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A Beginner’s Guide to Identity Terminology

09/26

There are more labels and acronyms in our lexicon every day! But why do we have this ingrained desire to classify everything? As language develops, so too does the need to label, classify, justify… well… everything… For example:

Hi, I am Victoria, I am engaged, and I am an ally to the LGBTQI community.

While that identifies our gender and sexual preference, it doesn’t begin to delve into the options available and the requirement for people to offer specificity in all areas of their sexual lives. Whether you are cis-gendered, non-binary, straight, gay, bisexual, polyamorous, monogamous… people want to know the details and reasoning behind each classification.

Sex

I am not referring to love-making or a jolly good seeing to, but the biological differences between male and female. Sex is the biological differences in chromosomes, hormones, and the internal and external sex organs; these are the biological markers of male or female. Some individuals can be intersex as well – which means they don’t fit perfectly into the categories of male or female. Sex is assigned at birth, or in an ultrasound before birth.

Sex is not to be confused with gender. Where sex includes the biological characteristics of a person, gender includes the social and cultural characteristics that distinguish masculine and feminine. One does not equal the other; an assigned female at birth could identity as masculine gendered.

Gender

Gender identity is not a new concept. In fact, it was coined mid 1960’s, but existed long before that. However, this definition only saw two options: masculine or feminine. Gender labels and identities are constantly shifting and are now defined as a person’s self-concept of their gender. Rather than simply a man or woman option, people might also be non-binary, gender fluid, or any number of other gender identities. Transgender refers to a person whose gender is not the one they were assigned to at birth. Cisgender refers to someone who does identify with the gender they were assigned when born. Transgender and cisgender people also identify as men, women, non-binary, or any of the other options discussed above.

Hi, I am Victoria, a female, I am engaged to a male, and I am an ally to the LGBTQI community.

Sexual Orientation

There’s a common misconception that gender and sexuality are the same concept, but this is not the case. Just because a person identifies as a woman, it does not guarantee that they also identify as being straight. Sexual orientation is the sexual attraction to a gender(s). Again, this began with heterosexual or homosexual, but continues to progress to include bisexual, asexual, pansexual… Each sexual preference is not determined by the gender identity of a person.

Romantic orientation refers to what type of romantic attraction someone feels. In many cases, a person’s sexual and romantic attraction will be the same or similar. Again, this is NOT always the case.  Someone might identify as bisexual, but hetero-romantic.

Hi, I am Victoria, a straight female, I am engaged to a straight male, and I am an ally to the LGBTQI community.

Do Not Judge My Sexuality By My Gender Identity

While I am not suggesting that I am trying on different sexualities for the “right fit” as Goldilocks did with porridge, I am demonstrating that gender and sexuality are their own unique concepts.

I could for example identity as:

  • Cis-gendered straight female
  • Cis-gendered bisexual female
  • Cis-gendered lesbian female
  • Cis-gendered asexual female
  • Cis-gendered pansexual female

This has actually been a constant challenge for me; most people assume I am a lipstick lesbian, because I am “too feminine” not to be. Which raises more labels; what’s a “lipstick lesbian” anyway?

More Names for the Same Rose

Lipstick, butch, femme, closeted, dyke, metro, stealth, stud…

Once a person has labelled their gender and sexuality, there might also be the “type” of gay female or straight man that can be labelled. So while I am mistaken for a lipstick lesbian, which typically refers to a lesbian with feminine gender expression, I actually identify as a cis-gendered female. This means a person who identifies as their birth gender. For example, a straight cis-gendered male could also be metrosexual. For a homosexual cis-gendered male, they could also be closeted. For a transgendered male to female, they could also be stealth…

However, “types” like this can often be considered stereotypes by some individuals. So it’s not a good idea to use a label like this for someone else unless they’ve told you it is how they like to be referred to.

Hi, I am Victoria, a cis-gendered straight female, I am engaged to a cis-gendered straight male, and I am an ally to the LGBTQI community.

The Rose Begins to Wilt… Before I Can Finish Saying My Identity

Identity is a unique process for each individual, and we now know that gender identity and sexual identity are more fluid than what was once believed. In fact, gender fluid is an option for one’s gender identity. However, the constant labelling and private information that is required when classifying ourselves is stifling! Rather than me simply being “Victoria”…

… Hi, I am Victoria, a cis-gendered straight female, I am engaged and in a monogamous relationship with a cis-gendered straight male, and I am an ally to the LGBTQI community.

We don’t normally introduce ourselves with so many labels at once.  But it’s important to pay attention to how others identify themselves and understand what exactly those identities mean.

victoriasparrow // Author

Victoria Sparrow is a student of Sexology who has a keen interest in writing about taboo topics. Previously she has been working in the education industry for over five years. She graduated with a double major in teaching and is expanding her horizons, and hopefully yours, by pushing the boundaries on sexual discourse.

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