1. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LGBTQIAA?
L – Lesbian, G – Gay, B – Bisexual, T – Transgender, Q – Queer/Questioning, I – Intersex, A – Asexual, A – Ally. Some shorten it to just “LGBT”, others have “LGBTQQIA” opting to separate the categories of Queer and Questioning into distinct parts while eliminating the inclusion of Asexuals. Regardless of the acronym used, people belonging to this population are sexual minorities. Because majority of the world are heterosexuals (attracted to the OPPOSITE sex; for example, a man who is sexually and romantically attracted to a woman), cultural rules of behavior tend to either ostracize or blatantly attack those who do not have heterosexual tendencies. In many countries, being homosexual (attracted to the SAME sex; for example, a man who is sexually and romantically attracted to another man) is still punishable by law and even thought to be deserving of the death penalty. Under many international organizations related to mental health and human rights though, any act of attack against, or devaluation of the worth of members of the LGBTQIAA, constitute discrimination.
To delve more into the terminology, let’s start with the difference between sex and gender: SEX is the physical and biologically-determined part of your overall sexuality. This is seen obviously in the reproductive organs you are born with. GENDER is the social and accompanying psychological understanding of your identity as a sexual person. In almost every known society, there is gender division where women are supposed to act one way while men act another way. Gender is determined socially and culturally. Thus, if you are born with a penis, society expects you to act in one way as opposed to if you are born with a vagina. These expectations are also called GENDER ROLES.
“Lesbian” is actually a slang term for homosexual women. Homosexual women are women who are sexually and romantically attracted to other women. Another term for them is “gay women”. “Lesbian” was taken from the Greek island of Lesbos, and actually technically means anyone who is a resident of that island. It was also where the famous poetess Sappho lived. She was believed to be one of the first women to write love poetry for another woman, however, there have been scholarly challenges to this notion. There are no unifying characteristics such as appearance or manner of behaving among lesbians, just as any sexual minority cannot be generalized as having the same traits. There have been attempts in the past to categorize lesbians as “femme” (feminine acting and looking) and “butch” (masculine acting and looking). However, this limits the many variations of how homosexuality among females can manifest. Females, as a whole, have a more fluid sexual identity compared to men. This means that across the lifespan of a woman, it is more possible for them to shift sexual orientations back and forth. This is NOT a problem or disorder. It is a natural unfolding of discovery of one’s self.
“Gay” is a term usually intended for men who love other men but may be applied to any homosexual population. Nobody really knows how the term came about. Gay men, just like lesbian women, do not have a unifying set of characteristics beyond their attraction to other men. There have been effeminate gay men and masculine gay men, but these categorizations do not apply to everyone in the gay community. There are other men who are termed “MSM” or men who have sex with other men, but consider themselves to be heterosexual. It is not right to judge them as “closeted” gay men or men who are in denial that they are gay. Everyone has the right to discover and explore their own sexualities and to find the most comfortable term to refer to themselves.
“Bisexual” is a term referring to either a man or a woman who has sexual and romantic attractions to BOTH sexes. They are attracted to both men and women. They are quite rare, maybe because they are afraid to declare themselves as bisexuals to others. Historically, they have been the MOST discriminated among the members of the LGBTQIAA. Gay men looked at bisexual men as being “half in the closet”, meaning they were thought to only partially “come out” and were in denial about some parts of themselves. However, numerous studies have explored and confirmed the existence of bisexuality, and it has been said before that the human body is capable of receiving love from, and giving love to, both sexes. Most bisexuals though tend to have a stronger attraction to one sex. For example, while a woman is sexually and romantically attracted to a man, she might choose to establish a relationship instead with a woman for whom she has a stronger connection and attraction.
Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are terms we give when we are asked about our SEXUAL ORIENTATION. Sexual orientation answers the question, “To which sex are you SEXUALLY and ROMANTICALLY attracted?” When you imagine being in a relationship, or when you imagine making love to a person, do you imagine engaging in such behavior with a man or a woman, or either at different times? This does not mean that you must have had ACTUAL sex. The above question is answered by mere fantasizing. After all, even gay men have experimented and engaged in sex with women, and lesbian women have had sex with men also. Conversely, there are gay and lesbian virgins – they never had sex with either men or women before, but still identify as being gay and lesbian. Sexual orientation is DIFFERENT from sexual behavior. It does not require that you actually committed the sex act. If you want to know more about sexual orientation and where you stand, you can ask your therapist to conduct an assessment called “Klein Sexual Orientation Grid” or the simpler “Kinsey Scale” with a 0 -6 rating of heterosexuality-homosexuality. Although these are available online for free, try NOT to take them by yourself because the more important aspect of the test-taking is the interpretation of the results. Find a well-trained therapist who has trained in sexuality issues. Almost all foreign-trained therapists have had this training because it is mandatory in first-world countries for therapists to know sexuality issues in counseling. Most Philippine-trained therapists did not have Human Sexuality as a mandatory course in their training.
“Transgender” refers to people who are born with one sex but feels they should be of the opposite sex. Simply, a man strongly feels he is trapped in the wrong body, and desires to be a woman. Transgendered individuals usually (but not always) know from very early on (i.e., in childhood) that the bodies with which they were born with are not a fit with their psychological understanding of their selves. Many become suicidal and depressed at the confusion generated, and many have attempted to “correct” this. An extreme example would be a teenage girl attempting to chop off her breasts, or a boy trying to castrate himself. When people around the transgendered individual are not supportive or knowledgeable about how to approach this variant of sexuality, the transgendered individual start to develop a condition called “GENDER DYSPHORIA“, an extreme depression and despair regarding their gender. Now, to clarify, being transgendered is NOT a disorder. But Gender Dysphoria is a disorder. Gender Dysphoria arises if there is no support or education given to the transgendered individual. Being transgendered is a normative variant of healthy sexuality. They are not abnormal, just as any of the sexual minorities are NOT abnormal. Unfortunately, in heavily Catholic Philippines, even many psychologists and therapists are not trained to understand and help transgendered people. Be careful of the credentials of your therapist when dealing with this matter, and if you start to feel uncomfortable with your therapist because of his or her heavy moralizing, find a better therapist. Transgenderism is a term used for GENDER IDENTITY, not sexual orientation.
“Queer” simply refers to any of the sexual minorities who prefer not to label themselves in any way regarding sexual identity or sexual orientation. They are a growing population among the sexual minorities and more studies need to be conducted to get a better understanding of their issues. “Questioning” are those who are in the process of discovery (or re-discovery) regarding their sexuality. They are probably the most open-minded among the sexual minorities, but also the most vulnerable to wrong information. Guides and mentors must be well-trained to interact with and educate them. “Intersex” used to be called “androgynous”, those who are born with both sets of sexual organs. Both sets of sexual organs do not usually fully mature even if the person has reached adulthood. Some opt for surgery, others are fine with their physical selves. Intersex is a physical condition, NOT a category of sexual orientation. “Asexuals” are extremely rare to the point that some scholars believe they do not exist. Asexuals are by definition anyone who does not feel sexually or romantically attracted to anyone else. This does not mean they have no feelings, it just means they theoretically do not feel sexual desire for anyone. Some have theorized that asexuality could be a temporary state after a relational trauma, but more studies need to be undertaken. “Ally” is anyone who is from the sexual majority (in short, heterosexuals), who is helpful and friendly towards sexual minorities. Allies defend the LGBTQIAA community from hateful people, and actively provide acceptance (NOT JUST TOLERANCE), love, and security to LGBTQIAA. Allies can be close friends, parents, and coworkers who actively support the LGBTQIAA. A good organization to start exploring for allies would be the PFLAG, that used to be known as the Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays.
