This is part two in a two part series. Read part one about gender identity.
Gender and sexual identity are highly complex factors of self that both fall within a spectrum. The previous article focused the conversation about the category of gender and its three sub-divisions. This article will continue to explore identity by engaging in basic categories of attraction, as well as offer tips on how to be a respectful ally to LGBTQIA+ people. However, this article will only offer an introduction to more common terms because, as author Mere Abrams (2019) point out, there are at least 46 terms regarding sexual and romantic attraction.
Sexual attraction: This term refers to one’s physical arousal to another person. Someone may be attracted to males or masculine qualities. Someone also may be attracted instead to females or feminine qualities. Of course, some people are attracted to both and/or all, or even none.
Romantic attraction: This term refers to how one’s heart may be attracted to particular people. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are not one and the same. Someone may experience sexual arousal to a particular demographic of people, while they may feel romantically attracted to a different set of people.
Sexual and romantic attraction terms:
- Heterosexual – Typically this refers to a cis-gender person who is sexually attracted to a cis-gender person of the opposite gender.
- Homosexual – This term typically refers to a cis-gender person who is sexually attracted to a cis-gender person of the same gender. Gay is a term often used for two males, lesbian is often used for two females.
- Bisexual – Typically this refers to someone to is attracted to both male/masculine and female/feminine genders. Romantic and sexual attraction for bisexuality could vary depending on the person, with romantic attraction toward one gender and sexual attraction toward another gender
- Asexual/ACE – Someone who may not feel any sexual attraction towards anyone. Even though there is a reduced interest in sex some ACEs may still have sex, while others do not. ACEs may find partnerships fulfilling through romantic connection.
- Aromantic/ARO – This term refers to someone who may feel little to no romantic attraction to someone, but may feel sexual attraction. Some people do identify as both ACE and ARO
- Pansexual – Someone who has romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender, but romantic and sexual attraction does not have to be at the same time.
- Demisexual – This term describes someone who is only sexually attracted to someone they have an emotional connection. Demisexual is within the asexual spectrum (UC Davis Health, n.d.).
One factor unaddressed in the previous article was pronoun usage. Binary pronouns of he/him and she/her do not apply to everyone. A common gender-neutral pronoun is they/them, however, there are other gender-neutral pronouns such as per, ve, xe, ze/zie. Because gender pronoun competency essentially expands our language and grammar, I recommend looking at the grammar table supplied by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/.
Tips for Allies
- Be curious – With the increasing understanding of gender and attraction spectrums, begin to be mindful of people and wonder about the possibilities of their being that goes past the surface.
- Do not assume, ask – This feels particularly meaningful for pronoun use. Asking someone how they want to be referred to is a sign of respecting their existence in the world.
- Be willing to try and willing to make mistakes – Mistakes are made, particularly when using gender neutral language that extends past the social norms of the binary.
- Be willing to seek repair when mistakes happen – Mistakes happen, but wounding is reduced when we catch ourselves and make proactive, explicit acknowledgment of our mistakes and steps toward repairing the relationship.
- Accept that impact matters more than intent – I believe most people intend well for others, however, through our blind spots we may not realize the impact we have on others. Misuse of terms and pronouns can have a huge impact on people, equating to something like death by a thousand cuts. Please be open if someone expresses an experienced negative impact, because someone’s psychological and emotional far outweighs our personal embarrassment when our intent is mismatched.
Abrams, M. (2019, December 10). 46 terms that describe sexual attraction, behavior, and orientation. Healthline. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from https://www.healthline.com/health/different-types-of-sexuality.
UC Davis Health. (n.d.) LGBTQ+ glossary. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from https://health.ucdavis.edu/diversity-inclusion/LGBTQI/LGBTQ-Plus.html.
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. (n.d.). Gender pronouns. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/.
About the author – Rachel Zeller BS, BA is a therapist at Pacific Mental Health, Seattle. They help clients with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma and grief. They also specialize in working with LGBTQIA+ adolescents and adults, treating the challenges that come with identity.