University of Texas at Austin                                                             Division of Diversity and Community Engagement

FAQs

FAQ – The Center and Campus

The Gender and Sexuality Center was created to provide safe spaces for all member of the UT Austin community to explore and organize around issues of gender and sexuality. We envision a campus where all people feel welcomed and included in campus life.

How did the center begin? The GSC finds its roots in the development of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) in 1997. The WRC was founded as an agency of Student Government (SG), with a student appointed as a director and an annual budget of $3000. GLBT/Ally Affairs Agency (GLBTAAA) was created in the fall of 2001, also with a student director and a small budget, with the intention of demonstrating need and demand for a center. Because both organizations saw overlap in their services, and each recognized the importance of establishing a permanent office with a full-time director, the WRC and GLBTAAA decided to pursue a joint center. They began working through SG to create a combined Gender and Sexuality Center.

The watershed event for the creation of the center occurred in summer 2003. New SG President, Brian Haley, had campaigned on a promise to create a Gender and Sexuality Center, and he followed through. When a room opened up on the first floor of the Student Services Building, Haley claimed it for the new center through good networking and creative negotiating. With a space finally secured, Haley established an advisory committee, chaired by Teresa Brett, Dean of Students, to discuss the center’s mission, goals, and activities. A proposal for the center was submitted to Student Services Budget Committee in March 2004, and it was approved.

The Gender and Sexuality Center owes its creation to the hard work of many dedicated individuals. However, our work is not complete. In the future, the GSC hopes to expand its programs and find a home in a larger space that will provide for ease of organizing and socializing around issues of gender and sexuality.

Where is the center located, and when is it open?We encourage you to visit the center, which is located in the Student Activities Center 2.112, and we are open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What is the advisory committee and how can I join? The GSC Advisory Committee is comprised of UT students, faculty and staff who meet to discuss the GSC Center and shape its goals and mission. If you are interested in being a part of the Advisory Committee, please contact the GSC Director.

Does the center serve only UT students? Though the GSC was set up to serve the UT community, we welcome all members of the Austin community.

FAQ – Gender Issues

What type of services do you provide for women?

The GSC is in the process of creating services for people of all genders. Currently, we offer walk-in advising to provide support, references, and resources for whatever your concern may be, as well as a growing library of books and articles relating to gender and sexuality, and mentor programs.

Does the GSC offer services and programs for men, too?

The GSC provides services and resources for people of all genders.

Who on campus can I talk to about gender issues? Where can I turn if I have been the victim of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, or transphobic incident?

Students have several resources on campus. The GSC is a space that is welcoming of all students, and the Center staff is available to talk to anyone with a concern. Students can also call the Women’s Resource Center at (512) 232-4236 or the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center at (512) 471-3515. Telephone counseling is available by calling (512) 471-CALL (2255). For relationship and sexual violence issues you may also contact Voices Against Violence at (512) 471-3515.

I’m a man interested in being a better ally to women. How can I do this?

What an Ally Does

  • Communicates their willingness to actively support efforts that promote social justice
  • Takes initiative and responsibility for their own education about various forms of social injustice
  • Confronts oppressive language, behaviors, and institutional practices

What an Ally Doesn’t Do

  • Set the agenda for others to follow in their pursuit of social justice

Ways to get involved and make a difference in the lives of women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people:

  • Volunteer at the GSC
  • Volunteer at the Women’s Resource Center
  • Volunteer at SafePlace
  • Attend a diversity/sensitivity workshop and identify yourself as an ally
  • Check out a video or book at the GSC and educate yourself on women and LGBTQ issues
  • Attend LGBTQ Pride and Coming Out Week activities
  • Attend Women’s History Month activities
  • Join Safe Space and get involved
  • Volunteer to make a difference in the life of LGBTQ youth
  • Speak out against gender stereotyping and the enforcement of rigid gender roles
  • Work to end racism
  • Donate books and videos to the GSC or the Women’s Resource Center
  • Mentor a new student
  • Work to end sexism
  • Start a study group for English or Math at the GSC
  • Recommend the GSC and the Women’s Resource Center as a resource center to your friends or students
  • Wear a rainbow ribbon
  • Interrupt stereotypes and educate people about transgender, intersex, and bisexual issues

What does transgender mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people who live outside traditional gender categories, including transsexuals, transvestites or cross-dressers, gender queers, two-spirit, and sometimes people who identify as butch or femme. A transgender person is someone whose gender identity or expression differs from conventional expectations of masculinity or femininity. Gender Identity is one’s internal sense of being male or female, and for non-transgender people, there is no difference between their gender identity and their physical sex. However, transgender people find their gender identity differs from their physical sex.

People who are transgender face discrimination in their jobs, churches, and schools, as well as judgment from their friends, families and coworkers. Unlike many who are members of minorities related to sexual orientation, a transgender person may not be able to choose when they come out. Their physical appearance may automatically “out” them.

People who are transgender have issues similar and dissimilar to the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities. All these communities face issues related to coming out, relationships, community, identity, family, friends, etc. Both experience discrimination on the basis of gender and identity. Frequently, homophobic discrimination occurs because of the way a gay person presents his or her gender. Similarly, a transgender person is often discriminated against because they are perceived to be gay. The transgender community, however, also faces its own distinct set of issues, just as there are different issues between lesbians, gays, and bisexual people.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of transphobia in the LGB community, and similarly there is a great deal of homophobia in the transgender community, just as there is both homophobia and transphobia in non-LGB/non-Transgender crowds. Most of this is simply due to ignorance.

What do I do if someone I know is transgender?

  • Accept them. They are the same person you have always known.
  • Respect the identity they claim.
  • Try to use the same pronoun and name they use to identify themselves.
  • Educate yourselves and others. Do not rely solely on information created by non-transgender people.
  • Advocate for them and be an ally!

I think someone may be transgender. Should I ask?

Though each individual has their own level of comfort in being open and discussing their gender identity, it is generally not considered acceptable to ask someone if they are transgender. If someone would like to discuss their gender identity with you, allow them to approach you first.

Who are transgender people?

Trans persons include pre-operative and post-operative transsexuals, as well as people who chose to never have surgery, who generally feel that they were born into the wrong physical sex; transgenderists (persons living full time in a different gender with no desire to pursue genital surgery); and crossdressers (once called transvestites – those whose gender expression differs from their birth sex). They also can be “passing” (masculine-appearing) women or “effeminate” men who are often assumed to be homosexual, although this is not necessarily the case. There are intersex persons born with ambiguous genitalia who identify as transgender. Some intersex people were surgically assigned a sex (usually female) as infants, and later developed a gender identity different from the sex assigned.

It’s important to note that the term ‘transgender’ describes several distinct but related groups of people, many of whom use a variety of other terms to self-identify. For example, many transsexuals see themselves as a separate group, and do not want to be included under the umbrella term ‘transgender.’ Many post-operative transsexuals no longer consider themselves to be transsexual. Some non-operative transsexuals identify themselves as transgenderists. Despite this variation in terminology, most trans people will agree that their self-identification is an important personal right.

Who are crossdressers?

