Sexual orientation and gender identity affect everyone. Some people may be more impacted if their gender or relationships look different than what society expects. Sometimes it can be confusing, distressing, or make you feel alone, but there is support available!
Sexual orientation refers to how we talk about our physical, emotional, or romantic attraction to people, and how we may or may not experience any, all, or some of them. If and when we do experience attraction, it can be towards people that have gender identities and expressions that are different or similar to our own, and/or outside of “mainstream gender norms” altogether. Romantic orientation refers to our romantic attraction.
You can click here to view Egale’s glossary of terms and explore other ways people may talk about their orientation.
Gender refers to socially constructed norms, roles, and expectations that are often defined as “masculine” and “feminine.” Gender is a complex subject and is culturally situated. This means different cultures have different expectations of how different genders should behave. It’s also historically situated, meaning our ideas of gender have changed over time and will continue to change with society.
Gender identity is an internal feeling or awareness we all have about being a woman/feminine or a man/masculine, different combinations of the two, or neither. While mainstream norms about sex and gender teach us there are only two options (i.e. the idea that these things are binary, and you can be only be either a female/woman or male/man), in reality, people experience and express their gender in much more varied and complex ways .
There are many different gender identities, including, but not limited to:
Agender: a way to describe a person who doesn’t identify with any gender, or identifies as being genderless. Their gender identity may live outside of the gender binary. Agender people may or may not identify as transgender (trans).
Androgynous (androgyne): a way to describe a person whose gender expression (e.g. clothing, hairstyle, etc.) doesn’t fall into the gender binary, or falls somewhere in between male and female.
Cisgender: a way to describe a person whose gender identity and gender expression match the sex they were assigned at birth.
Genderfluid: a way to describe a person whose gender identity and gender expression are not static, and can shift with time and/or circumstance.
Genderqueer: a way to describe a person who identifies as neither, both or having a mix of feminine and masculine gender traits/characteristics. Individuals who identify as genderqueer may or may not also identify as trans.
Non-binary: a way to describe a person who doesn’t identify with the gender binary of male and female and defines their gender outside of those norms. People who are non-binary may identify as having no gender, feel in between genders, or have a gender that is not always the same. Individuals who identify as non-binary may or may not also identify as trans.
Transgender (trans): a way to describe a person whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. People whose gender identity falls outside of the gender binary may also call themselves trans.
Two-spirit (2 Spirit or 2S): a term that can be used by Indigenous people to reflect elements of their sexual orientation, gender identity, spiritual identity, and/or ceremonial roles within their culture.
These are just some of the many gender identities you may relate to — everyone is unique. You can click here to view Egale’s glossary of terms and explore other ways people may describe their gender.
Gender expression involves our mannerisms, behaviors, styles of dress and body decoration – all of which can be “coded” as feminine, androgynous, and/or masculine – and are typically reflective of current social norms around what it means to be women or men. It *can* be used as a vehicle to express our gender identity, but we shouldn’t assume a person’s gender identity based on how we perceive their gender expression.
Making assumptions about someone’s gender identity can often lead to exclusion and harm. Asking for someone’s pronouns demonstrates respect and is an important step towards inclusion and safety for 2SLGBTQI people. Here are some suggested guidelines:
1. If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, use neutral pronouns like they/them until you can ask
2. When you introduce yourself, offer your pronouns first before asking about theirs
3. To find out someone’s pronouns, ask “can I ask you for your pronouns”?
For a complete guide on pronoun usage click here.
Sharing these parts of who we are with others is a personal process, and we all have our own journey!
Coming out should be done when you feel ready and able, and having a developed safety plan (someone to talk to, a safe place to go) is always a helpful thing to have in place.
Much like coming out, transitioning is also a personal process, and can look different for different people – there is no “right” or one way to transition.
Connecting with folks within these communities can be valuable, and help you access services.
If you find yourself questioning your gender identity or sexual orientation, or you are looking for support, talking it out with someone may help you.
2SLGBTQIA+ Warm Line is entirely by and for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. You can call, text, or message if you need help, resources or think you could benefit from some peer support. The number is 1-866-230-8041
If this isn’t something you’re personally experiencing, you might know someone who is exploring these parts of their identity and could benefit from support. By developing your own understanding of what these processes can look like, and being aware of services that are available, you can help support the people in your life and in your greater community!