How someone’s sexual orientation develops and comes to be is up for debate. Within the LGBTQIA+ community and among those who study gender and sexual orientation, it is generally accepted that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice, but something that is simply a part of a person. This is often challenged by those who argue that certain identities are simply a temporary “phase” or that queerness is unnatural. These arguments and views will be addressed in this chapter, as well as a section on terms that have been coined by scholars in queer theory and other academic fields that help us understand sexuality more.
Before we continue, an important thing to understand is that this information will likely change, and a certain definition may not be what everyone agrees on. People might share a label, but their experiences can vary in several ways, and some people choose to not label themselves at all when it comes to their attractions. The way these people present themselves can be drastically different, and their preferences in their partners can vary as well. The essence of this is to say an identity is not a “one size fits all” box, and rather than looking for external validation around a label, we hope this chapter helps you decide that you get to define yourself in whatever way you like.
When you think of a potential significant other (or if you already have one), what quality is most important to you? Your answer may differ from others or it may be similar. As we will learn later on in this book, attraction does fall down similar patterns but ultimately we all like who we like based on multiple factors that are unique to who we are. While you may have some preferences when it comes to physical features, people generally want their partner to have similar values, and certain qualities are perceived to be more important than others.
Specific identities will have certain stereotypes and misconceptions associated with them. These stereotypes come from cultural labels surrounding differing sexual orientations often perpetuated in the media. In a 2010 study entitled Fairy tales: Attraction and stereotypes in same-gender relationships, Felmlee et al discuss common stereotypes surrounding same-gender relationships such as “exhibition of gender atypical traits, sexual promiscuity, and predatory sexual tendencies,” and challenge these ideas with their data, which suggests that the reality is not as simple as previously believed, and that these stereotypes serve to create false beliefs surrounding same sex relationships. Just as heterosexual people have their own preferences when looking for a significant other, queer people have the same and the preferences are varied and multifaceted (Felmlee et al, 2010).