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Determining Sexual Orientation

Defining Sexual Orientation:
It is normal to have questions about one's attractions. Simply exploring these questions does not determine if one is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or straight. It is okay not to know one's own sexual identity. (UTD website, 2009)

• Many individuals begin to explore sexuality during their teenage years.

• A developing body can send confusing signals about who you are attracted to.

• Your body eventually will send you more consistent messages; it is good to pay attention to your body’s signals. 

• For some, it is a time to question sexual identity and possibly realize that they are bi-sexual or homosexual.

• Most researchers believe we are born with our sexual preferences, but do not find out what they are until we are in our teens.

• Although homosexuality has gained increasing acceptance and visibility in mainstream media and it is estimated that 10% of the population identifies as homosexual or bisexual, it is still difficult for many teens to come out.

• The American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association consider sexual orientations including gay, lesbian and bi-sexual completely normal.

• Unfortunately, bias and homophobia do exist, making it more difficult for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transvestite and questioning (LGBTQ) teens to reveal their sexual identities to others.

Coming Out 
Coming out refers to someone revealing his/her sexual orientation to family, friends and/or significant others. Coming out is a difficult decision to make since many things have to be considered.Those who have friends come out to them should show respect, as it requires a great deal of courage.

If you are struggling with sexual identity and need someone to talk to call us at 888-222-2228.

If you are sure and you decide to talk to others about it, please consider the following:

Who needs to know?
Why should they know?
When should they know?
How do you expect them to react?
If you believe they will not be understanding or supportive, why would you tell them?
How do you think YOU will react to people reacting to your news?
Who will be supportive of you?
Who can you turn to if things do not go as you expected?

More information about sexual orientation:

For our hearing impaired callers, 2NDFLOOR can be reached at the following TTY number: 732-264-1703.

 Disclaimer: 2NDFLOOR is a youth helpline designed to listen, help and guide youth in addressing challenges. You are assured anonymity and confidentiality, except in life-threatening situations. When receiving such an emergency phone call, 2NDFLOOR staff will initiate emergency call - trace procedures (within the capability of currently available technology) for police intervention. 

2NDFLOOR is a registered trademark/servicemark of 180 Turning Lives Around, Inc.

New Book by one of my favorite authors, Harold Ivan Smith

Partnered Grief: A Centering Corporation Resource by Harold Ivan Smith and Joy Johnson: Invaluable resource for lesbian and gay people and their families. Profoundly spiritually insightful, wise, compassionate ground-breaking book that will change lives. 




The Trevor Project: Great website including the Trevor NATIONAL Lifeline: 1-866-4U-Trevor   www.thetrevorproject.org

GLSEN:  Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network: Strives to assure that each member of every school community is values and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.  www.glsen.org  

HiTOPS: An educational and social support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning youth and their allies.  Founded in 1987 HiTOPS helps adolescents clarify their values and make responsible decisions regarding their health, and gives parents, teachers and caregivers of adolescents the tools they need to best support and guide the young people they nurture.  www.hitops.org    


First and Third: welcomes all youth to the meetings: When: The first and third Saturday of every month from 2:30-4:30pm, Where: HiTOPS, Inc.  21 Wiggins Street, Princeton, NJ 08540  Bring a friend or come and meet new ones. 


NJ GSA Forum: Breaking Barriers, Celebrating Diversity: The 7th Annual Conference for Gay Straight Alliances  * Students   * Advisors   *Supporters    When:   November 20, 2010 9:00 AM -4 PM  Rutgers University, Hickman Hall, Douglass Campus, 89 George Street, New Brunswick 




Glossary of Terms:

Bi-sexual: a person who is emotionally, romantically and  sexually attracted to people of either sex.

Biological sex:  The sex someone is born as. Also referred to as birth sex, anatomical sex, physical sex.

Coming out: Disclosing one's sexual orientation or gender identity to others. Some people never come out, some come out to a few individuals, others come out to many people all at once, and for others the coming out process takes place slowly.

Gay: This term is used often to describe both homosexual men and homosexual women, thought it more often refers to men. Gay describes men who are emotionally, romantically and sexually attracted to other men. The word 'gay' didn't come into wide use to describe homosexual people until the 1950s. Before that it was used as a code word for same sex sexuality. 

Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA); A student club for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students as well as their straight allies. GSA's can provide a social haven and support for queer students. They can also work for positive change on GLBTQ issues within a school or school system. GSA's are legally entitled to exist according to a federal court ruling.

