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Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important

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“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”

 

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“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

Complete Article HERE!

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Adolescents with autism need access to better sex education

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Intimacy is part of being human. There are well-documented benefits to positive relationships, from emotional security to good mental health1. Those who want relationships and can’t develop them face low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and isolation from the wider society2.

For adolescents, learning how to navigate sex and sexuality can be a minefield. How do you figure out the nuances of sexuality without experience? How do you approach a potential partner? And once you do, how do you communicate with him or her?

This path is especially fraught for adolescents with autism. For example, people with autism tend to report higher levels of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation than their neurotypical peers3. And yet there is a gap between what these young people need and what schools provide. According to a 2012 study, adolescents with autism know less about sex than do their peers and have less access to sex education4.

My team of researchers and I are documenting the experiences of adolescents with autism in relation to sex, sexuality and their schools’ sex education requirements. Our research suggests schools should provide sex education tailored to the needs of young people with autism.

These classes should include both the standard fare — from human development to safe sex — and additional instruction on topics such as how teens can express themselves to their potential partners and how to decode innuendos and other language used to describe sex. This education is vital to ensure that these adolescents can approach relationships in a way that is safe, confident and healthy.

Role play:

One common misconception about individuals with autism is that they prefer to be alone. My research suggests this simply isn’t true.

In an ongoing study, for example, my team conducted interviews related to sex and relationships with 40 adults with autism. Only three expressed ambivalence about relationships, mostly due to worries about coping with the needs of another person. Nearly half of the respondents had not yet had a relationship but expressed a strong desire for one.

Despite the desire to form relationships, this group expressed limited knowledge about how they would meet someone or show their interest. They found the idea of going out to a pub or club frightening, and socializing with groups of people provoked high anxiety. Some of them expressed a disdain for small talk, and others admitted they had little idea of how to engage in general conversation. They also found the use of dating apps unappealing and said they thought there was an inherent danger in meeting strangers.

Sex education could help these individuals feel confident in approaching others using role-play. For example, they could use techniques created by the late Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director who created plays in which audiences could participate.

In the context of sex education, an actor would play the part of the individual with autism and re-create one of that person’s real-life experiences, such as trying to talk to someone new in a bar. The individual with autism would then give the actor new directions — such as “What if I offer to buy her a drink?” — allowing the person with autism to try out many approaches, and witness potential consequences, in a safe environment.

Advice network:

Although instructors may help with some aspects of communication, it’s profoundly difficult to teach someone how to read the intentions and desires of others. Most teenagers rely on peers to work through some of these social complexities.

Teens get feedback from their peers on how to interact, meet new people and gauge the appropriateness of a relationship. Teens with autism struggle with close relationships, but sex education classes could facilitate that learning.

Our research suggests that they desire this guidance. For example, one individual in our study commented that schools should provide students with the “skills on how to find the right sort of partner.” To accomplish this goal, a school could provide an advice network, including regular group meetings in which young people with autism share and reflect upon their experiences. Social networking could extend this support.

For most adolescents, peers also fill in gaps such as helping to define sexual slang. In our study, another participant commented that hearing “dirty talk” from other students made her feel left behind. She was also unsure how to decode the words she heard, and said her school should explain what people might say in a sexual context and what these terms mean. With this context, she could decide to get involved or not.

Moderated discussions in a peer network could help address such slang and provide a safe space for students to ask questions about unfamiliar words.

Different sexualities:

To be effective, sex education in schools must take into consideration that some individuals with autism do not conform to traditional sex roles. When we interviewed 40 young adults with autism as part of an ongoing study, we found that 20 percent identified as gay or bisexual — more than is reported in national surveys of the general population. Gender fluidity may also be more common in individuals with autism: In a study we conducted this year (but is not yet published), we found an unusually high incidence of autism and autism traits in individuals who identify as transsexual or non-binary.

Despite these high numbers, some people with autism find it hard to accept different sexualities. As one male participant explained: “I have a rigid way of seeing the world, and this prevented me from accepting my sexuality. I sort of denied it to myself because I have very concrete black-and-white thinking and it didn’t quite fit in.” This early inability to accept his sexuality and identify as a gay man led to severe depression and admittance to a psychiatric ward.

