Diversity Issues

Answers to your Questions about Gender Identity and More

What is Gender Identity?

Gender identity is a complex concept to define. In our Western biomedical construction of the body, there are only two genders, masculine and feminine, just as there are only two genital/birth sexes, male and female. Many people confuse gender and sex. When we talk about sex, we are talking about birth sex. However gender is in the mind of a person and is more elusive. In many other cultures, and throughout history, there have been different constructions of gender in which there are three or more gender identities. For example, the Tewa Indians of New Mexico identify as women, men, and 'kwido', although their New Mexico birth records recognize only females and males. Contrast the 1984 definition of gender, which references two genders, with the current dictionary definition from Webster, which states that gender is "any of two or more categories into which words are divided." Many individuals believe that gender is a culturally defined concept. Others do not. Many people confuse gender identity, one's inner perception of one's gender, with gender self-expression (how one externally chooses to present one's inner identity to the world).

What Causes a Person to Have a Particular Gender Identity?

The fact of the matter is that nobody really knows. There are many different theories ranging from genetic (nobody has found a gene for gender identity, transgender or transsexuality) to changes in brain structure (although there is no evidence yet) to hormonal effects in the uterus while the baby is developing, and finally to social and even evolutionary factors. Like most things, gender identity is probably defined through a collection of complex interactions between many variables. In the end, no particular cause/factor has been found to fully support any of these theories.

Is Gender Identity a Choice?

The answer is that we just don't know, although all of the research and clinical evidence seems to be leaning to no.

What Is Transgender, Transsexual, and the Gender Community?

The "gender community" consists of transsexuals, transgenders, cross-dressers, and others with gender self-perceptions other than the traditional (Western) dichotomous gender world-view (i.e., including only male and female), such as persons with "non-Western" gender identities. Transsexuals experience variance between genital/birth sex and psychological gender, and often seek medical sex reassignment services, including hormonal therapy and genital surgery. Transsexuals are often referred to as post-op (have had the operation and are on hormones), pre-op (plan to have the operation and are on hormones), non-op (do not plan to have the operation and are on hormones). In all cases, the individuals live the lifestyle of the self-perceived gender. Transgenders usually identify strongly with the "other" sex and often adopt a life-style and appearance that is consistent with their psychological gender self-perception. This may or may not be supported by the use of hormonal medications, but genital sex reassignment surgery is usually not desired. Cross dressers "cultivate the appearance" of the other sex, particularly with regard to clothing.  Cross-dressing may be undertaken on a part-time or recreational basis, such as at clubs and social events, and may or may not have erotic significance. Transvestites use the cross-dressing as a type of fetish (sexual arousal) but do not see themselves as the other gender or other sex.

Can Therapy Change Gender Identity?

Even though many people have tried, there are numerous research and clinical results showing that gender identity is fixed at a very young age. Some people claim that it could be as early as two years of age. Others state that it is closer to four years of age. Some transgendered individuals seek to change their gender identity through therapy. Frequently, family members or religious groups coerce these individuals to change or stay. The reality is that transgender is not an illness. It does not require treatment to change it. It is simply not changeable.

What About So-Called Conversion Therapies?

Just as has happened in the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual (GLB) communities, there are therapists catering to the transgender (T-community) who undertake so-called conversion therapies and report that they have been able to change their client's gender identity and remove the so-called disorder. Closer analysis of these therapists' methods shows several factors that cast doubt on their claims. For example, many of the claims come from organizations with an ideological perspective that is anti-GLBTI (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex). Furthermore, there is minimal to no documentation of their claims. 

Is Gender Identity Dysphoria a Mental Illness or an Emotional Problem?

While Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID) is listed in the diagnostic manual of mental health, there are a number of organizations that are lobbying for its removal in the same fashion that homosexuality was removed from the manual many years ago. Many psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, nurses, and social workers all agree that transgender is not an illness, a mental disorder, or an emotional problem. More and more international, objective, scientific research is showing that transgender and transsexuality are not, in and of themselves, associated with mental disorders or emotional problems. For more details see the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association web page (now WPATH).

What is Intersex?

Even the ancient Greeks recognized that there was a "third sex." They called it hermaphrodite, which is now considered a pejorative term for an individual who displays both sexual organs at birth (actually, the anatomical presentation can be quite varied and does not necessarily require both complete organs to be displayed, hence an abstract "continuum" of sex). The preferred current terminology is "intersexed." The prevalence of intersexuality is estimated at 1 in 2000 births. Additionally, it is estimated that there are nearly 65,000 intersex births worldwide per year. Intersex individuals may or may not be transgendered. For more information on intersex, visit the Intersex Society of North America's web page

Why Don't Transgender and Intersex Individuals Tell People About Their Gender Identification?