2. ARE LGBTQIAA DIFFERENT FROM THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE? IS THAT BAD?
LGBTQIAA are considered sexual minorities. This means that their SEXUAL IDENTITIES (who are you as a sexual being? how do you see yourself as a sexual being?), SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS (to whom are you attracted sexually and romantically), and SEXUAL BEHAVIORS (how do you express yourself sexually, not just in the sexual act?) are different from the majority of the population. Majority of people are heterosexual (see above) and have a relatively fixed sense of what they do to express themselves sexually (sexual intercourse, way of dressing, role in a relationship, speech pattern, etc.). For instance, most men and women follow conventional social rules that women wear skirts as a sign of femininity, and men wear pants and suits as signs of masculinity. However, let’s say someone from the Queer or Questioning community decides he wants to wear a skirt. Most heterosexual people around him would immediately have preconceived assumptions that he must be gay, or transgendered, or just plain crazy. These thoughts are called STEREOTYPES, automatic and overly-generalized thoughts without verifying facts and often lead to discrimination. LGBTQIAA have sexual VARIANTS. They are not DEVIANTS. To put it more simply, yes, LGBTQIAA are different. Being different by itself is not necessarily bad.
The notion of LGBTQIAA as”bad” stems from unverified statements that they are mentally disordered or criminal. No scientific research has proven that they are more disordered or criminal than anyone else in the majority of the population. There is NO EVIDENCE that anyone who is a member of this community is “born abnormal”. In fact, in the early 1970’s the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders due to lack of evidence that being gay or lesbian is in itself a disorder. The reason why it was listed in the first place was because of the bias that people had before the 70’s (including many doctors and scholars). Their thinking was, “I don’t like gay people, therefore they must be weird and bad.” Just because we don’t like a group of people does not mean we have the right to judge them as evil. It is merely personal preference, not scientific research.
Many LGBTQIAA do develop mental disorders AS A RESULT OF DISCRIMINATION FROM THE MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION. Can you imagine a teenage boy who is struggling with his feelings for another boy in his class, and being told by his parents that if he does not “stop” his homosexual urges, he will be disowned? This happens a lot still all over the world, especially in highly conservative cultures. That boy would most likely develop depression, whose symptoms include suicidal tendencies and self-blame. The boy could also develop a type of phenomenon called “INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA“. This means he would come to hate himself as a gay person. He would think to himself, “Gay people are evil. I am gay, therefore I am evil. I should not exist.” In the worst case scenario, it would lead to one of two paths: suicide or aggressive proselytization. The second path, aggressive proselytization, means that they would start preaching to others how being gay is evil while struggling to contain their own homosexual urges. They becomes “hypocrites” in short. They start to condemn others who are gay, because they think by doing so, it would slowly “erase” their own homosexuality. Unfortunately, homosexuality and the other sexual variants are not something that can be “erased”. It is a naturally occurring expression of who we are. It is not due to being “recruited” into the LGBTQIAA side, or a behavioral anomaly, or brain dysfunction. There is no satisfactory conclusion for those who force others to change.
Let’s clarify the term “internalized homophobia”. Homophobia is actually a misnomer. Homophobia does not involve fear. In fact, homophobia is driven by prejudice, misunderstanding, and hate towards homosexuals. Homophobia has traditionally been thought of as being committed by heterosexuals due to their ignorance of the LGBTQIAA community. If this is “internalized”, this means that a gay person starts to hate himself for being gay. Internalized homophobia is actually self-hate, which ultimately leads to self-destruction.
3. WHAT ARE CONVERSION AND REPARATIVE THERAPIES? IF LGBTQIAA EXPERIENCES ARE NOT DISORDERS, WHY ARE THERE “TREATMENTS” FOR THEM?