Crossdressers are the largest group of transgender people. Although most crossdressers are heterosexual men, there are also gay and bisexual men, as well as lesbians, bisexual and heterosexual women, who crossdress. Many male crossdressers are married and have children. The vast majority live in secrecy about their transgender status. Unlike transsexuals, they do not wish to change their physical sex.

Who are intersex people?

Intersex people are born with chromosomal anomalies or ambiguous genitalia. Those with unusual genitalia are often subjected to surgical “normalization” procedures from infancy to adolescence, which usually results in loss of sexual response in adulthood. The Intersexed Society of North America has labeled this practice Infant Genital Mutilation. Some intersex infants have even been sexually reassigned – without their consent – and later in life develop gender identity issues strikingly similar to those of transsexual people.

Who are genderqueer people?

People who simply identify as non-gender normative, neither male nor female, masculine nor feminine. People who transgresses gender. Other people who reject the gender binary may identify themselves as androgynous, bi-gendered, gender-bender or gender-blender.

Who are drag kings or drag queens?

People who perform gender for an audience, on a stage. Drag queens are biologically male and perform femininity on a stage, and drag kings are biologically female and perform masculinity on a stage.

Who are two-spirit people?

With origins in Native American cultures, “two spirit” referred to people who exhibited both masculine and feminine qualities. Two spirit people were traditionally revered and respected in Native American societies, and recently this term has been adopted by the queer community as a term for anyone in the sexual and gender minority communities. Sometimes it refers specifically to transgender people, and other times it refers generally to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and other queer people.

How should I identify myself if I am not transgender?

One option is to refer to yourself as cisgender, rather than using the word “normal” or being identified by what you are not (such as “non-transgender”). It provides a name for a gender identity or performance in a gender role that society considers to be a match or appropriate for one’s sex. The idea of cisgender originated as a way to shift the focus off of a marginalized group, by defining not only the minority group but also the majority.

What if I don’t know anyone who is trangender?

You may know transgender people in your daily life but not know that they are transgender. It is a personal decision to disclose whether one is transgender or not.

How are transgender people discriminated against?

Transgender people may be discriminated against in many areas of their lives. Discrimination can range from having housing denied, to being unable to secure marriage/partner benefits, to being labeled and assumed to be a gender with which one does not identify.

What causes someone to be transgender?

No one knows, but there are many theories. It may be caused by the bathing of a fetus by opposite birth sex hormones while in utero, or perhaps by some spontaneous genetic mutation, which is also one of the theories of the origin of homosexuality. Transsexual persons include female-to-male (FTM) transmen, as well as male-to female (MTF) transwomen. Due to the intensity of their gender dysphoria, they come to feel they can no longer continue living in the gender associated with their physical (birth) sex.

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria is the overall psychological term used to describe the feelings of pain, anguish, and anxiety that arise from the difference between a trans person’s physical sex and gender identity, and from parental and societal pressure to conform to gender norms.

Is being transgender a disability?

Unlike sexual orientation, transgenderism – technically “gender identity disorder” (GID) – is still deemed a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Medical professionals tend to believe that transgenderism is a medical and mental health condition that may require treatment rather than labeling it a mental illness.

There is disagreement among transgender leaders about attempts to remove GID from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Some want it removed because they feel it stigmatizes transgender people and provides a pretext for discrimination against them. They also believe it may cause harm to children when parents seek treatment for a child although the child may merely be expressing gender variance. Some transgender people believe it is not the condition but society’s rigid approach to sex and gender that are problematic. Others want GID to remain because a GID diagnosis in some states could qualify as a disability, for which medical coverage could be available and to which disability discrimination provisions could apply.

What is gender transition?

Gender transition is the period during which transsexual persons begin changing their appearances and bodies to match their internal gender identity. Because gender is so visible, transsexuals in transition MUST “out” themselves to their employers, their families, and their friends – literally everyone in their lives. While in transition, they are very vulnerable to discrimination and in dire need of support from family and friends. Hormonal therapy can take several months to many years to effect the physical changes in secondary sexual characteristics that will produce a passable appearance, and some may never pass completely.

What is the Real Life Test?

For transsexual persons seeking Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), the Real Life Test (also called the Real-Life Experience) is a one-year minimum period during which they must be able to demonstrate to their psychotherapists their ability to live and work full-time successfully in their congruent gender. The Real Life Test is a prerequisite for sex reassignment surgery under the Standards of Care.

What are the Standards of Care?

The Standards of Care are a set of guidelines formulated and recently revised by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA) under which many transsexual persons obtain hormonal and surgical sex reassignment. While the Standards of Care minimize the chance of someone making a mistake, they have been criticized as a “gatekeeper” system. In general, a complete gender transition includes a period of psychotherapy to confirm one’s true gender, the beginning of lifelong hormonal therapy, the Real Life Test, and finally, if desired, sex reassignment surgery.

What is sex reassignment surgery (SRS)?

SRS is the permanent surgical refashioning of sexual anatomy to resemble that of the appropriate sex. For MTF transsexuals, SRS involves the conversion of penile and scrotal tissue into female genitalia. For FTM transsexuals, it may be limited to just top surgery (breast removal) and sometimes hysterectomy. While many transmen become satisfied with their new male anatomy, most opt out of genital surgeries for a variety of reasons, including the expense and dissatisfaction with the results. Many MTF trans people also undergo additional cosmetic procedures, including electrolysis to remove facial and body hair, breast augmentation, Adams Apple reduction, hair transplantation, liposuction and many types of facial surgeries.

What is the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?

Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being a man or a woman, a boy or a girl. Sexual orientation is someone’s sexual attraction to others who may be of the opposite sex, the same sex, or either sex. Like other people, transgender people can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Generally speaking, their gender identity – not their physical sex status – determines their sexual orientation.

What is Gender Identity Disorder (GID)?

GID is a psychological classification found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Although GID is the only diagnosis under which trans people may receive treatment, and therefore it is necessary, it also is controversial. Some psychotherapists GID has been used inappropriately and harmfully by to treat gender variant youth. Moreover, many if not most trans people also believe they do not have a mental disorder.

What are resources for transgender people?

The GSC has a library with several books and articles on gender identity and being transgender. The Counseling and Mental Health Center on campus offers counseling to students who may be questioning their gender identity and would like to discuss it with someone. There are several campus organizations that focus on LGBTQ people. You can also find out more info and obtain more resources from the Transgender Advocates of Central Texas (www.tactx.org).

 

FAQ – Transgender Issues

What does transgender mean? Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people who live outside traditional gender categories, including transsexuals, transvestites or cross-dressers, gender queers, two-spirit, and sometimes people who identify as butch or femme. A transgender person is someone whose gender identity or expression differs from conventional expectations of masculinity or femininity. Gender Identity is one’s internal sense of being male or female, and for non-transgender people, there is no difference between their gender identity and their physical sex. However, transgender people find their gender identity differs from their physical sex.

People who are transgender face discrimination in their jobs, churches, and schools, as well as judgment from their friends, families and coworkers. Unlike many who are members of minorities related to sexual orientation, a transgender person may not be able to choose when they come out. Their physical appearance may automatically “out” them.