Unfortunately, the social stigma associated with being transsexual, transgender, intersex, or any other type of member from this community is so great, and the potential loss so severe, that very few individuals will tell anyone about their gender identity. Transgender is not protected under the hate crimes law. It is not protected under EEOC anti-discrimination law, and it is not protected in any other way legally. Many transpersons are murdered for being transgendered and their murders are not seen as hate crimes. For more details, see the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force website documents.

Why is the Coming Out Process Difficult for Transgender and Intersex Individuals?

The fact of the matter is that violence, in all forms, is on the rise, and hate crimes are escalating as well. A recent World Health Organization report on violence worldwide placed the US in the top 10 most violent industrialized countries in the world. As with the GLB populations, transgender and intersex populations are at significant risk for violence and abuse. A recent study has shown that the violence and abuse experience of the gender community, as adults, appears to be similar to that of their lesbian, gay, and bisexual peers. Hate crimes against the transgender population are often multifaceted, with features consistent with gender-based violence, homophobic attacks and hatred of "gender role transgression." Multiple victimization, including repeated incidents of violence or abuse in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, is common. Given the social stigma associated with transgender and intersex, along with the lack of legal protection, many transgender and intersex individuals choose to remain quiet about themselves.

What Can Be Done To Overcome the Prejudice and Discrimination That Transgendered and Intersex Individuals Experience?

This is not an easy question to answer. And there is no simple answer either. Television shows constantly portray the transgender community as crazy, insane, or stupid when, in fact, just like any other population segment, there are many transgender, transsexual, and intersex persons with advanced degrees in all fields, carrying on their lives, raising their families, and trying to go on living. As with the GLB community, it is thought that negative stereotypes and jokes, along with anti-GLBTI religious and hate groups, continue to propagate the negative attitudes towards the transgender and intersex population. Protection against violence, as well as employment protection and non-discrimination laws are critical steps. Inclusion of attacks based on gender or gender presentation in hate crime statistics and the training of lay enforcement and medical personnel are strongly needed

Information provided by University Counseling Services at Virginia Commonwealth University

Coming Out

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring one’s identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBT people. LGBT individuals are forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a society that tends to assume everyone to be heterosexual and that tends to judge differences from the norm in negative ways. The coming out process is very personal. This process happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. Some people are aware of their sexual identity at an early age; others arrive at this awareness only after many years. Coming out is a continuing, sometimes lifelong, process.

While some anxiety related to sexuality is common among college students, the problems facing LGBT people are often more difficult than those facing others. Because positive role models are often difficult to identify, LGBT people may feel alone and unsure of their own sexual identities. Fear of rejection is greater among LGBT people due to the prejudices in society against them.

Coming Out to Oneself

Recognizing your own sexual identity and working toward self-acceptance are the first steps in coming out. First, concerning sexual identity, it helps to think of a sexual orientation continuum that ranges from exclusive same sex attraction to exclusive opposite sex attraction. Exploring your sexual identity may include determining where you presently fit along that continuum.

Concerning self-acceptance, it can be very helpful to focus on the positive aspects of LGBT culture, for example, its music, art, theater, books, events, and groups. It is also very helpful to seek out positive, well adjusted and comfortable role models among LGBT people. Building on the positive does not mean that you pretend that our society is past its discrimination, fears, and negative myths concerning LGBT people, or that these things do not have any effects on LGBT people. However, these negative things are better understood as externally based rather than inherent to your identity or your orientation. Part of developing a positive sense of self is understanding that your own homophobia is also externally based, the product of societal prejudices and anti-LGBT biases that have impinged upon you for much of your life.

There are many things to think about when considering coming out. Some of the positive outcomes may be increased self-esteem, greater honesty in one’s life, and a sense of greater personal integrity. In addition, there is often a sense of relief and a reduction of tension when one stops trying to deny or hide such an important part of his/her life. Coming out can lead to greater freedom of self-expression, positive sense of self and more healthy and honest relationships.

