the Daily. Like all words, especially words which are regularly debated by both scholars and folks on the Internet, their meanings shift constantly. The ways in which they have been defined may work for all situations, nor may they be applicable in five or ten years. The following definitions were all researched to be as anti-oppressive and accurate as possible. But they’re not perfect, and they certainly won’t be as time changes the way we write and the way we think about difference. So use these definitions as a tool to read this paper, not as an end-all be-all rule.
Assembled by Phoebe Pannier, Arno Pedram, and Ariane Beck.
Jump to: Gender & Sexuality · Race & Colonialism · Disability · Anti-capitalism · Sex work · Feedback
Gender & Sexuality
- Asexual: Someone who does not usually experience sexual attraction, and may or may not experience romantic attraction (the latter person may also be referred to as aromantic).
- Bisexual: Someone of any gender who is attracted to people of two or more genders. Bisexuality often also encompasses attraction to people who are neither men nor women.
- Cisgender/cis: Describing someone who identifies with the gender to which they have been assigned at birth.
- Gender: A social construct which puts people into distinct categories (man, woman, nonbinary) based on how masculine or feminine they are perceived to be, amongst other things. Despite being a social construct, gender has real implications for people, and self-representation of gender is a legitimate performance of identity. One can self-identify as a man or woman, or as a non-binary or agender person (someone without gender), etc.. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Gender binary: The idea that there are two distinct genders, and that those genders are linked to an alleged biological binary. In reality, there are multiple genders as well as more than two sexes, and they do not always correspond..
- Gender non-conforming (GNC): An adjective describing someone whose gender presentation is different than what is expected of them, based on normative gender roles. Someone can be both GNC and identify with a binary gender, as non-conformance is not the same as non-binary. For example, many butch lesbians identify as GNC, while also identifying as women.
- Intersex: A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male (source: Intersex Society of North America)
- Heteronormativity: The belief that all people fit into the gender binary and that heterosexuality is the default sexual orientation. It also assumes that men and women have specific and separate roles within romantic partnerships and even socially. This is often supported by political biases, e.g. restricting marriage and its economic benefits to heterosexuals, safety in public as a heterosexual couple due to heteronormativity, etc.
- Heterosexual: A woman who is attracted to men, or a man who is attracted to women.
- Homosexual: Someone who is attracted to people of the same gender.
- Misgender: To refer to someone by the ‘wrong’ pronouns, i.e. pronouns other than those they have chosen to use for themself, whether purposefully or by accident. Also, to refer to someone using the wrong gender or gendered terms. To purposefully misgender someone is an act of violence.
- Non-binary (sometimes shortened to NB or “enby”): Someone whose gender identity is neither exclusively male nor exclusively female.
- Transgender/trans: An adjective for someone identifying with a gender other than the one assigned at birth. Transgender people can be any gender, binary or otherwise. See also cisgender. (Note that we say transgender and not ‘transgendered.’)
- Trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF): So-called feminists who refuse to recognize that trans women are women. Some believe that transgender women benefit from male privilege, and therefore cannot experience “true” womanhood. TERFs perpetuate violent misgendering of trans women, and ignore the fact that trans women face more gender-based violence than cisgender women do, thus invalidating the notion that they benefit from male privilege. TERFs typically dislike the term and might identify as “gender critical” or simply as “radical feminists”.
- Two-spirit: An Indigenous term and identity that encompasses queer sexual and gender identities while also not being limited to them. Two-spirit identities carry a cultural, social and historical relevance that goes beyond Western concepts of gender and sexuality. It is not a term for non-Indigenous people to identify wit. Not all LGBT+ Indigenous people choose to identify as two-spirit; they may or may not use other Indigenous terms.
- Queer: A term used by non-heterosexual people or gender-questioning or non-conforming folks to self-identify. Historically, queer has been a slur, though many people have chosen to reclaim it. However, it should not be used to describe someone unless they have explicitly stated that they are comfortable with that label. Queer can be used universally as an umbrella term or in reference to queer theory, i.e. the study of non-normative genders and sexualities.
Sexuality and gender are complicated and fluid identities. For more insight into it, we invite you to read Florence Ashley’s November 20, 2017 piece “…Sounds pretty gay to me”
Race & Colonialism
- Anti-colonialism: The opposition to colonial structures, advocating for the rejection of colonial mindsets and belief systems.
- BIPOC/IBPOC: (1) Black and Indigenous and people of colour, a synonym for POC, which is meant to emphasize the specificity of Indigenous peoples’ and Black peoples’ struggles. (2) Some people use BIPOC as an acronym to refer specifically to Black and Indigenous people of colour, and both definitions are considered correct. For the purposes of consistency, The Daily is choosing to only use BIPOC as a synonym for POC.
- Cultural appropriation: When people within culturally dominant groups benefit from the cultures of culturally marginalized people, while still oppressing those people for practicing their own cultures. Typically, it’s white people wearing garments like bindis or dreadlocks, though in certain contexts POC are also capable of culturally appropriating from other POC. This is not the same as cultural assimilation, where marginalized people are forced to comply with the dominator group’s cultural practices, nor is it the same as cultural sharing, where the “otherized” group chooses to share a cultural symbol with the majority group.
- Indigenous: Any group of people who are the first inhabitants of a given region (as opposed to those who settled or colonized the area later). In a Canadian context, Indigenous refers to people who identify as First Nations, Inuit, or Métis.
