The 1960s brought with it a revolution, where sexual attitudes and behavior drastically changed. The 21st century has taken that a step further, ushering in a “new sex revolution” that warrants a “reboot” of relationship studies.
Some equality advocates say it’s imperative to become well-versed at understanding the various aspects of sexuality and gender, so you can be prepared socially for people who identify as something other than lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ).
“Understanding the diverse identities is so important,” said Lou Weaver, transgender programs coordinator with Equality Texas, a statewide political advocacy organization that advocates for LGBT rights.
“It shows respect for other humans to use the language they are comfortable with. You don’t need to understand – or even agree with – their actions, but respecting their decisions is essential.”
While deep-rooted religious beliefs can hamper tolerance of LGBTQ issues, acceptance is increasing in communities of faith. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, support for marriage equality increased from 23 percent to 38 percent among Black Protestants between 2015 and 2017.
Though data from the institute shows African-Americans overall still lag in support of the LGBTQ community, acceptance is on the rise.
For LGBTQ advocate Simone Waters, education is what led to tolerance in her family.
“At first I was scared to talk to my aunt about my girlfriend because she’s so religious and she’s against homosexuality. I think even a few years ago, she might have disowned me. But now, she just asked a lot of questions and at the end of the day, I realized she’s going to be respectful toward me even though she disagrees with my life and it made a world of difference,” Waters said.
Weaver acknowledged that understanding can prove challenging, especially when many equate LGBTQ to an individual’s sexual orientation.
“A lot people don’t understand that it’s not about sex with us,” said Weaver, a transgender male. “Gender identity is who I go to bed as– in my case, a transgender male. My sexual orientation is who I want to go to bed with.”
Texas is home to an estimated 770,000 LGBT adults and 158,500 LGBT youth. A survey from the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group found that young Americans aged 13 to 20 years old (also known as “Generation Z”) found that they are far more open-minded and permissive than their older millennial counterparts when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality.
In fact, only 48 percent of Gen Zs identify as exclusively heterosexual, compared to 65 percent of millennials aged 21 to 34.
LGBTQ advocates urge people to move past ideology of what a “normal” relationship is supposed to look like to better understand the changing landscape. In fact, a host of other categories have been added, broadening the scope of how people identify themselves. In addition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, there’s also pansexual, gender fluid, binary, non-binary, asexual and intersex.
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE
“It’s important to learn the language in order to join the discussion – the LGBTQ community has a long and sordid history of people using language against them. Whether you’re queer yourself or just want to be a better ally, it’s crucial to get your terminology straight,” said Waters, who identifies as pansexual (attraction based on emotions).
“We’re just not monolithic anymore,” she said. “There are many of us whose emotional attraction is more important than sexual attraction. That’s me. I don’t care about the sex part or what they identify as. If you like me, I can like you. It’s not that complicated. Everyone wants to make it about sex and it’s not.”
Waters said taking the time to understand can help stop jaded mindsets and hurtful questions.
“My biggest pet peeve is people acting like our decisions will cause the human race to cease. There are straight people who choose not to have children and no one questions them, but if you’re in a LGQBT relationship, that’s the first thing people ask,” Waters said.
“And by the way, there are millions of kids in the foster care system who we can adopt. Straight people aren’t going anywhere, but people need to understand and respect, neither are we.”
Texas’ legal landscape and social climate contribute to an environment in which LGBT people are at risk of experiencing stigma and discrimination, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
“State laws in Texas do not protect LGBT people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and local ordinances protect less than one-fifth of Texas residents from such discrimination,” said Christy Mallory, state and local policy director and Anna M. Curren Fellow at the Williams Institute and co-author of the report.
“Additionally, Texas ranks in the bottom quarter of states in terms of social support for LGBT people, although support is increasing over time.”
The study documents the prevalence and impact of several forms of stigma and discrimination against LGBT individuals in the state, including harassment and discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations; harassment and bullying in schools; and family rejection.
“Stigma and discrimination can negatively impact LGBT individuals’ health and wellbeing,” said Brad Sears, executive director and Roberta A. Conroy Scholar of Law and Policy at the Williams Institute and co-author of the report. “Research shows that these experiences can lead to economic instability and poorer health for LGBT people.”
That’s why Waters says it’s important to have allies, and the way to get there is through understanding.
“Many people, especially parents, have a tendency to call this new sexual revolution a phase. It’s not. It’s who we are. We’re tired of hiding who we are just because people don’t understand.”
Know the lingo: Sexual, gender-related terms
Orientation – Alsosexual orientation – describes who you are romantically attracted to.
Gender – Though they’re often misunderstood to mean the same thing, there’s a big difference between gender and sexual orientation. Gender identity is how one perceives themselves such as male, female, non-binary, etc.
Heterosexual — A person is attracted to their opposite gender. Also referred to as straight.
Gay – Traditionally refers to men who are attracted to other men, but also has an umbrella definition to describe anyone who dates their same gender.
Lesbian – A woman who dates and is attracted to other women.
Queer – Once a slur, and now reclaimed by the LGBTQ community, and because of this, there’s a sense of belonging tied to the term.
LGBTQ – An acronym for the broader queer community. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer. Sometimes the “Q” also represents “question” (those questioning their sexuality).
Bisexual – The capacity for attraction to your own gender, as well as genders that aren’t your own.
Pansexual – The attraction to people regardless of their gender identity. For pansexuals, gender is not a determining point in who they are interested in.
Gender binary – Assumes that someone is either “male” or “female,” and relies on the gender assigned at birth, based on genitals. As the gender revolution grows and more is understood about socialized gender roles, the more many people understand themselves and those around them as not just “male” or “female,” but somewhere in between. That could mean both male and female, trans, or both non-binary and trans.
Non-Binary – Someone who doesn’t identify on the gender binary (male and female), or solely as one of those two genders. Non-binary is an umbrella term – the pronoun someone uses and the way they describe their gender varies from person to person.
Genderfluid – Someone whose gender fluctuates and has different gender identities at different times. Like non-binary people, how a genderfluid person describes themselves and the pronouns that they use vary from person to person. They may feel more male one day and more female the other, both male and female at the same time, non-binary and female at the same time, all at the same time, etc.
Trans – Short for transgender, refers to someone whose gender assigned at birth by a doctor does not match their gender identity.
Intersex – A general term used for a variety of conditions in which someone is born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t match the traditional definitions of female or male. This can refer both to genitals and chromosomes doctors use to mark gender.
Asexual – When a person is not sexually attracted to others. Asexuality is different than celibacy – making an intentional decision to not have sex with others.
Hypersexual – The ability to be attracted to someone based on looks alone, without knowing them personally.