This is the age of gender and sexuality! Finally, after years and years of being silenced, hidden, and taboo, the complicated issues surrounding gender and sexuality are coming alive and rising up like never before in our history. You can turn on any television in your house and see gender identity and sexual orientation (and its many battles for acceptance in society) being discussed, fought over, and even represented in the media. This is the beginning of what could be the golden age of authenticity. Often we hear the voices from the LGBTQIA community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual) speak out about this fight for authenticity in this war for rights and acceptance. But let’s really talk about it! Sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental parts of who we are. They are members of the identity categories that we, as humans, define ourselves by and use to find like-communities in which we can feel understood.
With people like Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, and Ruby Rose from Orange is the New Black demonstrating a more fluid scale of gender instead of a binary black or white (or orange?) box for gender, we are seeing more and more representation of different genders and sexual orientation in popular media. Why is this representation in the media so important? Ruby Rose has been quoted “She’s not the only androgynous girl on the show, but she’s the only person who really identifies publicly as being “gender fluid.” People are talking about gender fluidity more and more now because once someone opens a door to something like that; people put their hands up and say, “That’s me! That’s my friend! That’s my sister! That’s my mom!” Another star, Miley Cyrus, recently came out as identifying as gender fluid as well. Gender fluidity is still a difficult concept for most people to understand and it definitely still has a long way before society decides to make room for something it doesn’t quite understand yet. Before, people’s concepts of sexuality included two categories (men and women, straight and homosexual), throughout the years this binary has been expanded to include more of the human sexual/identity experience. No longer is someone defined as just the gender assigned at birth or whether they were attracted to the same sex or opposite sex, people are much more complicated and unique than ever before.
Sexuality research over the last 20 years has turned these classic binary ideas on their heads. While these assumptions may be true for most people, it is not true for all. Alfred Kinsey and his controversial exploration of sexuality developed an orientation continuum, while modern revelations have posed that gender is also on a continuum and that people can move freely along them. Keep in mind that the research does not “prove” that gender and sexuality are fluid, but that it can be. This gender fluidity can be defined by feeling as though you don’t belong on either end of the spectrum which you don’t fit into society’s pre-approved boxes of gender. Ruby Rose in OITNB defines her experience with gender fluid identification as, “There’s a line in OITNB where Stella is making fun of Piper, saying like “Ugh. Women—can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” Piper’s like, “What? You don’t consider yourself to be a woman?” Stella says, “I do, but that’s only because my options are limited.” Studies have shown that these feelings are not uncommon. The more we can learn to understand the spectrum of identity and orientation, the more society will have to change or adapt, and for some this might be a long and arduous road. While the studies show that gender and sexuality can be fluid, it does not mean that coming out as LGBTQIA is “a phase” or reversible. It does not mean that sexual orientations are a choice, or that you can be changed into a heterosexual if you put in “enough effort” or vice versa, it just means that many people experience a stable sexual orientation or gender identity, but also that many do not…and that is normal too.
When therapists or professionals work with clients of any sexual orientation, it is imperative that they are up to date on their knowledge of sexuality issues, that our work should not be based on outdated information, and we should be working from the paradigm that gender and sexuality can be fluid, behavior/desire/identity/orientation may not be congruent with one another, and that what used to be the concept of “normal” sexuality has changed. If you or a friend are struggling with sexuality issues, a knowledgeable therapist or professional could help you feel understood and can help you work through any issues you may be experiencing.