Sexual orientation: Some people say “sexuality” when they mean “sexual orientation,” as in, “What’s your sexuality?” What they may mean is “Who are you attracted to?” and that can be a very complicated question. Generally, the person asking the question expects one of four answers: that you’re straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. But there are lots of answers, and while some are a little less common, none are wrong.
Straight or Heterosexual: These mean the same thing – a sexual and romantic attraction to people of the “opposite” or different gender from yourself (example: a woman attracted to men). Hetero- is a prefix meaning “other,” “different.” Straight is slang for heterosexual. But gender is much more complex than just “man” vs. “woman.”
Homosexual or Queer*: Homo- is a prefix meaning “same,” and so homosexual means a sexual and romantic attraction to people of the same gender as yourself (example: a boy who likes boys). The word queer was originally used to insult homosexual people, but now many people call themselves queer as a way of reclaiming the word from its negative meaning. It’s a symbol of pride or power instead of shame. Queer is also used to describe folks who are attracted to a wide variety of people, and not necessarily based on gender. Some people are more comfortable using the word queer (instead of lesbian, for example) because it doesn’t restrict gender.
Lesbian or Dyke*: Historically, “lesbian” meant a woman who is attracted to/has relationships with other women. The word dyke, like queer, used to be an insult but is now used in a positive way, mostly by younger homosexual women. Boudicca (pronounced boo-dyke-ah) was a Celtic queen who organized a revolt against the Roman Empire in 67 A.D. Since Boudicca was a powerful woman, many lesbians feel empowered by the label dyke.
Gay or Fag*: The word gay is sometimes used as a label for all homosexual people, but more specifically it means a man who is attracted to/has relationships with other men. Like queer and dyke, fag was originally an insult but has recently been reclaimed. These days, many younger gay men call themselves fags in a completely positive way.
Bisexual: Being bisexual is a sexual orientation all on its own. It means a sexual and romantic attraction to people of both genders. Sometimes bisexuals use the word queer to describe themselves. Heterosexual and homosexual people often harass bisexual people because they don’t fit into one box or the other. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that there are other options besides being born straight or gay.
Some myths about bisexuals: 1) They just can’t make up their minds! 2) They’re obsessed with sex and want to have sex with everyone all the time! Neither is true. It’s possible to be attracted to both women and men, maybe at different times in one’s lifetime, or maybe all the time. And it certainly isn’t wrong!
Pansexual: This word means something very similar to bisexual, but without dividing people into two sexes or genders. The prefix bi- means two, but the prefix pan- means all – pansexuals are attracted to/seek out relationships with folks of all genders.
PSST… An important note about saying “queer”, “dyke” or “fag”: these labels are still offensive and hurtful to many people, so it’s REALLY important not to use them unless you’re CERTAIN that the person you’re referring to is okay with you using the label in that particular situation. Many people aren’t cool with these labels at all and others are only comfortable with them in certain situations. It’s simple respect to avoid unwanted or offensive labels.
All this information and more can be found in our awesome Peer Education Manual.