Are you gay? Straight? Bisexual or a lesbian? Does it feel like everyone’s trying to put a label on you, even when you yourself aren’t sure? And what do all these labels even mean? Let’s break it down.
Sexual orientation and all those labels!
Firstly, your ‘sexual orientation’ refers to the gender you’re attracted to – that is, whether you want to have romantic and intimate relationships with men, or women, or either. Usually, people attracted to the opposite gender will call themselves ‘straight’ or ‘heterosexual’, and those attracted to the same sex, ‘gay’ (for men or homosexuals in general), ‘lesbian’ (for women), ‘bisexual’ (those attracted to both genders) or ‘homosexual’.
Then, there are transgender people – that’s something different. Transgendered individuals are those who feel they were born in the ‘wrong’ body, gender-wise, and may be transitioning from male to female or female to male. There are lots of other terms that you can look up, like pansexual, genderqueer, intersex, and queer. Asexual people experience little to no sexual attraction or desire, and those who are unsure about their desires may call themselves… anything they’re comfortable with!
Because here’s the thing about labels: you don’t have to use them. All that matters is that you’re comfortable with who you are.
What causes my sexual orientation?
It’s not known, but research shows that it’s based on biological factors that are set before we’re even born. In many cases, sexual orientation is established before puberty hits, although it may be fluid and change or shift over a person’s lifetime.
What we do know for sure is that sexual orientation isn’t a choice, and it can’t be changed.
What are some common myths about sexual orientation?
Believe it or not, even in 2016, there are tons of weird, hurtful and dangerous myths about homosexuality. Here are a few of them:
- FALSE: Lesbian, gay and bisexual people can be identified by certain physical characteristics or mannerisms. Queer people – like straight people – come in all shapes and forms and can’t be identified by the way they act, talk, look or walk.
- FALSE: You’re either 100% straight or 100% gay. More and more, research is revealing that many people identify as ‘mostly’ straight or gay, and that there’s an incredibly diverse range of sexual orientations. Read more about it and learn where you fall on the new scale of sexuality.
- FALSE: If a gay person really wants to be straight, they can change their sexual orientation. This is a very harmful myth. Because over time, some people’s attractions and desires vary, anti-gay groups use this as ‘proof’ that a person can just change their sexual orientation, usually through a combination of ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapy and prayer.
- FALSE: Homosexuality is a disease or mental disorder. This is a damaging and outdated misconception that was amended by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973.
- FALSE: Corrective rape can ‘cure’ a lesbian. Corrective rape is a hate crime that is responsible for many tragic deaths in South Africa. It has absolutely zero effect on a woman’s sexuality, and will not ‘cure’ a woman of being gay or ‘make a lesbian straight’. Read more about this shocking and brutal crime against women.
Where can I go for help, information or support?
The Marie Stopes centres across SA offer sexual healthcare services for men and women regardless of sexual orientation. Whether you’re needing STI screening and management, HIV testing and counselling or safe abortion care, we can help. You’ll always receive confidential care in a safe and non-judgement environment.