What is up with all these sexual orientations? What do they all mean?
It does seem as if there is a sexual orientation letter soup, but as we gain a better understanding about how we view sexuality-- it's important that we include everyone. First let's start with the definition of sexual orientation.
Sexual Orientation describes someone's continual (not just one time) attraction -- it can be a physical, sexual, and/or emotional attraction -- to a group of people. We'll get into the different groupings of people in our letter soup discussion below. Now the important thing to remember about someone's sexual orientation is that the definition doesn't mention any sexual acts. Let's make this idea into an example. If a guy receives oral sex from another guy BUT he does not have a continual attraction to men, then that 1 sexual act does NOT define his sexual orientation. However, his behavior does mean that he has had sex with another man (your actions don't disappear just because you don't identify as a different sexual orientation.)
Lesbian is when women have sexual desire or attraction to women.
Gay is usually ascribed to men who have sexual desire or attraction to men. As we all know, there are several definitions to the word gay, and not all of them are about sexual orientation. However, some women who are attracted to women refer to themselves as gay.
Bisexual is a sexual orientation that describes someone who is attracted to women and men. Remember, sexual orientation is not about your current sexual activities. So, that means a woman can be in a relationship with a man and still identify as a bisexual because she feels an attraction for both men and women.
Transgender is unique in this "alphabet soup" of sexuality because it doesn't really refer to a sexual orientation. However, in our society, we tend to put together all "groups" of people that are "different." So, people who identify as transgender are considered part of the LGBTQQIA community. Transgender people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs
from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. Transgender people may have any sexual orientation.
Queer is a political statement, a theory and an identity. Someone who identifies as queer is a person who redefines or plays with gender, or who refuses society's definitions or expectations assigned to gender
altogether. It is often a label that people choose who bend or break their socially assigned gender roles. Queer identity is not a sexual orientation, but it is an identity that allows people to move outside of the boxes for female or male. In the past, queer has been a negative word for people who do not identify as a heterosexual, and some people find it offensive.
Questioning allows for people to say that they are not sure what their sexual orientation is, or if it is only one way. Someone's sexual attraction might change several times over their lives. If they don't want to make an absolute statement about their sexual attraction/orientation, then they will identify as questioning.
Intersexuality is a set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomaly of the
reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with
"sex chromosomes," external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems
that are not considered "standard" for either male or female.
Asexual is a person who is not sexually attracted to any gender. This does not mean that they don't have sexual feelings, but those feelings are not connected to another person. Someone identifying as asexual will still engage in sexual acts, but those acts will not include anyone else.
That is a lot of information, but it doesn't end there. We could talk about pansexuality, polyamory, and two spirits. Sexuality is a complex concept, and the more we learn, the more we realize that we don't know. One of the new ideas that people are finally accepting is that our identities are fluid, and all the acronyms (alphabet soups) still won't cover how we love and desire other people. So, don't worry if you don't know what letter or box you fit in. Maybe you don't need to check a box. Maybe we should all focus a little more in making sure we are happy and in choosing partners who love us as opposed to figuring out what category we fit in. Our hope is that everyone can have this and we will learn to accept each other regardless of the gender or sex of the people we love.