We are Hastings College Ally Training (HCAT), and we were formed as part of our Persuasion class. For this block, we were tasked with running a campaign about diversity. After deciding that we had the most agency to talk about the gender and sexual minorities (GSM), we designed and developed a campaign to teach the general public about it. One reason we chose this topic is because we noticed a lack of acceptance for GSM students on the Hastings Campus. We want to provide people with access to information about the GSM community in a non-judgmental environment. To do this, we will lead you through a short training session right here. We want to provide the public with vocabulary pertaining to this community and an understanding of what members of the community might go through.
First, we’ll dive into a few labels pertaining to sexual orientation: asexual, bisexual, pansexual, gay, and lesbian. Asexual defines a person who does not experience sexual attraction but may experience other types of attraction. There is a spectrum of asexuality that covers an individual’s attitude towards sex. The categories are sex-repulsed, sex-indifferent, circumstantial, and sex-positive. Bisexual defines a person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to two or more genders. Yes, there are more than two genders (we’ll get to that in a second). A label similar to bisexual is pansexual. This describes someone who is attracted to another person regardless of gender. To clarify, gender is a factor for bisexual people, while it is not for pansexual people. Think of it in terms of ice cream; some people might only want a certain flavor at a certain time (bisexual). Other people don’t care what flavor the ice cream is, as long as they get to have some (pansexual). The final labels are gay and lesbian. Gay is an umbrella term both for the GSM community as a whole and as a label for sexual orientation. As a label, it is defined as a person who is generally attracted to someone of the same gender. While usually this describes gay men specifically, people who do not identify as men also use this label to describe their sexuality. The final label is lesbian. This describes someone who generally considers themself a woman or femme who is attracted to other women and/or femmes. Talking about sexual orientation can, understandably, be a very difficult conversation for some people.
One of the more difficult parts of this discussion is the act of coming out. Coming out can be one of the more important and possibly traumatic moments of a GSM person’s life. It is very important that, if a person is coming out to you, you respond with the same level of energy that the person coming out to you has. No matter what energy they use, it is also important to ask them if they want to keep this between the two of you or if they want help getting this out to the public. The way you respond in moments like this can gravely affect the life of a GSM member.
Another important part of sexual orientation is respecting the preferred pronouns of people in the GSM community.
Let’s shift from sexual orientation to gender identity. This is defined as how an individual identifies in terms of their gender. There are many facets and labels for gender, but we will just hit on four main identities: cisgender, transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary. First, let’s discuss the gender binary. This is defined as a socially constructed way of viewing gender as either male or female, in which no other possibilities exist. Of course, there are identities that fall outside of the gender binary.
Before we dive into that, let’s define some identities. Cisgender describes someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. So, if you were born with the gender marker “female” on your birth certificate and you identify as a female, you are cisgender. The same goes for males. Another label is transgender (trans). This is an umbrella term that can describe anyone who does not identify as cisgender. Transgender people can be both binary and non-binary. An example of a binary trans person would be one that was assigned female at birth, but physically and socially transitioned to male. The next label is gender nonconforming. This describes someone whose identity and/or expression does not conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. People who use this label may or may not identify with the transgender label. The final label we will discuss is non-binary. This is another umbrella term to describe someone who does not identify with the gender binary. Some non-binary people identify with the transgender label, while others do not. To distinguish gender nonconforming from nonbinary, imagine a sliding scale with female on the left and male on the right. Gender nonconforming people may slide from left to right on this scale, while non-binary people are not on the scale at all.