In the past, people believed LGBTQIAA members were mentally disordered and should be treated. In many countries today, homosexuality is still considered to be a personality disorder. There have been reports that gay people are deliberately prevented from serving mandatory military service or entering the clergy because they are viewed as mentally “sick”. Most of the people who had this mindset were religious conservatives, predominantly from the Abrahamic religious traditions (i.e., Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) but a considerable number from Asia from the Confucian tradition. They started to develop “treatments” called “conversion therapy” (to “convert” the homosexual person back into a heterosexual one), and reparative therapies (to “repair” their sexualities, as if being homosexual meant that you were “broken”). They are actually similar in techniques which look like torture from a third-party perspective. Treatments included electro-shock, submerging in freezing water, and military-like physical labor. Unfortunately, when real scientists started to investigate and research on these so-called “treatments”, they found these therapies actually did more harm than good! Many who completed the program committed suicide. Others were committed into psychiatric institutions not long after finishing their conversion and reparative treatments due to heightened depression and anxiety. These therapies are called “iatrogenic” treatments, they create problems instead of solving them. ALL MAJOR MENTAL HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS AROUND THE WORLD HAVE BANNED THE USE OF THESE SO-CALLED “THERAPIES”. ANY THERAPIST USING THESE WOULD BE LABELED UNETHICAL. Unfortunately, the Philippines still see many religious and spiritual counselors (mostly priests, nuns, and pastors) using principles derived from conversion and reparative therapies to “counsel” LGBTQIAA into “returning back to God”. There have been psychologists in the Philippines who blatantly expressed their views against homosexuality in the media and in national conferences, stating that homosexuality is a disorder and proposed the return of conversion and reparative therapies. As a reader, please understand that these “therapies” are extremely harmful and have led to the loss of life.
4. WHAT SHOULD A LOVED ONE OR A FRIEND OF AN LGBTQIAA INDIVIDUAL DO?
LISTEN. That is the single most important thing you can do as a parent, family member, significant other, or friend of a member of the LGBTQIAA. Listen without judgment. Do not give half-baked advice. Do not moralize or bring religion into the picture. Keep your opinions to yourself. Ask questions if you don’t understand something, but ask without sarcasm. For example, for those with loved ones who are transgendered, you could ask them how they would like to be called. Pronouns are very important for transgendered people. Offer whatever support and help you are willing to provide. If you feel that you cannot provide the support or help they need, then take the time to tell them you need to do more research. Read up on LGBTQIAA issues, watch documentaries (but not Hollywood movies or t.v. series with LGBTQIAA characters), consult with well-trained therapists or psychology professors in universities (preferrably sending emails to professors in the US, UK, Australia, or other more accepting countries where research on LGBTQIAA is progressing very well).
There is a reason why your LGBTQIAA loved one went to YOU instead of another friend, or family member. It is very hard for someone in this population to open up to loved ones. Imagine the anxiety and uncertainty they feel while they plan on who to talk to, what to talk about, and how you are going to react. What if you react negatively? Who will they turn to next? Do they even have a plan on what to do if you push them away? Try your best to understand, and match the effort of your LGBTQIAA loved one in opening up to you. Put your biases and socially-conditioned “learnings” (or more accurately, “mislearnings”) about the LGBTQIAA away for awhile, and be open to more accurate information. If your loved one is confused and you see the signs of internalized homophobia, you may encourage them to talk to a well-trained therapist. Offer to help them look for one, and offer to go with them to their first session. You could also accompany them in their own personal research about their sexuality. Support is very important. Instead of tolerating, ACCEPT instead. If you are not ready to accept, give yourself some time to study and reflect on this issue.
Our sexuality is part of our whole being. YOU CANNOT SEPARATE SEXUAL IDENTITY FROM A PERSON’S TOTAL IDENTITY. You cannot say, “I will accept you IF you are no longer gay”, or “I will accept you if you don’t act like a lesbian”. These conditions limit the identity expression of your loved one. It does not value who they are totally as individuals worthy of love, no matter who they are. If you are not willing to learn or reflect on this issue, then at the very least, do not criticize or harm the self-esteem of the members of this community. They are people, just like you, with hopes and dreams and imperfections. They also have the right to be themselves just as you have the right to your opinions. If you cannot accept, then just stand aside and walk your own path. Do not attempt to convert. Do not attempt to change them “out of love”, because if you really loved them, you would take the time to put down your stereotypes and prejudices to see them with eyes that value their uniqueness. Do not pity them. Pity and sympathy are for those whom you feel are inferior than you, who are more unfortunate than you. Pity is not love, pity is not acceptance. Do not say, “I’m so sorry your son is gay” to a parent. Do not say, “I’m sorry to hear that you’re bisexual. It must be hard.” For all you know, those who made the excruciating effort to find the path of acceptance and love have learned to celebrate differences instead of being imprisoned in a conservative mindset.
