GLBTQ Issues
Frequently Asked Questions about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Print

What is homosexuality?

Homosexuality is emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to persons of the same sex. The term homosexual has medical roots from the turn of the last century (early 1900s) and most people now prefer the terms gay and lesbian instead.

Is being gay normal?

Homosexuality is perfectly normal. It is a complete package of feelings and relationships that make up a natural and satisfying identity. Homosexuality has existed throughout humanity's existence. Anthropologists report that lesbians and gay men have been and are a part of every culture. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are part of every socioeconomic class, educational level, and race/ethnicity.

What is bisexuality?

Bisexuality is emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to people whose biological sex is different than and the same as one's own. Bisexuality is perfectly normal and is a complete package of feelings and relationships that make up a natural and satisfying identity. Bisexuality has existed throughout humanity's existence and in every culture. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are part of every socioeconomic class, educational level, and race/ethnicity.

Are homosexuality and bisexuality mental illnesses?

Homosexuality and bisexuality are not mental illnesses. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the official listing of psychiatric disorders. In 1975, the American Psychological Association adopted a similar resolution. Position statements of the American Medical Association and the Society for Adolescent Medicine agree with these affirmations regarding sexual orientation. Studies show that people's sexual orientation has no bearing on their mental health and emotional stability. When forced to remain in the closet about one's homosexuality or bisexuality, a person may experience depression and other psychological problems; however, these problems stem from a homophobic society and not from sexual orientation.

What is homophobia?

Homophobia is the irrational fear, disgust, or hatred of gays, lesbians, and/or bisexual people, or of homosexual feelings in oneself. It refers to the discomfort one feels with any behavior, belief, or attitude (in self or others) that does not conform to traditional sex role stereotypes. Homophobia exhibits itself in the fear of knowing, befriending, or associating with gays, lesbians, or bisexual people; fear of being perceived as gay or lesbian; and/or fear of stepping out of accepted gender role behavior.

What is heterosexism?

Heterosexism is the assumption that every one is heterosexual. It is a form of oppression** that targets gays, lesbians, and bisexual people. Heterosexism confers rights and privileges to heterosexual people that are denied to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. This is revealed through personal behaviors (telling 'faggot' jokes, putting up graffiti, and/or offering verbal and physical harassment), and discriminatory policies, such as denial of health, retirement, and housing benefits. In addition, mainstream media provide few characterizations of gay, lesbian, or bisexual people, and these few are usually stereotypes.

Do gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, and transgender people have long-lasting relationships?

Yes, a large portion of the GLBT community has a preference for, or is involved in, a longstanding relationship. However, social rejection of homosexuality and of transgender people frequently causes these relationships to be invisible. For example, same sex marriages are currently not recognized in most states, and many benefits for legal spouses are denied to domestic partners.

How many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are there?

The Kinsey Institute suggested that approximately 10 percent of the population may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. This would equal approximately 28 million (per the U.S. 2000 census). However, the basis for the percentage is greatly disputed. Gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people are found in all walks of life, among all racial/ethnic groups, and at all socioeconomic levels. In addition, the number of transgender people is greatly disputed and largely unknown. The number is probably higher than experts estimate because the estimates are usually based on the number of people who undergo sexual reassignment surgery, and many transgender people do not pursue this surgery.

When do gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people first know?

People can realize their sexual orientation and gender identity at any point during their lives. Many simply grow up knowing, while some come to understand their identity and orientation later in life (in their teens or 20s, for example). It is important to note that nothing someone encounters in life can 'make' one gay, bisexual, lesbian, or transgender. Although events in a person's life can be catalysts toward self-discovery, sexual experience is not necessary for anyone to understand their sexual orientation. How does a heterosexual male know he is attracted to women before having sexual experience, or a heterosexual woman know that she is attracted to men? They just know. It is the same with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Similarly, a transgender person does not have to have lived as a gender to know that it is his/her correct gender.

Where do gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people belong in the workplace?

Like straight people, GLBT people belong anywhere that they can use their talents and abilities. Sexual orientation and gender identity have nothing to do with abilities, talents, or job performance. If forced to remain in the closet for fear of job discrimination, a person may experience depression and other psychological problems that could impair his/her ability to work effectively; but it is homophobia and transphobia—not sexual orientation or gender identity—that cause the problem.

Why should people be informed about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues?

Heterosexism and homophobia are the result of ignorance about sexual orientation and gender identity issues. Education about GLBTQ issues can help combat fear and discrimination, enabling gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people to be authentic and not to live a lie of false heterosexuality or gender identity in order to be safe. For GLBTQ youth, who are more likely to experience depression and rejection by friends and/or family, acceptance and understanding can even be a matter of life and death, since the risk of suicide in GLBTQ adolescents is two to three times greater than in their straight counterparts.

What causes homosexuality?

