This piece was written by Lis Maurer, program director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center on campus.
Maurer addressed some common questions people have when first approaching the subjects of gender orientation, sexuality and identity.
Many of us are curious about sexual orientation and gender identity. We see a lot on TV and in movies about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It’s on the news, in our legislatures, and sometimes even in our voting booths.
What is sexual orientation?
Sexual orientation is to whom you are attracted, and everyone has a sexual orientation. Some people are attracted to people of the same sex. Some people are attracted to people of a different sex. Still others are attracted to both women and men.
What is gender identity?
Sexual orientation and being transgender are not the same. Gender identity is your internal sense of being masculine, feminine, both, or something else entirely.
For some, the sex they were announced at birth and their internal sense match. For others, their body and internal sense are different.
How do people describe or
label their identities?
It’s common for people to use different words to describe their identities when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity. Words a person may use to describe their orientation may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, same-gender loving, queer, pansexual, omnisexual, or other words. Words a person may use to describe their gender identity may be transgender, transsexual, trans, genderqueer, or other words. Language is a living document, and ways people use terms or invent new ones to describe their experience change over time.
Is self-perception sufficient to define gender identity?
Yes. Most people have a strong sense of their gender identity from very early on in childhood — whether they are transgender or gender-typical. People who are conventionally gendered are rarely asked how they know what their gender identity is; if their internal sense of gender and sex pronounced at birth correspond, they are usually granted gender-normative privileges.
It has only been for the last 50 or 60 years that medical technology has allowed for people to
surgically or hormonally transition — processes that make a person’s body look more aligned with their internal gender identity. Transgender
people are individuals and make individual decisions about in what ways they may transition. Transgender people, like non-transgender people, seek to live authentic lives.
What about behavior?
Sexual behavior is what a person does. Knowing a person’s identity labels doesn’t tell you anything about their sexual behavior. Who you are attracted to and what you do may not match.