A couple of years ago, one of our newer staff members came to me with some concerns about one of my students. One concern was that the student was skipping and getting into fights with other peers in his classroom.  After speaking to the teacher, I decided to ask other staff members if they were having the same issues.  It was unanimous, all of the teachers were having the same issues with attendance and hostile behavior; however, one teacher threw me for a loop.  The teacher told me that she had noticed that the student had changed her/his physical appearance (dressing from one gender to another) and the student had confided in her that she/he was Pansexual.   I asked, “Um…is this a real term?”  The teacher just shrugged. 
Pansexual flag
Okay, I admit it…I am not very familiar with any terminology outside of LBGTQI spectrum. After speaking to the teacher, I decided to conduct my own research.  First, LBGTQI is the shortened version of LGBPTTQQIIAA+ which represents Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Intergender, Asexual, Ally.  So, Pansexualism does exist and it is a real definition. In fact, Pansexualism has been a popular term trending on social media since Miley Cyrus  declared this to be her sexual orientation.  In fact, Pansexualism is not a new term and was originally coined by Freud as someone who experiences all sexual emotions. Curious,  I decided to look at all the different terminology regarding sexual orientation and I realized how uninformed and out of touch I am with this community which many of our students identify.  So, I decided to extend my research and become more informed.  The purpose of this post is to share information with other school counselors who may be just as confused and uninformed. 
Now a disclaimer…
Before you read any further, please know that I am not an expert on this subject matter and I am sharing information based on my own research.  So here goes…

Before I get into specific terminology, it is important to identify and define the differences between gender identity, gender expression, sex, and attraction. Since I needed this information broken down in simplistic terms, I discovered a video of a non gay person discussing the complexities of gender and sexuality to other non gay or cisgender (that means I identify my sex to my gender) persons like myself.  Sam Killerman has a very informative blog that contains lots of information regarding gender identity, attraction, expression,  and sex.  One helpful piece of information, on his site, is the genderbread person. This image gives a great visual that explains all these differences.   
Sam Killerman’s Explains the Differences Between Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

So What are the Differences?

Great visual to explain differences

SOGIE is the acronym for sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.  In order to really understand sexual orientation, one must know the differences between each classification. First, let’s discuss gender identity. Gender identity is how you think of yourself in your head. Gender varies from country to country, state to state, and culture to culture.  We tend to view gender as binary or two options; however, sociologists identify other types of gender.

Gender Identity

Gender Fluid Flag

One person who identifies as gender fluid or non-binary is Ruby Rose.  Rose is an Australian actress who stars in Orange is the New Black. Although she was born as a female, Rose describes herself as having both male and female characteristics. Other celebrities who identify as gender fluid include Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith, and the son of Susan Sarandon.  For the school counselor, it is helpful to be aware of the different terms regarding gender identifications and to ask a gender fluid person what pronoun he or she prefers.

As a school counselor, here are some terms that are helpful to know as they relate to gender identity.

Agender – person who feels like they do not have a specific gender.

Androgyny – feeling of being between male or female.

Bigender – a person who identifies as having a two gendered personality.

Cisgender – identification of a person’s gender to their birth sex.

Demigirl/Demiguy – a person who is born as female or male and has a slight association with their birth gender; however, the person does not have physical discomfort or disassociation because of their identity.

Gender Binary – person who believes there are only two types of genders: male and female.

Genderfluid – a person whose gender changes with time, circumstances, or situations.

Intergender – a person whose gender identity is between genders or a combination of genders.

Pangender – a person who has a combination of genders.

Transgender – a person whose birth sex does not match their gender identity.

Trigender – may refer to people who feel they have no gender and construct their own gender or a person who moves between three genders.

Third gendered – a person who may construct his/her own gender.

Gender Expression

Teaching Tolerance identifies gender expression as the way we show our gender to the world.  This can include the types of games we play, the music we listen to, the clothing we wear, and our preference to certain colors. There are two scales of measuring expression in gender: female and male.  Sam Killerman says that the majority of peoples’ gender expression aligns to their gender identity; however, some people express their gender based on comfort, pleasure, or personal creativity.

Here is an example from Killerman describing the concept of gender fluidity in his own life.

