“We’re not gay firefighters, teachers, mechanics, musicians, or clerks. We’re firefighters, teachers, mechanics, musicians, and clerks who happen to be gay! Our sexuality is but one part of who we are. There’s so much more to me than that!”
—Oliver, age 35
The letters LGBT (or GLBT) are often used as an abbreviated way of referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Sometimes “Q” is added to include those who are questioning their sexuality. An “A” can also be added to include allies, or people who support and advocate for LGBT rights.
Straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual are words used to describe sexual orientation-the enduring emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings to other people. Heterosexual (straight) individuals experience these feelings primarily for people of the opposite sex. Homosexual (gay or lesbian) individuals experience these feelings primarily for people of the same sex. Bisexual (bi) individuals experience these feelings for people of both sexes.
Gay can be used to refer to anyone (man or woman) who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex, but it is often used to refer to a male who is attracted to other males. Lesbian refers to females who are attracted to other females. Someone who is bisexual might be attracted to either males or females. However, many people believe that sexuality and gender expression occurs on a spectrum rather than constricted to the terms above. Often, people who are more fluid in their romantic or sexual attraction to others identify as pansexual. People who do not feel sexual attraction to anyone else identify as asexual. Some asexual people still feel and desire romantic intimacy with others while some are completely non-romantic.
Transgender is a broad term describing the state of a person’s gender identity, which does not necessarily match his/her assigned gender at birth. Transgender individuals are those who identify with a gender other than the one society expects of them based on their genitalia and physical appearance, and may display characteristics (manner of dress, for example) of either gender. One also does not have to have had body-altering surgery to be considered transgender. Some transgender individuals never pursue hormone therapies or surgery due to the expense and difficulty or they feel comfortable in their body as it is.
Androgenous is a term used to describe people who present features and behaviors of both sexes. Androgenous people may not identify with one gender or the other may identify as a third gender. Intersex is a term used to describe individuals born with both male and female anatomical features. Intersex people may identify as such but may also identify as distinctly either male and female, using “intersex” merely a description of their anatomy. Gender expression is not limited to the features of one’s physical body or outward appearance.
Cisgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity matches their biological sex.
According to the American Psychological Association there is not agreement among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a particular sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. While there are those who think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation—straight or gay.