Thanks to Christian Correa for contributing to this article!
If you’re LGBTQ+ (and especially in a small town or conservative country), you might feel isolated or alone – but you’re not! There are so many people like you or who are rooting for you. We hope we can serve as a resource.
Also, check out our page on LGBTQ+ Mental Health for more tips with the coming out and acceptance process.
Sex. Gender. Gender Identity. Sexual Orientation/Sexuality.
People often confuse or misunderstand these terms to be interchangeable, but they each have distinct definitions and meanings.
Planned Parenthood provides a summary of the distinctions between the definitions:
- Sex is a label — male or female — that you’re assigned by a doctor at birth based on the genitals you’re born with and the chromosomes you have. It goes on your birth certificate.
- Gender is much more complex: It’s a social and legal status, and set of expectations from society, about behaviors, characteristics, and thoughts. Each culture has standards about the way that people should behave based on their gender. Gender is generally male or female. But instead of being about body parts, it’s more about how you’re expected to act, because of your sex.
- Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you express your gender through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It’s a feeling that begins very early in life.
While gender in western society is typically seen as a binary of man and woman, many people do not fit neatly into these categorizations. These people are nonbinary, or as the UC Davis Center defines it, “a gender identity and experience that embraces a full universe of expressions and ways of being that resonate for an individual, moving beyond the male/female gender binary. It may be an active resistance to binary gender expectations and/or an intentional creation of new unbounded ideas of self within the world.”
Sometimes, a person’s sex doesn’t match their gender. The Human Rights Campaign describes transgender as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. Therefore, transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.”
The resource center describes sexual orientation and sexuality as “an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction or non-attraction to other people. Sexual orientation can be fluid and people use a variety of labels to describe their sexual orientation.” Some of these orientations include gay/lesbian, (same-gender attraction) bisexual (attraction to all genders), straight (attraction to opposite gender), and asexual (attraction to no one).
Remember that romantic attraction is different from sexual attraction. Romantic attraction is wanting intimacy and romance. It could mean a close relationship, marriage, dating, kissing, cuddling, living together, or crushes. Sexual attraction is finding someone physically attractive, powerful personal chemistry, or desire to have sex with them. You can be physically and romantically attracted to different people or different sets of people. One doesn’t mean the other! If you are only sexually attracted to people you’re in love with, there’s a term for that: demisexual.
Finally, remember that it is okay to want relationships with multiple people, romantically or sexually. Polyamory (falling in love with multiple people) and polysexuality (wanting multiple sexual partners) is acceptable and on the rise, as are open marriages. You can find relationships with other people like you without sacrificing who you are!
Discovering Your Identity
Gender and sexual identity can be important parts of your identity and how you fit into the world around you. Many of us question our identities at many points during our life. It is okay to change who you identify as as you discover yourself and grow over time.
What if you don’t know who you are? Here are some thoughts and questions to help guide you. Remember that you can research and choose to identify as what terms work best for you. If you don’t care, you also don’t have to. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your identity.
- Do you identify as masculine/male-typical/butch? Do you prefer male pronouns? Do you think of yourself as one of the guys?
- Do you identify as feminine/female-typical/femme? Do you prefer female pronouns? Do you think of yourself as one of the girls?
- In an ideal situation, what gender would you have been born as?
- What aspects of gender expression make you happy? What aspects make you sad?
- If you woke up tomorrow as the opposite sex, would that bother you?
Remember that you can be both male and female (pangender/ androgynous), neither male nor female (agender/nonbinary), or sometimes male and sometimes female (gender-fluid/bigender). Some people are born intersex with traits of both genetic or biological men and women. That is also okay.
If you are non-binary, you can ask to be called they/them/their instead of by gendered pronouns. It makes sense if you don’t identify with either gender.
If your biological sex is different from your gender identity, you are likely transgender. You should evaluate if you want gender corrective surgery and if you want to use pronouns (he/him/his or she/her/hers) that match your identity, rather than your biology. In many countries, you can legally change your name, your gender, and your official documents.The process of transitioning can be difficult and painful and transgender individuals suffer discrimination worldwide. We are here to help you if you need it.
