Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Huh? What Does “Mostly Heterosexual?” Mean?

New Term Coined

On April 1, 2014, I wrote a blog entitled “Primer for Straight Parents: Not Your Mother’s Dictionary of Terms!” about various definitions for sexual orientation.  Just when you thought you had all the terms down pat, here comes another one, less clear-cut.

A well-known Cornell University professor of Clinical and Developmental Psychology, Ritch Savin-Williams, Ph.D., has a new term “mostly heterosexual.” According to this Chair of the Department of Human Development at Cornell and consultant to magazines and television talk shows, this new category is one that many heterosexuals experience.

What is “Mostly Heterosexual?”

Mostly heterosexuals are people who are usually attracted to and are sexually involved with the opposite gender, but may also experience attraction to and romantic feelings for people of the same gender from time-to-time. Even as far back as 2010, Savin-Williams was quoted in a New York Times article about sexuality as saying “that his current research reveals that the fastest-growing group along the sexuality continuum are men who self-identify as mostly straight” as opposed to labels like straight, gay or bisexual.  They acknowledge some level of attraction to other men even as they say that they probably won’t act on it but...the right day, a few beers and who knows...”

Kinsey’s Model

Kinsey’s Sexual Continuum scale divided people into categories: 0-1 as heterosexual, 2-4 as bisexual, and 5-6 as gay/lesbian.  Very little research heretofore had been done on people who place themselves in the 0-1 group.  What if your feelings can’t be easily characterized?  You can be heterosexual, but still have feelings for the same-sex? Then maybe you’re mostly heterosexual.

Savin-Williams and his graduate student Zhana Vrangalova described four major research findings about this group:
  • ·      They have a distinct pattern of attractions and are more likely than exclusively heterosexuals to have same-sex behavior
  • ·      They are well-represented in the population.
  • ·      Their “mostly heterosexual” orientation was relatively stable over time and
  • ·      This label was subjectively meaningful to those who adopted it.

Profile of A “Mostly Heterosexual”

  • ·      Study found that mostly heterosexuals were more same-sex oriented than heterosexuals, but less so than bisexuals in terms of sexual attractions, fantasies and behavior.
  • ·      True across ages and for both men and women
  • ·      Effect was larger for sexual attraction than for same-sex behavior.

Population of Mostly Heterosexual

  • ·      Researchers looked at data from 21 studies (from 6 counties) and found that there were rates about 7.6 -9.5% for women and 3.6-4.1) for men.
  • ·      Very large surveys are needed.

This Is Not A Phase!

  • ·      From early adolescence through adulthood, about half of those who initially identified as mostly heterosexual in adolescence will still identify that way in adulthood. 
  • ·      This stability was lower than for a heterosexual identity but higher than for a bisexual identity.

Savin-Williams, Director of the Sex and Gender Lab at Cornell, has been researching adolescent sexuality, specializing in gay, lesbian, and bisexuality, since 1983.  He is the author of Mom, Dad, I’m Gay: How Families Negotiate Coming Out (2001)” and The New Gay Teenager (2005) and contends that there is a blurring of sexual identity, especially among youth. They do not want to be pigeonholed in a distinct category like heterosexual, bisexual or gay and are reluctant to define their sexuality- a distinction that probably wouldn’t have occurred thirty years ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holiday No-Nos for Straight Parents

Easter/Passover is a wonderful family holiday.  Health experts advise that while you’re gathered around for carrots, lamb/ham, amid the tulips and colored eggs, that you ask your relatives about their inherited diseases so you can properly fill out those long medical questionnaires and know what to look out for with your own health.  Did Uncle Ed die of cancer?  Does cousin George have diabetes?  Did Granny Smith have heart disease?

Subject Verboten, For Now

However, one topic that is off limits in a group setting is your daughter’s or son’s sexual orientation.  Even if you are bursting to divulge the news or feel that if you don’t tell, you must be ashamed and are harboring a “dirty little” family secret, now is not the appropriate time to break the earth-shattering news.  Just like you, relatives have to go through a process of adjustment.  They also need space and support to digest this information. 

One Instance Where The Child Should Be The Boss

Your child should be the one who decides whom to tell, when to tell them, and if he should be the only one to “come out” or does he want you both to reveal his or her orientation?  Kevin Jennings, Ph.D., author of Always My Child (Simon & Schuster, 2003) suggests that you “respect where your child is in her/his process “(different stages most gay and lesbian kids go through such as denial, fear, shame, loss, guilt, to arrive at acceptance).

You can surmise how your relatives are going to react by how close that family member is to your child and is he savvy about LGBTQ issues?  Is Aunt Susie open to diversity and what are her attitudes about homosexuality? Hopefully, the relative’s unconditional love for your child will outweigh the initial jolt.

Make A List and Check It Twice

Jennings uses the following criteria for deciding whom to tell out of the close family members:
·      Evaluate your child’s relationship with so & so and your own.
·      How often does your daughter or son see her?
·      What is the nature of the relationship?
·      Would you feel dishonest not sharing something so important with your sister?
·      Be clear about your motives for making the disclosure.

Location, Location, Location

It’s important to pick a private place for this important discussion. Choose a time to talk when you won’t be interrupted. Anticipate questions.

