Saturday, October 24, 2015

Understanding Sexual Orientation

Someone’s sexual orientation describes who they're physically attracted to or would like to have sex with. Understanding sexual orientation can be difficult. In this post, I hope to explain how truly complex the topic can be. The more we learn about attraction and gender, the more complicated our model of sexual orientation becomes.

 Straight people

Most men are attracted to women. Most women are attracted to men. Many of us assume that’s how it works for everyone — until we learn about gay people.

 Homosexuality

Some men are attracted to men.  Some women are attracted to women. They’re called gay men and lesbians, respectively. People attracted to the opposite sex are described as straight. 


The United States has spent the past decade debating whether gay people should be allowed to marry. Some Christians believe homosexuality is sinful, other Christians do not. Many young people are baffled that anyone is opposed to same-sex marriage. 

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court said gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

With all of this public attention, many people in the U.S. have at least a cursory understanding of homosexuality. 

But sexual orientation doesn’t end there. 

Bisexuals

Some people are attracted to both men and women. Like learning about gay people for the first time, this revelation can be shocking. 


Some people believe bisexuals are actually gay and don’t accept it yet. Others see bisexuality as a phase before expecting a bisexual to “return” to being straight.

While some people who identify as bisexual later describe themselves another way, others do not. Personally, I think it’s wrong to say we understand someone’s feelings better than they do.

Some people are bisexual. 

Sexuality as a spectrum

Some men are attracted to women most of the time, but are sometimes attracted to men. This is true for women as well. Many people believe sexual orientation is best understood as a spectrum, with people falling anywhere from gay to straight. 


This is as far as most people’s understanding of sexual orientation goes — but we’re just getting started.  

Transgender people

Someone’s biological sex refers to the physical features, such as their anatomy, they were born with that is used to describe them as male or female. Some people don’t feel their gender matches their biological sex. These people are known as transgender and many of them say they’ve always felt this way.  

Some transgender people take hormones or have surgery to make their bodies fit how they think about themselves and to make it more likely that others will identify them as the gender they are.

Transgender people have just entered the national consciousness with individuals such as Caitlin Jenner introducing the topic to many.

Transgender people don’t fit into many people’s understanding of sexual orientation.

A transwoman refers to a person who identifies as a woman, who was born male. 

Some transwomen are incredibly attractive. One transwoman made headlines in 2012 because of a controversy as to whether she would be allowed to compete in the Miss Universe Canada beauty contest.

Some straight men are willing to have sex with a transwoman, others are not. Both groups would describe their decision as fitting their understanding of what it means to be straight.

A transman refers to a person who identifies as a man, who was born female. Many lesbians date transmen. They view themselves as lesbians while their partners views themselves as male. This has no doubt lead to many awkward conversations between lovers.

It’s even more complicated discussing the sexual orientation of a transgender person.

Is a transwoman who’s attracted to women a lesbian or is she straight because she was born male?

A better way to think about sexual orientation is to make the subject about you’re attracted to, and not your own gender. 


Under this model, a gay man and a straight woman would have the same orientation, they're both attracted to men. 

But gender is even more complicated than that.


Non-binary people

Some people identify as non-binary, which means they don’t identify as a man or a woman. Agender people don’t feel they have a gender. Some people identify as both male and female and describe themselves as genderfluid. There are many, many more non-binary labels people use to describe their gender.

Virtually no one has head of non-binary gender identities.

Non-binary people also don’t fit into most people’s understanding of sexual orientation either.

Bisexuals who want to acknowledge they would date and have sex with non-binary people describe themselves as pansexual. 

However, like non-binary identities, most people have never heard of pansexuals.

Romantic vs. sexual attraction

Some people are interested in dating, but not in having sex. Others aren’t interested in dating at all. People in these groups sometimes call themselves asexual.

Some people might be interested in dating a person of the same sex, but not in having sex with them. They could use the term homo-romantic to describe this feeling.

Substituting romantic for sexual in any of the previous terms can be used to describe who you’d like to date, but not necessarily have sex with.

It’s not always about looks

Sometimes, people fall in love with someone based upon something other than physical appearance. 

Personality, intelligence and compassion can make a potential partner far more attractive than they would be based on their appearance alone.

While I’m not physically attracted to men, I could have a romantic and sexual relationship with a guy if I established a deep connection with a friend. 

This lead to me becoming attracted to several of my (very straight) male friends during a long and lonely six years before I met my girlfriend. 

For people like me, other traits can compensate for an absence of physical attraction. That fact does not, in any way, fit how most people think about sexual orientation.

Now that you know all of this, I leave you with one simple lesson. 

You’re attracted to who you’re attracted to, who cares what you call it. 

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