If I say sexuality to you, what do you think of? If I ask you what sexualities are there most likely the majority of people will say gay, straight, bisexual… and probably a lot of people will say transgender. If I ask you what genders there are, the majority will likely say male and female. Maybe a few will say intersex.
And these people, whether through lack of education or interest, are missing out on a huge, mind-blowing, spectrum-ranging, beautiful, interesting world of gender identities and sexualities. And sadly, the majority of these people will be heterosexual cis people, because they’ve never had to go looking for a label/term to fit them (I am by no means saying that straight or cis people are not interested in this stuff, nor that they are not knowledgeable; it is a wide generalisation).
So, let’s get learning!
First of all, a brilliant video to watch for in-depth talks on loads of sexualities and genders is YouTuber Ashley Mardell’s video right here. I highly recommend you subscribe to her as her videos are true ‘infotainment’ (and her editing is flawless).
So, what terms are there to describe yourself?
1. Gender identity – this is what gender you feel; this is normally male, female or genderqueer but there are loads of other genders which are all equally valid.
2. Gender expression – this is how you express your gender, but is does not have to match (for example, I identify as female, but my gender expression is androgyny/androgynous).
3. Sexuality – sexuality is an umbrella term for who you are attracted to, but it is better explained in two parts…
4. Romantic orientation – the first part is who you are romantically attracted to. This can be anyone of any gender, anywhere in between, and as many as you feel!
5. Sexual orientation – next comes who you’re physically attracted to. It’s important to note that normally romantic orientation covers cuddling and even kissing, whereas sexual orientation is more about who you want to sleep with. (And again, this can be any and all genders!)
Sidenote: ‘cis’ means cis-gender, meaning the gender you identify as matches the sex you were assigned at birth i.e. I was born female and identify as a female, therefore my gender identity is cis-female.
Some of the possible combos are a homoromantic heterosexual, a pansexual homoromatic, an aromatic homosexual, a greysexual heteromantic/heteroromantic (spellings vary)… and the list goes on! It’s a bit mind-boggling to begin with, I know, but it really is liberating once you fully understand it all.Next we should talk about that aromantic and greysexual thing I was throwing around – what’s that?
Asexuality is the sexuality where you are not physically attracted to anyone. This can be extended into greysexuality where sometimes you get that physical attractions, but sometimes you don’t – and there are whole spectrums inbetween.
Aromantic is when the romantic attraction is not there for you. Often people just think there’s something wrong with them, or they haven’t found ‘the one’, but there are genuinely people who can live happy, fulfilled lives without a romantic partner. And it’s important to remember that, and the fact that just because someone is aromantic (or greyromantic etc.) that doesn’t mean they don’t have physical relationships or attraction; and the same goes for asexual people who can have happy, fulfilled lives with romantic, non-physical relationships.As with sexuality, there are grey areas for gender too. Many genders fall in the spectrum between simple ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example genderqueer which is where you feel neither gender more strongly/ feel male and female equally. Or genderfluid where you often feel more male one day, and more female the next. This can be taken to ‘extremes’ where you dress stereotypically male one day, then female another, but that’s just buying into stereotypes so we’ll try and avoid that. Let’s just remember that everything and everyone is fluid to some extent, both in gender and sexuality.
Another way of identifying and labelling is the Kinsey scale. The Kinsey scale is commonly used by people (particularly LGBT+ people, in my experience) to explain their sexual and romantic preferences. It uses a scale from 0, meaning exclusively heterosexual, to 6, meaning exclusively homosexual. So, for example, 3 is bisexual. Some people prefer the Kinsey scale as it is direct and easy to understand, however if you do believe that sexuality and gender are fluid then the Kinsey scale can feel a bit in-a-box-y sometimes.
Finally, a couple of common mis-definitions:
Pansexual and bisexual, what’s the difference? Basically, pansexual is attracted to all genders, whereas bisexual is just male and female. Nowadays they are often used interchangeably, but it should be made clear that these are different sexualities.
Transgender people – male, female or in-between? This one is tricky, as I am not trans* so this is just from readings, talking to trans* people and my opinion… but many believe trans* people are not male or female per se, but are somewhere in the gender spectrum middle. I disagree; the whole ‘premise’ of being transgender is that their gender identity does not match the gender they were born into, so they are quite simply – the gender they identify as. This can be in the middle of the spectrum, but transgender is not a gender in itself. Also, remember that trans* people have the exact same range of sexualities as cis people.
What is intersex? Intersex is a general term used when a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t quite ‘fit’ the typical definitions of male or female. Now, this is not transgender. Intersex is different, for example a person may be born appearing female on the outside, but have male-typical anatomy inside. Or they may be born with genitals seeming in-between male and female types. Or they may be born with ‘mosaic genetics’, so that some of their cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY. Intersex is another umbrella term, and is not a gender or sexuality as such, it is more a ‘technical term’ that would be used clinically. If a person happens to be intersex, they are still whatever gender and sexuality they identify as.
To sum up, there are four parts to gender and sexuality, and people should never say something does not exist. A lot of people say bisexuality ‘doesn’t exist’, but the thing is – if people feel it, then it exists. It can be one person who feels that way, or millions; either way if it’s felt, it is real and it is a thing. With all these different terms it can be confusing, but it’s important to remember what a wide range of identities are out there, and to embrace and appreciate them because they are all just as valid as each other.
Facebook also just introduced a new option for ‘custom’ genders in your information section. Wonderful!