A person’s sexual orientation, like their blood type, exists whether or not that person knows what to label it. Although blood type is not an aspect of a person's identity, many people — especially LGB people — do regard their sexual orientation identity as being a significant aspect of their multidimensional identity. (Other aspects of an individual’s identity might include their gender identity, ethnic or racial identity, national identity, and religious identity, among others.)
Anyone asking the question “What is my sexual orientation?” is seeking to understand their sexual self and describe it accurately to themselves and probably to others, at least selectively. Most people use a label as a shorthand way of conceptualizing and describing their sexual orientation to themselves and others. For most individuals, a label such as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, or asexual identifies that person’s sexual orientation identity. Sexual orientation identity is often called sexual identity, but sexual identity can get confused with gender identity, so I prefer the term sexual orientation identity for the sake of clarity.
Sometimes a person’s sexual orientation identity is an inaccurate description of their sexual orientation, based on the preponderance of the evidence of their emotional and physical attractions. For example, one individual might maintain a heterosexual identity despite evidence to the contrary, perhaps believing that “I am a heterosexual who experiences homosexual temptations.” Another individual might maintain a gay identity when a bisexual identity would more accurately describe the mix of their emotional and physical attractions.
The sexual identity development process for non-heterosexual people is commonly called the “coming out” process. This process of identity development involves coming out to oneself (recognizing and embracing a non-heterosexual identity) and coming out to others (divulging one's non-heterosexual identity), although not necessarily to everyone.
Now that you have a basic
understanding of sexual orientation and sexual orientation identity, let’s expand
your understanding of sexual orientation by identifying misunderstandings that
may contribute to your confusion. On to
Part 3, “Seven Myths about Sexual Orientation.”