People who are transgender have issues similar and dissimilar to the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities. All these communities face issues related to coming out, relationships, community, identity, family, friends, etc. Both experience discrimination on the basis of gender and identity. Frequently, homophobic discrimination occurs because of the way a gay person presents his or her gender. Similarly, a transgender person is often discriminated against because they are perceived to be gay. The transgender community, however, also faces its own distinct set of issues, just as there are different issues between lesbians, gays, and bisexual people.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of transphobia in the LGB community, and similarly there is a great deal of homophobia in the transgender community, just as there is both homophobia and transphobia in non-LGB/non-Transgender crowds. Most of this is simply due to ignorance.

What do I do if someone I know is transgender?

Accept them. They are the same person you have always known.

Respect the identity they claim.

Try to use the same pronoun and name they use to identify themselves.

Educate yourselves and others. Do not rely solely on information created by non-transgender people.

Advocate for them and be an ally!

I think someone may be transgender. Should I ask? Though each individual has their own level of comfort in being open and discussing their gender identity, it is generally not considered acceptable to ask someone if they are transgender. If someone would like to discuss their gender identity with you, allow them to approach you first.

Who are transgender people? Trans persons include pre-operative and post-operative transsexuals, as well as people who chose to never have surgery, who generally feel that they were born into the wrong physical sex; transgenderists (persons living full time in a different gender with no desire to pursue genital surgery); and crossdressers (once called transvestites – those whose gender expression differs from their birth sex). They also can be “passing” (masculine-appearing) women or “effeminate” men who are often assumed to be homosexual, although this is not necessarily the case. There are intersex persons born with ambiguous genitalia who identify as transgender. Some intersex people were surgically assigned a sex (usually female) as infants, and later developed a gender identity different from the sex assigned.

It’s important to note that the term ‘transgender’ describes several distinct but related groups of people, many of whom use a variety of other terms to self-identify. For example, many transsexuals see themselves as a separate group, and do not want to be included under the umbrella term ‘transgender.’ Many post-operative transsexuals no longer consider themselves to be transsexual. Some non-operative transsexuals identify themselves as transgenderists. Despite this variation in terminology, most trans people will agree that their self-identification is an important personal right.

Who are crossdressers? Crossdressers are the largest group of transgender people. Although most crossdressers are heterosexual men, there are also gay and bisexual men, as well as lesbians, bisexual and heterosexual women, who crossdress. Many male crossdressers are married and have children. The vast majority live in secrecy about their transgender status. Unlike transsexuals, they do not wish to change their physical sex.

Who are intersex people? Intersex people are born with chromosomal anomalies or ambiguous genitalia. Those with unusual genitalia are often subjected to surgical “normalization” procedures from infancy to adolescence, which usually results in loss of sexual response in adulthood. The Intersexed Society of North America has labeled this practice Infant Genital Mutilation. Some intersex infants have even been sexually reassigned – without their consent – and later in life develop gender identity issues strikingly similar to those of transsexual people.

Who are genderqueer people? People who simply identify as non-gender normative, neither male nor female, masculine nor feminine. People who transgress gender. Other people who reject the gender binary may identify themselves as androgynous, bi-gendered, gender-bender or gender-blender.

Who are drag kings or drag queens? People who perform gender for an audience, on a stage. Drag queens are biologically male and perform femininity on a stage, and drag kings are biologically female and perform masculinity on a stage.

Who are two-spirit people? With origins in Native American cultures, “two spirit” referred to people who exhibited both masculine and feminine qualities. Two spirit people were traditionally revered and respected in Native American societies, and recently this term has been adopted by the queer community as a term for anyone in the sexual and gender minority communities. Sometimes it refers specifically to transgender people, and other times it refers generally to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and other queer people.

How should I identify myself if I am not transgender? One option is to refer to yourself as cisgender, rather than using the word “normal” or being identified by what you are not (such as “non-transgender”). It provides a name for a gender identity or performance in a gender role that society considers to be a match or appropriate for one’s sex. The idea of cisgender originated as a way to shift the focus off of a marginalized group, by defining not only the minority group but also the majority.

What if I don’t know anyone who is trangender? You may know transgender people in your daily life but not know that they are transgender. It is a personal decision to disclose whether one is transgender or not.

How are transgender people discriminated against? Transgender people may be discriminated against in many areas of their lives. Discrimination can range from having housing denied, to being unable to secure marriage/partner benefits, to being labeled and assumed to be a gender with which one does not identify.

What causes someone to be transgender? No one knows, but there are many theories. It may be caused by the bathing of a fetus by opposite birth sex hormones while in utero, or perhaps by some spontaneous genetic mutation, which is also one of the theories of the origin of homosexuality. Transsexual persons include female-to-male (FTM) transmen, as well as male-to female (MTF) transwomen. Due to the intensity of their gender dysphoria, they come to feel they can no longer continue living in the gender associated with their physical (birth) sex.

Is being transgender a disability? Unlike sexual orientation, transgenderism – technically “gender identity disorder” (GID) – is still deemed a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Medical professionals tend to believe that transgenderism is a medical and mental health condition that may require treatment rather than labeling it a mental illness.

There is disagreement among transgender leaders about attempts to remove GID from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Some want it removed because they feel it stigmatizes transgender people and provides a pretext for discrimination against them. They also believe it may cause harm to children when parents seek treatment for a child although the child may merely be expressing gender variance. Some transgender people believe it is not the condition but society’s rigid approach to sex and gender that are problematic. Others want GID to remain because a GID diagnosis in some states could qualify as a disability, for which medical coverage could be available and to which disability discrimination provisions could apply.

What is gender transition? Gender transition is the period during which transsexual persons begin changing their appearances and bodies to match their internal gender identity. Because gender is so visible, transsexuals in transition MUST “out” themselves to their employers, their families, and their friends – literally everyone in their lives. While in transition, they are very vulnerable to discrimination and in dire need of support from family and friends. Hormonal therapy can take several months to many years to effect the physical changes in secondary sexual characteristics that will produce a passable appearance, and some may never pass completely.

What is the Real Life Test? For transsexual persons seeking Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), the Real Life Test (also called the Real-Life Experience) is a one-year minimum period during which they must be able to demonstrate to their psychotherapists their ability to live and work full-time successfully in their congruent gender. The Real Life Test is a prerequisite for sex reassignment surgery under the Standards of Care.

What are the Standards of Care? The Standards of Care are a set of guidelines formulated and recently revised by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH, formerly known as the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Inc. (HBIGDA)) under which many transsexual persons obtain hormonal and surgical sex reassignment. While the Standards of Care minimize the chance of someone making a mistake, they have been criticized as a “gatekeeper” system. In general, a complete gender transition includes a period of psychotherapy to confirm one’s true gender, the beginning of lifelong hormonal therapy, the Real Life Test, and finally, if desired, sex reassignment surgery.

What is sex reassignment surgery (SRS)? SRS is the permanent surgical refashioning of sexual anatomy to resemble that of the appropriate sex. For MTF transsexuals, SRS involves the conversion of penile and scrotal tissue into female genitalia. For FTM transsexuals, it may be limited to just top surgery (breast removal) and sometimes hysterectomy. While many transmen become satisfied with their new male anatomy, most opt out of genital surgeries for a variety of reasons, including the expense and dissatisfaction with the results. Many MTF trans people also undergo additional cosmetic procedures, including electrolysis to remove facial and body hair, breast augmentation, Adams Apple reduction, hair transplantation, liposuction and many types of facial surgeries.

