“Never Give Up”Saint Lawrence Island Yup’ik Value
If you do an Internet search for “gay,” “glbt,” “lgbtq,” or “homosexuality,” a lot of different terms start appearing. The number of words to describe someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity may seem overwhelming, but we’re here to get you up to speed. The following definitions are provided as a guide, some people may use them differently or have their own definitions for the words. We are going to define them in how they are most commonly used.
Although these terms are often together, sexual orientation and gender identity are very different. Sexual orientation describes who you are attracted to, while gender identity describes how you view yourself. These two concepts are independent of one another, meaning that your sexual orientation does not affect your gender identity, and your gender identity does not affect your sexual orientation.
Don’t worry if none of these terms completely fit you, or that you feel like one term describes you this week and another term next week. Part of being human is change and that includes our sexual orientation and our gender presentation. This doesn’t make your feelings any less real or that “it’s just a phase”. We are always learning, changing, and growing into ourselves no matter our age is.
Gay can refer to the sexual preference for a man or woman. It means that someone is romantically or sexually attracted to another person who is the same gender as them. In common language, it usually refers to men who are attracted to other men. Some men who are attracted to other men don’t identify themselves as gay and that’s okay. It is up to the individual whether they want that term to be used to describe them. Gay refers to someone’s chosen label, not that actual behavior.
Lesbian is used for women who are sexually or romantically attracted to other women. It is individual choice whether a woman wants to use the label lesbian or gay, lesbian, bisexual, or none.
Bisexual is a term a person may choose to describe themselves when they are sexually or romantically attracted to more than one gender: men, women, and anyone in between. There are a lot of myths about people who are bisexual. Some of them are that they can’t make up their minds, or that they are really gay but don’t want to admit it. These are all not true. It is also important to remember that the gender of a bisexual person’s partner doesn’t make them heterosexual or gay. How someone chooses to identify (gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.) doesn’t necessarily change because they start seeing someone new.
Transgender is a term that covers a lot of different experiences. A transgender person is someone who feels that the gender they were assigned at birth (boy or girl) does not match who they are. In this case, the person’s sex and gender do not align. A transgender person might take a new name and change the pronouns people use to refer to them. Examples of pronouns are “he/him,” “she/her,” and “they/them.” Male to female is sometimes referred to as MTF, and female to male as FTM. Sometimes, a person feels like neither gender, or both genders, match how they feel and those people might call themselves genderqueer, non-binary, or agender. Not all people who change their gender have medical procedures done, or sexual reassignment surgery (SRS). Every transgender person can have a different combination of possible changes, such as pronouns change, top surgery (breast augmentation or reduction), bottom/genital surgery, or hormone treatments.
Transgender people just want to feel comfortable in their own bodies. No matter their body parts, a transgender person’s gender identity should be respected. It’s never appropriate to ask transgender people about their genitals, sex life, transition, sexual orientation, or birth name. Imagine if someone just walked up and starting asking questions about your body! For more information and a great article about how sex, gender, and sexual orientation are all different, check out Genderpalooza. There, they go into more detail about gender, covering terms such as crossdresser, intersex, transsexual, and more.
Queer is a newly reclaimed term, meaning that queer historically was a slur used about homosexual people and now it is a term that is used more positively. Queer is often used to describe the whole LBGTQ community, a new umbrella term that covers more people. Individuals can also identify as Queer, which usually means non-heterosexual or non-gender conforming. It is always best to ask how someone thinks of themselves before assuming a label.
If you are thinking about your own sexual orientation or gender identity, you might be Questioning. Questioning is a term used by people who are exploring or not sure of their sexuality or gender at the current moment. Not everyone questions their sexual orientation or gender. Some people are solid in knowing who they are attracted to or what their gender is and some people are not. Neither person is better than the other. Understanding yourself can take time, so it’s okay if you are Questioning more than once in your life.
Whether if you see yourself in the definitions on this page or not, there are many more people out there who feel similar to you or share similar experiences as you. If you feel like you are missing support about your sexual orientation or gender identity, it can be good to reach out to other youth who are LGBTQ+. Check our resource page for LGBTQ+ youth for suggestions how to get connected.
Two Spirit is a term used by American Indian and Alaska Native people to refer to sexual orientation and gender identity as well as cultural and spiritual identity. The meaning varies between people and cultures, but Two Spirit usually describes a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics.
MSM or WSW or SGL
These terms are most often seen on health and social justice websites. MSM stands for Men who have Sex with Men. WSW stands for Women who have Sex with Women. SGL stands for Same Gender Loving. All these are alternative descriptions of sexual or romantic behaviors and not necessarily a term someone would use to call themselves.
This is for all our straight partners, friends, and family. Being our ally helps us live happy, healthy, and violence-free lives. Thanks for supporting and loving us!