Many teens question who they are; it’s a very normal and in fact necessary part of adolescence. And a part of uncovering one’s sense of self is questioning sexual orientation. To question whether you’re gay, lesbian, or bisexual is a normal part life and a natural process of discovering who you are.
Currently, heterosexuality is the most widely accepted form of sexual orientation, and sadly, any sexual orientation or gender pattern that falls outside of what society considers acceptable continues to carry a stigma. Despite the growing acceptance for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender) community, there is still plenty of room for more acceptance and tolerance in our culture.
It should be know that sexual orientation and sexual behavior are not the same. For instance, you might have had a sexual experience with someone of the same gender and yet, you might know that you are heterosexual. Sexual orientation develops over time and with experiences that contribute to finding out who you are. Sexual behavior could be an experience of sexuality that is an occurrence-by-occurrence basis.
Sexual orientation is the chosen emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to men, women, or both. Often, sexual orientation points to an individual’s identity based on those patterns and behaviors. Sexual orientation can vary along a continuum; however, it is usually defined as being heterosexual (having emotional and physical attraction to someone of the opposite sex), homosexual (having emotional and physical attraction to someone of the same sex), or bisexual (having emotional and physical attraction to both sexes).
In addition to uncovering your sexual orientation in adolescence, you might also find yourself uncovering your gender, who you are on a deeper level than sexual orientation. The following definitions will help make clear the differences between gender and sex, and they relate to sexual orientation.
Sex is the biological expression of either male or female that an individual is born with. The specific physical attributes at birth such as internal and external anatomy, chromosomes, and levels of particular hormones indicate whether that individual is male or female.
Gender, on the other hand, is socially constructed. Each gender is usually associated with specific roles, behavior, activities, and mannerisms that society tends to assign either men or women. Although the physical and biological attributes of an individual’s sex are common across cultures, aspects of gender may differ. Females, for instance, in certain cultures, might have adopted male-oriented behaviors and roles.
Transgender is a descriptive term for individuals whose gender identity or whose expression of gender does not agree with their biological attributes – the sex they were born with. Transgender individuals have been a part of human society from as early as ancient indigenous societies through today. It is only that we are beginning to understand their psychological, emotional, and physical experience, and as a result, becoming more accepting. There are sub-categories that more accurately describe individuals of the transgender community, such as the following:
- Trans-sexual describes those whose gender identity is different from the sex they were born with. Often, transsexuals want to alter their physical body to reflect the gender they identify with.
- Cross Dressing describes those who wear the clothing of the gender other than the one they typically identify with. Cross dressing is not considered behavior that is erotic in nature, and usually those who cross dress do not wish to change their assigned, physical sex.
- Other subcategories of transgender are drag queen (men who dress as women for entertainment), drag king (women who dress as men for entertainment), gender queer (those who feel that their gender falls outside of the categories of male and female), androgynous, multi-gendered, and more.
All of this is important to uncover as a teen. Discovering whether you are gay or bisexual or heterosexual is necessary. What’s also necessary is to figure out your feelings about who you are. For instance, if you’re gay, will that be a significant challenge in your community? Is the community you’re in accepting of various sexual orientations?
These are necessary questions for teens to ask and answer for themselves. Doing so will help them move through adolescence with confidence and self-esteem.