It is estimated that at least 1 in 10 people identifies as LGBTQ (lesbian / gay / bisexual / transgendered / questioning).
WHAT DO ALL THOSE LETTERS MEAN?
LGBTQ is an abbreviation that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Questioning. A lesbian is a woman who is sexually and emotionally attracted to some other women. A gay man is a man who is sexually and emotionally attracted to some other men. Bisexual people are sexually and emotionally attracted to some men and some women. People who are transgendered have gender identities that challenge traditional ideas about gender, like people who were born female but look, act, and feel ‘masculine’ or people who were born male but look, act, and feel ‘feminine.’ Some transgendered people have surgery or take hormones to make their bodies look more like the ‘other’ gender, and some transgendered people do not. The term ‘questioning’ is used to describe people who are actively questioning their sexual orientations; this does not mean that they are gay or straight. They are simply … questioning.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M GAY?
Unfortunately, there’s no definite answer to this question. Some gay people say that they’ve felt ‘different’ all their lives. Other gay people ‘discover’ their orientation later on.
It’s very common for heterosexual people (men who are sexually and emotionally attracted to women and women who are sexually and emotionally attracted to other men) to have same-sex crushes, dreams, or fantasies. Many young people find themselves wondering about their sexual orientations. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are gay. It’s also common for women that identify as lesbian to be occasionally attracted to men and for men who identify as gay to be occasionally attracted to women.
Many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people know that they are LGB before they have an LGB sexual experience. If a female finds that she is almost always sexually and emotionally attracted to other females, then she may be a lesbian. If a male find that he is almost always sexually and emotionally attracted to other males, then he may be gay. And so on ….
A person’s sexual orientation is about what feels right (and sexy) to them.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M TRANSGENDERED?
Some transgendered people say that they’ve always felt uncomfortable or wrong in their assigned gender. Some transgendered people report different experiences. Just like sexual orientation, gender orientation is about what feels comfortable, right, and sexy to a person.
HOW CAN I TELL PEOPLE THAT I’M LGBTQ?
“Coming out” about one’s sexual or gender orientation can be a great experience. It can also be terrifying. Most LGBTQ people have had some coming out experiences that were really good, and some that were really bad.
When deciding whether or not to come out to someone, it’s important to consider the risks and benefits of disclosing this information to a particular person. It’s also important to practice what to say. Some people find that it’s easier for them to come out when they’re not face-to-face, like in a letter, in an e-mail, or over the phone. Other people prefer to do it in person. A person thinking about coming out should think about what would be most comfortable and also what would be safe.
Some young people choose not to come out to their parents and family until they are adults, because they are concerned about violence in the home or being thrown out. If a young person is worried about these things and wants to come out anyway, it’s important for them to have a plan for what they will do and where they will go if the situation is unsafe.
When a person is ready to come out, they should know what they want to say, and also be prepared to answer questions from the other person. Of course, they shouldn’t have to answer anything that is uncomfortable or inappropriate. Lots of times, people want to know how long the LGBTQ person has known about their orientation, whether or not they’re seeing anybody, how they plan to tell others, etc. Some people feel betrayed or lied to when someone comes out to them. It may take a person a little while to get over the shock. It’s important to give people the time and space to process what they’ve heard, but it’s also important that the LGTBQ person gets the support that they need. Some LGBTQ people find it helpful to have a list of resources available for the person to whom they’ve come out.
In general, a person who wants to come out should be honest. S/he should remind whomever they’re coming out to that they’re still the same person that they’ve always been. S/he might want to try saying things like, “I’m telling you this because I care about you and I want you to know about my life.”
Coming out, like anything, tends to get easier with practice. Some LGBTQ people say that it’s a really good way to find out who you can really count on. If an LGBTQ person comes out to someone and it does not go well, it can be devastating, and it’s important for LGBTQ people to have supportive people in their lives, to help them deal with difficult issues.
WHERE CAN I FIND OTHER LGBTQ PEOPLE?
Most cities have LGBTQ groups and community centers. For local and national information, check out our links page. A lot of LGBTQ people use the Internet to get support, find information, and meet people. A person can also look in the phonebook under headings like “Gay” and “Support groups.” Most cities also have an LGBTQ phonebook with listings of gay-friendly resources and LGBTQ newspapers.
In general, it’s important to remember that there are millions of LGBTQ people in the U.S. alone. A lot of LGBTQ people feel like they’re the only one in the world, and that simply isn’t true.
HOW CAN I SUPPORT AN LGBTQ FRIEND OR RELATIVE?
LGBTQ people need love just like non-LGBTQ people do. If a person were to come out to someone else, it’s important that the LGBTQ person be reassured that this won’t change anything about the relationship. People should also remember that it takes a tremendous amount of trust and respect to come out to someone.
It’s okay for a person who has just found out that a loved one is LGBTQ to have questions, and it’s okay to ask those questions in a respectful way. If the LGBTQ person doesn’t feel comfortable answering the questions, there are a number of resources available.
An LGBTQ person might need an ally to be with them while they come out to someone else. They might just need someone to talk to about their lives. Or they might not need anything new at all, just the same degree of affection and care that there always has been.
I’M LGBTQ … WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SAFER SEX?
No matter what someone’s gender or sexual orientation, abstinence from all forms of intercourse is always safest. If a person chooses to be sexual with other people, it’s important that every act of intercourse be protected.
When two males or two females are having sex, obviously, pregnancy prevention isn’t a worry, but LGTBQ people still need to protect themselves from STIs and HIV. And of course, if a male identifies as gay but is still having vaginal intercourse with females … or if a female identifies as a lesbian but is still having vaginal intercourse with males, they need to protect themselves from pregnancy and STI/HIV.
For men who have sex with men, the use of a male condom for every act of oral or anal sex can greatly reduce the risk of STI/HIV. Condoms that are lubricated with spermicide should never be used for oral or anal sex. Spermicides are only effective in the prevention of pregnancy (not STI/HIV) and may actually increase someone’s risk of contracting an STI or HIV. If a couple engages in oral-anal contact, a dental dam or latex barrier can be used to decrease the risk of transmitting an infection during this activity.
For women that have sex with women, the use of a dental dam or latex barrier greatly reduces the risk of contracting STI/HIV during oral-vaginal or oral-anal contact. If a dental dam isn’t available, a couple can use non-microwaveable plastic wrap or cut an unlubricated condom up the side and unroll it. Gloves can also be worn to provide protection while touching a partner’s genitals.
If a couple uses sex toys, they can be covered with condoms to prevent the spread of infection. Sex toys should also be washed after each use and before use with any new partner. Some toys can be sanitized in boiling water – but read the package carefully before doing that!
Other ways that people of any gender or sexual orientation can reduce their risk of infection include: limiting the number of sexual partners, only having sex with people who are only having sex with them, and getting regular testing for STI and HIV.