Gender:  While this word may be used to describe anatomy, it's really about a person's identity as feminine or masculine, rather than the physical characteristics that make someone female or male. Gender is made up of many things including, behaviors, cultural traits, and psychological traits that are associated with a specific sex. 

 Gender dysphoria:  A term for the pain, anxiety and confusion that can result when there is a disparity between a person's gender identity and biological sex. Pressure to conform to accepted gender roles and expression, and a general lack of acceptance from society also contribute to it. 

Gender expression:  How you express your gender identity. It includes your clothes, your hairstyle, your body language (how you walk, your posture, your gestures, your mannerisms) and even your speech patterns. In society, people often take their cues from someone's gender expression to decide that person's anatomical sex.

Gender identity:  Your internal sense of being male or female- it's whether you consider or feel yourself to be male or female. A person's gender identity doesn't necessarily reflect his or her biological sex. There are gender activitist, like Kate Bornstein, who believe it's possible to have a gender identity that's male, female or something else entirely. 

Gender Identity Disorder: GID: Mental health professionals often diagnose transgender people with GID. A diagnosis of GID lets transgendered people get mental and physical treatment, which can be especially helpful for people trying to physically transition their gender, but a diagnosis of GID can also carry the stigma of mental illness.

Gender Transitioning: a complex, multi step process of starting to live in a way that accurately reflects a transgendered person's true gender identity. Transitioning primarily involves social issues such as changing your name, dressing differently, altering other aspects of your appearance, like  hair or makeup, and changing your mannerisms, voice and how you move. Transitioning doesn't by definition include surgery or other physical changes though it may depend on the person. A physical transition may include a medical professional. For some transitioning may include surgery.

GLBTQ: An acronym that stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning

Intersex: People who are born with a mixture of both male and female genitals or with ambiguous genitalia. In many cases, the doctor or the person's parents "choose" their child's anatomy and the child has a series of surgeries throughout infancy and childhood to definitely assign one anatomical sex.  The surgery doesn't always result in a physical sex assignment that matches the person's gender.  As a result, some intersex people grow up having gender identity issues that mirror those experienced by transgender people. 

 Queer:  Refers to GLBTQ people. Sometimes used as a slur, the term has been reclaimed by many GLBTQ people who use it as an expression of pride. Some prefer to identify as queer rather than gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trangender, because they feel it encompasses more of who they are or gives a greater sense of unity with the entire community. 

Questioning: Being uncertain of one's sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Sexual Behavior: Only describes sexual activity, not sexual identity.  A man may identify as gay but still engage in sexual behavior with women. That's still considered heterosexual behavior. Or a woman may not identify as a lesbian but may take part in sexual activity with a woman. That is homosexual behavior. 

Sexual Identity: How a person views and identifies himself or herself in terms of his or her sexual orientation or behavior. Some people may identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight; other people may refuse to identify with a particular label. Some GLBTQ people choose to identify as queer for this reason. A person's identity is decided by the person, so a person who participates in straight sexual behavior may still identify as a gay, lesbian or bisexual and vica versa. A person' sexual identity can change over the course of his/her life. 

Sexual Orientation: a term used to describe who someone is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight all describe different forms of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation isn't just about how someone has sex with. A more accurate phrase may be "emotional orientation" or "affectional orientation." But for now it is the common phrase. 

Transgender: a person who has a gender identity or gender expression different than their biological sex. It can include transsexuals, crossdressers, drag queens and kings, and people who are intersex, among many others.

Transsexual: Often used interchangeably with "transgender", thought there has been some controversy over this. This typically refers to someone who was born with a sex that they don't identify with and through hormones and possibly surgery they reconcile their gender identity and physical sex.  All transsexuals are transgender but not all transgender are transsexuals. 

Two Spirit:  Certain Native American cultures described trangender people as having "two spirits". Generally Two Spirited people were born into one sex but took on the gender roles of both sexes. Today some transgender people identify as "Two Spirit." 

(GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel (Free Spirit Publishing, 2003) Includes tips from people in national GLBTQ organizations, strategies and advice you can try or share about coming out, responding to homophobia, dating, staying healthy and more). 




