[Note: For those confused by any of the terminology used in this post (and I don't blame you; it's confusing), here is a good glossary for all things LGBTetc., compiled by Charlie the Unicorn, who runs a quality blog here: http://unicornsareace.wordpress.com/ Any additional questions are, of course, welcome in the comments.]
The LGBTetc community is a big part of my life – and it’s no small wonder, considering how many of the letters in the (rather too long to post here) initialism I can claim as my own. I take a T or two for transgender/transmasculine, a G for gay, another for genderqueer, a couple of A’s for asexual and aromantic, and a P for pan-attractional,1 because why not?
It should be obvious then why it is that LGBTetc issues are a rather primary concern in my life; not only are they dealing with what I perceive to be basic human rights and dignity, but every battle, every court case, every news story involving the queer community has the potential to directly affect me or someone I love. That being said, it’s possible that I’m going to find myself writing about queer issues a lot, so I thought that I might use my first proper post to address some of the basics of queer identity as I see them, for the benefit of the uninitiated:
Sex and gender are not the same thing.
Contrary to what our society may lead you to believe, a person’s hormones/primary or secondary sex characteristics/chromosomes do not determine that person’s gender. It’s true that for the majority of the population, sex and gender match up the way they tend to be expected to – that is, most men are born with penises, and most women with vulvae. The people who fall into that category are called cisgender. For many, however, this is not the case – and these people are called transgender. Transgender people come in all kinds of sex/gender configurations, and make up a community more diverse and widespread than I could possibly describe in a single blog post.
While I’m at it…
Sex and gender are not binary.
Again, society would like us to believe that sex and gender are as simple as male/female, boy/girl, but I bet you’ve already realized that I’m going to tell you that that’s simply not the case. When a baby is born, we rush to assign it a gender identity that it can’t yet possibly understand; but what we’re really describing is merely the outward appearance of its body. When we say “boy,” we mean that a baby seems to be what we think of as typically male; “girl” means typically female. But not all bodies fall neatly into one of those two restrictive categories. Those people with so-called “atypical” sex characteristics are usually referred to as intersex.
Similarly, gender goes far beyond the typical boy/girl dichotomy. There is a myriad of different gender identities on what is often described as a fluid gender spectrum; a person may identify as a man, a woman, both, neither, or something in between.
Sex/gender are (mostly) independent of sexual/romantic orientation and attraction.
This is a pretty simple concept, if you can understand the first two. Sexual and romantic attraction are separate from sex and gender identity; trans* and intersex people can be gay, straight, bi/pan/omni/poly/asexual, or queer just the same as cisgender and dyadic people. Sexual and romantic attraction usually relate to a person’s gender identity, rather than that person’s sex; that is, a transman who is attracted exclusively to men is gay, and a transwoman attracted exclusively to women is a lesbian.
You can’t believe everything you hear.
Bisexuals are not just indecisive attention seekers; asexuals are not all hormonally deficient/emotionally damaged/too unattractive to find a partner; trans* people are not being dishonest or deceptive about their gender identity; etc. If sweeping generalizations like this make you uncomfortable, it’s for a good reason; do us all a favor and don’t perpetuate the stereotypes.
People can only identify themselves.
Identity policing is no fun for anyone; no one understands your identity better than you do, and no one has the right to tell you how you can or cannot identify. But you have to remember it’s a two-way street – you have to respect the rights of others to self-identify as well.
Things do not just get better on their own.
It takes real people taking real initiative to make progress; the social climate does not change without work on the part of LGBTetc people and their allies alike. The being said, that means that everyday people have the chance to help make real change. And it doesn’t take much – do your part to educate yourself, respect others, and stand up for the rights of your LGBTetc friends and peers, and you’re contributing to making your surroundings a better, safer place for people like me.
And you know what? I appreciate that.
1That is, potentially emotionally (but not necessarily romantically or sexually) attracted to people of any gender/lack therof.