Sexuality and Gender Identity
In its broadest sense sexuality describe the whole way a person goes about expressing themselves as a sexual being. It describes how important sexual expression is in a person's life; how they choose to express that sexuality and any preference they may have towards the type of sexual partner they choose. Every survey of human sexual behaviour reveals that there is a huge variety of sexual expression - they way we choose to behave sexually is usually as individual and as complicated as the ways we choose to dress or to earn a living.
Human sexuality rarely falls into neat categories or lends itself to simple labelling. Human sexuality is a rich and complex area of human experience. Authors, artists, poets, philosophers and composers have worked to explore sexuality from earliest times without coming up with any enduring answers.
In recent times however, the word sexuality has come to also have a more limited meaning. Sexuality is now often defined by whether the gender of the sexual partners we choose is the same as our own or different. Some feel this more restrictive definition can create problems since it attempts to fit a complex, subtle experience into three or four simple categories.
However it also offers solutions since it can give people who do not feel they share the major assumptions of the dominant heterosexual mainstream the voice, pride and sense of validation that comes from discovering an identity and a shared experience with others.
Nearly everyone is assigned a sex at birth: "male" or "female", but not everyone's inner self reflects the sex they are assigned. Gender identity is the personal sense of one's own gender, which may be as male, female, both or neither; and may be fluid and shifting. People whose gender differs from their birth sex are often called "trans" as an umbrella term, but may use different terms such as non-binary, gender-fluid or gender-queer.
Many organisations, including the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Guild of Students, use the acronym LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans +) as an umbrella term to cover everyone who identifies as non-heterosexual and/or whose gender does not identify with the sex that they were assigned at birth. The "+" encompasses a range of sexualities that are not included in the acronym, such as asexual, queer, pansexual or questioning. You can find out more about definitions on the Stonewall website, which also has a wealth of information and support for LGBT+ people.
Coming out to yourself
Before you can come out to anyone else, you have to come out to yourself. There is no hard and fast rule when this happens. Some people are certain of their sexuality or gender identity from a very young age; for others it can happen much later in life. The University of Liverpool seeks to offer a supportive environment to students of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and the Guild of Students is active in offering support to LGBT+ students and in challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes. You can talk to other students who are LGBT+, or questioning whether they might be: The Guild of Students has an active LGBT+ society which runs social events where you can meet other LGBT+ students, and the University has an LGBT+ Network for staff and postgraduate students. The decision to come out to yourself can sometimes be a very scary one and can be a period of upheaval and uncertainty. If you want someone to talk to during this time, the Counselling Service will be happy to help you as will the Guild of Students.
Coming out to others
The charity Stonewall has some excellent guidance on coming out as LGBT+, including coming out to family, friends and employers.
There's no "right way" to come out - it's different for everyone. Some key tips include:
- Look for people you trust and think will be supportive to come out to first.
- Follow your own timetable - it's your life and your sexuality or gender identity. Don't feel you have to tell people until you are ready.
- Unfortunately, despite some progress, anti-LGBT attitudes do still exist in society, perhaps even amongst those you love. Don't be too put off by an initial bad reaction. Some people react badly when they are faced with something that has shocked them. They might need a little bit of time to process what you've told them.
- Choose your medium. If you are worried that someone will be very hostile, writing might give them time to assimilate the news better.
- Never feel guilty! Being LGBT+ is absolutely not shameful. Be proud of who you are.
- Seek support if you need to. Speaking to other LGBT+ people socially, for example through the LGBT society or staff network, can be hugely helpful if you are thinking about coming out. You can also speak to the Counselling Service if you are finding it difficult.
- You don't have to come out to anyone if you don't want to! Coming out somethig you can do entirely at your own pace, and this may mean you never want to come out at university or at work. That's OK too.