He wakes up in the morning with his hair stuck to his head and drool dripping from his mouth while wearing his boxers (masculine).  He jumps in the shower giving himself a quick facial, thorough body scrub, and emerges smelling like a flower (feminine). After getting dressed in his skinny jeans and bright colors (feminine), he jumps on the bus and conducts business on his phone with words like bro, certain expletives, and other masculine terms.  Getting off the bus, he heads to a coffee shop where sits quietly drinking his black tea (feminine).  In essence, Killerman claims we can go from feminine expressions to masculine expressions in a minutes notice.

Marilyn Mason: Switching his gender expression

As a school counselor, it is important that we are aware of the laws that protect students who may express their gender differently from the majority of students in our schools.  In 2014, the Department of Education reaffirmed a 2010 declaration stating that Title IX does not conform to just masculinity or femininity when it comes to discrimination. Educating our staff and students about discrimination can be the first step to gender inclusion.  Also, see the GLSEN Model Policy for Schools regarding gender inclusion best practices.

Some helpful terms  that relate to gender expression:

Cross dressers or transvestites – Although the majority are heterosexual and identify with their birth gender, they wear clothing of the opposite sex.

Drag Queens & Drag Kings – gay men and lesbians who are not transgendered and dress as the opposite sex.

Genderqueer – a person who identifies as being neither, simultaneously, or consecutively both and/or other genders.

Biological Sex –  Association Psychological Association defines sex as a person’s biological status (organs, hormones, and chromosomes a person possesses) and differs from gender (attitudes, feelings, and behaviors). Although many believe that there are only two sexes, researchers believe this is not the case. Some babies are born intersex or having two sets of biological characteristics.  Some examples of intersex individuals at birth include a baby with female characteristics who has an enlarged clitoris with no vaginal opening; a baby with male characteristics with a small penis and a divided scrotum; or a child with a set of XX chromosomes and XY chromosomes. Although some children are identified as intersex at birth, others do not know until puberty, adulthood, or they never know. The Intersex Society of North America says that once a child is born intersex, it is common practice for the doctor make the decision of the appropriate sex of the child. Intersex people are most commonly confused with transgender or transsexual people because they may go through hormone therapy or surgery.  The difference is that transgender people have an identified set of sexual characteristics while intersex people have been identified as lacking one set of sexual characteristics.

Last year, Michael Phelps was involved in a scandal when he found out that the girl he was dating had been a male. While he was in and out of rehab, Taylor Lianne Chandler revealed that she was born as a boy with a penis and a uterus.  During his teen years, David (now Taylor), went through surgery and hormone replacement to become a woman. I am not sure what happened in their relationship, but Michael has now moved on to another woman. Although we are shocked by such stories, many cultures have become more accepting of other sexes, like Intersex and Transgender.  One country, India, allows these groups to vote in national elections under their own sexual preference.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual Orientation includes your attraction to others. The science of sexual orientation is ongoing and there are some interesting theories behind the emergence of a person’s orientation.  Check out this video from 60 Minutes (2008) about sexual orientation.

In 2015, sexual orientation was an extremely hot topic in the media with the passing of gay marriage and the transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner. In fact, Bruce, I mean Caitlyn, even set the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest Twitter account to reach 1 million followers.  Before Caitlyn Jenner brought the issue of transgender to the public, there was trans teen Jazz Jennings.  At age 5, Jazz was coined by Barbara Walters as the youngest documented person to transition from one sex to another.  By age 11, Jazz had starting taking hormones to stop puberty and began the transition from male to female. Currently, Jazz has her own show on TLC which chronicles life as a trans teen and is bringing the issue of the transgender teenager into the mainstream.  There are many issues that come with working with transgender students and many of them will look to the school counselor for comfort, understanding, and assistance.

Jazz Jennings

Since many of our teens are questioning their sexual identity, it is helpful to be aware of the different classifications that students may verbalize. Staff, students, and parents may look to you for information.  Although, I cannot cover all the terms related to sexual identity, I have included the ones that students and staff have brought to my attention.  Also, I have included additional resources, including slang, for you to explore.

Aromantic – a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to anyone.

Asexual – a person who generally lacks sexual attraction to any group of people.  Asexual people measure their occasional or lack of attraction on a spectrum.

Bisexual – a person who experiences attraction to people of the same or different sex.

