By Grace Manger
Welcome to another installment of our new “Defining” series, where we unpack various terms and identities. Do you have a word that needs defining? Let us know!
“Gay,” at its most basic level, refers to someone who is attracted to people of the same gender. The gender of the gay person is irrelevant: you can be a gay cis-man, a gay cis-woman, a gay non-binary person, a gay trans woman, a gay trans man, and on and on and on! The combinations are endless.
So, we’ve established what “gay” means on the most basic level. Now let’s go a little deeper!
Out of all the LGBTQIA identities, the “G” might be the most widely understood. The word “gay” is also commonly used as a catch-all term to refer to anyone who isn’t straight and/or cisgender, including queer people, bisexual people, asexual people, and more! If someone is talking about “the gay community,” they very well might actually be talking about the LGBTQIA community as a whole, and not just people who identify as gay. Our website is called My Kid Is Gay, but our site is actually for all parents, not just parents of gay kids. (You can read even more about our use of the word “gay” in our name right here!)
It’s important to note that not everyone in the LGBTQIA community is comfortable with “gay” being used as a catch-all term. For example: A bisexual person may not want to be referred to as gay, because it erases a core part of their identity: the fact that they are attracted to more than one gender gets erased when someone calls them gay, because that evokes the idea that they are only attracted to the same gender, which isn’t true for them! As you may have already learned from reading other installments of The Defining Series, words—especially words for LGBTQIA identities—are complex and take on new definitions based on context and how they’re used throughout time.
We often recommend to parents, regardless of what identity their child has claimed for themselves, to ask their child what that word means to them, specifically. This goes for the word “gay,” too! “Gay” may seem like a straight-forward (no pun intended) word, but in reality gay contains infinite multitudes, just like humans themselves. Especially for those of us who identify as women, we may have a preference between the terms “lesbian”—which refers to a gay woman specifically— and “gay,” or are comfortable using them more interchangeably. The only way to know for sure is to respectfully ask your child what their identity means to them.
As an added bonus, if you’re unsure of how to explain the word “gay” to young children, our friend Lindsay made a brilliant episode of “Queer Kid Stuff” for that exact purpose!
• Gay is the opposite of straight: Sexuality is not a binary, but a spectrum. When we say something is the “opposite” of something else, it implies that these are two, easily defined term that are the inverses of each other. However, gay is such a widely defined, dynamic word that it deserves its own category all on its own!
• Gay is a noun: Actually, gay is an adjective! Gay describes an aspect of a person, but a person is so much more beyond their being gay, too! For this reason, refrain from referring to a group of gay people as “the gays.” Instead, you can talk about a gay person, or the gay community.
• Gay is wrong and sinful: We have written extensively about this here on My Kid Is Gay, but it warrants being said again. Being gay is a wonderful truth to live. It is not wrong, it is not sinful, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
• Gay determines your hobbies and how you like to dress: While there are some gay women who play softball, fix motorcycles, and wear flannel shirts, and some gay men that do musical theater, there are plenty of people who do not fit perfectly into these boxes. No one’s sexuality is more or less “real” based on their clothing or hobbies. Human sexuality, interests, and presentation are far too vast and complex to put them in boxes.
Grace is the Senior Managing Editor here at My Kid Is Gay. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger