Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

Adapted from Planned Parenthood

Sexual orientation describes who you’re attracted to. You may already know what your sexual orientation is, or you might be figuring it out — both are totally normal.

What’s Sexual Orientation?

Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Queer. Questioning. Asexual. Straight. There are many labels that describe who you’re attracted to romantically and sexually. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about your sexual orientation. Or maybe you haven’t given it much thought. Either way, sexual orientation is just one part of who you are.

It’s not completely known what causes someone to be lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual, but your sexual orientation probably started at a very young age. This doesn’t mean that you had sexual feelings, just that you had feelings about who you were attracted to. As you get older these feelings get stronger and shape your sexual identity.
Sometimes sexual orientation changes over time. And sometimes it stays the same throughout your life. But sexual orientation isn’t a choice, and can’t be changed by therapy, treatment, or pressure from family or friends. You also can’t “turn” a person gay. For example, a girl who plays with toys traditionally made for boys isn’t going to become a lesbian because of that.

Sexual orientation can feel incredibly simple — you’re a girl who’s always liked both guys and girls and you identify as bisexual — or it can feel way more complex. It may take several years to understand your sexual orientation or come out. Some people call themselves questioning, which means they aren’t sure about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is common — especially for teens.

What does queer mean?

Queer is a word that describes sexual and gender identities other than straight and cisgender. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people may all identify with the word queer. Queer is sometimes used to express that sexuality and gender can be complicated, change over time, and might not fit neatly into either/or identities, like male or female, gay or straight.   The word “queer” has history to it that’s hurtful — “queer” used to be (and sometimes still is) used to put down or disrespect LGBT people. But more and more, people use the word with pride to identify themselves. So don’t call someone “queer” unless you know they’re cool with it. The best thing to do is ask what labels people prefer.

Who can I talk to about my sexual orientation?

Figuring out your sexual orientation can feel confusing and lonely. But it doesn’t have to be. Lots of people assume that everyone around them is straight, or have old-fashioned ideas about what LGBTQ people are like. That can make you feel bad about yourself, especially if you’ve ever been bullied about it.

But actually, you’re not alone at all, and it definitely doesn’t make you bad. It may not seem like it in high school, but being LGBTQ is pretty common — and it’s a huge source of pride and happiness for lots of people. Talking with someone you trust, someone who’s going through the same thing as you, or has gone through it in the past, can really help.

Here are some ways you can find people to talk with.

Thinking about this stuff can bring out a lot of feelings. If you’re having a really hard time, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline where you can talk about what’s going on.Remember that deciding who to come out to and when is totally up to you. Figuring out your sexual orientation and coming out are both processes — they take time. Don’t rush yourself.  

Gender Identity

Sex, gender, and gender identity are all related, but different parts of who you are. For lots of people sex, gender, and gender identity line up. But not for everyone.

What’s the difference between sex and gender?

It’s pretty easy to confuse biological sex (sometimes called “sex assigned at birth”) with gender and gender identity. They’re related, but different.

  • Sex is a label that’s usually first given by a doctor based upon the genes, hormones, and body parts (like genitals) you’re born with. It goes on your birth certificate and describes your body as female or male. Some people’s sex doesn’t fit into male or female, called intersex.
  • Gender is how society thinks we should look, think, and act as girls and women and boys and men. Each culture has beliefs and informal rules about how people should act based on their gender. For example, many cultures expect and encourage men to be more aggressive than women.
  • Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you show your gender through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It’s a feeling that begins early in life.

There are lots of ways people express their gender. Learn more about sex and gender.

What do transgender and cisgender mean?

Most people who are assigned female at birth feel like girls or women, and most people who are assigned male at birth feel like boys or men. These people are cisgender (or cis).

Some people have a gender identity that doesn’t match the sex they were given at birth — for example, they were born with a vulva, vagina, and uterus, but they feel and identify as male. These people are transgender (or trans). Transgender is the “T” in LGBTQ.

Trans can also include people who don’t identify with strict male/female gender roles. Other people who don’t feel either male or female call themselves genderqueer. There are other gender identity terms and labels, but don’t use terms like transgendered, transvestite, tranny, or, he-she — they’re old-fashioned and can be hurtful. It’s always best to respect the words people use to describe themselves.

Learn more about coming out as transgender, finding a trans-friendly doctor, or supporting someone who is trans.

What does intersex mean?

Some people are born with a mix of male and female biological traits, which can make it hard for doctors to assign them a male or female sex. These people are intersex. Being intersex is not the same thing as being transgender.

Being intersex is often caused by one of many genetic or hormonal conditions, but it isn’t a medical problem. It’s also more common than most people realize. Some people know their child is intersex at birth. But many people don’t find out they’re intersex until they go through puberty, or even later.

If you’re intersex, or think you might be, it’s important to talk with a doctor you’re comfortable with. But not all doctors are up to date with the latest information on intersex conditions. You can learn more about intersex here or check out InterACT, a network for intersex teens and young adults.

Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

Adapted from Planned Parenthood

Sexual orientation describes who you’re attracted to. You may already know what your sexual orientation is, or you might be figuring it out — both are totally normal.

What’s Sexual Orientation?

Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Queer. Questioning. Asexual. Straight. There are many labels that describe who you’re attracted to romantically and sexually. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about your sexual orientation. Or maybe you haven’t given it much thought. Either way, sexual orientation is just one part of who you are.

It’s not completely known what causes someone to be lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual, but your sexual orientation probably started at a very young age. This doesn’t mean that you had sexual feelings, just that you had feelings about who you were attracted to. As you get older these feelings get stronger and shape your sexual identity.

Sometimes sexual orientation changes over time. And sometimes it stays the same throughout your life. But sexual orientation isn’t a choice, and can’t be changed by therapy, treatment, or pressure from family or friends. You also can’t “turn” a person gay. For example, a girl who plays with toys traditionally made for boys isn’t going to become a lesbian because of that.

Sexual orientation can feel incredibly simple — you’re a girl who’s always liked both guys and girls and you identify as bisexual — or it can feel way more complex. It may take several years to understand your sexual orientation or come out. Some people call themselves questioning, which means they aren’t sure about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is common — especially for teens.

What does queer mean?

Queer is a word that describes sexual and gender identities other than straight and cisgender. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people may all identify with the word queer. Queer is sometimes used to express that sexuality and gender can be complicated, change over time, and might not fit neatly into either/or identities, like male or female, gay or straight.   

The word “queer” has history to it that’s hurtful — “queer” used to be (and sometimes still is) used to put down or disrespect LGBT people. But more and more, people use the word with pride to identify themselves. So don’t call someone “queer” unless you know they’re cool with it. The best thing to do is ask what labels people prefer.

Who can I talk to about my sexual orientation?

Figuring out your sexual orientation can feel confusing and lonely. But it doesn’t have to be.

Lots of people assume that everyone around them is straight, or have old-fashioned ideas about what LGBTQ people are like. That can make you feel bad about yourself, especially if you’ve ever been bullied about it.

But actually, you’re not alone at all, and it definitely doesn’t make you bad. It may not seem like it in high school, but being LGBTQ is pretty common — and it’s a huge source of pride and happiness for lots of people. Talking with someone you trust, someone who’s going through the same thing as you, or has gone through it in the past, can really help.

Here are some ways you can find people to talk with.

Thinking about this stuff can bring out a lot of feelings. If you’re having a really hard time, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline where you can talk about what’s going on.

Remember that deciding who to come out to and when is totally up to you. Figuring out your sexual orientation and coming out are both processes — they take time. Don’t rush yourself.  

 

Gender Identity

Sex, gender, and gender identity are all related, but different parts of who you are. For lots of people sex, gender, and gender identity line up. But not for everyone.

What’s the difference between sex and gender?

It’s pretty easy to confuse biological sex (sometimes called “sex assigned at birth”) with gender and gender identity. They’re related, but different.

  • Sex is a label that’s usually first given by a doctor based upon the genes, hormones, and body parts (like genitals) you’re born with. It goes on your birth certificate and describes your body as female or male. Some people’s sex doesn’t fit into male or female, called intersex.
  • Gender is how society thinks we should look, think, and act as girls and women and boys and men. Each culture has beliefs and informal rules about how people should act based on their gender. For example, many cultures expect and encourage men to be more aggressive than women.
  • Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you show your gender through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It’s a feeling that begins early in life.

There are lots of ways people express their gender. Learn more about sex and gender.

What do transgender and cisgender mean?

Most people who are assigned female at birth feel like girls or women, and most people who are assigned male at birth feel like boys or men. These people are cisgender (or cis).

Some people have a gender identity that doesn’t match the sex they were given at birth — for example, they were born with a vulva, vagina, and uterus, but they feel and identify as male. These people are transgender (or trans). Transgender is the “T” in LGBTQ.

Trans can also include people who don’t identify with strict male/female gender roles. Other people who don’t feel either male or female call themselves genderqueer. There are other gender identity terms and labels, but don’t use terms like transgendered, transvestite, tranny, or, he-she — they’re old-fashioned and can be hurtful. It’s always best to respect the words people use to describe themselves.

Learn more about coming out as transgender, finding a trans-friendly doctor, or supporting someone who is trans.

What does intersex mean?

Some people are born with a mix of male and female biological traits, which can make it hard for doctors to assign them a male or female sex. These people are intersex. Being intersex is not the same thing as being transgender.

Being intersex is often caused by one of many genetic or hormonal conditions, but it isn’t a medical problem. It’s also more common than most people realize. Some people know their child is intersex at birth. But many people don’t find out they’re intersex until they go through puberty, or even later.

If you’re intersex, or think you might be, it’s important to talk with a doctor you’re comfortable with. But not all doctors are up to date with the latest information on intersex conditions. You can learn more about intersex here or check out InterACT, a network for intersex teens and young adults.