Sexual orientation and gender identity often fall under the same umbrella when it comes to understanding human sexuality, but as we covered in both this chapter and the previous one, they are two different aspects of the self. Sexual orientation describes a person’s patterns of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to another person, while gender identity refers to an individual’s own gender. Gender identity can be the same as someone’s assigned sex, but it can also be different. Both gender identity and sexual orientation are larger than a binary, and may shift throughout a person’s lifetime.
Heteronormativity is the assumption that all people are heterosexual, and that there are no other types of sexuality. (Cis)normativity has more to do with gender, in that it is the assumption that all individuals identify with a role that corresponds to the sex assigned to them at birth (cisgendered). Understanding human sexuality through a Cisgendered, heteronormative lens automatically, labels LGBTQIA+ people as abnormal. These types of microaggressions are destructive whether intentional or unintentional, and discount the reality of entire groups of people. Microaggressions maintain heteronormativity and/or cisnormativity by invalidating non-hetero or trans folx lived experiences. An example of this could be is when a cisgendered, heterosexual female asks a cis-gendered lesbian female if they have a boyfriend. Another could be if a cisgendered male expresses hostility over a transgender male who uses a men’s bathroom. The previous example is an act of a microaggression, but tragically, in some cases trans males have been assaulted while just trying to use the restroom.
Heteronormativity and cisnormativity are built into the fabric of American culture, which can cause many queer identifying people to hide their true selves from their friends and family. Unfortunately, sexual orientation and gender identity are stratified concepts in society. The hope is that one day in the near future, it’ll be okay to be who you are without worry of backlash and discrimination, but until then, the need for solidarity is critical. There are solutions for overcoming the harmful effects of heteronormativity and cisnormativity. Speaking truth to power is one way to move the conversation forward. Allies are critical in the struggle. Here are a few organizations to check out: PFLAG |, About GLAAD,LGBTQ Youth Resources | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health | CDC, LGBTQIA+ Resources - Positive Images
If you are a person who is questioning your sexual identity or gender identity, surrounding yourself with open minded people who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, or those who affirm your own identity will help you feel supported. Remember, one of the goals of this textbook is radical self-love so be sure to practice self-love now! If you are getting harmful rhetoric from friends or family members that make you feel ashamed of your sexual and/or gender identity, get help setting some boundaries, especially if it is negatively affecting your life. Sometimes, your chosen family can be who you need to turn to if your blood family is unable to accept you just exactly as you are. Just know that you are valued, and there is a community out there ready to invite you in.
Why does the United States do such a dismal job regarding sexual education? Was it always this bad? Is it worse now? What is the history of Sex Ed in the U.S.? Watch and see: Sex Education In America: A Brief History