In some ways, people with autism may even fall outside the ever-expanding range of sexual identities we see today, such as gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. For example, one of our participants explained that her wonderful relationship with another girl with autism often involved sitting together for up to 10 hours reading in silence, or spending hours discussing Greek history.

Autism represents a profoundly different way of seeing and being in the world, and individuals with autism often expend great mental and physical effort just trying to appear ‘normal.’ Sex education in school needs to move away from suggesting that people with autism should fit in, and instead explore alternatives to traditional types of romantic relationships.

Awareness gaps:

Our work also suggests that individuals with autism aren’t always aware that they are sexual beings. This lack of self-awareness manifests both in the sexual cues they give off and how they may be perceived by others.

For example, two participants in our study reported behavior that could be perceived as stalking, such as continually following strangers, although they didn’t indicate that they understood how this could seem threatening. One described it this way: “I literally just saw him on the street. And then pretty much just stalked him.”

Not having a sense of one’s own sexuality can be harmful in other ways. For example, individuals with autism are three times as likely to experience sexual exploitation as their peers5. In our study, participants spoke of times when they had been extremely vulnerable and open to abuse. One woman reported that others had gotten her drunk and encouraged her to have sex with girls even though she doesn’t identify as gay. In the interview, she did not appear to be aware that these incidents could be perceived as someone taking advantage of her.

Sex educators need to understand these gaps in awareness to build confidence in young people with autism and to protect them from harm and from unintentionally harming others. For example, young people with autism need to be aware of the law on issues such as stalking, which they themselves may not see as a problem. Their education needs to include lessons on the language of sex and draw distinctions between playful and threatening behavior. It also needs to address issues of abuse and signs that a relationship or encounter is abusive.

Research such as ours can offer insight into this area and provide the tools for effective sex education for people with autism. With the right support, adolescents with autism can feel more comfortable building relationships and exploring their sexuality. This support will help them develop healthy relationships and experience their benefits to well-being, self-esteem and happiness.

Complete Article HERE!

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A 101 Guide to Knowing Thyself (And Understanding Everyone Else)

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By Rahel Neirene and 
Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Where society once only recognized homosexuality and heterosexuality, there’s a growing awareness of — and terms for — a much larger, ever-expanding galaxy of sexual orientations. The same can be said for genders: While many only recognized male and female, and masculinity and femininity, we are witnessing an explosion of terms and identities, often coined by those who find “LGBT” too narrow. Many of these other labels have been around for decades or longer, but are only gaining broader attention now. Here’s a short guide to our fabulous new world.

SEXUALITY:
Beyond gay, lesbian, or straight.

Androsexual: Someone attracted to masculinity, whether in men, women, or others.

Asexuality: An orientation characterized by an absence of sexual attraction or desire for partnered sex. Asexuality is different from celibacy. Some asexual people do have sex and/or masturbate. There are many ways of being asexual.

Bisexual: Someone attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex or gender. Their identity remains bisexual no matter who they are in a relationship with — their orientation does not vacillate from gay to straight based on the gender of their current partner.

Demisexual: Someone who can only experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional bond.

Graysexual: Someone whose sexuality is between absolute asexual and sexual.

Gynesexual: An attraction to females or femininity, the latter in women, men, or others.

Heteromantic: A person with a romantic, but not necessarily sexual, attraction to members of another sex or gender.

Panromantic: A person who has romantic, but not necessarily sexual, attractions to people of all genders and sexes.

Pansexual/Omnisexual: Those who have or are open to having romantic, sexual, or affectional desire for people of all genders and sexes, including those who are trans or intersex. (Many bi people identify with this definition as well.)

Polyamory (or Poly): Being in or being open to having romantic relationships with more than one person at a time, generally with the knowledge and consent of their partners.

Polysexual: Attraction to multiple genders or forms of gender expression, but not all.

Queer: Nonconforming sexual attraction, may include to those who are trans or gender variant.

GENDERS:
Beyond male/female and masculine/feminine.

Agender: Having no gender identity, or having a gender identity that is neutral.

Androgynous or androgyne: Having a gender identity or expression that includes both masculine and feminine elements, often to the point where one’s gender isn’t readily apparent to others.

