I remember the first gay person I met. I think everyone does. For me, it was my youth group leader at my church– the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach (UUCLB). She always wore a small braid in her long, blonde hair and tie-dye shirts, or so my 7-year-old memory serves me. She and her partner were raising a daughter my age who was a frequent playmate of mine, and I honestly never thought much of it.
I think I was lucky to be raised in such an open-minded family and at such an accepting church like the UUCLB. Because of my upbringing, I have never seen LGBTQ+ people as different, and I’ve never struggled to understand them.
However, many people did not grow up with words like “transgender” and “lesbian” in the acceptable vocabulary list, and I don’t just mean people my age. Plenty of Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers lack an understanding of what different genders and sexualities mean, which is where I come in. Consider me the answer to all those awkward and uncomfortable questions. I am the savior, product of hippie parents and a hippie church, who will happily explain those words we all hear on the Internet but are too afraid to actually ask about.
A unique part of my generation, Generation Z, is that as a whole we are more accepting and open to all genders and sexualities, and we have opened the doors to explore more fluid and diverse definitions of such words. Thanks to social media, there’s a normalcy to what was once considered abnormal, and my generation has no problem with the heaps of new labels being introduced.
So let’s start with the basics– what is gender, and what is sex, and are they really different? First of all, yes, they are very different. Sex is what someone is assigned at birth, and there are only three: male, female and intersex. Sex is based solely on one’s genitals with intersex being someone born with genitalia that cannot be easily defined as either male or female.
Gender, on the other hand, is how someone identifies, and there are plenty more than three. Gender can be seen as a spectrum based on traditional gender expectations within which men and women act and dress a certain way. On one side of the spectrum are cisgender men, or people who identify as male and have male genitalia. On the other side are cisgender women, or people who identify as female and have female genitalia. In between, there are so many genders. Here are a few, and I will consistently use the gender-neutral singular pronoun “they” to avoid making pronoun assumptions.
Agender: One who feels no particular attachment to any specific gender. They may dress and present themselves in any number of ways. Other words for agender include gender neutrois, gender neutral and genderless.
Androgynous: Someone whose physical appearance is not traditionally male or female, but instead is a mix of both. Androgynous can also sometimes be used to refer to someone who is intersex.
Bigender: Similar to genderfluid, someone who is bigender fluctuates between male and female and identifies with both genders, or sometimes with a third gender.
Butch: A female who identifies as masculine. Although often used as a derogatory term for lesbian, butch is in fact a gender identity. Dyke can be used the same way.
Feminine- and masculine-of-center: Someone who presents themselves and identifies as slightly feminine or masculine but does not identify completely as a woman or man respectively.
Feminine- and masculine-presenting: Also known as femme- and masc-presenting, these labels can be used to describe someone who presents themselves as more masculine or feminine, but does not necessarily identify as female or male. Not to be confused with feminine- and masculine-of-center.
Genderfluid: One who feels sometimes male, sometimes female and sometimes a mix of both. They may dress and present themselves in a variety of ways, including but not limited to switching between a traditionally male and traditionally female appearance, sticking to just one such appearance or appearing androgynous.
Gender non-conforming (GNC): Someone who does not identify with the traditional male and female genders. Also can be called gender non-binary.
Genderqueer: Someone who does not identify with the traditional male and female genders or an umbrella term for many gender non-conforming or non-binary identities.
Transgender: Someone who identifies with a gender other than the one that correlates with their sex assigned at birth.
In addition to genders, there are also sexual and romantic orientations. A sexual orientation, or sexuality, is a label used to describe to whom someone is sexually attracted. A romantic orientation is a label used to describe to whom someone is romantically attracted. Romantic attraction is the desire to have intimate relationships that do not involve sex. Here is a list of sexualities and romantic orientations to know:
Aromantic: Someone who does not experience romantic attraction to others.
Asexual: Someone who does not experience sexual attraction to others. They may still experience romantic attraction and the desire to be in committed, nonsexual relationships.
Biromantic: Someone who experiences romantic attraction towards men and women or to two specific sexes/genders.
Bisexual: Someone who is sexually attracted to both men and women or to two specific sexes/genders.
Gay: Someone who is sexually attracted to people of the same sex/gender. Often used specifically to describe homosexual men.
Heteroromantic: Someone who experiences romantic attraction to people of the opposite sex/gender.
Homoromantic: Someone who experiences romantic attraction to people of the same sex/gender.
Homosexual: Someone who is sexually attracted to people of the same sex/gender.
Lesbian: A woman who is sexually attracted to other women.
Panromantic: Someone who experiences romantic attraction to people of all genders and sexes.
Pansexual: Someone who is sexually attracted to people of all genders and sexes.
Polyamorous: Someone who prefers and has an orientation towards consensual, non-monogamous relationships.
Straight (heterosexual): Someone who is sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex/gender
Queer: Though once a derogatory term for homosexuals, it is now often used to describe anyone who is not straight and is often interchangeable with the acronym LGBTQ. (It also is the “Q” in “LGBTQ.”)
One common misconception is that everyone must use one of these– or any other– label. However, it is perfectly acceptable to not label one’s sexuality and gender, or to be confused about it. The term questioning is often used, but is obviously not mandatory, for individuals that are unsure of their sexuality or gender. Nobody is required to pick a sexuality or gender, and it is also perfectly acceptable to change it. It is not uncommon for people to pick a label and eventually come to change it. This is because humans are constantly changing creatures and people often grow and develop throughout their lifetimes.
I know these lists can be daunting, and many people would prefer to forget everything they just read, which is, of course, perfectly fine. However, I encourage everyone who learned something new through this article to stew on all this information and consider how awesomely diverse the human race is. While it can be intimidating and even frustrating, the truth is that without learning to embrace, or at least accept, the existence of these sexualities and genders, it will become very hard to live in this world. If we Boomlets can do it, then so can you.