When I was first coming out, the acronym was LGB and even then, B was not much talked about. In graduate school there was the Lesbian and Gay student organisation and I remember being invited to a party early on but not feeling comfortable since I wasn’t gay. As a bisexual woman, I was not sure where I fit. I wanted to attend events that gave me the opportunity to meet women but when I would say I was bisexual, there was an atmosphere.
By the time I came to the UK, T was added to the acronym to recognise the Transgender folks as LGB was not an adequate description. Q was added to represent both Queer and Questioning in 1996. These are very different identities! Questioning is as it sounds – people who are questioning their sexual identity. On the other hand, Queer is an umbrella term that is used to describe people who are either not heterosexual or not cisgender. However, queer can be more of a world view than an identity (click on the highlighted word Queer for a discussion of this). Sometimes people use two Q’s so that Queer and Questioning are added. Since 2000’s many people add I for Intersex and A for Asexual. And some use A for Ally – those people who support all the people who fall under the LGBTQQIA + rubric.
How do you figure out where you fit best? And what does it matter? It matters how you understand your own sexual and gender identities as well as your attractions. It helps to be able to explain to others you meet as well. There are some other ways of looking at gender identities, sexual orientation and attractions that might make it easier to figure out where you fit. I like them because they create more detailed picture that allows for more people to find themselves in the model being presented. This increases the ability to communicate between groups of people and also increases the information that can be given easily to allies and professionals we interact with on a daily basis. Research highlights that when a group is invisible, poorer services (like health care) are available.
You can look at gender identity as running from genderqueer (or non-binary) through to male or female. The way you express your gender may be different from how you identify. For example, I can identify as a woman and express my gender in a butch (or more masculine) manner.
For the next continuum, you can look at your sexual orientation or the people who you are attracted to. This can run from straight through asexual, bisexual, pansexual and to gay. For the next continuum you can look at the expression of your sexual attraction. You can move from monogamous through to monogamish to non-monogamous to polyamorous to relationship anarchy. Expression of sexual attraction can also be measured on a continuum that looks at how often you wish to have sex from rarely to all of the time and on a continuum that looks at power dynamics in your relationship from dominant through to switch through to submissive.
Are you confused? If so, perhaps some examples will help.
John is biologically male. Their gender identity is non-binary and they use the pronouns they, their, them. They express their gender differently at different times. They are heterosexual in orientation. (They are attracted to women.) John likes lots of sex. John is polyamorous. Finally, when it comes to power dynamics, John switches depending upon partner and situation.
Rachel is biologically female. Her gender identity is female. She is bisexual in orientation (attracted to men, women, genderqueer, transgender). Rachel is monogamish. She prefers to have one central relationship where there is very limited permission to have sexual experience outside of the relationship. When it comes to power dynamics, Rachel is dominant.
Dara is a transsexual male. His gender identity is male. He also identifies as transgender though he has already transitioned. He is gay in orientation (attracted to men – cisgender and transgender). He practices relationship anarchy. When it comes to power dynamics, Dara is submissive.
All of these identities can shift over time. I find it useful to have clients spend some time thinking about how they identify now and how they have identified in the past. This can help people put issues from the past into better perspective and also frame current issues differently. Just because identities can shift does not mean that they will shift. I like to remind people not to make assumptions about other people. Most people prefer to be asked. It can feel awkward to ask someone about their attractions but with practice it gets easier. Asking is far more respectful.
Where do you fit in? Here are a few questions to help you consider what letters identify you.
- When you think about yourself, do you see yourself as male or female or sometimes one/sometimes the other or neither?
- What pronouns resonate for you?
- When you fantasise, who do you fantasise about? Are they always the same gender?
- Do you want to find one romantic and sexual partner to share your life with?
- Does the idea of only one sexual partner for the rest of your life feel stifling?
- When you fantasise do you like to be the one who is in control or do you dream of surrendering to someone else? Maybe this changes depending upon your mood?
If you find it difficult to come up with single answers to these questions, don’t worry. You are not alone. These can be very deep questions. There is no problem with exploring and trying various ideas out to see what feels best to you.
If you find that you are really confused, it can help to see a therapist who is experienced working with gender and sexual diversity.
If you would like to discuss sexuality and sexual orientation further, book here for a free 30 minute consultation. For my podcast Sex Spoken Here series on non-monogamy, start with part 1 here. Write me here with any questions.