Bigender: Having two gender identities, which may be experienced simultaneously or at separate times. According to the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, which runs an “Identity a Day” online education series, “The two genders may be male and female, but they might also include other nonbinary gender identities.”

Gender Fluid: When one’s gender identification or presentation shifts between two or more genders.

Gender Nonconforming: Gender expressions or roles that are outside those expected by society. They’re not confined by conventional definitions of male and female, and can include people who identify as trans or genderqueer.

Genderqueer: A person whose gender identity or gender expression falls outside of the dominant societal expectation for their assigned sex, is beyond genders, or is some combination of them.

Gender Variant: Varying from the expected characteristics of one’s assigned gender or sex.

Intersex: Those who have a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit medical definitions of female or male. This happens in around one in every 1,500 to 2,000 births, according to the Intersex Society of North America, making it about as common as red hair. An intersex person might be born appearing female but with male chromosomes or internal anatomy, or born with genitals that seem outside defined male and female types. Many who are intersex have been forced, as children, to undergo surgeries that attempt to make their sexual organs conform to medical expectations. They may identify as intersex, male or female, or any of the other gender IDs here.

Neutrois: Similar to agender — a neutral or even genderless identity.

Trans or Transgender: This has become somewhat of an umbrella term for anyone with any type of gender variance. But for some it is more specific, representing those who identify or express a gender at opposition with the gender they were assigned at birth. While some trans people merely alter their identification or external expression, others pursue medical interventions like hormone treatment and gender affirmation surgeries. People who are trans often identify as either male or female, but may not do so.

Transsexual: A gender identity that is generally specific to those who are trans and undergo medical intervention to transition from the sex (male or female) they were assigned at birth to the sex they identify as being authentically. Transsexuals often view gender as binary, identify as male or female, and may accept more traditional gender roles.

Two-Spirit: A person of Native American descent whose body simultaneously houses both a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. As an umbrella term, it may encompass same-sex attraction and a wide variety of gender variance, including people who might be described as queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, genderqueer, or having multiple gender identities.

Of course there are also dozens of micro-identities too, like subcategories of gay men (bears, twinks) or lesbians (AGGs, femmes — and others detailed at bit.ly/20LezIDs).

Complete Article HERE!

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There’s power in pronouns

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By Kathi Wolfe

“I assessed the toys/and took my pick/a brand new bike,” poet Grace Cavalieri writes in her poem “Language Lesson.” “My new playmate ran crying/…Me wants the bike.”

“I felt the sweet pleasure of/superiority, the first ache/of it, age three,” Cavalieri continues. “There would be no contest/I/could play as long as I liked./I had him by the pronoun.”

I’ve been thinking lately of Cavalieri’s lovely poem of childhood joy and empowerment. Why is “Language Lesson” on my radar screen? Because, even in this age of Instagram and selfies, few things are more powerful than language. No matter how we identify by gender or sexually, we desire the pronouns and terms used to describe us to reflect our true identifies. Even as toddlers, we know: there’s power in pronouns.

As a writer, like most wordsmiths, I want to use language that most accurately and clearly reflects the people who I write about – especially the LGBTQ community. This is an interesting challenge. Language evolves every nano-sec, and there’s often disagreement within a community about what language should be used. Recently, the Associated Press addressed the evolving language around LGBTQ people and gender. On May 31, AP released its 2017 Stylebook. The new Stylebook contains changes on the language used around gender, LGBTQ people and “they,” as a “singular, gender-neutral pronoun.”

Things are changing. Yet for far too long, much of the mainstream media, and even some of the gay press, have used misleading and demeaning terms to identify transgender and gender nonconforming people. Some of this is due to confusion. As a cisgender lesbian scribe, it took me eons to get that gender and sexuality aren’t the same: to understand that, as You Tuber Brendan Jordan, who identifies as gender fluid told CBS News, “Sexuality is who you go to bed with, and gender identity is who you go to bed as.”

The new AP Stylebook explains the meaning of cisgender, transgender and intersex, and clearly states that sex and gender are different. “Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations,” the Stylebook says, “so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people.”

For a while, folks in our community have referred to themselves as not only LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), but LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/and/or queer). AP’s new Stylebook says that LGBT and LGBTQ are acceptable. It adds that LGBTQIA “and other variations” are permitted if used in quotes or as names as organizations. “I generally stands for intersex,” the entry says. A can stand for ally, asexual or both, it says.