What is the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation? Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being a man or a woman, a boy or a girl. Sexual orientation is someone’s sexual attraction to others who may be of the opposite sex, the same sex, or either sex. Like other people, transgender people can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Generally speaking, their gender identity – not their physical sex status – determines their sexual orientation.

What is Gender Identity Disorder (GID)? GID is a psychological classification found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Although GID is the only diagnosis under which trans people may receive treatment, and therefore it is necessary, it also is controversial. Some psychotherapists GID has been used inappropriately and harmfully by to treat gender variant youth. Moreover, many if not most trans people also believe they do not have a mental disorder.

What are resources for transgender people? The GSC has a library with several books and articles on gender identity and being transgender. The Counseling and Mental Health Center on campus offers counseling to students who may be questioning their gender identity and would like to discuss it with someone. There are several campus organizations that focus on LGBTQ people. You can also find out more info and obtain more resources from the Transgender Advocates of Central Texas (www.tactx.org).

FAQ – Sexuality Issues

What type of services do you provide for LGBTQ people?

Currently, we offer walk-in advising to provide support, references, and resources for whatever your concern may be, as well as a growing library of books and articles relating to gender and sexuality. In addition, be sure to check out the services and programs page of our website.

Who on campus can I talk to about my sexuality?

Students have several resources on campus. The GSC is a space that is welcoming of all students, and the Center staff is available to talk to anyone with a concern. Students can also call the Women’s Resource Center at (512) 232-4236 or the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center at (512) 471-3515. Telephone counseling is available by calling (512) 471-CALL (2255).

What is it like to be LGBTQ?

There’s no right way or wrong way to be gay or lesbian. Because of society’s stereotypes you might think you have to be a certain way if you identify LGBTQ. But lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people come in all shapes and sizes, from all occupations, and with all levels of education.

Because of homophobia and prejudice, some people don’t accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. We sometimes suffer from discrimination and violence. That’s why there are many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender organizations that work for our civil rights.

What is bisexuality?

Bisexuality is the potential to feel sexually attracted to and to engage in sensual or sexual relationships with people who are either male or female. A bisexual person may not be equally attracted to both sexes, and degrees of attraction may vary over time. Self-perception is the key to a bisexual identity. Many people engage in sexual activity with people of both sexes, yet do not identify as bisexual. There is no behavioral “test” to determine whether or not one is bisexual.

The bisexual identity

Some believe that a person is born heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual (perhaps due to prenatal hormonal influences) and that their identity is inherent and unchangeable. Others believe that sexual orientation is due to socialization (for example, either imitating or rejecting parental models), or conscious choice (for example, choosing lesbianism as part of a political feminist identity). Others believe that these factors interact. Because biological, social, and cultural factors are different for each person, everyone’s sexuality is highly individual, whether they are bisexual, gay, lesbian, heterosexual, or asexual. The “value” placed on a sexual identity should not depend on its origin.

Many people assume that bisexuality is just a phase people go through. In fact, any sexual orientation can be a phase. Humans are diverse, and individual sexual feelings and behaviors may change over time. The creation and consolidation of a sexual identity is an ongoing process. Since we are generally socialized as heterosexuals, bisexuality is a stage that many people may experience as part of the process of acknowledging their homosexuality. Many others come to identify as bisexual after a considerable period of identification as gay men or lesbians. An orientation that may not be permanent is still valid for the period of time it is experienced. Bisexuality, like homosexuality and heterosexuality, may be either a transitional step in the process of sexual discovery, or a long-term identity.

Bisexual relationships

Bisexuals, like all people, have a wide variety of relationship styles. Contrary to common myth, a bisexual person does not need to be sexually involved with both a man and a woman. As is the case for heterosexuals and homosexuals, attraction does not involve acting on every desire. Like heterosexuals and homosexuals, many bisexuals choose to be sexually active with one partner only, and have long term, monogamous relationships. Some bisexuals may have open relationships, just as some heterosexuals and homosexuals are sexually active with more than one partner.

How common is bisexuality?

It is not easy to say how common bisexuality is, since little research has been done on this subject. Most studies on sexuality have focused on heterosexuality or homosexuality. Studies conducted by Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s hypothesized that as many as 15-25% of women and 33-46% of men may be bisexual based on their activities or attractions.

Bisexuals are in many ways a hidden population. In our culture, it is generally assumed that a person is either heterosexual (most frequently) or homosexual (based on appearance or behavioral clues). Because bisexuality does not fit into these standard categories, it tends to be denied or ignored. When it is recognized, bisexuality is often viewed as being “part heterosexual and part homosexual”, rather than being a unique identity. Bisexuality threatens the accepted way of looking at the world by calling into question the validity of rigid sexual categorization, and encourages acknowledgment of the existence of a diverse range of sexuality. Since there is not a stereotypical bisexual appearance or way of acting, bisexuals are usually assumed to be either heterosexual or homosexual. In order to increase awareness, bisexuals have begun to create their own visible communities.

Where can I turn if I have been harassed because of my sexual orientation?

First, realize that whatever happened to you was wrong and is not your fault. Do not take the blame for someone else’s intolerance. Secondly, take care of yourself. Find support from friends, family, or individuals on campus that are here to provide supports such as our office or the CMHC (471-3315). Thirdly, if you are comfortable doing this, speak up. The University of Texas has a non-discrimination clause, and this includes sexual orientation. To report incidents involving hate, intolerance, harassment, and/or incivility, contact LaToya Hill, Ph.D, Assistant Dean of Students and Student Emergency Services, Office of the Dean of Students, 4.104 Student Services Building (512-471-5017

How can I be a better ally?

What an Ally Does

  • Communicates their willingness to actively support the efforts to promote social justice
  • Takes initiative and responsibility for their education about various forms of social injustice
  • Confronts oppressive language, behaviors, and institutional practices

What an Ally Doesn’t Do

  • Set the agenda for others to follow in their pursuit of social justice

Ways to get involved and make a difference in the lives of women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people

  • Volunteer at the GSC
  • Volunteer at the Women’s Resource Center
  • Volunteer at SafePlace
  • Attend a diversity/sensitivity workshop and identify yourself as an ally
  • Check out a video or book at the GSC and educate yourself on women and LGBTQ issues
  • Attend LGBTQ Pride and Coming Out Week activities
  • Attend Women’s History Month activities
  • Join Safe Space and get involved
  • Volunteer to make a difference in the life of LGBTQ youth
  • Speak out against gender stereotyping and the enforcement of rigid gender roles
  • Work to end racism
  • Donate books and videos to the GSC or the Women’s Resource Center
  • Mentor a new student
  • Work to end sexism
  • Start a study group for English or Math at the GSC
  • Recommend the GSC and the Women’s Resource Center as a resource center to your friends or students
  • Wear a rainbow ribbon
  • Interrupt stereotypes and educate people about transgender, intersex, and bisexual issues

What is homophobia and heterosexism?

Homophobia is the fear and hatred of people who love and who are sexually attracted to those of the same sex, which includes prejudice and acts of discrimination resulting from that fear and hatred.

