Sexuality + Gender Identity

Sexuality + Gender Identity

Adolescence is a time to explore and embrace your sexuality. But what is sexuality? It’s not such an easy answer, but to sum it up, it’s the word we use to describe our sexual interests, attractions, preferences, and even our gender expression.

The 101 on Sexuality

Sexuality is about more than just sex. Your sexuality encompasses your body and your sexual and reproductive anatomy, your biological sex, your gender and gender identity, your sexual orientation, your sexual desires and preferences, your relationships and behaviors, and more!

Sexual orientation is an important part of your sexuality – your orientation describes what gender(s) you are attracted to. For example, if you identity as a heterosexual, you likely are attracted to people of the opposite gender. If you identify as gay or homosexual, you likely are attracted to people of your same gender. You may be attracted to people of multiple genders and identify as bisexual, pansexual, both, or none of the above.  A person’s sexual orientation can change and be fluid, so one label may not be accurate to describe your orientation. While your sexual orientation may change over your lifetime, research shows that your sexual orientation is based on biological factors – your genetics that are set in place before you are born. Sexual orientation is not a person’s choice.

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What is Gender Identity?

Everyone is born with a sex – sex is biological and is determined by the sexual and reproductive anatomy we are born with (i.e. males are born with a penis, women are born with a vagina). Gender is “socially constructed” meaning that culture and society have a big influence on how we think we should act as a girl or boy, man or woman etc.

Our gender identity is how we express our gender, whether it be how we act or dress. People who feel that their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth are cisgender. People who do not feel that their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth may identify as transgender. People who don’t identify as a single gender may identify as genderqueer or gender nonconforming. Gender identity and sexual orientation are NOT the same thing. Transgender people may or may not be gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual, just like cisgender people may or may not be gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual.

If you are transgender or gender nonconforming, you have rights. There are laws in California to protect you from discrimination at school. Here are some resources to learn more about your rights and available resources:

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Coming Out to My Peers

Coming out to your friends – whether you are coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender- can be complicated. Fears about whether or not they will accept you are very common.

Coming Out to Peers:                             

Coming out for the first time is a big deal. Ask yourself these questions before moving forward:

  • Do you feel unsafe around your peers and at school?
  • Do your peers and classmates frequently make violent and homophobic  or transphobic comments? Do they ever make you feel unsafe?
  • Have they ever threatened you or expressed that they would not be accepting if you weren’t heterosexual or cisgender?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it’s important to really consider whether coming out to your peers is a good decision right now. While it’s important to be open and honest, your personal safety and security should come first. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever come out to your peers right now, but it might be best to wait until you can better support yourself emotionally. Maybe it makes sense to first come out to a few trusted friends who you know will accept you embracing your sexuality. Ultimately, you need to trust your gut here. Check out this great resource for support and advice from LGBTQ youth.

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Advice on Coming Out

Coming out to your peers is a big step, so it’s okay to be nervous! Remember, this is big news for them too, so make sure you’re adequately prepared for any reaction. Consider the following as you prepare to come out:

  • Make sure you’re ready. Are you confident discussing your sexual and/or gender identity? Do you feel comfortable answering all of your peers questions and concerns that may come up? Be prepared to handle negative reactions, too. If you don’t feel very secure, it might be a good idea to wait until you feel emotionally ready.
  • Practice. Practice what you are going to say. Saying the words out loud, even just to yourself, can help give you confidence before you talk with your peers.
  • Give them time to process the news after you tell them. Just because they don’t accept your sexual or gender identity right off the bat doesn’t mean they don’t still love and support you.
  • Help them learn more about you by giving them resources and connecting them to organizations like Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Assure them that you’re happy and confident with your decision, and let them know that you want their support.
  • If you need more support before coming out, ask a counselor or another young person who has come out to help you better prepare. Having someone who has gone through a similar experience can help you prepare and gain confidence.

If you are getting bullied about your sexual orientation or gender identity and feel helpless, the Trevor Project can help. Click here (link to gender identity LGBTQ page) for additional LGBTQ information and resources. Here are some other great resources on coming out.

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Coming Out to My Family

This is probably one of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make as a teen. Ask yourself these questions before moving forward:

  • Do you feel unsafe at home?
  • Do your parents or siblings frequently make violent and homophobic or transphobic comments? Do they ever make you feel unsafe?
  • Have they ever threatened you or expressed that they would not be accepting if you weren’t heterosexual or cisgender?
  • Will they remove all physical and financial support if you weren’t heterosexual or cisgender?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it’s important to really consider whether coming out to your family is a good decision right now. While it’s important to be open and honest, your personal safety and security should come first. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever come out to your family, but it might be best to wait until you can better support yourself emotionally and financially. Visit the Human Rights Campaign’s website for more resources on coming out.

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How do I come out?

Coming out to your family is a huge step, so it’s okay to be nervous! Remember, this is big news for your family too, so make sure you’re adequately prepared for any reaction. Consider the following as you prepare to come out:

  • Make sure you’re ready. Are you confident discussing your sexual and/or gender identity? Do you feel comfortable answering all of your parents’ questions and concerns? Be prepared to handle negative reactions, too. If you don’t feel very secure, it might be a good idea to wait until you feel emotionally ready.
  • Practice. Practice what you are going to say. Saying the words out loud, even just to yourself, can help give you confidence before you talk with your family.
  • Give them time to process the news after you tell them. Just because they don’t accept your sexuality right off the bat doesn’t mean they don’t still love and support you.
  • Help them learn more about you by giving them resources and connecting them to organizations like Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Assure them that you’re happy and confident with your decision, and let them know that you want their support.
  • If you need more support before coming out, ask a trusted adult to help you better prepare. Having an adult your parents trust can also help them process the news.

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