The ‘sexuality’ of a person refers to their attraction towards particular sexual partners and activities, and their personal expressions of sexual desire and ful llment. For the purposes of this guide, ‘sexuality’ will be used as a synonym for ‘sexual orientation’, to refer to the romantic, spiritual, sexual and personal attraction a person feels toward a particular gender or genders.
A person’s sexual orientation often impacts on the way they socialise, their friendship groups, and the way they relate to their friends and family. Heterosexuality needs little clarification. Same-sex attraction applies to women who love women, men who love men, and to transgender people as well.
The term ‘lesbian’ refers to women whose long- term sexual, romantic and personal attraction
is exclusively to other women. Many women who pursue relationships with other women will identify as lesbian and may have varying degrees of involvement with lesbian communities and ‘scenes’, for example, engagement with queer media or attending lesbian venues/events. However, sexual behavior does not always match sexual identity. For example, a woman who has sex with women may not identify as lesbian or bisexual, and may have been, or still be, married or otherwise in a committed relationship with a man.
Increasing numbers of lesbians are forming families within same-sex relationships, leading
to increased need for legal advice and family support services, and in uencing their interaction with institutions such as schools, healthcare providers and Centrelink. Many lesbians are open about living in a legally recognised same- sex relationship and may require support accessing nancial and social services now available to same-sex couples.
The term ‘gay’ is used in this context to refer to men who are exclusively attracted to other men. Many men who pursue romantic and sexual relationships with other men will identify as gay and may have varying degrees of involvement with gay communities and ‘scenes’, for example, engagement with gay media or attending gay venues/events. However, sexual behavior does not always match sexual identity. For example, a man who has sex with men may not identify as gay or bisexual, and he may have been, or still be, married or otherwise in a committed relationship with a woman.
Although examples of gay male culture are widely represented in mainstream media and discourse, there are many expressions of gay identity and a diverse range of gay subcultures and scenes. These subcultures often have their own unique vernacular, styles of dress, and social structures; but, even men who adopt a more generic ‘gay’ identity will have their own personal style, interests, experiences and perspectives. It is important not to make assumptions about an individual gay man based on stereotypes drawn from media or broader commercial gay culture.
Increasing numbers of gay men are forming families or becoming sperm donors, leading
to increased need for legal advice and family support services. As with lesbians, many gay men are becoming more open about living in a legally recognised same-sex relationship and may require support accessing financial and social services now available to same- sex couples.
The term ‘bisexual’ is one of several terms used to refer to people who express sexual attraction to more than one gender. While often being the largest self-identi ed sub-population group within LGBTIQ communities, “bisexuals experience high rates of being ignored, discriminated against, demonised or rendered invisible by both the heterosexual world and lesbian and gay communities”4.
Many bisexuals face not only homophobia and biphobia from the ‘straight’ world, but also a distrust and lack of acceptance within LGBTIQ spaces. For this reason some people may not express a public bisexual persona regardless of their behavior or desires, particularly if they are in a committed relationship with a long-term partner.
Bisexual people who are active in gay or lesbian communities may not be outspoken about
their bisexuality, and may instead allow people to assume that they are gay or a lesbian. For this reason it is important not to assume that a person in a same-sex relationship is gay or a lesbian, or that a person in an opposite- sex relationship is heterosexual. Bisexual people form and maintain monogamous relationships just as people who are attracted exclusively to one sex do, and may lead a life largely indistinguishable from a heterosexual, gay or lesbian couple. Bisexual people form relationships with other bisexuals, and also with people exclusively attracted to one gender.
Negative stereotypes of bisexual people, such as being promiscuous, uncommitted, or ‘going through a phase’ arise from the lack of acceptance of bisexuality as a legitimate sexuality. Some people will go so far as to insist that bisexuals do not exist, or that anyone claiming to be bisexual has not come to terms with their true sexual identity. Likewise, many historic gures that were sexually or romantically involved with more than one gender are nevertheless considered ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ in popular discussion. This failure to recognise the existence of bisexuality is referred to as ‘bisexual erasure’ or ‘bisexual invisibility’.
Many people who exhibit bisexual behavior patterns or desires do not describe themselves using the term ‘bisexual’. This may be for any number of reasons: they may wish to avoid the negative connotations associated with a bisexual identity; they may feel that the term denotes an exact balance in desire between men and women; or, they may believe that the prefix ‘bi’ perpetuates the idea of a gender binary.
Many gender diverse people spend years coming-out to themselves. Then follows the difficult task of coming out to families and friends. Gender identity, at least initially, occupies most of the thinking of transgender people early on. After coming out to themselves, their families and friends, eventually the subject of sexuality begins to be addressed.
Following the titanic struggle in coming out as gender diverse, many transgender people finds themselves having a double struggle to deal with. A female-to-male (FTM) transgender man who is attracted to other men sometimes is resistant to the idea that they are gay. A male-to-female (MTF) transgender woman who is sexually attracted to other women is lesbian. This is true because the very foundation of identity of fully transitioned transgender people is that their true sexuality was and is not congruent with their assigned sex. A MTF transgender man is a man and a FTM transgender female is a woman. Whether or not that they are same-sex attracted is dependent on this, often long fought for, distinction.
Some fully transitioned transgender people have been heard to say that (in the example of a FTM speaking of his already existing marriage) “I am not gay, because I am heterosexual and my wife is not a lesbian. On the hand others transgender people have found peace in accepting that just because it now turns out that they are same-sex attracted and married to a heterosexual partner, that this does not make the relationship ‘queer’ or that their partner is lesbian/ gay.
Equally, a transgender person who begins to discern that they are attracted to someone of the opposite sex does not make them gay or lesbian, but heterosexual. For example, a MTF transgender woman attracted to men is heterosexual, not gay. A FTM transgender man sexually attracted to women is equally heterosexual, not lesbian.
No matter where you are in all of this mix, please remember it takes times to adjust and accept these changing sense of self-idenity. For some the process may only take months, while for others it may take the remainder of their lives.