One safe means of beginning to come out to yourself is through reading about how others have dealt with similar issues. There are many books and periodicals available on all facets of LGBT life, from clinical studies on LGBT people to collections of coming out stories at www.comingoutstories.com

Coming Out to Other LGBQ Individuals

Often, after spending some time getting in touch with one’s own feelings, the next step is to come out to others. It is usually advisable to come out first to those who are most likely to be supportive. LGBT people are a potential natural support system because they have all experienced at least some of the steps in the process of coming out. Sharing experiences about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can help you decrease feelings of isolation and shame. Furthermore, coming out to other LGBT people can help you build a community of people who can then support and assist you in coming out to others in your life. Many LGBT communities offer a number of helpful resources, including local coming out groups, switchboards, social outlets, and political and cultural activities and organizations.

Coming out to other LGBT people does not need to happen quickly. Also, choosing to do so does not mean that you must conform to real or presumed expectations of the LGBT community. What is most important is that you seek your own path through the coming out process and that you attend to your unique, personal timetable. You should not allow yourself to be pressured into anything you are not ready for or don’t want to do. It is important to proceed at your own pace, being honest with yourself and taking time to discover who you really are.

Coming Out to Heterosexuals

Perhaps your most difficult step in coming out will be to reveal yourself to heterosexuals. It is at this step that you may feel most likely to encounter negative consequences. Thus it is particularly important to go into this part of the coming out process with open eyes. For example, it will help to understand that some heterosexuals will be shocked or confused initially, and that they may need some time to get used to the idea that you are LGBT. Also, it is possible that some heterosexual family members or friends may reject you initially. However, do not consider them as hopeless; many people come around in their own time.

Loss of employment or housing is also possibilities that some LGBT people face. In some places it is still legal to discriminate against LGBT individuals for housing, employment and other issues. You should take this into consideration when deciding to whom and where you come out.

Coming out to others is likely to be a more positive experience when you are more secure with your sexuality and less reliant on others for your positive self-concept. The necessary clarification of feelings is a process that usually takes place over time. It may be a good idea to work through that process before you take the actual steps. Usually it is not a good idea to come out on the spur of the moment. Make coming out an action, not a reaction.

In coming out to others, consider the following:

  • Think about what you want to say and choose the time and place carefully.
  • Be aware of what the other person is going through. The best time for you might not be the best time for someone else.
  • Present yourself honestly and remind the other person that you are the same individual you were yesterday.
  • Be prepared for an initially negative reaction from some people. Do not forget that it took time for you to come to terms with your sexuality, and that it is important to give others the time they need.
  • Have friends lined up to talk with you later about what happened.
  • Don’t give up hope if you don’t initially get the reaction you wanted. Due to inculcated societal prejudices mentioned earlier, some people need more time than others to come to terms with what they have heard.

Above all, be careful not to let your self-esteem depend entirely on the approval of others. If a person rejects you and refuses to try to work on acceptance, that’s not your fault. Keep in mind that this initial refusal may get reversed once the individual gets used to the idea that you are LGBT. If time does not seem to change the individual’s attitude toward you, then you may want to re-evaluate your relationship and its importance to you. Remember that you have the right to be who you are, you have the right to be out and open about all important aspects of your identity including your sexual orientation, and in no case is another person’s rejection evidence of your lack of worth or value.


The decision to come out is always personal. Whether to come out and, if so, when, where, how, and to whom are all questions you must answer for yourself. Taking control of this process includes being aware in advance of potential ramifications so that you can act positively rather than defensively. Coming out may be one of the most difficult tasks you confront in your life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Coming out is one way of affirming your dignity and the dignity of other LGBT people. Remember that you are not alone; there is a viable LGBT community waiting to be explored, and more heterosexual allies@ are willing to offer their support than you might have first imagined.

Need Additional Help?

Some suggested readings to help you throughout this process are:

  1. Now That You Know. Betty Fairchild & Robert Leighton.  New York, NY.  Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1989.
  2. Beyond Acceptance. Carolyn Welch Griffin, Marina J. Wirth & Arthur G. Wirth.  New York, NY.  St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
  3. Straight Parents/Gay Children.  Robert A. Bernstein.  New York, NY.  Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995.

Other Resources

UNT Allies website
Human Rights Campaign
Local Denton LGBT friendly church 
LGBT friendly interfaith website 
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation 
North Texas Gay and Lesbian Alliance

The Counseling Center has several other self-help brochures that may be particularly useful, especially Assertiveness.

The Counseling Center offers individual counseling as well as information about, and referral to, other campus and community resources. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Counseling Center at 940-898-3801. All appointments are strictly confidential and pre-paid through your student health fee.

