Explaining Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Explaining Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

By the Mary’s Center LGBTQ+ Committee

Nowadays, we have a lot more words to describe ourselves than we used to. Instead of being forced to conform to male or female, straight or gay, people can choose from a whole new vocabulary that mirrors the full spectrum of identities.

For many, finally having the words to accurately label themselves is exciting, but it can also be confusing to those unfamiliar with these terms. In honor of Pride month in June, Mary’s Center is here to shed light on this new language and explain how to put it in practice to communicate respectfully.

What Is Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation is how a person characterizes their emotional and sexual attraction to others. Here are definitions of some common sexual orientations:

Asexual: Experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others. Asexual people may still engage in sexual activity.

Bisexual: Emotionally and physically attracted to both women and men. Some people define bisexuality as attraction to all genders, also known as pansexual.

Gay: Primarily emotionally and physically attracted to people of the same sex and/or gender as themselves. Used to describe men who are primarily attracted to men, and women attracted to women.

Lesbian: Women who are primarily emotionally and physically attracted to other women.

Heterosexual: Women who are primarily emotionally and physically attracted to men, and men who are primarily emotionally and physically attracted to women. Also referred to as “straight.”

Queer: Anyone who thinks of their sexual orientation or gender identity as outside of societal norms, meaning they do not identify as a straight man or woman.

Questioning: People unsure about or exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What Is Gender Identity?

Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being a man/male, woman/female, both, neither, or another gender.

This may differ from the sex assigned to a child at birth, most often based on the child’s external anatomy. This assigned sex at birth is also referred to as birth sex, natal sex, biological sex, or sex.

Here are definitions of a few gender identities other than male and female:

Gender-Fluid: People whose gender identity is not fixed. For example, a gender-fluid person may feel more aligned with female one day and male the next, or they may feel aligned with both genders at the same time, or even no gender at all sometimes.

Non-binary: People whose gender identity falls outside of the traditional structure of girl/woman and boy/man. For example, a non-binary person may have a gender that blends elements of being a man and a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female.

Transgender: People whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not correspond based on traditional expectations; for example, a person assigned female sex at birth who identifies as a man, or a person assigned male sex at birth who identifies as a woman.

Note: All definitions listed above are based on the LGBTQIA+ Glossary of Terms from the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center.

Now Let’s Put Knowledge into Practice

We often make immediate judgements about people’s sexual orientation and gender identity without even realizing it. It’s important to remember that these assumptions – which may be based on someone’s name or the way they look and act – are not always accurate.

Here are two tips to ensure the language you use when speaking to people is appropriate:

1) Ask about Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. Some pronouns imply gender, such as “he” or “she,” but these associations are not always accurate or helpful.

Asking someone for their pronouns and using their pronouns correctly is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment.

English PronounsSpanish Pronouns
They/Them/TheirsElle o Ellos, -le, Su
He/Him/HisEl, -lo, Su
She/Her/HersElla, -la, Su

2) Use Gender-neutral Language

Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language avoids bias towards a particular sex or gender.

Always start with gender-neutral language, and if the person you are talking to responds with gender-specific language, you can mirror that language. Ask about names and pronouns when uncertain. If you realize you made a mistake, apologize briefly and move on!

PartnerHusband, Wife, Boyfriend, Girlfriend
TheyHe or She
Sibling, Child, RelativeDaughter, Son, Aunt, Uncle, etc.
Parent or CaregiverMom or Dad
GrandparentGrandfather or Grandmother

Get Inclusive Care at Mary’s Center

We pride ourselves on being a healthcare facility that is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA+) participants, employees, and visitors.

A number of Mary’s Center providers specialize in the physical, emotional, and sexual health of the LGBTQIA+ community. We also offer gender-affirming care, serving as a “home base” for participants identifying as transgender/gender non-conforming.

Our medical team can:

  • Talk about gender treatment goals and make a treatment plan
  • Prescribe and manage hormone therapy
  • Provide surgical referral letters when needed
  • Connect you with LGBTQ+ affirming mental health providers at Mary’s Center

Learn more about our LGBTQIA+ services here. To make an appointment, click here or call 844-796-2797.