Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics

“The rainbow is part of nature, and you have to be in the right place to see it. It's beautiful, all of the colors, even the colors you can't see. That really fits us as a people because we are all of the colors. Our sexuality is all of the colors. We are all the genders, races, and ages - Gilbert Baker (American Queer activist)

Sexual orientation

Sexuality is part of every person’s life, and is much more than sexual desire and activity. Sexuality can be a source of great pleasure and meaning in life. People are sexual beings and sexuality is experienced in thoughts, feelings, experiences and practices. Sexuality can be expressed in many ways, like through the clothes people wear, the way they behave or talk, what they say and how they say it, and what they do with other people, the relationships they choose to have, their fantasies, desires, and attitudes towards sexuality. Sexuality is influenced by several things including:

  • Biology: Hormones can influence one’s sexuality

  • Personality: One’s experiences can influence sexuality

  • Culture: Cultural norms and values greatly influence people’s attitude and behaviour related to sexuality

  • Laws and policies: put strict rules on what is allowed and what is not allowed in a country concerning sexuality. Laws and policies may also be influenced by cultural norms

Sexual orientation is an important part of sexuality. Your sexual orientation is to what gender(s) you are attracted to. There are many different sexual orientation, as people can feel attracted to someone of a different sex from their own, the same sex, all or none. Even though not all cultures and societies accept this diversity (for example, same sex relationships), people experience different desires in all cultures, societies, families and religions. Those who do not meet the norms of the societies they live in, can experience different forms of stigma and discrimination.

Sex Characteristics

Sex Characteristics are a combination of bodily characteristics including our biology, chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics (testes, penis, vulva, etc.). When we are born the people around us assign us a sex based on what they perceive to be our sex characteristics. For example, male babies are generally labeled boys and female babies are labeled girls. However, sex characteristics and sex are more complex than that and exist on a spectrum.

Gender Identity

Identity is about who you are! Having an identity is a human right! It recognizes your existence in society as an individual. For example, you have the right to a name and nationality. You also have the right to express your sexual orientation, choose your partner and choose top identify with a gender. 

Have you heard about gender before? Gender refers to socially defined roles and behaviours. F.e. we expect a woman to act in a certain way. Different cultures can have different gender norms or different ways they expect people of a certain gender to behave. People have a gender identity. This is their personal conception of their gender, such a being a woman, man, non-binary, gender queer, etc. People from all religions, countries, communities, and families can identify themselves in a lot of different ways. 

When your gender identity matches your sex assigned at birth, we speak of a person who is cisgender. This means you identify yourself with the sex you were assigned at birth. A transgender person is someone who identifies with a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth. People who are transgender can engage in gender affirming or confirming actions, but this is not necessary for identifying as transgender. There are many other gender identities. One of the most common ones is being non-binary, which means that a person does not identify as man or woman, but identifies outside or beyond the gender binary. 

Gender expression

Your gender expression is the way someone presents their gender identity to the outside world. This can be done through behavior, clothing, appearance and more. This expression can play an important role in people's sense of self and identity. While many people express themselves in a way that is similar to the way people expect them to behave based on their gender and sex, other people may choose expressions that are different from this expectation. Your gender expression can be influenced by a person's gender identity, but they are not the same! A person's sense of their gender identity might not match their external gender expression.

LGBTQI+ community

You might have heard the acronym LGBTQI+ before. This term has been a great start for the queer movement to come together and it can be very freeing to find the label you identify with. This is why we want to take a moment to explain the different letters. 

L is for lesbian. Lesbian refers to a sexual orientation whereby a person who identifies as woman or female is aesthetically, romantically, sensually, and/or sexually attracted to other people who identify as woman or female.

G is for Gay. Gay refers to a sexual orientation whereby a person who identifies as a man or male is aesthetically, romantically, sensually and/or sexually attracted to other people who identify as man or male. person whose primary sexual attraction is toward males. It can also be used as an adjective for the wider LGBTQI community, for instance: ‘gay pride’ or ‘gay community’. It can be used as an adjective for the wider LGBTQIA+ community, for instance: 'gay pride' or 'gay community'.

B is for Bisexual. Bisexual refers to a sexual orientation whereby someone is aesthetically, romantically, sensually, and or sexually attracted to at least two gender including their own (so a woman can be attracted to women and non-binary people for example). This attraction does not have to be equally split between these two genders, and there may be a preference for one gender over another. Note: some people identifying as bisexual can be attracted to more than two genders or explain their attraction regardless of gender. 

T is for Transgender and/or Transsexual. Transgender is an adjective to describe a person whose gender identity is not completely the same as the gender ascribed to their anatomical sex (the sex they were born with). Some transgender people seek gender affirming care to affirm their gender. This care includes non-medical practices (such as binding), hormone therapy and or surgical procedures. Undergoing hormone therapy or surgical procedures is not a criteria to identify as trans person. 

Q is for Queer. This is an adjective which means that a person has a gender identity or sexuality that does not fit society's traditional ideas about gender or sexuality. Queer is often used as a political identity and can be used to refer to the entire community. 

I is for Intersex. "Intersex" is a general term used for a person who is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit "typical" presentation of the "male" or "female" biological sex. For example, a person might be born with the typical exterior anatomy of a ‘male’ (e.g. with a penis, testes etc.) as well as the typical interior anatomy of a ‘female’ (e.g. ovaries). A person may also be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the ‘male’ and ‘female’ types, or with what is called ‘mosaic genetics’ whereby some of a person’s cells have XX chromosomes (typical ‘female’ chromosomes) and others are XY (typical ‘male’ chromosomes).

Like the term gender, intersex is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variation: there is a naturally occurring spectrum of sex anatomy that goes beyond the typically ‘male/female’ sex. Many people only discover later in life their intersex birth state, as it is still quite common for doctors to decide with the parents what sex the newborn should have.

It is a human right that you can choose who you want to start a relationship with, no matter the sex of your partner. As long as the relationship is consensual, which means that it is voluntary and wanted by both partners.

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics

More and more people are moving away from the term LGBTQI+ and are adopting a broader definition, which is that of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics. This term encompasses every person who does not fit the rigid, traditional ways society sees sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). Some arguments to use SOGIESC are: 

  • The term LGBTQI+ can create fragmentation between the different labels that are capture by the different letters. It also simplifies the big spectrum and complexity of gender, sex characteristics and sexual orientation. It can also create the assumption that a person who is lesbian is not transgender or queer. 
  • It names a group of a population instead of naming the condition that places them as a minority. For example, if we are only talking about lesbians as a group it can cause people to think that all lesbians are the same without recognizing that they also have other identities (f.e. their age, race, class). When talking about people of diverse sexual orientation your recognize the condition (in this case their sexual orientation) as a ground on which they experience discrimination. 
  • SOGIESC allows for the inclusion of sexual orientations and gender identities that are not traditionally part of the LGBTQI+ community. So for example, non-binary identities from indigenous communities (for example, two spirits, quariwarmi, mahu, muxes) are not recognized within the acronym of LGBTQI+, while they can be includes as people of diverse SOGIESC.

This is why more and more often people choose to refer to diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics. 

Visit our resource hub You(th)DoIT!