Sex is NOT a Four-letter Word– sexual identity in teen literature

See the Genreflecting Advisory Series: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teen Literature by Carlisle K. Webber and produced by Libraries Unlimited for great titles on this subject.

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teen Literature: A Guide to Reading Interests (Genreflecting Advisory Series)

 

Important terms:

GLBTQ:  An acronym used to describe the larger community.  In general, the acronym stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual (or Bicurious), Transgendered (or transexual), and Questioning.  Sometimes the Q stands for queer instead.  As with any group, disagreement exists within the community regarding who belongs or is a “true” member under the umbrella of GLBTQ. 

LGBTI: An alternative acronym for the community.  In this case, the I stands for intersex.  This is a far less familiar identification, however, and is used by select groups.  What this reflects regarding acceptance of the intersex community is unclear and what is meant by intersex is often up for debate.  In general, it refers to someone who exists between the customary identifications of male and female as identified by physical anatomy.  It is most often used to refer to someone born with whole or partial anatomy of both sexes.

Gay:  Though often used as an umbrella term for all nontraditional sexuality, the term is specifically used to describe someone born physically a male who is sexually attracted to others who were born physically male.  In general, someone who lives as a gay man only enters into romantic and physical relationships with other gay men.  Among gay men there exists a large spectrum of personalities, behaviors, and types, but all are attracted to members of their same sex.

Lesbian:  This term is specifically applied to someone born physically a female who is sexually attracted to others who were born physically female.  In general, somone who lives as lesbian only enters into romantic and physical relationships with other lesbians.  As with gay men, lesbians demonstrate a wide range of types and groups and personalities but are united by a shared attraction to other women.

Bisexual:  This can be a hotly debated term, but in general refers to anyone born physically male or female who identifies as such and enters fairly equally into romantic and physical relationships with people born and identified as either sex.  Some members of the so-called queer community do not accept bisexuality as part of the sexual spectrum and instead view these people as merely curious or even loose. 

Bicurious:  This is a fairly new term that refers to an individual who is exploring their sexuality and may enter into a relationship with a member of either sex.  In general, someone who identifies as bicurious identifies as the gender they were physically born into, and chooses not to self-identify purely as either heterosexual or homosexual.  Instead, they are open to the entire spectrum of sexuality.  Someone may identify as either heterosexual and bicurious or homosexual and bicurious.

Transgender:  This term refers to someone who was physically born as one gender but identifies as a member of the opposite sex.  Someone who is transgender may choose to undergo hormone therapy and have surgery to unite their physical appearance with how they feel inside.  This process of sexual reassignment can take years and many individuals choose not to complete the entire process.  It is important to note that transgender does not refer to sexuality, but rather self-identity.  With this in mind, it is possible to be both transgender and heterosexual– that is, attracted to someone of the opposite sex– or transgender and homosexual.  Those who enter into romantic and physical relationships with someone who is transgender may self-identify as they see fit.  There is some debate regarding the interchangeable use of the words transgender and transexual, but in general, transexual implies that surgical means have been taken.  In some circles, transgendered is often used for women who identify as male while transexual is more commonly used for men who identify as female.  There is a tremendous division within the GLBT community regarding the appropriateness of grouping transgendered or transexuals with those who have relationships with those of the opposite sex.

Intersex: Like transgender, this term refers to someone’s physical appearance rather than sexuality.  Specifically, the word intersex describes someone possessing the physical anatomy of both a male and a female.  There is a great range of intersexuality, and the term can refer to someone with two complete sets of genitalia as well as someone with very small vestigal anatomy in addition to their dominant genitalia.  As with transgender, individuals may choose to remain physically unchanged, or they may choose to undergo chemical or physical alterations to bring themselves in line with how they physically identify.  With that in mind, it is possible to be both intersex and homosexual or intersex and heterosexual.

Questioning:  This term can be used interchangably with bicurious, but a more accurate description is someone who is unsure of their sexuality.  Most often, this refers to anyone who has not self-identified as either gay or straight but is wondering where they fit on the spectrum. 

Queer:  Though once used as a slur, in recent years the term has come to be embraced within the community as someone who pushes the boundaries of gender and sexuality.  Most commonly associated with gay men who display flamboyantly feminine habits or quirks, the term is sometimes used as a catchall for the entire community.  Much division exists within the community regarding the high visibility of this group and some members of the larger community may view their actions as degrading to the larger community.

Drag Queen/King:  This term refers to someone of one gender who likes to perform as a member of the opposite gender.  Though individuals may self-identify as gay or lesbian, in general the term refers to a type of performance and not sexuality.  This highly visible aspect of the GLBT community is sometimes viewed with derision by other members of the community or may be viewed as the celebrities of the group.

Cross dresser:  This group of people are often grouped with the GLBTQ community, but the term applies only to men or women who enjoying dressing as a member of the opposite sex.  There is often no sexual component and gender identity may not be an issue either.  Instead, this is a lifestyle choice that exists within both the homosexual and heterosexual community.  Usually the term is used to refer to a man who likes to dress as a woman on occasion but who does live as one.

Coming out:  The process of self-identifying to family, friends, and peers as a member of the GLBTQ community.  In general, this can be either an intentional choice or an accident and covers everything from openly entering into a public relationship with someone of the same sex, being outed by someone else who tells others about another’s sexuality without the permission of the person being outed, or beginning to live as a member of the opposite sex in both one’s public and private life.  Individuals may choose to “come out” to a few select people in his or her life or he or she may make a very public declaration.  Some individuals may choose to never fully “come out” and may live as heterosexuals while secretly engaging in homosexual relationships.

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