The Alphabet Soup of Sexual Diversity

Ah, for the good ol’ days of sexual simplicity. Times were so much different then: We were all alike and we all agreed on what was good (sameness, of course) and what was bad (anything that was different). Nowadays, we’re all learning a new alphabet that includes the unfamiliar sequence of LGBTQ or sometimes even the more confusing version of LGBTQIA+. No wonder people are throwing their hands up in the air and wishing they could return to the halcyon days of classic 8-track tapes.

So, to clear the air for those who may have just emerged from their bomb shelters for the first time in a few decades, here we go. “L” is for the way you look — oops, sorry. “L” is for “lesbian,” a person who sees themselves as female and who is attracted (romantically and sexually) to other female-identified persons. Think: Ellen. Same with “gay,” which is more specifically applied to male-identified persons who are attracted to other male-identified persons. Think: Uncle Nick, who has been living with his “roommate” Jake for 40 years. Bisexuals? Think maybe James Dean, who commented on how crazy it would be to go through life “with one hand tied behind his back.” So bisexuals like both men and women. “T” is both a drink (with jam and bread) and “transgender,” a member of a gender other than that expected based on their birth anatomy. For the 8-track generation “transgender” can be confusing, because it’s about gender identity and not sexual orientation like lesbian and gay. “Q” usually means “queer,” an umbrella term covering those who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. (Gah! Another term needing a definition: “Cisgender” means a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.) Oh, and “Q” can sometimes be defined as “questioning.”

But wait, there’s more! “I” is for “intersex,” which is a general term for people born with a sexual anatomy that doesn’t quite seem to fit the traditional definitions of female or male. To make it ultra-confusing, some intersex people actually have both XX and XY chromosomes. “A” is for asexual, a category for those with a complete lack of sexual attraction to people. For most asexuals, no one is hot, not Brad Pitt, not Angelina Jolie. Just not interested.

And finally, the “+,” which basically covers all sexualities, sexes, and genders that aren’t addressed above. When we think of sexuality on a continuum, there’s a lot to still be defined, so this serves as a catch-all category.

For Evangelical extremists, none of this makes sense because none of it is in the Bible. But then, most scientific facts are not contained in the Bible — quarks, DNA and heliocentrism, among others — because the Bible is not a science text. Those who still believe these sexual labels represent “a lifestyle choice” simply don’t get sexuality or the science based on reason and observation. The notion that I can wake up every morning and freely choose to be homosexual, asexual, or any of these other categories is contradicted by my own body, which tells me that my orientation is an inalienable part of myself. Yes, we can believe anything, but the burden of proof is on those who make ludicrous claims that sexual orientations and identities are a choice.

The alphabet soup may be exhaustive (and exhausting!), but later, I’ll talk about why all these letters and labels are a great thing for all of us.

Article originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Author, speaker and therapist Steven Ing has spent nearly three decades teaching people how to manage their sexuality intelligently. Email asking@stevening.com or tweet @steveningMFT with your questions for future columns.

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