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Understanding LGBTQ+: Key Insights by an Ally

Discover the fundamental differences between sex and gender, the meanings behind the LGBTQ+ acronym, and a deeper dive into diverse gender identities.

I’m Alessia, an Italian living in Helsinki for the past three years and working at Schibsted as a Talent Acquisition Specialist. I identify as a cisgender straight woman (she/her) and passionately advocate for and support the LGBTQ+ community.

As a member of the Employee Resource Group (ERG) LGBTQ+ & Allies community at Schibsted, I’m committed to fostering inclusivity and understanding. When I received the invitation to join the core LGBTQ+ Employee Research team at Schibsted, I was thrilled. With a background in cultural psychology and anthropology, I felt prepared to contribute. However, as I attended the first meetings, I realized my knowledge was just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the complexities of LGBTQ+ issues.

Let me share with you some foundational notes I took during those initial weeks, which have been invaluable in my journey to becoming a better ally and understanding gender identity.

Sex vs. Gender: What’s the Difference?

Sex refers to the biological attributes of humans and animals, including physical features, chromosomes, and hormone levels typically classified as male, female, or intersex. These attributes are usually assigned at birth.

Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct and thus a broader and more complex concept. It encompasses the roles, behaviors, activities, expectations, and societal constructs surrounding what it means to be male, female, or other gender identities. Unlike biological sex, gender is influenced by cultural factors and can vary widely across different societies.

Understanding this distinction helped me appreciate why someone’s gender identity might not align with their assigned sex at birth, underscoring the importance of using respectful language and behavior toward everyone’s personal identity. With this foundation, I then explored what each letter in the LGBTQ+ acronym stands for and why it matters in our journey towards inclusivity.

What Does LGBTQ+ Stand For?

L – Lesbian: Women who are emotionally and romantically attracted to other women.
G – Gay: Individuals attracted to members of the same sex. While it can apply to any gender, it’s most commonly used to describe men.
B – Bisexual: People who can be attracted to more than one gender.
T – Transgender: Individuals whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
Q – Queer/Questioning: ‘Queer’ is a reclaimed term for flexibility beyond traditional labels. ‘Questioning’ refers to those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.
+ – Plus Sign: This stands for inclusiveness, covering identities not specifically included in the other letters, such as Intersex, Pansexual (attraction regardless of gender), Asexual (little or no sexual attraction), and many more.

A Deeper Dive into Identity

When I first began my journey into understanding the LGBTQ+ community, I realized I was only scratching the surface. From cultural anthropologists like Margaret Mead (an old acquaintance of my uni studies)to Gender Studies researchers like Gayle Rubin, the question of identity and gender has been largely deepened throughout the last century. To start with easy bits, here are some of the core insights that helped me start navigating it.

Non-binary and Genderqueer: Andrea explained that being non-binary means not fitting neatly into ‘male’ or ‘female’ categories, living outside these traditional boxes. Genderqueer is similar but goes further, challenging the very foundation of how we view gender.

Pansexual and Omnisexual: For those identifying as pansexual, attraction is about the person, not their gender. Omnisexuality is similar but acknowledges the gender of potential partners more explicitly.

Asexual Spectrum: Asexual or graysexual individuals rarely experience sexual attraction, which is not tied to a lack of emotion or connection.

Lastly, understanding intersectionality came from listening to stories from people navigating multiple aspects of their identity, such as cultural, racial, and sexual intersections. These layers bring unique joys and challenges that cannot be separated or ignored.

Building understanding

In conclusion, the best way to understand LGBTQ+ identities is through conversations with people within the community. Don’t be afraid to ask, explore, and actively listen. Books like “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson, documentaries, podcasts, and resources from organizations like GLAAD and The Trevor Project have also been invaluable in learning how to be a better ally.

By reading all the way down here, you’ve taken a great step in learning about the complexities and richness of LGBTQ+ identities. Keep exploring, asking questions and listening with empathy to continue building a more inclusive world. 💜