While reading coverage of all the gay pride events last month, I realized that there were a number of terms being used to describe variations on human sexuality that I was not familiar with. It seemed that somewhere along the way I’d fallen behind on the terminology people use now to describe their sexual orientations and gender identities (which are definitely two different things, more on that later) and I felt that I should do some research to catch up.
I thought I might share some of what I learned with those of you who are a little out of touch like I am when it comes to modern sexual terminology. Here is a list of some of the more commonly used terms used to describe sexual orientation/gender identity these days. Find a quiet place to read this and pay close attention, because it’s going to get more complicated as we go.
These are some of the terms used to describe sexual orientation:
Straight – Someone who experiences attraction only to or primarily to people of the opposite gender.
Gay – Someone who experiences attraction only to or primarily to people of his or her own gender.
Lesbian – A woman who is attracted only to or primarily to other women. (I don’t know why gay women have a specific term to describe same gender attraction and men don’t.)
Bisexual – Someone who experiences attraction to both his or her own gender and the opposite gender.
Asexual – Someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction to anyone.
Pansexual –Someone who experiences attraction to basically everyone, including people of all the various gender identities.
Speaking of gender identity, here’s a list of some of the terms used to describe how that can vary:
Cisgender – Someone who identifies himself or herself with the gender assigned to them at birth.
Transgender – Someone who has transitioned, or is transitioning, from living as one gender to another.
Non-binary – Someone who chooses not to live as either male or female, rejecting the idea that people should be required to fall into either category.
Agender – Someone who feels no association with the traditional concept of gender and/or see himself or herself as existing without a gender.
Intersex – Someone who is born with both male and female sexual characteristics, formerly referred to as hermaphrodites.
I should note that this list is far from comprehensive and no doubt new terms will be coined as people find new ways of expressing their sexuality.
I also think it’s worth pointing out that the terms are often combined to fully describe a person’s sexual identity. The majority of people are cisgender/straight. But a person could be, for example, transgender/straight (attracted to people of the opposite gender from the one they are currently living as) or transgender/gay (attracted to people of the same gender they have transitioned to.)
With all the possible variations it can be a bit much to keep up with. It is a big spectrum that encompasses people with no attachment to sex or gender (agender/asexual) to people who are attracted to absolutely everyone and reject any notion of established gender (non-binary/pansexual) and every possible variation in-between.
I don’t believe any of this is really new, though. All of these variations in how people view themselves and who they are attracted to have always existed. Our gender and sexual identity are as much a function of our brains as they are of our private parts, and our minds are unique and complex organs.
We just live in a time when people feel more free to publicly express these things about themselves rather than hide it out of fear of being judged or, in some cases, beaten or killed for being honest with the world about who they are.
Whether or not that is a good thing or a bad thing is obviously the subject of much debate in our country. I don’t have the space to delve into that question today, but may do so in the future.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at email@example.com.