Copyright 1996 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
adapted by: TWU Counseling Center

Coping with Race-Related Stress

The first year of college marks a significant milestone in your transition to adulthood. As you settle into a campus routine, you will most likely be tasked with adjusting to being separated from your family, forming new friendships, and coping with a more rigorous academic curriculum. Although it is often exhilarating to gain a new sense of independence and responsibility during this process, at times you may find it difficult to juggle the demands of your social and academic life. Unfortunately, among students of color, the common stressors of the college experience are often compounded by the burden of race-related stress, stereotype threat, and the imposter phenomenon. The purpose of this brochure is to define race-related stress and the impact it can have on the academic and social success of students of color. Additionally, it will provide tips on how to effectively cope with race-related stress and maximize one’s academic potential.

Racism and Race-Related Stress - As a student of color, the additional frustrations you may experience might be the result of racism, which leads to race-related stress. Racist actions usually involve some form of racial prejudice and discrimination. However, at times you may find yourself questioning whether you were a victim of a racist act. This is a common reaction because modern-day racism tends to be covert in nature. Additionally, perpetrators may not recognize their actions as racist because their behavior does not mimic the more overt forms of racism commonly seen in the past. The uncertainty that can accompany perceptions of racism is often due to a misunderstanding of the behaviors that constitute racism. To understand racism it may be helpful to understand the concepts of prejudice and discrimination

What is prejudice? - Prejudice refers to any negative beliefs, feelings, judgments, or opinions we hold about people based on their group membership. The group membership does not necessarily have to involve race/ethnicity. People can be prejudiced based on several group categories such as religious affiliation, political affiliation, membership in a sorority/fraternity, a particular major (e.g., believing that math/science majors are nerds), gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Prejudice that is based on an individual’s race/ethnicity is known as “racial prejudice.” If we hold negative beliefs against members of a different group, these negative beliefs may cause us to discriminate against members of that group.

What is discrimination? - Discrimination occurs when a person is harassed or treated less favorably because of their membership in a particular group. These groups can be based on race/ethnicity, political affiliation, religious affiliation, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability status, s.e.s. status, etc. An example of discrimination is a student organization that refuses to accept members of a certain racial/ethnic group.

What is racism? -  Racism is racial prejudice that has been incorporated into the functions of major institutions, corporations, and social systems such as universities, healthcare organizations, banking, housing, and governmental policies. Racism leads to discriminating against a minority racial/ethnic group while maintaining the benefits and privileges of a majority racial/ethnic group which holds most of the power within the major institutions, corporations, and social systems. When the majority group in power makes decisions based upon racial prejudice, this can lead to unjust sociopolitical barriers and policies against the minority group.

Impact of Race-Related Stress

When students of color experience racism, it not only causes problems in their social and economic lives, but also negatively impacts their physical and psychological health. Race-related stress refers to the psychological distress associated with experiences of racism. It is important to understand that you can experience race-related stress even if you were mistaken that a racist act occurred. Race-related stress reactions only require that a person believes that they were the victim of racism. Below is a listing of the detrimental effects of race-related stress:

  • Intense emotional reactions - anger, anxiety, fear, frustration, depression, helplessness/hopelessness, isolation, paranoia, resentment, sadness, self-blame, self-doubt
  • Ineffective coping  - avoidance, disengagement, substance use
  • Health concerns - heart disease, hypertension, muscle tension

These psychological and physical effects can have a significant effect on your daily life. For example, if you feel isolated due to experiences of racism, you may be reluctant to interact with students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds or participate in campus activities such as student organizations, intramural sports, classroom discussions, and study groups. You may also experience a phenomenon known as stereotype threat, which involves the fear that one’s actions will confirm existing stereotypes about a person’s self-identified racial/ethnic group. Students of color who experience stereotype threat may begin to believe that their peers do not regard them as individuals, but as representatives of their racial/ethnic group. The anxiety that often accompanies stereotype threat can have a negative effect on your performance on academic tasks such as class participation, assignments, and exams. Stereotype threat can also lead to the Imposter Phenomenon if you internalize the negative racial stereotypes about the capabilities of your racial/ethnic group.

What is the Imposter Phenomenon?

The Imposter Phenomenon can occur if you do not believe that you are as intellectually capable as your peers or have the skills necessary to fulfill the requirements of your role as a student. These beliefs may lead you to dismiss any academic or career-related successes as based upon external factors such as beginner’s luck, extra work effort, networking with influential people, or filling a perceived quota (e.g., “I was only offered the internship because they needed more female interns”). The Imposter Phenomenon can occur across gender, racial/ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, and careers. Therefore, if you suffer from feelings of inadequacy, you are not alone. There are surgeons, lawyers, architects, graduate students, accomplished novelists, performers, historians, and professors who also struggle with the Imposter Phenomenon. 