Perhaps a better question is "What determines sexual orientation (i.e., heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality)?" The factors that determine sexual orientation are complex. There is a growing understanding that human beings have a basic sexuality that can be expressed in a variety of relationships: homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual, categories that are fluid and may overlap. Although the causes are not known, some researchers believe that one's basic sexual orientation is predisposed at birth. While one's orientation may not be recognized or acknowledged for many years, once established, it tends not to change.

Aren't gay and bi men effeminate and lesbian and bi women masculine?

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are as varied in their dress, mannerisms, and lifestyles as are heterosexual people. Despite this diversity, stereotypes persist about the effeminate man or masculine woman. Although some gay people reflect these characteristics, the overwhelming majority of lesbians and gay men do not conform to these stereotypes. At the same time, many effeminate men and masculine women are straight.

Aren't gay rights laws an attempt to get special privileges?

Gay rights laws are civil rights laws consistent with the belief that all people are entitled to such necessities as employment, housing, and business services without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, in many states, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people can be fired from their jobs and denied housing, credit, or insurance solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression. Therefore, GLBT people need safeguards to prevent the discrimination that would limit or deny them opportunities to live equally with the rest of society.

Do lesbians and gay men want to be the opposite sex?

Although some lesbians and gay men do not conform to expected gender roles, most do not want to change their sex. Do not confuse transgender people with lesbians and gay men.

What is the difference between sexual preference and sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is not a choice. Preference implies choice. Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is sexual orientation. Sexual preference is a term that might apply to a bisexual person who prefers people of a particular biological sex. However, it is important to understand that many bisexual people do not have a sexual preference.

Won't gay parents make their kids gay?

Research has shown that children of lesbian or gay parents are no more likely to become gay or lesbian than children of heterosexual parents. This simply supports the fact that nothing 'makes' a person gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Same-sex couples are just as capable of raising a child as are heterosexual couples.

What do transgender, transsexual, and crossdresser mean? And, are they the same?

First of all, they are not at all the same. To understand these terms, we must first understand the difference between biological sex and gender identity. Biological sex is a physical condition, identified at birth by one's primary sex characteristics (penis and scrotum for males and vulva, labia, clitoris, and vagina for females). Gender identity is a combination of one's personal internal recognition of the gender that is one's own, the degree to which that internal recognition conforms or fails to conform to one's biological sex, and how one desires to be recognized by others: as male, female, or genderqueer. Transgender, transsexual, and crossdressing people may have any sexual orientation.

  • Transgender is an umbrella term referring to people whose gender identity differs from the social expectations for the biological sex identified as theirs at birth (using primary sex characteristics). Since these social expectations include gender roles (feminine women and masculine men), people who do not conform to prescribed gender roles may be considered part of the transgender community. A transgender person may or may not ever choose to become transsexual.
  • Transsexual refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the body and the brain and sometimes undergoes medical treatment, including hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery, to change physical sex to match gender identity.
  • Crossdressers (formerly known as transvestites) are people who like to dress in the clothing of the gender identity opposite to that considered socially appropriate to their biological sex. Most crossdressers are content with their own biological sex and gender identity. Most crossdressers do not want to be the other biological sex or to be another gender.

What does it mean to be intersex?

Intersex people (once called hermaphrodites) are people born with ambiguous genitalia or genitalia having characteristics of both sexes. Usually a doctor will immediately perform surgery to assign the infant's sex, usually removing male characteristics and 'creating' a female. Because this surgery is medically unnecessary, advocates today are asking that doctors and parents wait until the child is old enough to self-identify the appropriate biological sex and gender and also old enough to choose whether or not to have the surgery. Some who had surgery as infants later experience conflict with their assigned gender, similar to that experienced by transgender people. They may opt for hormone therapy and surgery to transition to the gender that they should have had. About one in every 2,000 people is intersex.

What does the term 'queer' mean?

This word, once a derogatory term for gay men, bisexuals, lesbians, and transgender people, has recently been reclaimed by the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community as a term of pride. However, many have not chosen to reclaim the word and still see it as a derogatory, similar to the terms 'dyke' and 'fag.'

There are only two genders, right?

Traditionally, gender has meant either 'male' or 'female.' Gender is the collection of behaviors, dress, attitudes, etc., culturally assigned to people according to their biological sex. However, there is really a range of genders, including male and female, but also including genderqueer or gender ambiguous, butch (man or woman), femme (man or woman), transgender (sometimes considered a gender), and many others.

What is pansexuality? What is genderqueer?

The term 'bisexual' implies a sexual attraction towards people whose biological sex is different than and the same as one's own. Since, however, there are more than two genders, some people do not self-identify as bisexual, finding themselves attracted to people across a spectrum of genders. These people have adopted different terms, including pansexual, a term that can also apply to people whose gender is fluid or who consider themselves genderqueer (or genderless).

* Adapted and printed with permission of University of Southern California's GLBT Assembly

** Like other forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, class systems, and ageism


 
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