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Are you gay? Bi? Straight?
Looks like a simple question, doesn't it? Well, believe it or not, for many people, it can be quite difficult to answer this question.
Just like our fingerprints, sexual orientation is part of our identities. It forms an integral part of who we are. Yet, it is one of the most confusing parts of our identities too. Knowledge about the different sexual orientations is surprisingly low among most people. Insofar as I know, most people's knowledge of sexual orientation is limited to straight...and gay.
So, today, I am writing this article to help shed some light on the topic. In this article, I will be explaining the differences between the different sexual orientations which people most commonly identify themselves as. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be able to have a glimpse of each sexual orientation and understand the different labels people use.
But before we begin talking about sexual orientation, it is important to get something straight first.
What is sex?
No, we are not talking about the act. Nope. Instead, we are referring to something which most people refer to as gender. Most people often use these two terms (sex and gender) interchangeably. However, is it correct to do so? Do sex and gender actually mean the same thing?
The answer is no. Although both sex and gender are ways to categorise humans, they are completely different and independent. To fully understand this, let's first take a look at sex.
Male and Female
Sex is a biological characterisation of living things into two main categories: male and female.
Ways to determine the sex of a living thing differ from species to species. For humans and other mammals, sex is determined using the sex chromosomes found in specialised cells known as gametes. Males have an X and a Y chromosome (XY) in their gametes (sperms), while females have two X chromosomes (XX) in their gametes (ova, singular: ovum). This forms the XY sex-determination system for humans.
The XY and XX chromosomes are responsible for the characteristics we often associate to a sex, for example, sexual organs. Hence, sex is often assigned to a baby right after birth.
However, there are people who are born with sex characteristics which do not fit the typical definitions of male and female bodies. They are intersex.
Intersex results from a genetic disorder in the sex chromosomes which causes the gametes to have non-typical chromosome groups (not XY or XX pairs). Examples of chromosome groups found in intersex gametes include XXY (Klinefelter Syndrome), XYY (XYY Syndrome) and others.
These chromosome groups form various non-typical sex characteristics, such as ambiguous genitals, ambiguous internal sex organs and so on. Some intersex traits can be found right after birth while some only become visible during puberty.
For humans, sex is a characterisation based on the sex chromosomes in the gametes.
There are three sexes: male, female and intersex.
Now, what about gender?
Gender is different from sex?
Yes, it is.
Gender is the social and psychological characteristics differentiating between masculinity and femininity. While sex is determined based on biological terms, gender is determined based on the social traits someone has. So, traditionally, if someone shows various masculine traits, he is a male. And if someone shows various feminine traits, she is a female. However, this is obviously not enough to define one's gender. So, the way people identify their own gender evolves over time. In modern society, people identify their gender either by their biological sex organs, their social traits, their gender identity or a combination of methods.
Gender identity is one's personal sense of one own's gender. This is independent of the biological sex organs one possesses.
There are a few genders which people usually identify themselves as:
Cisgender refers to people who identify their gender as the biological sex assigned at birth. Males born with male genitals and females born with female genitals fall into this category. Intersex people who identify themselves as either male or female also fall into this category.
Transgender people are people who identify themselves as the gender opposite to their biological sex assigned at birth.
- people born with male genitals but identify themselves as female
- people born with female genitals but identify themselves as male
3. Non-Binary or Genderqueer
Non-binary is a blanket term that includes people who do not identify themselves as either male or female.
They include genders such as:
- People who identify themselves as more than one gender (bigender, trigender, etc.)
- People who identify themselves as having no gender (agender, etc.)
A genderfluid person remains flexible about their gender identity. Sometimes they may identify themselves as a male, sometimes a female, sometimes a non-binary gender. Just like the term "genderfluid" suggests, they do not conform to a fixed gender.
With so many different gender identities, it is important to get the pronouns right.
Males usually go with the "he/him" pronoun, while females usually go with the "she/her" pronoun. For nonbinary people, they usually prefer a gender-neutral pronoun like the "xe/xem" pronoun, but it is all down to personal preference. So, the best way to make sure you get it right and not offend anybody is by asking the person. That way, you will know which pronoun the person prefers.
To sum up,
Sex is identified based on biological terms, while gender is traditionally determined based on social and psychological traits. Often, however, gender is identified based on one's gender identity.
There are three sexes: male, female and intersex.
There are three basic gender groups: male, female and non-binary. Each gender group consists of different genders.
It is important to realise that all genders are equal and valid and no gender should be discriminated against in any way.
Now that we understand sex and gender, let's move on to the ultimate topic: sexual orientation.
