Sexual Identity and Orientation
Sexuality and sexual orientation is a complicated topic and doesn’t always appear as crystal clear as it may seem or usually understood. In simple words, although it is pretty easy to identify people based on their physiological gender; it is often challenging to categorize individuals based on their sexual orientation or sexuality.
Sexual orientation classically defines who we are and to whom we are attracted to (physically, sexually and emotionally). Sexual orientation is broadly classified into four psycho-social categories; such as heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual or unknown. Most mental health institutions use specific set of data and questionnaires to categorize individuals into one of these major classes.
Homophobia, Heterosexism and Discrimination
Based on the old-school principles of sexuality, you are normal only if you are a heterosexual otherwise you are mostly considered as an abnormal or flawed individual; this belief is also referred to as Heterosexism. Homophobia is the fear of being homosexual or having negative and hateful feelings and attitude towards people who practices homosexuality.
The concepts and practices of homophobia and heterosexism are present in almost all the cultures and are usually translated into obvious discrimination or hatred towards LGBT individuals. Some examples of discrimination due to issues of sexual orientation/ identity are:
- Most gay individuals arereluctant to openly share their sexual orientation or relationships in front of the family due to fear of rejection or dismissal by the loved-ones.
- Homosexual females are often a victim of rape/ sexual exploitation by male chauvinists (who believes that physical intercourse with a man can straighten these females).
- Homosexuals suffer great deal of difficulty in getting a reasonable job (especially in some states of USA; mainly because of their sexual orientation or preferences).
- Most LGBT individuals are under-paid and are looked down upon.
However, it is imperative to mention that the magnitude of this social discrimination is highly variable across the United States.
Understanding, Acceptance and Disclosure
Some people recognize and disclose their sexual identity in teenage but some don’t disclose or not even try to explore till later in life.
The process of coming out is ongoing for those who are identified as gay, transgender, bisexual. The process could involve some ambiguities, stress and insight doubts due to community set concepts of homophobia and heterosexism. Most LGBT people encounter huge issues when it comes to revisiting and disclosing their identity at the time of job interviews or after relocations when they have to make some new friends.
In coming out process, the first and most important step is to acknowledge your own sexual identity. This can be done by thinking of sexual orientation as sexual attraction to the members of opposite or similar sex. A person might also have few questions about the attraction towards others which is quite normal and finding answers to those questions doesn’t mean the person is gay or lesbian etc. If a person doesn’t want to explore his sexual identity, it is alright and he should not be forced to do otherwise.
The next step in coming out process is to disclose the sexual identity. This is the hardest part and people get confuse whether to share it or not.
Some other things to consider in coming out process include, the likely problems that a person would face in terms of family and financial issues, possible backlash from community or relatives and other related events. Social experts suggest that LGBT individuals should first consider disclosing their new identity to those who would support, respect and love them. These people could be their friends, family or work friends with which they feel comfortable enough to share their sexual identity.
Being a Sexual Diversity Advocate
In order to be a supporter of sexual diversity, you should be able to take the responsibility in what you say and do. It is very important that you explore your prejudices and biases in order to avoid the homophobic attitude. If someone comes out and share their sexual identity, show support, kindness and help. Treat the person with supportive words and behavior like you would deal a heterosexual individual.
LGBT communities can also be supported by improving awareness among masses. Some channels that may influence this process are movies, theater performances and books to describe what LGBT community goes through and how can this transition of coming out be made smoother for them. You can also be a part of NGO’s and other establishments that help, support and fund young LGBT individuals who are facing rejection by community/ loved-ones.
If you are an LGBT:
- Feel free to seek help from the LGBT counselors or consultant to learn more about the sexual identity/ orientation and how you can contribute/ help others in need.
- Gather information regarding human diversity along with sexual identity and orientation.
- Stand up on biasness and even on jokes that contain homophobic elements
Sexual orientation and interests are a private matter and no person should be judged/ criticized based on his/her sexual activities.
2. Haldeman, D. C. (2014). Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy: Fact, Fiction, and Fraud. Casebook for Counseling Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons and Their Families, 297.