Heterosexism is the system of oppression of persons who are lesbian, gay or bisexual based on homophobia. It is the failure to recognize the complete humanness of these people. Mistreatment is manifested in institutional as well as individual acts of violence. Heterosexism is the preoccupation with heterosexuality. Our institutions, laws, and policies support heterosexuals and serve to discount homosexuals.

How homophobia hurts us all

Homophobia can inhibit the ability of heterosexuals to form close, intimate relationships with members of their own sex for fear of being perceived as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Homophobia restricts communication with a significant percentage of the population.

Homophobia locks people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self-expression.

Homophobia is often used to stigmatize heterosexuals who visibly support gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people or those who do not conform to rigid sex roles.

Homophobic conditioning compromises the integrity of heterosexuals by pressuring them to treat others badly, actions that are contrary to their basic humanity.

Homophobia prevents heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and contributions offered by the gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual communities: theoretical insights, social visions and options, and contributions to the arts and culture, religion, family life, and other sectors of society.

FAQ – Coming Out

Is there any help with coming out?

Coming out means identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The first person you have to reveal this to is yourself. After that, you can deal with friends and family. For many people, the coming out process is difficult. Once they’ve come out, however,most people acknowledge that it feels much better to be open and honest than to conceal such an integral part of themselves.

Coming out is simply about being true to yourself – in a world where nearly everyone assumes you are heterosexual. It’s not about bringing attention to yourself, as some critics like to say. According to Christopher Rice, author and son of well-known novelist Anne Rice. “People say, ‘But you don’t have to advertise or flaunt your sexuality if you’re gay,’” says Rice, who is gay. “Well, there’s a big difference between being forthright and ‘flaunting’ it.”

Sometimes, the society we live in affects our ability to deal with the possibility of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. For Rice, the biggest hurdle in coming out was his own fear about being different. “I came to understand that one of the biggest hang-ups was me. I was convinced everybody would have a horrible reaction to my coming out. But my parents were wonderful, as were many others. Certainly, there was a wide spectrum of reactions, from highly tolerant to not very tolerant; but mostly, I was just projecting onto them my own insecurities.”

Early on, in fact, Rice believed he was just going through a “phase.” Throughout his teens, he went out with girls, and talked about eventually settling down with a woman. At the same time, he read portrayals of gay people leading real lives; and he continued talking with friends and thinking about his same-sex attractions. Finally, when he had his first romantic involvement with a man, everything clicked.

“It really felt right; it felt natural. It felt more complete,” recalls Rice. “And most of all, it felt too good to be something that I had to hide.”

Understandably, it takes some time for many of us to reach the point where we feel comfortable enough about ourselves to share our discovery with others. But when we do take that step, our lives can change forever – most often, for the better. Before going away to college, Linda Villarosa was confused and unsure about her sexual orientation. One reason why she did not explore her feelings right away was because, at that time, she was trying to fit into a white neighborhood and didn’t want to do anything others could think of as wrong. Finally, after she left for school, she took the step. “I came out because I couldn’t stand not being myself any more.”

After college, she came out to 7 million readers in an Essence article she wrote with her mother. The article, called “Coming Out,” remains the most highly responded-to article in the history of the magazine. Villarosa later became executive editor of the magazine and is now a contributing writer to The New York Times and is the author of “Body & Soul: The Black Women’s Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being.”

Similarly, many transgender and transsexual people come out to be true to themselves. But it still can be quite dangerous for some people to have their transgender status revealed, says writer/activist Jamison Green. “It’s necessary for transpeople to be comfortable enough about their difference that they can make appropriate disclosures to others.”

What is important is your own comfort level, as well as awareness of your own safety in various circumstances, says Green, a transsexual man. “Not all transpeople need to come out all the time.” It’s also important to find your own comfort level about how you want to express your gender. “There is no one way to be transgender,” he says. “Some of us just want to alleviate our body/gender misalignment and experience life as ‘ordinary’ men or women, whether we are gay, heterosexual or bisexual.

“I knew everyone would watch me change from androgynous to masculine, from woman to man, and some people would be disgusted, some frightened and some derisive,” he recalls. “I was amazed how much support I received, and I know it was because I was clear and calm and understanding when others were confused. I had to spend a lot of time answering questions; I was very patient with people, and I know that made a difference for them.”

And remember, you are never too old to come out. Each of us comes out at the age that feels best – as teens or retirees, or somewhere in between. Support networks and sources of information remain the same for all, although coming out at a later age may pose different challenges. Some people come out in their middle age as their desire to find self-acceptance and happiness takes on greater urgency.

Coming out to yourself

“Growing up, I felt there was something about me that truly set me apart from other kids. But I didn’t have a grasp on what it was,” says Candace Gingrich, manager of HRC’s National Coming Out Project and half-sister of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“I had a few fleeting crushes on girls and, then, a full-blown crush. Inside, they felt right and normal. But at the same time, I didn’t have any way to process those feelings because I didn’t know any gay people or know that I knew them. I felt that I would risk something if I expressed my feelings.”

Gingrich started playing on her college rugby team, which had some lesbian players,and for the first time saw women being openly affectionate to each other. “It was like being dropped into what was originally a foreign country but, once there, I realized it was my country of origin. I thought, ‘Wow, the feelings I’ve been having are normal. It is OK to be who I am.’”

At the same time, remember that it’s not always easy to be out. It may take a few years to feel entirely comfortable, says Tracy Young, a disc jockey and music mixer, who has worked with Enrique Iglesias, Stevie Nicks, Ricky Martin, Anna Sui, Lauryn Hill and Madonna.

Young says it was hard for her during the initial years. “I was almost ashamed at times to be gay, in particular if I was away from my friends and others who were supportive and in more of a conservative environment. ‘What if these people find out that I’m gay?’ I would ask myself,” said Young. “It’s not always easy. Not everyone will accept you. Sometimes, people will call you names or give you looks when you walk down the street.”

It was extremely important for Young to find others who were supportive or who were LGBTQ or questioning, she said. “Being around other gay people who had similar stories really helped,” says Young. “Finding a gay support system was important.” She also started reading books about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer when she was a young teen. “I think it’s hard when you’re struggling with who you are. It can be a scary thing but, in the end, try to be true to yourself.”

Coming out online

Thanks to the increased access to computers as well as the ease, and relative privacy, of Internet communications, increasing numbers of people are choosing to come out online. Chat rooms and other features allow Internet users to participate in online communities where they can be themselves. Some are finding the environment to be so supportive that they are coming out online, before coming out to parents, coworkers and close friends.

Corey Johnson, a captain of his Massachusetts high school football team who made national headlines when he came out in 1999, used the Internet for support more than a year before telling anyone at home and at school. He regularly visited a website where he could communicate with other gay teens, including athletes like himself, who also were afraid to come out. And he exchanged e-mail messages with another gay football player in Illinois. Being able to make connections with others like him helped Johnson as he struggled with his sexuality, wondering if his family and friends would accept that part of him. The online communications helped him take the next step; telling a few of his teachers, his parents and his closest friends and, finally, the other players on his football team.

Nationally known transgender activist Dana Rivers also is enthusiastic about resources available on the Internet. Accurate information about transgender issues is much harder to find than information related to gay, lesbian and bisexual issues. Gay bookstores and LGBTQ centers in local communities often fail to offer basic resources on such topics, says Rivers who is a transsexual woman. Internet chats can often help someone who is exploring the possibility of transitioning, for example, to gather more information and talk to someone who has gone through the experience.

