Sexual and Gender Identity
Being a college student is an exciting time in life. It is a time to learn, to grow, to make new friends, and to have new experiences. It is also a time of unique challenges. Although societal norms are changing bringing about more acceptance of sexual diversity, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Community (referred to as LGBTQ) still face many more pressures than do their peers at college.
Ordinary college pressures (roommates, academics, finances) can be exacerbated by some or all of the issues these students may face:
- The process of developing both an authentic gender and sexual identity
- The stress of coming out
- Lack of experience in dating, being sexual, and achieving intimacy
- Grieving the loss of membership in the “majority” culture and entry into a stigmatized group
- The experience of being a minority without others knowing
- Potential lack of peer support and isolation
- Lack of family support or modeling to help them deal with their identity and relationships
- Sexual health questions and issues
While many students find ways to successfully navigate these challenges, some may be in the early stages of coming out to themselves, and when they do come out, they may fear being rejected by those they love. Students who grew up in an unsupportive atmosphere may have internalized society’s homophobic messages causing them to feel negatively about themselves and rejected. This could lead to anxiety, depression, and inability to accept who they are. This may create difficulty in navigating the university experience, including interactions with straight classmates. Although this coming out journey can be arduous, it can also be exciting and rewarding.
If you are going through any of these issues, you don’t have to do it alone. You can reach out to supportive people and LGBT-friendly organizations. You may also find that counseling can be a positive tool in facing issues related to your LGBT identity by helping you develop new understanding, self-acceptance, and problem solving skills. At Counseling Services, we consider ourselves to be an ally of LGBT students, and we affirm your value and importance to our campus and larger community.
Do not hesitate to contact the Office of Counseling Services to set up an appointment to discuss any issue.
What is LGBTQ+?
- L: Lesbian. Women attracted to women
- G: Gay. Men attracted to men
- B: Bisexual. People attracted to both gendersT: Transgender. People whose interior sense of gender is different than their exterior physical sexuality, whether male to female (MTF) or female to male (FTM)
- Q: Queer. People who don’t want to label themselves by their sex acts but do want to claim being different. Reclaimed from an old hate term, “Queer” can also be highly offensive, depending on usage
- Q: Questioning. People still working out who they are attracted to, often applicable to the young
- I: Intersex. People born into bodies that are not definitively male or female, including those born with ambiguous genitalia, bits of both male and female reproductive organs, or genetics beyond the standard XX and XY (also known as hermaphrodite)
- A: Asexual. People who are emotionally affectionate but are not interested in sexual activities
- A: Allies. Someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexual and gender-straight privilege in themselves and others; a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people; a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social
- P: Pansexual. People attracted to others more by individual personality, differing from bisexuality in that they ignore the gender binary altogether
Suggestions for Working with LGBTQ Students
- Don’t be surprised when someone comes out to you.
- Respect confidentiality. It is imperative that you can be trusted.
- Be informed. Most of us are products of a homophobic society. It is important that you are aware of the needs of gay, lesbian and bisexual students.
- Examine your own biases. If you are uncomfortable with dealing with the issue, and know that you are unable to be open and accepting, you need to refer the student to someone else.
- Know when and where to seek help. Know all available resources. PFLAG (Parents and friends of Lesbians and Gays).
- Maintain a balanced perspective. Sexual thoughts and feelings are only a small (but important) part of a person’s self.
- Understand the meaning of “sexual orientation.” Each person’s sexual orientation is natural to that person.
- Deal with feelings first. You can be helpful by just listening and allowing a LGBTQ student the opportunity to vent feelings.
- Help, but don’t force. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals need to move at the pace he or she feels most comfortable with.
- Be supportive. Share with them that this is a normal and common challenge for others.
- Don’t make assumptions about others’ sexual identity.
- Challenge bigoted remarks and jokes. Be an ally for the community.
Things You Should Know as an Ally
1. Awareness: Explore how you are different from and similar to gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Gain this awareness through talking with gay, lesbian and bisexual people, attending workshops and self-examination
2. Knowledge/Education: Begin to understand policies, laws and practices and how they affect gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Educate yourself on the many communities and cultures of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
3. Skills: This is an area which is difficult for many people. You must learn to take your awareness and knowledge and communicate it to others. You can acquire these skills by attending workshops, role-playing with friends or peers, and developing support connections.
4. Support: Help others understand more about LGBTQ experiences. Support fairness and justice for everyone. Make the world a safer place.
5. Action: This is the most important and frightening step. Despite the fear, action is the only way to effect change in the society as a whole.
Five Other Points to Keep in Mind
1. Have a good understanding of sexual orientation and be comfortable with your own.
2. Be aware of the coming-out process and realize that it is not a one-time event. The coming-out process is unique to the LGBQT+ community and brings challenges that are not often understood.
3. Understand that the LGBTQ+ community experiences stereotypes and negative messages from society. It is important to recognize the risks of coming out and to challenge oppression.
4. Remember that the LGBTQ+ community is a diverse group. Each member of the community has unique needs and goals.
5. Learn basic information about sexual health in order to address myths and misinformation, and to be supportive of those affected by a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) directly or indirectly. While AIDS/HIV is a health issue for all, members of the LGBTQ+ community may live with fear due to stereotypes and misinformation.
Visit our Helpful Resources page for more information on LGBTQ+ and sexuality issues.