How do individuals identify their sexual orientation?

SHARING HAPPINESS. Sitting in the school yard, two female students exchanged flowers. They demonstrate that modern couples are not only bounded to heterosexual relationships.

Alexandra Shafran

SHARING HAPPINESS. Sitting in the school yard, two female students exchanged flowers. They demonstrate that modern couples are not only bounded to heterosexual relationships.

Today, society is generally more open to the differing sexual orientations of people. However, there is far more than just heterosexual and homosexual sexualities. Sexual identity is part of who someone is, and isn’t the same for every person. It may be personal, but today, everything seems to be shared with the public, through social media.

Young adults in particular are bombarded with images of “perfect relationships” and a prom king and queen, instead of two kings or two queens. However, sexual stereotypes are not limited to just heterosexuality and homosexuality.

“I think there are infinite sexual orientations,’’ Cameron Young ’15, said. “There are so many labels. It’s impossible to number them, and even within labels, there are so many ways to experience attraction.”

Due to the number of different identifications one can associate with, those who are not heterosexual fall under the general LGBTQ acronym in some shape or form, even if he or she doesn’t know what it exactly is to be “queer”, Veronica McCulloh ’15 said. 

Even if sexuality is a private part of one’s life, it can influence a number of decisions in his or her life. Tim Michael, Manager of GSA Outreach, the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, said some people will choose to hang with other people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ) . These individuals may feel like they have more in common with other members of the LGBTQ community and feel like a part of a group. Similarly, some people will seek out books, music, movies and other forms of entertainment that reflect their personal identities. Michael said this is true for young and old people alike.

“Some people strongly identify with their sexuality, with who they really are as a person,” said McCulloh. “This goes for any circumstance you want to address—some people wear their religion on their sleeve, some people dislike the color of their eyes. It’s just another human trait that has so lately been turned into a mystifying oracle in our society.”

It is helpful to be mindful of those who may be different, especially if someone identifies strongly with their sexuality. Actions and comments  that go unnoticed may really be taken offensively.

“I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that not everyone is straight,” Michael said. “I think most people assume that a person is heterosexual when they first meet them, and we can’t assume that about anyone. Try and use gender neutral language: Rather than asking someone if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, ask instead if they are dating anyone or if they have a significant other.”

Furthermore, breaking this stereotype is about being educated. Whether the person himself is unsure about his or her sexuality or if they are a person who just wasn’t as informed about all the different types of people they could meet.

“There’s no real awareness about identities other than gay, straight and bi,” Young said. “Even then a lot of people have misconceptions, like the idea that your sexuality is always fixed and will never ever change.”

Michael added that if young adults do feel alienated , there are online sources, and anonymous national chat lines to get information—the LGBT national hotline and Trevor Space, to name just a few. When he and his staff asked his students what they wished was changed the most, it was overwhelmingly that they wanted teachers to address anti-LGBTQ language. Since the schoolroom is the place young adults usually spend a good portion of their time, they should feel as safe at school as they do at home.

“It is difficult for people to understand anything other than heterosexuality or homosexuality, because perhaps they only see the world in black and white when our world very much is not this way,” McCulloh said. “Also, just because one might not be able to initially understand, doesn’t mean we should continue to disregard and pretend a concept doesn’t actually exist. I believe it is this way because not everyone is as comfortable with themselves enough to know this, much less actually be aware the depths of their sexuality and identity.”

If one does choose to come out and be open about their sexuality, there are a number of ways to be respectful of their decision. As individuals, they deserve that choice. Especially when surrounded by other teens, there can be misunderstanding and misplaced judgement.

“Being open about sexuality is important mainly because the entire world tells us a certain way to be—straight—from the time we’re born,” Young said. “If no one talks about it, then those of us who aren’t straight feel like there’s something wrong with us, and that’s the worst feeling in the world. There is nothing wrong with however you are. If you like boys, girls, anyone in between, or none of the above, that’s okay. I guarantee there’s someone out there who feels the same way.”

Support staff often play a critical role in supporting LGBTQ youth, and if there are fewer of them, then young people may not have as many friendly adults they can go to for help. Even if society is moving to a world more open to differences, communities are still in the transitional period to that acceptance, Michael added.

Young adults can join LGBTQ clubs in their communities and seek help from adults to  support them while they discover their own sexuality.

Whoever you are and whoever you love, even if you don’t love anybody, that is okay, Young added. If there are as many different ways to think and believe as there are grains of sand on the beach, there are nearly as many different ways to think and identify oneself, Young said.

“I would like to share that once you learn to accept and love yourself for who you are, life feels amazing,” McCulloh said. “Only keep people in your life who accept you and love you; anyone else isn’t worth your time. Some ways of finding inner truths about yourself may consist of answers you would never think to ask yourself in the first place. You do not have to fit in a definition—be your own definition. Keep going towards the light because light is made of every color of the rainbow. Only keep people in your life who accept you.”