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We live in a beautiful time where sexual and gender identity are now limitless, and can be born out of authenticity and creativity. Diverse bodies are gaining full recognition and allowing for confidence in self-expression.
So I laugh when I hear people talk about “opposite genders,” because it’s impossible to catalogue all the various ways of identifying. Words like “man” and “woman” or “gay” and “hetero” no longer explain the complexity of sexual or gender identity. We are learning there are more than five sexes, multiple sexual orientations and hundreds of gender expressions.
A person can have two X chromosomes with ovaries and a uterus on the inside and also have a penis on the outside; some have a sexual orientation that is sexually fluid, bisexual, heteroflexible, asexual, solo sexual, fetish sexual or poly sexual; and life includes the genderfluid, agender, trans and non-binary.
None of that list is complete, and all of these are healthy and beautiful. Nature reflects all of this diversity as well, and thrives because of it. Only humans seem to struggle to accept that.
With all this emerging diverse embodiment comes great confusion and frustration for some, mostly around how to label others and which pronouns to use. But if you can remember others’ names, and all the players on your favorite sports team along with their stats, or all the lyrics to every Beyoncé song, then you can handle asking questions and honoring preferred pronouns and chosen labels.
It’s an act of compassion and respect.
So don’t fall into the trap of heteronormativity and homonormativity, which are social pressures to do sex and gender a certain way. It’s a trap that results in creative and diverse people attempting to be “just like everyone else,” where only those who mimic traditional norms survive.
Nor should you feel that a singular sex act, with a same-sex partner or otherwise, should define a person’s sexual identity or redefine their past, present and future. Everyone gets to self-define.
Here are 5 things to remember about sexual and gender identity:
1. You don’t have to choose.
If you feel comfortable with a solid, enduring and concrete identity, go for it. But that’s not required for your health, nor is it a reality for everyone. Feel free to identity with a blanket identity like “queer.” Exploration of sexual and gender identity is not only healthy; I encourage it.
2. You can create a new label.
Not everyone’s gender identity falls in line with their anatomy or with the binary of male and female. Much health sits outside identity, as there is no standard or universal “male/female” psychology, for instance. Sex and gender are not “either/or”; they are both and neither, and they often change.
3. You can change your mind.
Are we really “born this way?” Some are and some are not. Gender identity and sexuality are the synthesis and constellation of many different complex sources. Some identify as neither, none, other, all, or “ask me each morning.” And most importantly, it doesn’t matter!
Choosing an identity doesn’t mean having to keep that identity permanently. You can explore sexuality and gender endlessly. You can identify as hetero and engage in same-sex sexual exploration, just like you can call yourself “female” and present as non-binary or butch.
4. Find your community.
Sexual and gender minorities, like all minorities, often require association with identity labels to build community and need confidence from having social value reflected back from others. It’s important in building self-esteem, especially for minorities, to have a community around you that understands and values who you are. Find local friends and online groups, and surround yourself with social media that supports your identity.
5. You have a right to demand and expect respect.
Being sexually creative or gender-diverse is a sign of health, especially in our conformity-obsessed culture. The issues that come with being non-normative don’t mean something is wrong with you, but rather they reflect the major problems with a world that sees difference as a disorder.
What do you want people to know about your gender identity?
Dr. Chris Donaghue is a lecturer, therapist and host of the LoveLine podcast, a weekly expert on The Amber Rose Show, and a frequent co-host on TV series The Doctors. He authored Sex Outside the Lines and has been published in various journals and magazines, including The New York Times, Newsweek and National Geographic. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.