Please Note: While online communications can be invaluable, users need to remember to take care. It’s important to exercise good judgment in deciding with whom you share information. It’s also key to verify and confirm any statistics or medical information with other reliable sources.

Coming out to others

Some people come out when someone asks them if they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Others make a point of pulling people aside and saying, “There’s something I have to tell you.”

If you choose the latter option, ask yourself: “Who is the most open-minded and caring person I know who is also the least likely to be shocked, threatened or put off?” This might be a friend, a relative or a teacher. Tell that person you have questions about your sexual orientation or your gender identity, or that you’re trying to be more honest and you’d like to talk. Say you’ve come to them because you trust them.

Corey Johnson, the openly gay high school football captain, first felt comfortable talking to his guidance counselor. Later, he shared the information with a biology teacher, then a lacrosse coach and after that, his parents. All were supportive and were able to better understand his recent mood swings and falling grades.

For those who are transgender, it also can be helpful to contact national groups that focus specifically on transgender-related issues, including Gender Education and Advocacy, GenderPAC and the International Foundation for Gender Education. Local chapters of national groups often have knowledgeable, supportive members in cities across the country available to talk.

Testing the waters

You can get a sense of how accepting your friends and family are by the things they say, or don’t say, when gay- or transgender-related issues come up. You might try to bring it up yourself by talking about such issues in the news, in films, on radio or television shows, or in the debates over equal rights in the workplace.

If the reactions from your friends or members of your family are positive, the chances are that they’ll be more accepting of you. But always keep in mind that it’s easier for most people to accept LGBTQQ people in the abstract. It’s a bit different when it’s “my son” or “my daughter” or even “my best friend.”

A word of caution: It’s always a risk to come out. You never can know how anyone will react. Our society, throughout history, has been full of positive images of heterosexual people and bereft of positive images of LGBTQ people. There’s a good chance that people will judge you based on those images, no matter how open-minded you might think they are. On the other hand, it is often surprising who, among your friends and family, are supportive.

It’s a big risk to come out for transgender people, says Dana Rivers, who lost her job as a teacher when she came out. And, more than likely, transgender people cannot conceal who they are from people that knew them before transitioning. “You just cannot hide what you are as a female-to-male or a male-to-female transsexual,” says Rivers. It can also be uncomfortable to be transgender in the gay community because some members remain ignorant of gender-related issues and fail to accept transgender people, she notes.

What is key, however, is simply being authentic when the time is right, Rivers says. “Everyone needs to make their own decision about when to come out. It is important for people, especially those I am close to, to know about this dramatic, profound shift in my life.”

Telling friends

When you are ready to come out to your friends, you may be lucky enough to have some friends or acquaintances in the LGBTQQ community to help you. They might be able to give you some support, lend you a book that helped them on their journey or simply share a few words of advice. But heterosexual friends also can be staunch supporters. Choose carefully as you reveal this fundamental part of yourself.

For comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer, one of the hardest parts of the entire process was dealing with the reactions of some of her friends. When she came out in college, Westenhoefer and her friends faced a barrage of mean-spirited remarks from other students. “They took an obvious dislike to us. It was hateful, horrible rhetoric, and divisive,” she said. In the end, some of Westenhoefer’s friends stopped spending time with her. “I lost some friends. I felt like they just couldn’t step up to the plate. It was very hard to deal with that, and to tell them that they were not being supportive.”

Many gay people find that the friends they thought would be least judgmental were the first to drop them, while those who seemed unlikely allies offered the strongest support. But you’ll learn many valuable lessons about what the word “friendship” means. “It’s those first five minutes in coming out to your friends or acquaintances that are really the hardest. But after that things get better than before,” says Westenhoefer.

Attitudes can and do change. Tracy Young admits that hers did. Young, one of the country’s leading disc jockeys and music mixers, recalls recoiling in disgust when two of her closest friends came out to her in high school and told her they were in a relationship. “I just freaked out. I told my mother that two of my friends were together.” Her mom proceeded to explain to her, however, that her friends’ feelings for each other were OK. “She told me they were my friends and asked why I was turning my back on them.”

Telling family members

Most people are afraid that their parents will reject them if they come out. You might be afraid that they will throw you out of the house, tell you you’re immoral, or simply stop loving you. The good news is that you’re probably wrong.

It’s true that many parents are shocked when their children say they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. But it is also true that for many parents, it’s very hard to completely reject their children. Some parents react in ways that hurt. Some cry. Some get angry. Some ask where they went wrong as a parent. Some call it a sin. Some insist it’s a phase. Others try to send their child to counselors or therapists who attempt to change gay people into heterosexuals – a process rejected by all major medical and mental health professional organizations. Some parents send their child to counselors or therapists who try to change gender-variant people.

Candace Gingrich’s mother was pretty typical. “She wanted to know what happened to me that turned me into a lesbian,” Gingrich recalls. “She wanted to know where she and Dad went wrong. She wanted to know if I hadn’t met the right man yet.”

Initially, comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer’s mother also was upset and confused because Westenhoefer had been dating boys for several years before she figured out she was a lesbian. “She couldn’t understand that I could date guys, like them and yet decide I was a lesbian. And it also went against the old myth that lesbians hate men,” she said. It took her mother several months to come to terms with the news. “Then my mother went through a period of being worried about my safety because of ‘all the people who don’t like queers’ and that I would spend my life in dark bars.” She also worried whether she and her daughter would remain close, as they always had been. Within a year or so, however, Westenhoefer’s mother came to accept her. She was soon including Westenhoefer’s girlfriend in family activities.

Remember that your parents grew up in a time when some of the misperceptions about LGBTQQ people were more prevalent than they are today. Remember, too, that they’re probably trying to keep you safe from something they do not understand. Finally, remember this is big news, and there’s really no time schedule for how long it takes parents to adjust. Some take months. Some take years. And, of course, some already know.

Fortunately, parents seem to be more accepting of their children now than ever, but some parents still go to the extreme. For actor Wilson Cruz, it was awful. His father threw him out. “I lived in my car for three months,” Cruz recalls. For a year, he and his father barely talked. Then one night, My So-Called Life aired an episode in which Cruz’s character was thrown out of his house for being gay. Cruz’s father was watching. “He called me up after that, and it was very moving. He saw what I went through on an emotional and a physical level, and started to see what he’d done wrong. Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a complete transformation but he’s definitely a lot more accepting of me.”

While Cruz’s experience was more dramatic than most, it shows that even people who react negatively at first can come around in time, and sometimes become your strongest supporters. It may not be easy for you to give them this time. But don’t be discouraged. In the long run, nothing helps as much as patience.

“My biggest fear was that my parents would abandon me if I was honest with them,” recalls author Linda Villarosa. “But my mother asked me point-blank: ‘Are you a lesbian?’ I wasn’t comfortable lying. I was also caught off guard. I was so happy. For one split second, I thought, ‘They’ll be happy for me.’” Instead, her father cried because he was afraid she didn’t love him any more. And her mother demanded that she go to therapy. “She said, ‘This isn’t really who you are. This is a phase. You can change. You can go to therapy.’ But I said, ‘No, this is who I am, and I’m happy.’” While it took time, Villarosa says her family finally let go of the fantasy of the person they thought she was and came to accept the real Linda Villarosa. She and her mother enjoy a close relationship, and Villarosa’s mother is helping Linda raise her two children.