“Begin The Way You Mean To Go”

It makes sense to begin “there’s something I want to tell you.” Leave time for questions and keep the door open for further discussions. Remember that you are a family who is working toward the same goal: to love and support one another,  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Silence Can Be More Powerful Than Words

Shhhhh... Day of Silence

GLSEN, Inc., the Gay, Lesbian,& Straight Education Network, since 1996, has been holding a Day of Silence yearly. This year, its Day of Silence is on April 11. With over 8,000 schools participating, students, out of the classroom, take a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.

The Day of Silence is the largest student-led action for creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.  GLSEN is responsible for supplying safe space kits as well as information on how to set up GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) in K-12 schools.  If a school is resistant to having a Day of Silence, there is even a site to click on at http://www.dayofsilence.org to get assistance.

Takin’ It To the Streets

For the first time, GLSEN is taking its Day of Silence to the streets.  This year, over one hundred twenty-five middle, high school and college students from 34 states have been taking the message not only to schools, but out into the communities and on line that bullying is not acceptable.  Since March, Street Teamers have been sharing their experiences with bullying and how the Day of Silence helped them overcome challenges that they and other LGBT students face.

Four LGBT students tell their stories, either in writing, or verbally, of how they were harassed and how the Day of Silence changed their lives.  One student urges others to participate in the Day of Silence for your selves while another urges “silence for people who don’t have a voice.” To see the videos, go to http://glsen.org/article/day-silence-street-team.

Whether you are a teacher, student, parent, be an ally by participating in this day of silence that calls attention to the unfair treatment of GLBT people, you will make a GLBT person feel more accepted.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Primer for Straight Parents: Not Your Mother’s Dictionary of Terms!

Labels Explained:

Saturday night, my husband and I watched “Dallas Buyer’s Club”(he for the first time, I for the second).  When actor Jared Leto makes his first appearance in the movie, my husband says “Rayon’s a transsexual, isn’t he? “ I say “Yep, he’s a transgender.” Hubby remarks “isn’t that the same thing?”

This had me wondering.  To solve the riddle, I went to the website of Human Rights Campaign ‘s website that has resources. Here’s what I found:

Transgender is an umbrella term that includes people who are trans-sexual, cross-dressers or otherwise gender non-conforming.
A transsexual has changed or is in the process of changing his or her physical and or legal sex to conform to his or her internal sense of gender identity.  Thus, Rayon is both a transgender and a transsexual.  The term can also be used to describe people who, without undergoing medical treatment identify and live their lives full time as a member and of gender opposite to their birth sex.  Rayon was undergoing treatment to transition from male to female or MTF before he died of HIV. Female transsexuals who transition to males are considered men or FTM.

What Other Terms Should Parent Know?

With so many labels for a generation that doesn’t want to be labelled, it’s hard to know what the alphabet stands for anymore.  Polite words like homosexuals, now sound stilted, are seldom used today except by Fox News.  Queer, once considered a slur is now being used by the LGBT community as a positive or neutral descriptive of each other, as is “butch” or “dyke” for lesbians whose behavior is judged by society to be masculine.

A lesbian who prefers to dress feminine, likes fashion, makeup, and is attracted to a similar lesbian is called a lipstick lesbian. Is a lesbian technically called a gay?  Although homosexual men are called gay, many lesbians liked their own distinction or sub-group and prefer to be dubbed lesbian.

The Queer Alphabet

Asexual: It means you’re not attracted to anyone, and you do not experience sexual orientation.
Binary gender:  Society’s norm assigning gender to either male or female.
Bisexuality: It means that you are attracted to both men and women.  It does NOT mean that you can’t decide if you are gay or straight.
Boyfriend/girlfriend: If a gay or lesbian introduces you to his boyfriend or her girlfriend, the person is usually a significant other.
Cisgender: Any person who’s physical body matches their gender identity.
Cross-dresser: Previously known as transvestites, don’t associate with the LGBTQ community and don’t see themselves as anything but straight.  Think Robin Williams as a nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire or Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.
Drag Queen: They are not usually labeled as cross-dressers or transvestites. People that dress in drag tend to be gay such as RuPaul, the performance artist.  He has a long-standing boyfriend, a Montana rancher.
Gender Dysphoria or GID: A disorder classified by the American Psychiatric Association marked by severe distress and discomfort caused by conflict between one’s gender identity and one’s designated sex at birth.
Gender Identity:  Refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identity as male or female.
Inter-sex or inter-sexuality: Refers to some externally visible characteristics such as a combination of both male and female sexual organs.  It is estimated that intersexuality affects 1/5-2% of the population.
Pansexuality: Not limited or inhibited in sexual choice with regards to the gender of activity. It means all genders: boys, girls, gender queers, intersexed.
Partner: Significant other.  Could be a same-sex spouse too.  It’s wise to check first to see if the husband wants to be called a husband or wife.  It may be safe just to use the first name when addressing.
Questioning: It means you are undecided about being straight or gay.  You may be attracted to the same sex, but have not defined yourself as gay.  Maturity will give you the answer.
Sexual orientation: Different from sexual identity. It’s the physical or emotional attraction to same and/or opposite gender.
Third gender: It’s a gender identity.  Neither considered male or female whether by their will or by society. Third genders preferred to be referred to using gender-neutral pronouns such as one, ze, sie, hir or ey.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

With science’s new discoveries will come a slew of new terms.  Today’s slang will be outdated soon.  The Queer Alphabet will reflect these changes.