Common questions about sexual orientation and gender identity
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it normal to have sexual feelings for the same sex?
- How do I know if I am gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
- I’m 16 and I think I’m gay. Should I tell my parents?
- A friend told me she is a lesbian and I don’t know what to say.
- I think I may be gay, but my religious background says it is immoral.
- Someone told me that lesbians are not likely to catch sexually transmitted diseases—is this true?
- Do lesbians need to have pap exams?
- How will people react when I tell them I am gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
- How can you tell if someone is gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
- How do I meet other gay youth? Am I the only one?
- What is homophobia?
- What is heterosexism?
Answers about sexual orientation
Is it normal to have sexual feelings for the same/similar sex people?
Yes, this is normal and common. Many people, not just people who identify as gay or lesbian, have sexual feelings or crushes on members of the same/similar gender or sex. Sexual feelings and fantasies provide a way for a person to explore his/her/their feelings, curiousities, and desires within yourself. Many people who identify as heterosexual (attracted to or engaged in intimate relationships with a differing sex) have been attracted to people of their same sex. And vice versa! Feelings do not need to translate into actions unless you’re comfortable with that.
What isn’t normal is how society reacts to same-sex attraction. Negative comments, stereotypes and general fear of this is called “homophobia”.
If your attraction to the same sex endures, be comforted knowing that 10% of the population is believed to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. There is support out there for you if you feel you need it.
How do I know if I am gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
Sometimes it takes a while to understand our sexual orientations especially those that are treated differently from the mainstream—take your time!
Some people report knowing their sexual orientation at a young age, while others “come out” later in life.
Whatever age you are when you’re exploring your sexual orientation, you may not know what to call yourself and that’s okay too. Some prefer not to label their orientation at all. Since understanding our sexual idenitities (including orientation) takes time to develop, you will be able to better articulate your identity as time goes on. All areas of sexuality are extremely personal and dynamic, so although a person may feel comfortable with one
I’m 16 and I think I’m gay. Should I tell my parents?
Because gay, lesbian, bisexual (GLB) people often lack support from community, school, and peers, family support can be very important. It is up to you whether to come out to your parent(s). Some things to keep in mind, though, are your safety and your well-being. Don’t come out to your parents if you suspect that they will react with physical or sexual abuse, or if they have hinted that they would throw you out of the house. Never come out to your parent(s) as a form of revenge.
There are support networks, such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, that are designed to support parents during and after a child discloses their gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation. See the resource section.
If you are unsure of how your parents will react, try mentioning something you saw on TV or heard at school to gauge their reaction. This way, you can decide if it is safe enough at this time to continue your conversation. Having an adult ally can be a good source of support for you – is there another adult in your life that you feel comfortable with? Do you have a chill uncle or auntie who you could talk to?
A friend just came out to me and I really don’t know what to say.
When a friend comes out to you, they are giving you the message that they trust you and value your friendship enough to be honest. Remember that sexual orientation is just one part of ourselves, and that he/she/they still have the same qualities as before. It’s ok to not know what to say in any new situation, even one like this. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying that exactly that – “I really don’t know what to say but I support you.”
Be supportive by listening without judgement and not breaking his/her/their confidence (unless they are struggling with suicidal feelings) and educating yourself about the issues they’ve come out about.
It’s also really important that you don’t become their only support person or play the role of counsellor to them. There are many avenues of support available to them, you can help to connect them. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have some support available for yourself – it’s difficult to be a support to someone without having some of that yourself.
I think I may be gay, but my religious background says it is immoral.
There are faith communities that are welcoming and supportive of their gay , lesbian, and trans members. If faith is an important part of your life, seek out positive and diverse congregations to support and affirm you.
I heard someone at school say they were asexual/ACE – what does that mean?
An asexual is often(remember each person may define things differently!) defined as a person who experiences little or no sexual atttaction. Asexual people still have emotional and intellectual attractions to others but little to no sexual attraction. An Asexual person still may choose to be sexually active with a partner.
Someone told me that lesbians are not likely to catch sexually transmitted diseases – is this true?
Definitely not true! STIs are not orientation based – they can be passed between partners of any orientation, identity, age and ability.