- POC: People of colour, a grouping which includes everyone who is not white.
- QTBIPOC: Queer and/or Trans Black, Indigenous and/or people of color. (One can also use QPOC, TPOC, QBPOC, etc.)
- Race: A social construct which puts people into distinct categories based on their familial history/continents of origin and/or on how they are perceived based on physical appearance (bone structure, skin colour, hair type, etc). Despite being a social construct, race has real implications for people, privileging white/white-passing people and marginalising Black, Indigenous and people of colour through social, political cultural and economic exclusion and violence.
- Racialization: The process of ascribing racial identities to a group, with social, political, cultural and/or economic consequences of privilege and marginalisation. In contemporary North America, racialization is a product of white supremacy, with the purpose of continued domination. While it is often borne out of domination, racial groups sometimes come to identify with the ascribed identity, out of pride in their background or for other reasons, and thus that racial identity becomes a self-ascribed characteristic.
- Settler: Someone who is not indigenous to an area and establishes, enforces and/or benefits from a multidimensional (social, political, cultural, economic) control over it. A colonizer can be differentiated from a settler in that the settler remains in the area whereas a coloniser can be removed from the area.
- Zionism: A modern political movement advocating the establishment of a Jewish state in the biblical land of Israel. Zionism’s ideological roots can be traced to the nationalist and European colonial movements of the 19th century, though it gained traction after the Holocaust, when hundreds of thousands of surviving Jewish people were left stateless. Many were denied refuge in the West, so immigration to Palestine appeared to be the only option. Two thirds of the Palestinian populace were displaced in the war that led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. In the contemporary context, Zionism has come to represent a colonial attitude and practice towards Palestinians as a political movement that recognizes only Israeli/Jewish hegemony and legitimacy to self-determination in historic Palestine. (for more depth and historical context, The Daily recommends visiting the website of Independent Jewish Voices.)
- Disability: A term which includes things such as restricted mobility (physical disability) or atypical brain functions (psychosocial disability). Disability can be present from birth or develop during life. Disability activism has exposed how disability is not a matter of individuals not fitting society’s standards, but rather, that disabled people are created by society’s active disregard of accessibility.
- Neuroatypical: Refers to people whose neurological structure or function doesn’t fit what the medical community defines as “normal”. Neuroatypical people could be on the autism spectrum, on the schizophrenia spectrum, or they might have bipolar disorder, learning disabilities, or other non-neurotypical conditions.
- Neurodivergent: Though sometimes used synonymously with neuroatypical, neurodivergent actually refers only to those with developmental disabilities.
- Person-first language: The practice of writing “person with disabilities”, rather than “disabled person,” which many people find to be disrespectful since it grammatically positions the disability as primary to the person. Pay attention to whether someone identifies as a person with disabilities or a disabled person and avoid labeling someone otherwise than how they choose to. Sometimes, people prefer to be referred to as a “disabled person,” because the outside environmentactively “disables” them.
- Capital: Typically, capital is wealth owned by a person or an organization. “Capital” can also refer to immaterial assets, such as political clout, education, and socioeconomic class.
- Capitalism: A political and economic system wherein the workers do not own the means of production.
- Corporation: A company or group of people legally authorized to act as a single entity.
- Gentrification: The process by which lower or middle income neighbourhoods are appropriated by higher income populations, usually resulting in the displacement of immigrant and low-income residents. Signs of gentrification are rent hikes, increasing police presence, the use of euphemistic terms such as “redevelopment” by real estate agencies that cover for the expulsion of long-time tenants, or the opening of shops catering to a higher-income class, amongst others.
- Means of production: The non-labour factors which create products of economic value, for example: materials, facilities, tools or machinery. Human labour is distinct from the means of production, though it is another component needed to create goods.
- Socialism: A political and economic system wherein means of production and/or industries are made common property by the state for the citizens or by corporations for the workers. The process of making goods common to a society (corporation or state) is called “socialising”.
- Abolitionists: People who want to fix the problems in the sex work industry by making sex work illegal, punishing both clients and sex workers. Abolitionists often conflate sex work and sex trafficking, and deny that sex work is work — thereby advocating for reforms impacting both sex work and sex trafficking without accounting for any difference between the two. Abolitionists will also often ally themselves with conservative moralists who condemn all forms of sex work as wrong. Abolitionist advocacy can therefore be a direct threat to sex workers’ safety, well-being, right to work, and dignity.
- Decriminalization: Elimination of criminal penalties against sex workers. This attitude recognizes sex work as another form of work, allowing sex workers to be protected by workplace laws and organise into unions more easily, for example. This approach has been adopted in New Zealand, coupled with special protection laws to fight against the specificity of anti-sex worker violence.
- Legalization: Abolishment of laws banning sex work, and replacing them with laws regulating sex work. This approach gives elected officials zoning permissions for sex workers, often ending up in sex workers being pushed to the edge of the city, in dangerous, unregulated zones. Legalization also often implies greater scrutiny of the state into the practice than other forms of job, and suspicion that they are more likely to have diseases (e.g. enforcing mandatory regular STI testing for sex workers only). This approach has been adopted in the Netherlands, Germany, and Nevada.
- Sex work: Sex work refers to any labour within the sex industry. The term “sex worker” is used instead of “prostitute” as it carries less stigma, and recognizes that sex work is work.
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