A Few Things Writers Need To Know About Sexuality & Gender Expression

Things that people desperately need to know and remember about sexuality and gender expression, particularly when writing gender and sexual minorities.

About Sexuality

First and foremost, non-straightness is not a personality trait any more than straightness is a personality trait. Yes, some non-straight individuals have some "stereotypical" traits and tastes, but there's just as much variety among non-straight people as there is with anyone else. Just as there are straight women who have short hair and wear biker jackets, there are non-straight women who have long hair and wear skirts. Just as there are straight men who enjoy musicals, there are non-straight men who enjoy hunting.

Non-straight people are not inherently more lustful or obsessed with sex than straight people, either. Being non-straight does not mean that every member of the same sex is attractive, or that a non-straight person wants to or is willing to have sex with every member of the same sex. And in this vein, many folks have a misconception that bisexual and pansexual people are "greedy" or are so lusty that they just want to have sex with anyone and everyone. In reality, bisexual people just happen to find both men and women attractive. It does not follow that they want to have sex with anyone and everyone any more than a straight person wants to have sex with every member of the opposite sex. Just like straight James might find Alice and Maggie attractive but not Lucy, bisexual Alice might be attracted to Maggie and Ralph but not James, and pansexual Ralph might be attracted to Lucy and James but not Maggie.

And then there are a few other facets of sexuality that are also frequently overlooked. There is asexuality - a lack of sexual desire toward anyone at all. Now, a lack of sexual desire does not necessarily mean a lack of romantic desire - many asexual people still enjoy hugging, kissing, dating, and all that - they simply do not desire sex. (And some of them don't necessarily mind having it, but others find the thought of it completely repulsive.) Some people don't experience the primary sexual attraction that others feel while in the infatuation stage of a relationship, but instead only feel it after an emotional bond is formed. This is often referred to as demisexuality. It's not simply a matter of being a prude or being "virtuous" - it's simply a lack of sexual desire until an emotional bond is formed.

About Gender Expression & Identity

Sometimes, a person's mental sex is different from xir physical sex*. Such a person is referred to as transgender. For example, someone can have a body with "female" sex organs but a male mind, or a body with "male" sex organs and a female mind. Depending upon the person, being treated or attempting to act as their physical, rather than mental gender can be highly stressful, leading to serious emotional distress and even depression. Some have difficulty existing in a body with a physical gender dissonant with their mental gender - this is known as gender dysphoria. Those who experience it may opt for surgery or hormone treatment to bring their bodies more in line with their minds.

Of course, a person's mental gender - also known "gender identity" - can land anywhere on a spectrum. Some individuals don't really feel themselves to be any gender at all or belong to a gender outside of the male/female binary, and some individuals report that their gender identity fluctuates - sometimes they are mentally more female, but other times male, or even sometimes something else.

Gender identity is also separate from one's sexual orientation - EG, someone with a "female" body who identifies as a man isn't simply a "super-lesbian" who "just wants to be a man." Nor is this person a "lesbian in denial." In fact, a trans man may be exclusively attracted to men - in which case, you have a gay trans man.

A transgender person is not simply a cross-dresser - a cross-dresser simply enjoys dressing in the other sex's clothing, but does not actually identify as the other sex.

*Or, "assigned female/male at birth" (AFAB/AMAB). Some people feel that physical attributes (eg, genitalia) should not be labeled "male" or "female" as such at all. And while it's arguably convenient to label things "male" and "female" when talking strictly physical biology, when it comes to respecting people's gender identities it's a rather different kettle of fish. (And to refer to, say, a trans woman as "biologically male" is definitely a faux pas.) Either way, trans folks really don't appreciate people using their body parts as the sole and only indicator of their gender.

See also:

Basic Tips To Avoid Tokenism
Basic Tips To Write Subcultures & Minority Religions Better

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