A lifelong journey

Coming out to yourself, your friends and families is a huge part of the journey toward being honest about your sexual orientation. But coming out is more than just telling those close to you. It is a challenging process that continues throughout your life and across all of its facets, as the following sections indicate. Many opportunities will arise where you will need to choose whether to come out as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person – whether it’s on the job, at a church picnic, while having a conversation on the bus or when filling out a form in your doctor’s office. Almost daily, you will face having to make decisions about when and where to come out. But remember, take as much time as you need – this is your journey. And be sure to find help via local support groups or online contacts.

Coming out to your healthcare provider

Being honest about your sexual orientation or gender identity is essential to getting effective care and treatment. Some of the people who may most need to know the truth about your orientation or identity are your health care providers. Coming out to them can be hard, however, because inaccurate information does exists across the medical community about the treatment of LGBTQ patients.

A number of health care providers still mistakenly presume all patients are heterosexual. As a result, it can be awkward when a doctor or nurse asks whether you are sexually active and what kind of birth control you use. Their ignorance encourages many LGBTQ people to delay or avoid getting the care they need. And it keeps many from talking with their providers about promoting good health and preventing disease in an informed, open way.

Transgender and transsexual people also need to be aware that many U.S. insurance companies exclude health care coverage to people who are undergoing medical sex reassignment. Disclosure about your transgender status may be risky if it becomes part of your medical record. Moreover, supportive health care providers face obstacles in giving care and treatment to transgender and transsexual people – who often have to pay for services routinely covered by insurance companies.

If you are not ready to come out to your own health care provider, perhaps you would feel more comfortable talking with a gay-friendly one. Your local LGBTQ community center, such as UT’s Gender and Sexuality Center, may be able to help you. In addition, feel free to contact LGBTQ health organizations that are willing to educate physicians and protect your anonymity at the same time.

If you are transgender, it’s important for you to ask your doctor if they have experience working with a transgender patient’s transition, and whether it has been from male to female or female to male. It’s also a good idea to consult transgender organizations or friends before choosing a doctor or therapist. In addition, it’s important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to transition. It’s your own process.

Similarly, if you have a therapist, make sure they are knowledgeable about issues facing LGBTQ people. A number of providers remain ill-informed, particularly about transgender issues and could give inaccurate advice. Many professionals, when working on such issues, use a set of guidelines compiled by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Spirituality and coming out

Many people find strength and support from their faith as they come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. At first, this might sound like a contradiction since many organized religions teach that homosexuality and gender variance are wrong or immoral. But there are also a growing number of organized religions changing their positions on homosexuality, including the country’s largest Jewish group -the Central Conference of American Rabbis-which took the lead in sanctioning gay unions during its annual meeting in March 2000. The 3.6 million-member Presbyterian Church U.S.A. defeated a proposal that same month to bar clergy from officiating at same-sex marriage ceremonies. Regardless of what religion you are, most religions also teach that God is merciful.

Former youth activist Jamie Nabozny was raised Pentecostal and hoped to become a minister. But he was gay and thought the only worse thing he could be was Satan himself. So he tried to put his same-sex attractions aside until, one day, he could deny them no longer.

“I walked as far as I could into a big field. I was crying, praying and hollering at God. I said, ‘I’ve read the Bible, I’ve prayed, I go to church three times a week. Every time I have a homosexual thought, I rebuke it in the name of God and yet still I’m gay. Either you’re not there, or you don’t give a damn that I’m gay.’ It took me a little while but then I realized God was OK with it. The God I really believed in was not a God that hated or condemned people.”

Comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer says she and her sister, a born-again Christian, have made progress over the last 10 years or so, despite her sister’s discomfort about Westenhoefer’s being openly gay. It has taken time, however, she says. “We’re adults now and we try to find common ground in other places in our lives. We’re trying to move forward.” But Westenhoefer notes she always insists that her sister, no matter what her beliefs, treat her with full respect.

Members of all faiths and denominations are increasingly reaching out to the LGBTQ community. As they come out, many find it helpful to contact and get involved with a supportive group in their local area.

FAQ for family and friends of LGBTQ people

What do I do if someone comes out to me? How can I support my LGBTQ loved one?

Learning that a loved one is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a journey of self-discovery for you. It can send you on an emotional roller coaster ride. You may feel like you have lost a loved one. Remember that this person is the same one that you loved before they came out to you – they have just shared another part of themselves with you. Feelings of grief, guilt and denial are common. Whatever your reaction, try to reassure your loved one that they still have your love. PFLAG offers local support and education to help with that process, see www.pflag-austin.org.

What causes homosexuality?

Perhaps a better question is “What determines sexual orientation?” (i.e. heterosexuality, bisexuality, 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. The distinctions between these categories are fluid and may overlap. Although the causes are not known, some researchers believe that one’s basic sexual orientation is predisposed at birth. Others believe sexual orientation is a choice. While someone’s sexual orientation may not be recognized or acknowledged for many years, once established, they tend not to change.

How are sexual orientation and gender identity determined?

No one knows exactly how sexual orientation and gender identity determined. However, experts agree that it is a complicated matter of genetics, biology, psychological and social factors. For many people, sexual orientation and gender identity are shaped at any early age. While research has not determined a cause, homosexuality and gender variance are not the result of any one factor like parenting or past experiences.

Is it the parent’s fault if their child is gay?

It is never anyone’s “fault” if they or their loved one grows up to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. If you are asking yourself why you or your loved one is LGBTQ, consider asking yourself another question: Why ask why? Does your response to a LGBTQ person depend on knowing why they are LGBTQ? Regardless of cause, LGBTQ people deserve equal rights and to be treated fairly.

Is there something wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?

No. There have been people in all cultures and times throughout human history who have identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Homosexuality is not an illness or a disorder, a fact that is agreed upon by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Pyschiatric Association in 1974. Being transgender or gender variant is not a disorder either, although Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID) is still listed in the DSM of the American Pyschiatric Association.

Is being LGBTQ normal?

Each culture defines what is “natural” or “normal” to fit it’s own context. Definitions differ. Historians have determined that homosexuality has existed since the beginning of humanity. Anthropologists report that LGBTQ people have been part of every culture. LGBTQ people are represented in every socioeconomic class, educational level, and race. Homosexual behavior is often criticized because it doesn’t result in procreation. In fact, most heterosexual encounters don’t result in births either, and relationships of all sexual orientations may have children.

When do LGBTQ people first know?

There is no set age at which a person becomes aware they are LGBTQ. Some gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people become aware of their identity during adolescence or earlier. People can realize their sexual orientation and gender identity at any point during their lives. Because of strong societal pressures to be heterosexual and fit into established gender norms, some people don’t identify as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual until later in life.

How do people know they are LGBTQ?

