Alphabet Soup: The Spectrum of Self-Identity

It's easy to categorize people for our own personal comfort, but we must recognize that the spectrum of self-identity is as deep and varied as the ocean of humanity.


It’s human nature for us to want to place people into boxes. While categorizing people may make us more comfortable by helping us feel like we have an understanding of “the other," in reality, these boxes are limiting and destructive.

Gender and sexual orientation are not binary but appear on an unending spectrum. One doesn’t have to be comfortable with how another self identifies but should recognize each individual’s right to do so. One such way to respect other people's self-identity is to educate yourself and make an effort to understand this beautiful spectrum of humanity.

The following definitions are not meant to be concrete, but rather an attempt to provide a general knowledge about sex, gender and orientation in their many forms:

  1. Sex: Refers to the anatomical and biological characteristics of a person. While sex is mostly binary (male or female) there are some people born with a reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definition of male or female.
  2. Gender: Unlike sex, biology and anatomy play no role in determining gender. This self-identification comes from within and the spectrum of gender can vary as much as there are people on earth because it is an expression of how one feels or sees themselves. Gender self-identification can include masculinity and femininity, but many people identify as neither or a combination of both.
  3. Sexual Orientation: Who one is sexually attracted to, whether that be the opposite sex, same sex, both, or neither.
  4. Romantic Orientation: This type of orientation is a reflection of one’s relational attraction to another person and may or may not be a sexual relationship.
  5. LGBTQIA
    • L – Lesbian: A person who self identifies as female whose attraction is towards other females.
    • G – Gay: Someone who is sexually attracted to the same sex. This term is typically applied to men.
    • B – Bisexual: A person who is attracted to people of both sexes.
      1. Pansexual: Someone attracted to people of all sexes.
    • T – Transgender: Relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional binary notions of male or female gender.
      1. Transsexual: A person having a strong desire to assume the physical characteristics and sometimes gender role of the opposite sex. This has nothing to do with gender or sexual orientation.
    • Q – Queer: Once considered a derogatory term for homosexuals, many LGBTQIA individuals have re-appropriated the word for themselves. Queer does not just refer to sexual orientation but can also be used for gender expression as a more open, non-conforming identification. Often self-defined “queers” are socially active.
    • I – Intersex: A condition of being born intermediate between male and female.
    • A – Asexual: Represents a person who has no sexual attraction to any other person regardless of sex or gender.

If this is the first time you’ve encountered these terms and feel confused or wishing for more information, be sure to click on the links provided above. Please know that simply by engaging in this reading, you have already taken a positive step toward understanding and respecting others' right to self-define.

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