“[Y]ou don’t have to label your sexuality; so many kids these days are not labeling their sexuality and I think that’s so cool… If you like something one day, then you do, and if you like something else the other day, it’s whatever. You don’t have to label yourself because it’s not set in stone. It’s so fluid.”—Lily-Rose Depp, Johnny Depp’s daughter
June is nationally recognized as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a time dedicated to celebrating the history of the LGBTQ+ community (click here for more on why Pride Month began and how it’s evolved over the years). And not only are we in the midst of Pride Month, but the Supreme Court just declared a new ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Talking about LGBTQ+ issues with your teen has become more important than ever as new developments like this continue to change the landscape of our culture. Today, if modern teens aren’t questioning their own sexuality, they probably have friends who are. They’re living in a society where Will Smith’s son, Jaden, is modeling Louis Vuitton’s womenswear and where there are so many letters in the current LGBTQ+ initialism (LGBTTQQIAAP) that it’s simpler to use a plus sign than to list all of them.
What follows is what we think you need to know about what is shaping Gen Z’s perceptions of these issues, as well as how you can engage well with your teen and the LGBTQ+ community.
What terms do I need to know?
Let’s define our terms. You’ve probably heard of many of these labels but may not have been given a great working definition of them.
Something to keep in mind as you read these terms is that many members of Gen Z view gender as something on a spectrum, as opposed to the traditional binary view of sexuality as either masculine or feminine. They commonly view gender and sexuality as disconnected from each other (although younger people who disagree with this viewpoint do exist). YouTuber Brendan Jordan (somewhat crudely) explains it like this: “Sexuality is who you go to bed with, and gender identity is who you go to bed as.” Understanding sexuality as so broad in scope means there are many ways to define it. Having the right label is not nearly as important to many younger people as not needing to have any label at all, as per our opening quote. Each individual is the highest authority when it comes to defining what his or her sexuality is.
(For the following list, we’ve relied on the websites It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, STOP-Homophobia.com, and We Are Family.)
|Ally||Anyone who supports the LGBT+ community.|
|Androgynous||Having both male and female characteristics or not having characteristics that clearly distinguish one as male or female.|
|Asexual||Experiencing no or little sexual interest in anyone.|
|Bisexual||Sexually attracted to both men and women.|
|Cisgender||Someone whose gender identity matches his or her biological sex; anyone who is not transgender.|
|Closeted||Someone who conceals his or her LGBT+ gender or sexual identity.|
|Coming out||The process of revealing one’s LGBT+ gender or sexual identity.|
|Cross-dresser||A person who wears the clothing of a different gender or sex; does not necessarily reflect the person’s actual gender identity or sexual orientation.|
|Demisexual||Someone who does not experience sexual attraction until forming an emotional attachment.|
|Drag king||A woman who dresses as a man, exaggerating masculine characteristics in a theatrical way.|
|Drag queen||A man who dresses as a woman, exaggerating feminine characteristics in a theatrical way.|
|Gay||Someone attracted to members of the same sex/gender; can refer to either men or women.|
|Gender and sexual diversity (GSD)||A term that some people prefer to any of the LGBT+ initialisms because of the lack of a need to specify each of the identities it covers.|
|Gender expression||How each person manifests gender; could be tied to the individual’s gender identity or could be a social construct.|
|Gender fluid||Not identifying as any particular gender.|
|Gender identity||How someone perceives his or her gender.|
|Genderqueer||Catch-all term for people who identify as various non-traditional gender identities; used for gender as opposed to sexual orientation.|
|Heteronormative||The idea that there are only two genders/sexualities, i.e., male and female, and that everyone falls into either of those categories; considered oppressive and restricting.|
|Heterosexual (“straight”)||Someone whose gender and biological sex align and who is attracted to members of the opposite sex.|
|Hermaphrodite||Outmoded, stigmatizing term referring to someone who has both male and female genitalia or other sexual characteristics outside of the biological norms for male/female. Preferred term = “intersex.”|
|Homophobia||Any negative posture toward LGBT+ people.|
|Homosexual||Outdated term for describing people who are attracted to members of the same gender or sex. Preferred term = “gay.”|
|Intersex||Someone with sexual organs, chromosomes, hormones, etc., that diverge from the typical male and female biological pattern; the term that has replaced “hermaphrodite.”|
|Lesbian||A woman who is sexually attracted to other women.|
|Non-binary||Identifying as something other than the traditional binary genders of male and female.|
|Metrosexual||A man who spends more care on his appearance than is traditionally considered normal for men.|
|Out||As a verb, meaning to forcibly expose someone else’s LGBT+ gender or sexual orientation; as an adjective, describing someone who is public about his or her LGBT+ gender or sexual orientation.|
|Pansexual (“pan”)||Someone who is attracted to any kind of gender or sexual identity.|
|Polyamory (“poly”)||Having multiple romantic and/or sexual partners at one time.|
|Queer||Way of referring to the entire LGBT+ community; can be considered offensive if used by people outside of the community.|
|Questioning||Someone who is exploring his or her gender or sexual identity.|
|Transgender (“trans”)||Someone who identifies with a gender other than the one that corresponds to his or her biological sex.|
|Transsexual||A person who identifies with a gender different from his or her biological sex and who undergoes surgery so that the two will correspond.|
|Zie/hir||One set of many proposed gender-neutral pronouns; some also use the plural pronoun “they” in place of “he” or “she.”|
Why learning the language will help us to reach Gen Z
Becoming familiar with these terms will allow us to have respectful and informed conversations. Using considerate language with individuals who are in, or who care for, the LGBTQ+ community can build trust and potentially lead to transformational relationships. On the other hand, using phrases like “the gay lifestyle,” or calling someone “a transgender” or “transgendered” generally implies that the people in question are set apart in a negative way. It also implies there is only one “lifestyle” or way of being gay. Nobody refers to the “heterosexual lifestyle” when discussing opposite-sex-attracted individuals.
Avoid language implying that sexual orientation is a choice, like “sexual preference” (the collapse of “ex-gay” ministries like Exodus International shows that it isn’t as simple as that). It should also go without saying that we should avoid any language that is derogatory. Check out this glossary of terms from GLAAD for more terminology.
We are called to love one another. By caring about others as they are, we can earn the right to be heard if and when a sensitive conversation arises.
For more resources on God’s view of sexuality and gender, check out the Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender.
Note: This is an adaptation from our Parent’s Guide to LGBTQ+ and Your Teen. For more on Gen Z’s understanding of LGBTQ+ issues and how to talk with your teen about it, check it out here!