Adapting to evolving language is frequently difficult. The new AP Stylebook entry on “they” as a singular pronoun brings this home. “I learned in third grade that ‘they’ refers to more than one, not a single, person,” a 69-year-old friend told me, “I love what I learned! But I guess it’ll have to change.”

Many of us know people who don’t want to be referred to as he or she – him or her. They want to be identified by a gender-neutral pronoun. The AP Stylebook is catching up with this reality. It says using “they” as a “gender neutral, singular pronoun” is acceptable if it’s essential. It doesn’t permit the use of “ze” or other gender neutral pronouns.

“The singular ‘they’ [has] been in consistent use since the 1300s and the language hasn’t fallen apart yet,” Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster and author of the fascinating book “Word by Word,” emailed the Blade.

Language is so personal to us, Stamper said, “it’s the primary way that we communicate who we are and what is important to us.”

Kudos to the AP for helping us communicate who we are and what’s important to us.

Complete Article HERE!

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LGBTQ definitions every good ally should know

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By Alia E. Dastagir

Millions of Americans identify as LGBTQ, and like any group, they have their own language to talk about both who they are and the challenges they face in a society that doesn’t fully accept or protect them.

If you want to be an ally, these terms might help — but be aware that many have been used derogatorily by straight, white, cisgender (defined below!) people, and were reclaimed over time by the LGBTQ community.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and some of these terms — because they are so personal — likely mean slightly different things to different people. If you’re puzzled by a term and feel like you can ask someone you love in the LGBTQ community to help you make sense of it, do it. But also be careful not to put the burden of your education on other people when there’s a whole wide world of resources out there.

Let’s get started

LGBTQ: The acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.” Some people also use the Q to stand for “questioning,” meaning people who are figuring out their sexual orientation or gender identity. You may also see LGBT+, LGBT*, LGBTx, or LGBTQIA. I stands for intersex and A for asexual/aromantic/agender. The “A” has also been used by some to refer to “ally.”

Speaking of intersex: Born with sex characteristics such as genitals or chromosomes that do not fit the typical definitions of male or female. About 1.7% of the population is intersex, according to the United Nations.

Sex: The biological differences between male and female.

Gender: The societal constructions we assign to male and female. When you hear someone say “gender stereotypes,” they’re referring to the ways we expect men/boys and women/girls to act and behave.

Queer: Originally used as a pejorative slur, queer has now become an umbrella term to describe the myriad ways people reject binary categories of gender and sexual orientation to express who they are. People who identify as queer embrace identities and sexual orientations outside of mainstream heterosexual and gender norms.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation: How a person characterizes their sexuality. “There are three distinct components of sexual orientation,” said Ryan Watson, a professor of Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Connecticut. “It’s comprised of identity (I’m gay), behavior (I have sex with the same gender) and attraction (I’m sexually attracted to the same gender), and all three might not line up for all people.” (Don’t say “sexual preference,” which implies it’s a choice and easily changed.)

Gay: A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally or sexually attracted to people of their own gender; commonly used to describe men.

Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally or sexually attracted to other women.

Bisexual: A person who is emotionally or sexually attracted to more than one sex or gender.

Pansexual: A person who can be attracted to all different kinds of people, regardless of their biological sex or gender identity. Miley Cyrus opened up last year about identifying as pansexual.

Asexual: A person who experiences no sexual attraction to other people.

​Demisexual: Someone who doesn’t develop sexual attraction to anyone until they have a strong emotional connection.

Same-gender loving: A term some in the African-American community use instead of lesbian, gay or bisexual to express sexual attraction to people of the same gender.

Aromantic: A person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others.

Gender identity and expression

Gender identity: One’s concept of self as male, female or neither (see “genderqueer”). A person’s gender identity may not align with their sex at birth; not the same as sexual orientation.

Gender role: The social behaviors that culture assigns to each sex. Examples: Girls play with dolls, boys play with trucks; women are nurturing, men are stoic.