DVD: Straightlaced: How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up:   by Ground Spark   www.groundspark.org/straightlaced (2009)  (67 min)

DVD: Let's Get Real: on bullying      by Ground Spark   excellent dvd to show youth  (35 minutes)

DVD: It's Elementary  It’s Elementary is the first film of its kind to address anti-gay prejudice by providing adults with practical lessons on how to talk with kids about gay people. Hailed as "a model of intelligent directing," It’s Elementary shows that children are eager and able to wrestle with stereotypes and absorb new facts about what it means to be gay or lesbian.  (also by GroundSpark)   45 minutes


"When a young person first comes out as GLBT his or her experience can be anywhere from traumatic to supportive. Most of the time it can be a very difficult time for the youth, the family, friends, educators and others as well. Often, after coming out,  young people feel alienated or marginalized. One of the greatest dangers is that GLBT kids will become isolated and experience themselves as separate from (mainstream) society".  

"We must create a home for our GLBT youth. This home is an inner and outer dwelling where life is understood and respected in a safe place within mainstream culture."

The above words taken from Linda Goldman's wonderful book:  Coming Out, Coming In: Nurturing the Well Being and Inclusion of Gay Youth in Mainstream Society.  Linda Goldman is an author of many books on grief, loss, suicide and bullying. Linda is a teacher, school counselor, private therapist, educator and parent of a gay young person so her perspective on youth today is a broad one. I highly recommend this book.


Books for Teens and Young People:

ON GLBT Issues:


Man in the Middle: by J. Amaechi (2007). This is the story of the first openly gay professional basketball player.


Free Your Mind: The book for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth and their allies. (1996) by E.Bass and K. Kaufman


Outstanding Lives by C. Brelin and M.Tyrkus 91997)  This is a profile of lesbian and gay men and their contributions to society

Two Teenagers in Twenty: Writings by Gay and Lesbian Youth. by A. Heron (1994)  Teens tell their GLBT recognition and disclosure with friends and family.


GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens (2003)  by K. Huegel   Book represents GLBTQ questions, resources and tips


Stitches by G. Huser (2003)   Travis is a sensitive teenage boy teased and bullied by many at school. There is no undercurrent throughout the story that he is attracted to other boys.


Here's What We'll Say: by R. Lehmkuhl   Book shares a story of growing up, coming out and being gay in the US Air Force Academy


Does your mama know? An anthology of black lesbian coming out stories. by L Moore.  (1998)  A series of stories, poems, interviews and essays for high school students depicting the coming out of African American youth.


Parenting LGBT Children


Bernstein, R  Straight parents, gay children: Keeping families together.  (2003) Excellent resource for parents of LGBT children.

DeGeneres, B (1999) Love, Ellen  A mother's story of loving her child and sharing her lesbian daughter's journey after disclosure

Dew,R (1994) The Family Heart: A memoir of when our son came out   This is a compelling story of a parent's journey of learning of their child's homosexuality and depression. Their journey evolved with support and love.

Jennings, K (2003) Always My Child.  Excellent book and honestly informative guide for parents in understanding their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning son or daughter. Keven explains the world children encounter and the sexual identity issues many deal with. 

Since today, April 16th is the National Day of Silence  (On the National Day of Silence hundreds of thousands of students nationwide take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools.) I thought it would be a good day to provide some information about Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Issues.


: www.pflag.org (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays)


www.http://familyproject.sfsu.edu   (Family Acceptance Project)

GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network: www.glsen.org

COLAGE: Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere www.colage.org

Gay Straight Alliance Network: www.gsanetwork.org

Teaching Tolerance: www.tolerance.org

Family Pride Coalition: www.familypride.org

FOR Bisexual Youth:

BiNetUSA: www.binetusa.org

Bisexual Resource Center: www.biresource.org

FOR Transgender Youth:

Gender Education and Advocacy: GEA: www.gender.org

The International Foundation for Gender Education: IFGE: www.ifge.org


Gay and Lesbian National Hotline: www.glnh.org 1-888-643-GLNH

National AIDS Hotline: 1-800-342-AIDS

National Gay and Lesbian Youth Hotline: 1-800-347-TEEN

National Mental Health Association Crisis Line:

Sexually Transmitted Diseases:

SUICIDE Hotline:
1-800-SUICIDE 24/7

Crisis Intervention for Lesbian, Gay , Bisexual and Transgender Youth:

www.griefspeaks.com       lisa@griefspeaks.com     (973) 912-0177    Follow Grief Speaks on Twitter & Facebook