I’m not saying it will be an easy path for you as the parent, family member, or friend of someone who is LGBTQIAA. It forces you to challenge almost everything you know about people, life, love, and the world in general. But try your best to examine your biases, your so-called “truths”. Where did you receive messages about hating other people? Is it worth it to keep these messages? Is it worth it for you lose your loved one over these inaccurate messages? Along the way, you will stumble and wish to give up. But get up and try again anyway. Your loved one is still your loved one. Nothing has changed about him or her.
5. WHAT SHOULD SOMEONE WHO IS LGBTQIAA DO IN TALKING TO THEIR LOVED ONES?
If you are LGBTQIAA, first and foremost, be safe. Not all families and households have open minds. Despite popular media stating that violence against LGBTQIAA is decreasing, there are still reported hate crimes. Majority of these hate crimes are perpetuated in the neighborhood and families of LGBTQIAA. In the Asian perspective, because family honor and reputation is so valued, parents have gone so far as to beat their children to within an inch of their lives. LGBTQIAA children and teens have been kicked out and disowned. Some families even attempted to murder them. So, rule number one is: BE SAFE. Tell a very trusted friend who is an ally what your plan is, and in case something should happen, you can at least run to your friend for help and support. One very positive thing about the LGBTQIAA is that it is a very tightly knit supportive community. There are a number of LGBTQIAA organizations in the Philippines and abroad with international memberships, but it takes some time to go through them and decide which organization serves your needs best. LGBTQIAA also often create very strong “FAMILIES OF CHOICE“, a family that they create out of very close friends, confidants, and close relatives who are allies and support them for being who they are. Most often, families of choice are stronger than biological families of LGBTQIAA. Run to your families of choice for help if you feel unsafe in your own home. The process of telling your parents and family for the first time regarding your LGBTQIAA identity can be extremely daunting. This is often called “coming-out“, a slang term for getting out of a dark place into one potentially of light. If you can, have someone who can support you to accompany you. It could be a close friend or supportive family member who can defend you if things don’t turn out the way you planned. If you feel you’re not ready, don’t force yourself to come-out! Do not ever be forced into coming-out especially if it is not safe to do so. Many movies mistakenly give the message to LGBTQIAA youths that coming-out is the most important thing that they MUST do. This is simply very short-sighted. There are youths who have never come-out to their families and still live happily and comfortably with them. ALWAYS LOOK AT THE CONTEXT before judging. If you can, talk to a therapist or close confidant to help you weigh things in coming-out.
Secondly, plan what you are going to say. Only you know best how your family and friends will react. Plan for it. Have someone help you in creating the right words and how to say it properly. Part of this step is to plan for contingencies in case things don’t go the way you want. What will you do if your father or mother becomes angry? What if they force you to “change”? What would happen next if they just stay silent and stare at you?
Thirdly, do not expect anything grand or extremely positive. Media portrayals of successful coming-out are actually not reflective of actual coming-0ut processes, especially in Asia. You will only be disappointed if you set “Hollywood-type” expectations. Remember that your parents and family may not understand fully what LGBTQIAA is, and may have grown up on wrong information. Be prepared to educate them, which means you have to educate yourself first. Do not force them to accept who you are. For some parents especially, it may take quite a bit of time for them to even attempt to sort through the confusion. If you force acceptance, then it’s not acceptance. Acceptance has to be given freely for it to have any value.
Fourthly, do a lot of research. Self-study, interviews, observations can be very empowering. With every bit of knowledge you obtain about your sexual identity, you gain more power over who you are and build on that confidence into a better way of looking at the world and interacting with it. Remember also that just as there are many good sources of information online, there are also a lot of misinformation. Sort through them diligently, and ask for help from someone who has more knowledge than you on that subject. It would help to talk to an LGBTQIAA mentor, friend, or therapist if you have questions about a particular area of your research. Learn to critique your own researches. Do not swallow any information without understanding and comparing it to other information.
Finally, take some time to reflect on your researches and studies. Your mind might need some time to integrate the information to form a unique perspective of yourself, the world, and of others. It is a very spiritual experience, and you can emerge from it with a coherent sense of self that can stand against whatever the world throws at you. Remember also that the only way others can bring you down is if you allow it.