Gender expression: How we express our gender identity. It can refer to our hair, the clothes we wear, the way we speak. It’s all the ways we do and don’t conform to the socially defined behaviors of masculine or feminine.​

Transgender: A person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Binary: The concept of dividing sex or gender into two clear categories. Sex is male or female, gender is masculine or feminine.

Non-binary: Someone who doesn’t identify exclusively as female/male.

Genderqueer: People who reject static, conventional categories of gender and embrace fluid ideas of gender (and often sexual orientation). They are people whose gender identity can be both male and female, neither male nor female, or a combination of male and female.

Agender: Someone who doesn’t identify as any particular gender.

Gender-expansive: An umbrella term used to refer to people, often times youth, who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.

Gender fluid: Not identifying with a single, fixed gender. A person whose gender identity may shift.

*(Note: While the previous six terms may sound similar, subtle differences between them mean they can’t always be used interchangeably).*

Gender non-conforming: People who don’t conform to traditional expectations of their gender.

Transsexual: A person whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth, and who takes medical steps such as sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy to change their body to match their gender.

Transvestite: A person who dresses in clothing generally identified with the opposite gender/sex.

Trans: The overarching umbrella term for various kinds of gender identifies in the trans community.

Drag kings & drag queens: People, some who are straight and cisgender, who perform either masculinity or femininity as a form of art. It’s not about gender identity.

Bottom surgery: A colloquial way of referring to gender affirming genital surgery.

Top surgery: Colloquial way of describing gender affirming surgery on the chest.

Binding: Flattening your breasts, sometimes to appear more masculine.

Androgynous: A person who has both masculine and feminine characteristics, which sometimes means you can’t easily distinguish that person’s gender. It can also refer to someone who appears female — like Orange is the New Black’s Ruby Rose, for example — but who adopts a style that is generally considered masculine.

‘Out’ vs. ‘closeted’

Coming out: The complicated, multi-layered, ongoing process by which one discovers and accepts one’s own sexuality and gender identity. One of the most famous coming outs was Ellen DeGeneres, with “Yep, I’m gay” on the cover of Time magazine 20 years ago. Former President Obama awarded DeGeneres a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, saying that her coming out in 1997 was an important step for the country.

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Outing: Publicly revealing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity when they’ve personally chosen to keep it private.

Living openly: An LGBTQ people who is comfortable being out about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Closeted: An LGBTQ person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity to the wider world.

Passing: A person who is recognized as the gender they identify with.

Down low: A term often used by African American men to refer to men who identify as heterosexual but have sex with men.

Attitudes

Ally: A person who is not LGBTQ but uses their privilege to support LGBTQ people and promote equality. Allies “stand up and speak out even when the people they’re allying for aren’t there,” said Robin McHaelen, founder and executive director of True Colors, a non-profit that provides support for LGBTQ youth and their families. In other words, not just at pride parades.

Sex positive: An attitude that views sexual expression and sexual pleasure, if it’s healthy and consensual, as a good thing.

Heterosexual privilege: Refers to the societal advantages that heterosexuals get which LGBTQ people don’t. If you’re a straight family that moves to a new neighborhood, for example, you probably don’t have to worry about whether your neighbors will accept you.

Heteronormativity: A cultural bias that considers heterosexuality (being straight) the norm. When you first meet someone, do you automatically assume they’re straight? That’s heteronormativity.

Heterosexism: A system of oppression that considers heterosexuality the norm and discriminates against people who display non-heterosexual behaviors and identities.

Cissexism: A system of oppression that says there are only two genders, which are considered the norm, and that everyone’s gender aligns with their sex at birth.

Homophobia: Discrimination, prejudice, fear or hatred toward people who are attracted to members of the same sex.

Biphobia: Discrimination, prejudice, fear or hatred toward bisexual people.

Transphobia: Prejudice toward trans people.

Transmisogyny: A blend of transphobia and misogyny, which manifests as discrimination against “trans women and trans and gender non-conforming people on the feminine end of the gender spectrum.”

TERF: The acronym for “trans exclusionary radical feminists,” referring to feminists who are transphobic.

Transfeminism: Defined as “a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond.” It’s a form of feminism that includes all self-identified women, regardless of assigned sex, and challenges cisgender privilege. A central tenet is that individuals have the right to define who they are.

Intersectionality: The understanding of how a person’s overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability status — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.

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