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Introduction to Sexuality and Gender Identity
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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, if at all, 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. It 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.

Gender Identity is a person's individual sense of femaleness or maleness. It is also, to some degree, a social construction that categorises certain behaviours into male and female roles. Gender identity conflicts can stem from an individual's gender indetity not matching their biological sex, an individual's gender identity being neither completely male nor female, or an individual's biological sex not being uniquely male or female.

A hot debate has endured over recent years about why people’s sexuality differs. Many theories have been put forward - citing genetic pre-determination, childhood influences and peer-pressure amongst other reasons. However, neither attempts to find a single cause for individual’s choices of sexual orientation nor attempts to influence or change an individual's sexuality have been successful. Like many of our other characteristics, sexuality seems to be largely a chance product of our individual nature which is then further developed by our early interactions. Like many other personality traits, our sexuality seems to be formed by the time we reach the teenage years -- although it may be many years later before we each understand and accept our sexuality. Our sexuality seems resistant to attempts to radically change it.

On the rest of this page, we look at sexuality and gender identity predominantly in terms of the choices that face those who feel convinced they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise queer. However, this is not the only way of viewing your sexuality or gender, so don’t feel obliged to categorise yourself this way if it does not feel right to you!


Sexuality and Gender Identity
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What’s it like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or other gender/sexual minority? The answer depends entirely on the individual. The important thing is that same sex attraction, partial or no sex attraction, and queer gender identity/biological sex do not have to dictate who you mix with, what you wear, and how you live your life. It can be helpful to distinguish between sexual orientation, sexual identity, biological sex, and gender identity.

 

Sexual orientation: the direction of individuals' sexual longings and or fantasies and attractions toward a male/female partner, including asexual and demisexual attractions (lack of, or partial, sexual attractions).

 

Sexual identity: self-recognition of one’s sexual orientation and sexual behaviours and the meanings one places on them.

Biological sex: the sex of an individual as determined by their anatomy and primary/secondary sex characteristics.

Gender identity: an individual's sense of maleness, femaleness, or any mixture or abscence of the two.

Some of this relates to different theories about homosexuality – is it innate and biological or is it culturally defined? The idea that being attracted to someone the same sex as you defines your identity is actually quite a western concept. Across different cultures, the same behaviour (e.g. anal sex between two men) can be understood very differently. People can also change their understanding of their own desires and identity over time. The challenge is to find an understanding of yourself that fits with you and the life you wish to lead.

It can be difficult coming to terms with a minority sexuality, gender identity, and/or biological sex. Others may find it difficult to understand and accept and you may find this difficult yourself. However, many people say that they find acknowledging and exploring their difference a life changing experience. Some people find that the experience of being different can also be freeing, in that it enables them to choose the gender expression or relationship styles that suit them, rather than what society prescribes. Equally, the LGBT+ community can offer an opportunity to meet and mix with a wide variety of individuals. The experience can be both challenging and inspiring. 

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