There is sexual, physical, romantic, emotional, and aesthetic attraction. It can be difficult to figure out what you feel and it often doesn’t have to be important. Again, you don’t owe a full explanation of your identity to anyone. You can identify as gay, even if you are a man married to a woman. You can be bisexual, even if you’ve only ever had sex with people of one gender. Etc. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Do you get crushes or feel romantic attraction towards men or women? If not, you might be aromantic. If both, you might be biromantic. If you don’t care about gender, you might be panromantic.
- Do you feel sexual attraction towards men or women? If not, you might be asexual. If you only feel sexual attraction once you’re in love, you might be demisexual. If both, you might be bisexual. If you don’t care, you might be pansexual.
- Do you want to have a long-term relationship with one person (monogamous/monoromantic) or multiple people (polysexual/polyromantic)? Remember that many people live fulfilling, happy, amazing lives and are capable of being in love with many people at once. Don’t judge poly people! If you are poly, you might have a husband, a boyfriend, and a girlfriend. You may have multiple spouses. You may have multiple sexual partners, but only one spouse or long-term partner. You may have complex relationships with their children and theirs with yours. You may rank your partners or you might not. Everyone in a poly group might have relations with everyone else or they might not (only the wife or husband might have an additional partner). What works for you and your partner/s is what is right.
There are many ways to come out and you should do it in the way that is right for you. Never feel pressured to come out or explain your identity. It’s no one’s business but yours.
If you want to come out, think about talking in person, sending an email or text, calling someone on the phone, or asking a relative or friend to share this for you.
Prepare for positive and negative responses. If you’re worried about bullying, being kicked out of your house, or more negative repercussions, consider having a contingency plan in the worst case scenario and start by sharing your fears with one of our mentors.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- How will being out make me feel?
- Will my safety be at risk if I’m out?
- Are there LGBTQ+ classmates, friends, clubs, or societies I’d like to openly identify with or be a part of?
- Who do I feel safe and confident with?
- Who will love me regardless?
- Are there people of my faith/culture who are also LGBTQ+ I can talk to?
If things go wrong, please contact one of mentors. We also know this can be a stressful time, so check out our tips on stress.
Understanding one’s sexuality can be confusing at any point in life, especially in adolescence. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a fact page for children struggling with their sexuality and for parents of children who are. The Trevor Project also has a guide for supporting transgender and nonbinary youth and a handbook for coming out. LAMBDA Legal created a state-by-state guide for LGBTQ+ youth resources.
Some specific resources:
trevorspace.org from the Trevor Project allows people ages 13-24 to chat about their sexuality with each other.
Tumblr is often a haven for the queer community and you can connect with many queer subgroups.
LGBTQ+ people experience extremely disproportionate rates of mental illness and suicide. The most important thing to know is that your feelings are temporary and it will get better.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is:
- It also provides resources on how to help yourself – including tips on finding a therapist, building/using a support group, and making a safety plan.
Over half of LGBTQ+ students report homophobic or transphobic bullying. GSLEN has compiled a list of tips to dealing with bullying:
- If you’re being bullied in this way you need to tell your parents and report it to a teacher.
- Keep a diary of the comments or behavior. If you are being bullied online or via social media, take screenshots and keep them as evidence to show your parents, the school or the police
- If you feel unable to speak to your parents or a teacher, perhaps there is another adult you trust that you can speak to and they can help.
- If you feel able to, ignore the bullying so you are not giving the bully the reaction they are looking for. Please note, that if you feel they could get aggressive, do not put yourself at risk as your safety is more important.
- If this bullying spills over into threats or violence, then it should be reported to the police as a hate crime. Many police forces have specialist units to deal with these incidents.
- If your school doesn’t already do it, why not ask them to do some work on LGBT bullying? Sometimes, through education, this can help people to understand more and help make them realize the impact of their actions and the consequences they can have.
In addition, many students do not receive adequate sex education that is inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities. GSLEN has created an inclusive sexual health resources guide.
There are a number of scholarships for LGBTQ+ students. The Point Foundation is an organization dedicating to funding and supporting LGBTQ+ education. The Center has LGBTQ+ scholarships. The Human Rights Campaign also has a scholarship directory for students. Bootcamps by Best Colleges has scholarships and coding bootcamps available for LGBTQ+ students. You can also find scholarship support/access at Accredited Schools Online.