Written by Grace Manger from Everyone Is Gay and My Kid Is Gay
A person’s sexual identity describes the gender (or genders) that they are attracted to in a sexual or romantic way. Everyone has some kind of sexual identity, and we’ll define some of them below. There are a lot of different sexual identities to choose from, but the most important thing to remember is that you get to choose what sexual identity word is the best fit for you.
Breakdown of Terms
There are a lot of different sexual identity terms, but here are some of the more common ones.
+ Straight (or heterosexual)
People who are attracted to people who are not their same gender. For example, a woman who is only attracted to men might identify as straight.
People who are attracted to people of the same gender. For example, a man who is only attracted to other men might identify as gay. Similarly, a lesbian specifically refers to a gay woman, so a woman who is only attracted to other women.
People who are attracted to those of their same gender and to those of different genders. Similarly, pansexual is a sexual identity for those who are attracted to all genders.
+ Asexual (or “ace” for short)
People who don’t experience sexual attraction to any gender. Asexuality also exists on a spectrum, so some people may identify as ace and still experience some amount of sexual attraction.
This is a tough term to define, and that’s exactly how it’s meant to be! Identifying as queer generally means that they aren’t straight, but could mean a myriad of other things. Queer used to be a slur used to attack and harm those in the gay and bisexual communities, but has since been reclaimed and used to celebrate the amazing diversity in human sexuality.
Someone who identifies as questioning may be in a period of figuring out their sexuality, and exploring what other sexual identity term might feel like the best fit.
Now for some myth busting and important question answering!
+ Being straight is the best, though, right?
Nope! Not even a little bit. In our society, we tend to think that everyone is straight until they say, “Actually, I’m not straight! I am [insert sexual identity].” This is called “coming out” and can happen at any age, with any sexual or gender identity. But just because we assume everyone is straight until further notice does not make all of the other sexual identities secondary or less than. Being gay, queer, or bisexual is a wonderful thing to be, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being straight.
+ What if I don’t know what my sexual identity is?
That’s ok! That’s great, even, because it means that you get to embark on a magical journey full of unicorns and confetti. Ok, there may or may not be unicorns and confetti involved, but it can be an exciting opportunity to think about who you are, who you like to spend time with, who you picture standing next to you in 20 years, and who you might like to go on a date with. You might know right away, like a light bulb going off in your head screaming, “I’m bisexual!” Or, it might take some more patience, some more journaling about your feelings, and some more time to let yourself try out new things until you find something that feels good.
+ Why do you keep saying “might identify”?
Ultimately, a sexual identity term is for everyone to decide for themselves, and we should never assume someone’s sexual identity based on who they happen to be dating at any given time, or how they dress or what kind of music they like. Human sexuality is so complex, and we should never think we know someone better than they know themselves.
+ If straight, gay, and queer are all sexual identities, why do people make such a fuss about being LGBTQ?
This is a great question! Remember how we talked about how being straight is the “default” in our society? For a long time (and still now, to some extent) people who identified as something other than straight were harassed, oppressed, and denied basic human rights. As a result, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community has had to come together and fight for equality and respect.
+ tabú tip!
Your sexual identity is for you to explore and understand in your own way, in your own time. No one can decide your sexual identity for you, but there are resources and books and people available to help you along the way!