Exploring Identities

Exploring Identities

Everyone has intersecting identities. Everyone has an identity or lived experience that is influenced by their racial/ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religious/faith tradition, family structure, geographic origin, socioeconomic status, and ability/disability.  For people coming out with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression this emerging identity may be perceived as conflicting or mutually exclusive of these other aspects of identity (e.g., between sexual orientation and spiritual beliefs).

People often seek out community based on identities that influence their lived experiences. It may be challenging for people who hold multiple marginalized identities to find community.

For example LGBTIQA+ identified folks may find community in LGBTIQA+ organizations but if an organization is not inclusive in terms of people who are not white, then an LGBTIQA+ person who is Asian or African American may not feel welcomed.  However, those same people may not feel welcomed in a predominantly Asian or African American community if that community is not inclusive of people who are LGBTIQA+ identified.

It is always best to give resources that are  specific to the needs and/or identities that a person says are important to them. Resources are not necessarily “one-size-fits-all." When giving resources, be mindful of intersecting identities.

Coming Out is a phrase used to describe the processes that someone goes through when they are recognizing their identity as LGBTQA, Two Spirit, or Same Gender Loving. It is also used to denote telling other people about one's identity. Coming out is a lifelong process although most people have an initial phase where they are first coming out to themselves. There have been several developmental models created to describe the coming out process (see articles in right column).

There are many different stances held by various religious communities. Some are supporting of people who identify as LGBTIQA+ and welcome them without reservation into their churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or communities while other groups do not or do so under specific conditions.

Different cultures across time and around the world have conceptualized gender identity, gender expression differently. Currently transgender is a broad term that refers to people who experience their gender identity or express their gender in ways that do not conform to societal expectations based on the gender or sex they were assigned sex at birth. 

Bisexual, Pansexual, or Omnisexual are terms used to by some to self-identitify that they are attracted to and may form sexual and romantic relationships with someone regardless of that person's gender-identity or genitalia. There is less research about developmental issues for this community. It is assumed that they experience many of the same issues as gay and lesbian persons. However, there are some issues unique to their experiences.

Intersex is a general term used to refer to individuals born with, or who develop naturally in puberty, biological sex characteristics which are not typically male or female.  That is, a person with an intersex condition is born with sex chromosomes, external genitalia, or an internal reproductive system that is not considered typical for a male or female.

When people are both persons of color and LGBTIQA+ identified or same-gender loving they may feel that only one part of their identity can be primary.  Often, LGBTIQA+ identified or same gender loving people of color feel pulled by each of their cultures to primarily identify with one culture.  Because LGBTIQA+ identity is often not visible to others, it is easy to deny or ignore that aspect of self.  For many it is difficult to strike a balance that allows them to be empowered and liberated in all of their identities.  Multiple oppressions affect their lives because:

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2010, 51.5 million people over the age of 15 (21.3 percent) had some level of disability and 35.6 million (14.8 percent) had a severe disability. Sometimes disabilities are visible (e.g., use of a wheelchair for mobility, use of a guide dog or cane to navigate the environment, use of a speech board to facilitate communication). Often though disabilities are not visible (e.g., learning disability, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis).

Asexual A term used to describe someone who does not experience sexual attraction toward individuals of any gender. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, and is different from celibacy, in that celibacy is the choice to refrain from engaging in sexual behaviors and does not comment on one’s sexual attractions. An asexual individual may choose to engage in sexual behaviors for various reasons even while not experiencing sexual attraction. Asexuality is an identity and sexual orientation; it is not a medical condition.