Some STIs such as herpes, crabs, and HPV can be contracted through simple skin to skin contact with an infected partner. Other STIs, such as chlamydia, can be transmitted through sharing infected sexual fluids.
So, how do you protect yourself? First, it’s important to talk about safer sex before you engage in sexual activities, and especially important to remember that drugs and alcohol can impede safer sex decision making.
It’s a good idea to use an oral dam when going down on a person with a vulva/labia/vagina (cunnilingus).
Remember—you are worth protecting! When we feel ashamed or confused by our actions, it is common to ignore taking care of ourselves. Protect yourself and your partner.
Do lesbians need to have pap exams?
Absolutely! A pap exam tests for cervical cancer, which can be treated if detected early. Every person with a cervix should begin having cervical screenings or pap exams at the age of 21 or 3 years after they start having sex; whichever comes first.
How will people react when I tell them I am gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
People’s reactions will vary. We live in a society that often assumes people are heterosexual. Some people may not be supportive of your orientation and others will be incredibly supportive. Other people who you believed would be supportive may not be, and that can be difficult to deal with. The best thing you can do is find support from people who are positive about your coming out, such as gay-straight alliance, a GLBT Youth support group, and other allies. See the resources section.
How can you tell if someone is gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
You can’t tell if someone is GLBT by their profession, appearance, mannerisms, income, or political views. Unfortunately, society often prescribes very narrow standards of expected mannerisms and behaviours (aka stereotypes) for people and when a person naturally falls outside that narrow definition, they are often labelled and judged. Unfortunately, youth who fit the stereotype of either gay or lesbian are subjected to ridicule, abuse, and isolation, regardless of whether they are actually GLBT or not. This is NOT okay and
How do I meet other gay youth? Am I the only one?
You are definitely not the only one!! It is easy to feel like you are the only one in your school, community, or peer group who is GLBT or questioning. Feeling isolated can be scary! It is important that you connect with other youth, be they other GLBT or heterosexual allies. You can connect with a local gay youth group or gay-straight alliance. But remember, you are not alone!
Beginning in September 2015, there will be a a weekly Queer, Trans and Allied Youth drop-in on Fridays between 7-10pm at the Commonwealth Upside Teen Lounge!
What is homophobia?
Homophobia is the fear, dislike, aversion, intolerance, and ignorance of homosexuals and homosexuality. These feelings and beliefs are irrational, and can result in acts of discrimination, harassment and often violence.
What is heterosexism?
Heterosexism is the promotion of the superiority of heterosexuality, the assumption that everyone is heterosexual, and the belief that heterosexuality is the only right, correct, normal and moral expression of sexuality.
Answers about Gender Identity
What is Gender Identity?
Gender Identity is a person’s personal concept of self as man, woman, both, or neither. Gender is how you feel about yourself not about the parts of your body you were born with or what you were assigned at birth. Gender identity may be fluid and change throughout your life.
What is Sex?
Sex is based on the biological characteristics used to assign people as male, female, or intersex. Many people assume you can only be male or female. This is not correct. Hormones, chromosomes, reproductive or sexual anatomy are all involved in shaping a person’s sex.
What is transgender?
A person who identifies as transgender person is a person who does not feel that their gender definition does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
How do I know what my gender identity is?
The only person who completely understands you gender identity is YOU. Self-reflection is a great place to begin. Many people have not had the opportunity to think specifically about their gender during their lives.
Things you may wish to think about:
- When and how you feel most comfortable expressing yourself (dress, verbal and physical expression, name)
- Do you feel comfortable with and in your sex-specific systems (breasts, scrotum, vulva, penis, etc.)
- You ideal identity – the way you would dress, express and move that would affirm who you feel you truly are – how is that different what you’re doing right now.
Kate Bornstein is an American gender theorist who has written several books books exploring gender and identity. Her Gender and Identity Workbook is often referred to by many as a great resource that is full of helpful resources like this quiz
I heard the term genderqueer the other day – what does that mean?
Genderqueer often is defined as a person whose gender identity doesn’t fit within the categories of man or woman.
Are there resources for transpeople or transquestioning people here in Victoria?
What is transphobia?
Transphobia is the fear, dislike, aversion, intolerance, and ignorance of transgender people. These feelings and beliefs are irrational, and can result in acts of discrimination, harassment and often violence.