Some people say that they have “felt different” or knew they were attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were very young. Some transgender people talk about feeling from an early age that their gender identity did not match parental and social expectations. Others do not figure out their sexual orientation or gender identity until they are adolescents or adults. Often it can take a while for people to put a label to their feelings, or people’s feelings may change over time. Understanding our sexuality and gender can be a life-long process, and people shouldn’t worry about labeling themselves right away. People don’t have to be sexually active to know their sexual orientation – feelings and emotions are as much a part of one’s identity. The short answer is that you’ll know when you know.

Can LGBTQ people change their sexual orientation or gender identity?

There are religious and secular organizations that sponsor campaigns and studies that say LGBTQ people can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their assertions assume that there is something wrong with being. PFLAG believes that it is our anti-GLBT attitudes, laws and policies that need to change, not our GLBT loved ones.

Many of the studies and campaigns are based on ideological bias rather than solid science. Claims of conversion from gay to straight tend to be poorly documented, full of flawed research with a lack of follow-up. No studies show proven long-term changes in LGBTQ people, and many reported changes are based solely on behavior and not a person’s actual self-identity. The American Psychological Association has stated that scientific evidence does not show that conversion therapy works and that it can do more harm than good.

Can you tell if people are LGBTQ by their appearance?

Lesbian, gay, and bi people are as varied in their dress, mannerisms, and lifestyles as are heterosexuals. Despite this diversity, many 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, and their sexual orientation is invisible to the general public.

Do lesbians or gay men hate the opposite sex?

Lesbians are lesbians because they form loving relationships with women, and gay men are gay because they form loving relationships with men. Neither form relationships because they hate the opposite sex.

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

Lesbians and gay men do not want to be the opposite sex. Within the gay community, there are many people who have challenged and discarded stereotypical gender roles but that does not mean they are trying to be the other sex. Being gay, lesbian or bisexual involves celebration and affirmation of one’s sex, not a rejection of it. Some people confuse gayness with transsexuality.

Why are LGBTQ people so blatant?

LGBTQ people are often accused of being blatant (wearing buttons, marching in gay rights marches, talking and writing about homosexuality, holding hands in public, etc.) Our culture teaches that the only acceptable way to be gay is to be silent or invisible (“in the closet”). Any openness about LGBTQ identity is labeled “blatant” or as “flaunting it”. “Blatant” heterosexuality is rarely questioned (media, entertainment, and other institutional practices such as asking for spousal benefits and hospital visiting rights). In society, the assumption of heterosexuality is so strong that unless one proclaims lesbianism, gayness, or bisexuality, heterosexuality is assumed. To avoid being perceived as heterosexual, “coming out” is often a necessity.

Is homosexuality healthy?

Beginning with UCLA’s Dr. Evelyn Hooker’s work, studies have shown that people’s sexual orientation has no bearing on their mental health and emotional stability. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the official listings of psychiatric disorders. In 1975, the American Psychological Association adopted a similar resolution.

What about HIV/AIDS?

Since the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many people have viewed HIV/AIDS as a gay issue. The LGBTQ community mobilized early in the epidemic to formulate a response that included educating communities, creating visibility to reduce stigma, developing prevention strategies and advocating for appropriate care and treatment options for People Living with AIDS (PWAs). Yet the epidemic has continued to progress and take its toll on many communities globally. Still, despite overwhelming statistics documenting the spread of HIV/AIDS in other communities, many people still choose to view HIV/AIDS as a gay issue.

The truth is that being LGBTQ does not give you AIDS. Certain sexual practices, certain drug use behaviors and other factors can put you at risk for catching HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

HIV is spread by sexual contact with an infected person, by sharing needles and/or syringes (primarily for drug injection) with someone who is infected, or, less commonly (and now very rarely in countries where blood is screened for HIV antibodies), through transfusions of infected blood or blood clotting factors. Babies born to HIV-infected women may become infected during birth or through breast-feeding after birth. While research has revealed a great deal of valuable information, false or misleading information, often fueled by homophobia, continues to be shared widely through the Internet or popular press, so be sure to consider the source when educating yourself about HIV/AIDS.

How can I reconcile my or my loved one’s sexual orientation with my faith?

This is a difficult question for many people. Learning that a loved one is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can be a challenge if you feel it is at odds with your faith tradition. However, being LGBTQ does not impact a person’s ability to be moral and spiritual any more than being heterosexual does. Many LGBTQ people are religious and active in their own faith communities. It is up to you to explore, question and make choices in order to reconcile religion with homosexuality and gender variance.

Do LGBTQ people have long-lasting relationships?

Longstanding relationships are common. However, because of the social stigma expressed against LGBTQ people, these partnerships are often invisible.

Can LGBTQ people have families?

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can have families. Same-sex couples do form committed and loving relationships. More and more LGBTQ couples are also raising children together, although state laws on adoption and foster parenting vary. And of course, many LGBTQ people have the support of the loving families they were born into, or the families that they have created with their other friends and loved ones.

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. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals are just as likely to be good parents as heterosexuals. Of course, children growing up in non-traditional families may face a certain amount of social prejudice. Fewer and fewer children are growing up in two-parent, heterosexual, nuclear families and lesbian and gay families are one of the many forms of diverse families that exist.

What does the term “queer” mean?

The word “queer” is not embraced by all gay people. It is true that many have chosen to reclaim this once derogatory label for all LGBTQ people, while some use the word to designate only those in the community who are political activists. However, there are other gay people who dislike the word “queer” and resent its use. Additionally, terms such as “dyke” and “fag” can be used in insulting derogatory ways, but have been reclaimed by many as terms of pride. This is just one more example of the diversity of opinions within the community.

Why should people be informed about LGBTQ issues?

Becoming informed about LGBTQ issues helps reduce heterosexism and homophobia. This makes it easier for one to live a more open and productive life in their work and home communities. The culture as a whole is therefore enriched. For LGBTQ youth, who are more likely to experience depression and rejection by friends and/or family, acceptance and understanding could be a matter of life or death. The risk of suicide in LGBTQ adolescents is two to three times greater than of their straight counterparts.

Should LGBTQ people be banned from certain jobs?

No. Sexual orientation does not affect one’s job qualifications or performance. Unfortunately, some people believe that gay men and lesbians should not be allowed to hold certain positions such as teacher, supervisor or health provider. They feel that gay men and lesbians are sexually irresponsible and less trustworthy than heterosexuals, particularly with children. The stereotype of child molester or hypersexual is common but entirely false. In fact, it is well documented that the overwhelmingly majority of those who molest children are heterosexual men.

Why do LGBTQ people need gay rights laws? Isn’t that asking for special privileges?

Currently there are no federal protections for lesbians or gay men who are subject to discrimination. Gay rights laws do not give LGBTQ people special privileges. They are civil rights laws consistent with the beliefs that all people are entitled to such necessities as employment, housing and business services without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, in many states, LGBTQ people can be (and are) fired from their jobs, denied housing, credit, or insurance solely because of their sexual orientation. These beliefs, like those used to discriminate against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, age, physical ability, or gender, are based on prejudice and ignorance rather than accurate information.

References

Portions of this FAQ were taken from materials produced by:

  • The Campaign to End Homophobia
  • Fredericton Lesbians and Gays
  • Colorado State University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Services
  • The University of California, Los Angeles, LGBTQ Resource Center