Femme – a person who may not desire sexual penetration.

Gay – a man who is attracted to other men.

Graysexual – a person whose sexuality is fluid between gay, straight, or asexual.

Heterosexual – a person who is attracted to people of the opposite sex.

Homosexual – a person who is attracted to people of the same sex.

Lesbian – a female who is attracted to other females.

Lithoromantic – experiencing romantic love, but does not desire reciprocation.

Male Lesbian – male who is attracted to lesbian, bisexual, or trans identified people.

Metrosexual – heterosexual male who spends a lot of time and money on his appearance.

MSM – men who have sexual relationships with other men, but do not necessarily identify themselves as gay.

Panromantic – experiencing romantic feelings to people of all sexes, but not sexual feelings.

Pansexual – a person who experiences attraction to all sexes and genders.

Queer Platonic – relationships that have strong emotional rather than romantic connections. A partner in a queer platonic relationship is referred to as a zucchini.

Questioning – process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation.

Polymory – refers to relationships with multiple people and can include an open relationship, polyfidelity (relationships that exclude sexual relationships), and subrelationships (one primary relationship and several secondary relationships).

Skoliosexual (multisexual or polysexual)- a person attracted to genderqueer and transsexuals.

Although some terms are popular in our culture and schools, there are some terms we,  as school counselors, should avoid.

Terms to Avoid from GLADD

Homosexual (Preferred terms are gay, gay man, gay person, or lesbian). *Note New York Times and Washington Post restrict the use of this term.

Homosexual relationship or homosexual couple (Preferred terms are relationship or couple).

Sexual Preference (Preferred term sexual orientation)

Gay or homosexual lifestyle (Preferred terms gay lives or gay and lesbian lives).

Admitted or avowed homosexual (Preferred terms are openly gay, openly bisexual, out).

Gay or homosexual agenda (Accurately describe the issue).

Special Rights (Preferred term equal rights).

Some defamatory terms that are offensive and we should refrain from using.


Responsibilities to LGBTQI Students
Now that we are more aware about LGBTQI terminology, what is our responsibility to these students as school counselors?  The American Counseling Association instructs counselors to reflect on their own gender and orientation before working with LGBTQI students. This reflection should include thinking about the importance of their own sexuality, how it influences their lives, and how it may impact their relationship with students. Also, counselors should be aware that the LGBTQI  community is not one homogeneous group and each person has diverse needs and unique values.  The American School Counselor Association states that the school counselor’s role is not to change the student’s expression or identity; however, the counselor should support student as to promote his or her academic and social/emotional development. According to ASCA, here are some ways we can support LGBTQI students:

  1. Assist students with their feelings regarding their orientation and expression as well as help other staff and students to be accepting and supportive of these students. One way to support students and encourage allies is by considering a Gay Straight Alliance in your school.
  2. Advocate for equitable extracurricular and educational activities.
  3. Promote policies that denounce offensive language, harassment, or bullying of students.
  4. Address absenteeism, lowered educational achievement, and low psychological well being.
  5. Promote a safe space for students. You can download materials ad resources from GLSEN and PFLAG.
  6. Model inclusive language for staff and students.
  7. Promote and support violence prevention programs.  

In addition to recommendations from ASCA, NOSCA gives additional tips for counselors.

1.  Give information and resources for students regarding LGBTQI friendly schools.  Check out the Campus Pride website for students.
2.  Advertise LGBTQI scholarships.

I hope this post has been helpful to you as a school counselor.  Remember that I am not an expert and I must continuously engage in staff development to feel equipped to work with my LGBTQI families and students.  Here are some additional resources you can view for additional information.

Answers to Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity
Asexual Visibility & Education Network
Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Issues in Counseling
Creating a Safe Space for LGBT Students in Schools
Gender Pride Flags
Georgia Safe School Coalition: Resource for School Resource
Resources for School Counselors
Safe Zone Project – Includes a free two hour curriculum.
Sexual Fluidity Project Terminology
Slang Thesaurus – Some terms can be very offense, but eye opening when speaking or understanding students.
Transgender Resource by GLADD
Transgender Terminology
UCLA LGBT Terminology
Univ. of California LGBT Terminology

If you want to know more, the Equity Project provides a lesson on sexual orientation and gender.


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