We all have chromosomes in our cells that determine our biological sex, like XY (male), XX (female), or intersex (for example, XXY or XXX).
Sexual identity describes a person's sexual preferences - for example, whom they are attracted to and with whom they choose to have sexual relationships.
Terms include straight (heterosexual), gay (homosexual), lesbian (homosexual), bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and unsure (questioning).
Some people have little or no sexual attraction to anyone. This is called asexuality (often shortened as ace). You can imagine it like a spectrum from black to white, where some people are in the gray area between sexuality and asexuality.
Some people have little or no romantic attraction to anyone. This is called aromanticism (often shortened as aro).
A common misconception is that asexual and/or aromantic people lack emotions and the ability to form social connections, but in reality, many meet their emotional needs through other forms of relationships.
Sexual preferences and identity can be confusing or surprising for people and can change over time. Try to give yourself time and be patient with yourself as you learn and grow.
Labels can be helpful
for some people, but don't feel pressure to label
yourself with a specific sexual orientation or
gender identity. Using an umbrella term such as "queer" may feel better to some members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Gender expression refers to how a person might choose to walk, talk, dress, or behave to express their gender identity. It may change from day to day depending on what they’re doing or how they’re feeling.
Some people who are genderfluid (identify as different genders during different time periods) change aspects of their appearance and style to reflect the gender they're feeling.
Gender identity is the gender a person feels they are.
Many people grow up with a gender identity that is the same as their biological sex. They are considered cisgender.
Other people feel that their gender is different from the physical aspects of their reproductive organs. They may call themselves transgender.
Some people feel neither fully male nor fully female but rather are nonbinary and/or gender nonconforming. They may prefer to go by gender-neutral pronouns like they/them, xe/xem (pronounced zee), ze/hir, or ey/tem.
Some nonbinary folks may consider themselves transgender, and others may not.
Gender stereotypes are qualities many in society attribute to one gender or another. Examples include that boys don’t cry and girls play with dolls. Like all stereotypes, people do not necessarily follow the stereotype.
People might assume that following gender stereotypes means you are heterosexual, and that not following gender stereotypes means you are queer/gay. However, these stereotypes may not mean anything about gender identity or sexual orientation!
Gender identity examples:
This is a non exhaustive list!
This diagram can help you learn more about the differences between identity, expression, sex, and attraction.
Examples from The Violet Project
Violet is a cis-gender woman, meaning that she was born with female anatomy, and identifies as a woman. She is pansexual, meaning that she is romantically and sexually attracted to people of all genders.
Nellie is cis-gender and identifies as straight, or heterosexual.
Tchala is a cis-gender man and identifies as pansexual. Tchala is on PrEP, as his partner, Michelle, is living with HIV.
Treasure is a transgender woman. She identifies as a lesbian.
Michelle uses she/they pronouns and they are genderfluid. They identify as queer. Michelle is living with HIV.
Zoe is a cis-gender woman and she doesn't know her sexual orientation yet!
Don is a non-binary person and uses the pronouns they/them/theirs. Don's sexual orientation is asexual (or "ace").
Transitioning is when a person who does not relate to their assigned gender at birth makes changes to live as their true identity. Transitioning isn't a straightforward process and it can take place over a period of time. The different areas of transitioning include:
Calling yourself by a different name
Practicing using your voice differently
Dressing differently when you are by yourself
Coming out to your friends and family
Asking others to use a different name or pronouns
Dressing differently around others
Changing your name on your birth certificate
Switching your gender on your driver's license
Updating records with your school or employer
Chest binding to flatten breasts
Stuffing your chest, hips, and/or butt
Packing or tucking your groin
For some, physical transitioning may also include medical transitioning.
Types of medical transition for trans men, trans masculine individuals, and nonbinary individuals include:
Types of medical transition for trans women, trans feminine individuals, and nonbinary individuals include:
What does it mean to be intersex?
Navigating Coming Out
“Coming out” is the action of telling people in your life—whether that’s family, friends, classmates, or any community member—that you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this decision, but below are some questions that may arise and considerations to keep in mind. If you feel unsafe or need resources, guidance, or additional support at any point, links to various LGBTQ+ support organizations and resources are included below.
Do I have to come out?
How do I know if it’s safe to come out?
How should I prepare to come out to someone? What should I say?
What reaction should I expect?
If Somone Comes Out to You
It may be difficult to know what to say or how to support someone who has decided to come out to you. Here are some tips:
Thank them for confiding in you
Acknowledge their courage
Put aside any personal beliefs
Respect their privacy
Treat them normally
Remind them that you still care for them
Ask any questions you have (but understand they may not have all the answers right now)
Be aware that they may lose the respect of other friends or family members and offer to support them through this
Check in with them frequently after they come out to you
Include their partner in plans (if they have one)
Understand they may be dealing with a lot of emotion
Educate yourself on the LGBTQIA+ community
Connect them with other LGBTQIA+ members and resources
Telling others about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity without their approval is called "outing." This is very different from "coming out" because it takes the power away from someone to voluntarily tell their own story. Outing someone may be down with or without harmful intent, but in either case may seriously affect their physical, mental, and financial well-being.
Resources & Hotlines
LGBT National Health Center
1-888-843-4564 | www.glnh.org
Multiple hotlines and online forums to support and connect LGBTQ+ people of all ages and identities.
LGBT National Hotline
Text 1-888-843-4564 https://www.glbthotline.org/national-hotline.html
Offers a confidential, anonymous place to talk about issues including coming out, identity, bullying, safe sex, anxiety, and other concerns.
Text 1-877-565-8860 | https://translifeline.org/
Peer support, care, and resources for trans and nonbinary people; provided and staffed by trans and nonbinary people.
Crisis Text Line
Text LGBTQ to 741-741 | https://www.crisistextline.org/
Access to a crisis counselor who can offer support, available 24/7.
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
(202) 467-8180 | www.pflag.org
Resources to help family and community members better understand and support the LGBTQ+ individuals in their lives.
The Trevor Project
1-866-488-7386 | text START to 678-678
Crisis services for LGBTQ+ youth, including phone lines and online community spaces.