The Rough Water: Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation can be confusing to most people, but it is very important to get it right to not offend anybody. Not to be confused with sexuality (which is a blanket term that refers to everything related to sexual behaviours such as arousal, experience, and sexual acts), sexual orientation is the enduring pattern of sexual attraction to another person. Sometimes it can be very difficult to differentiate between the different sexual orientations, thus making it challenging for most people to even identify their own sexual orientations.
Here are some of the most common sexual orientations which people identify themselves as. Although the terms used are defined with respect to a person's gender, the sexual attraction someone has towards another person is independent of their own gender and, of course, sex. Bear in mind that there exist many other sexual orientations which differ in minor details to each other and not as common as the ones stated, but all sexual orientations are equal and valid.
People who are sexually attracted to their opposite gender fall into this category. Heterosexual people usually identify themselves as straight.
People who are sexually attracted to the same gender as themselves fall into this category.
While homosexual people usually identify themselves as gay, the terms used can also be gender-specific. Male homosexuals often identify themselves as gay, while female homosexuals often identify themselves as a lesbian.
There are various definitions for bisexuality. The most common ones are:
- People who are sexually attracted to both males and females
- People who are sexually attracted to any two genders
- People who are sexually attracted to more than one gender (often termed polysexual too)
Depending on your preference and social background, different definitions are used. However, most people refer to bisexuals using the first definition (sexual attraction towards males and females).
The most common misconception people have about bisexuals is that bisexual people are always equally attracted to both genders. This is actually not true! A person can be sexually attracted to a male, say, 98 perent of the time and sexually attracted to a female 2 percent of the time, and they are valid as a bisexual. Mind you, it does not have to be a 50/50 split. Some bisexuals, in fact, most bisexuals, are more attracted to one gender than the other!
Polysexual people are people who have sexual attractions towards multiple, but not all, gender.
Just like the misconception people have about bisexuals, the same discussion applies to polysexual people. Most polysexual people are attracted to different genders by different amounts, crudely speaking.
People who are sexually attracted to others regardless of gender fall into this category. Pansexual people often refer themselves as gender-blind, as their sexual attraction towards others is independent of gender and sex.
Not to be confused with polysexual people, pansexuals can be sexually attracted to any gender, while polysexual people can only be sexually attracted to a certain number of genders, depending on the individual.
People who are not sexually attracted to any gender fall into this category.
One of the most common misconceptions about asexuals is that asexuals do not crave having a relationship with others. That is also not true! Despite the lack of sexual attraction towards others, most asexuals do develop a romantic attraction to others. Romantic attraction is separate from sexual attraction most of the times when it comes to defining a person's sexual orientation.
Grey-asexuality or, less commonly, grey-sexuality is the spectrum between sexuality and asexuality. It covers a wide range of sexual orientations like demisexual, semi-sexual, and so on.
People who identify themselves as grey-asexuals (or more often, grey-As) experience sexual attraction towards others very rarely, only under special circumstances, or of a very low intensity that it is ignorable.
So far, I have covered the seven most common sexual orientations people usually identify themselves with, but remember that there are more. And just like gender, the best way to get a person's sexual orientation right is by asking them so as not to offend anyone. But do be careful, as some people may not be ready and open to talk about their sexual orientations and genders!!
Note that the flags shown are not the only flags for each sexual orientation, but just the most commonly used ones.
As a summary:
Sexuality refers to everything related to sexual behaviours.
Sexual orientation is the enduring pattern of sexual attraction one has towards another.
There are many sexual orientations. The most common ones include:
- Heterosexual: attraction to the opposite gender.
- Homosexual: attraction to the same gender
- Bisexual: attraction to male and female, or any two genders, or more than one gender.
- Polysexual: attraction to many, but not all, genders.
- Pansexual: attraction to any gender.
- Asexual: lack of attraction to any gender.
- Grey-asexual: very low frequency or very low intensity of attraction towards any gender.
It is most important to know that every sexual orientation is equally valid and no sexual orientation should be discriminated against. The same goes to gender.
It is a shame that most countries (including mine) do not recognise the rights of other sexual orientations apart from heterosexuality. Every person has their rights to identify themselves as any gender and sexual orientation they connect with the most. No one should ever question and discriminate against anyone for not being the "norm" of the society they perceived it to be.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand the different genders and sexual orientations. Please do share it on Tumblr, Twitter, everywhere, if you find the article useful. I really hope that it will reach as many people as possible.
And before I end, I just want to say to everyone who is reading this:
It doesn't matter if you are straight, gay, bi, asexual. It doesn't matter if you are male, female or non-binary. There is nothing to be ashamed of no matter your gender and sexual orientation because you are who you are and no one can tell you otherwise. It does not matter if people look down at and laugh at you. Most importantly, be proud of who you are and embrace yourself! <3 #pride