  • Effects of the imposter phenomenon - anxiety, denial of competence, fear, guilt/shame, life dissatisfaction, overachievement, paranoia, sadness, resentment, self-blame, self-doubt

Many people who experience the Imposter Phenomenon believe that they are the only ones who have these beliefs or feelings. They live in constant fear of the “truth” of their capabilities being discovered by their peers, superiors, students, partners, etc. and, therefore, work very hard to succeed and gain recognition while wearing a mask of self-confidence. People with imposter feelings are often skilled at convincing others that they are confident, self-assured, and proud of their accomplishments. However, the disconnect between their outward appearance and their inner emotional state contributes to a feeling of overall life dissatisfaction. As a college student, if you suffer from Imposter Phenomenon, you may avoid answering questions in class or having a professor review a paper due to fear of negative evaluations. A successful completion of a project may cause only temporary happiness because the success is not recognized as proof of one’s capabilities. Likewise, an unsuccessful project may be perceived as validation of one’s perceived lack of intelligence and/or skill.

Recommendations for Coping with Race-Related Stress and the Imposter Phenomenon

Fortunately, there ways to combat the negative effects of race-related stress and produce positive outcomes.

  • Build a support network. You are not the only person dealing with race-related stress and connecting with other people with similar experiences and feelings can help you successfully navigate racism.
  • If spirituality plays an important role in your life, utilize your belief system as a way to cope with stress. This could involve connecting with others who share your spiritual beliefs, confiding in your spiritual leaders, or participating in your spiritual rituals (e.g., prayer, meditation).
  • Having a positive cultural identity and strong sense of self is particularly helpful in combating race-related stress, stereotype threat, and the Imposter Phenomenon. Take classes that focus on the historical experiences and contributions of your cultural group and join campus organizations that celebrate your cultural norms and ideals. Your campus’ Office of Minority Affairs is a great place to start forming connections.
  • Make positive reinterpretations of negative thoughts and reframe negative situations with a three step process:
    • Identify negative feelings. For instance, a failing grade on an examination may lead to the negative thought “The admissions committee made a mistake when they accepted me.”
    • Perform a reality check. Understand that your feelings can often distort the reality of the situation. Think of examples that counter the negative thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing. For instance, the admissions committee most likely made their decision because your past academic performance fit their acceptance criteria. Additionally, failure on one examination does not automatically indicate that you cannot succeed in any of your classes.
    • Make a positive reinterpretation. You can reframe the initial negative thought by saying “The admissions committee accepted me because they believe in my potential to succeed” and “I know I am a highly capable person and I can improve my academic performance with additional support.” You can also reframe your experiences with racism with statements such as “This can only make me stronger” or “My elders have gone through this and persevered and so can I.”
  • Become involved in social action. Document acts of racism or intolerance. Don’t ignore or minimize your experiences, and think broadly about what could be an act of racism. It doesn’t have to be an overt act (e.g., professor consistently not calling on you or minimizing your contributions, curriculum racially biased, etc). Talk to someone you trust and report it. Be strategic in social action. When attempting to change policy or procedures, it is important that you do this effectively by:
    • Be clear about what it is you want to see change.
    • Communicate your needs in a clear, direct yet respectful manner.
    • Make sure you talk to the person/department that will most likely be able to get you want you want.
    • Be mindful about timing (e.g., when is it the time to share your experiences and frustrations, when is it time to work on change and demands, when is it time to negotiate).
    • Don’t work in isolation. Get a team so that the work on these tasks aren’t so daunting for any one person.
    • Call people out when you witness acts of injustice and intolerance.
    • Try not to get discouraged. Change doesn’t happen overnight and movements are a long process. Remember that you are one cog in the wheel, and your contribution, no matter how small you may think it is, is a vital component of the movement.
    • Don’t underestimate the power you have to make change. Student involvement has been instrumental in starting major movements throughout history.

Additional Resources on the Topic:

Clance, P.R. (1985).  The Impostor Phenomenon:  Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success.  Atlanta:  Peachtree Publishers.

Sue, D. (2003).  Overcoming Our Racism:  The Journey to Liberation.  San  Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

Information provided by University of Illinois Counseling Center


International Students

As an international student you bring unique and valuable experiences with you to TWU. Your diverse background adds to the varied mix of ideas circulating around you in both your classrooms and the dorms in which you live. During your experiences here at TWU, you will learn many new ideas and skills that you may take back with you to enrich your peers from your home country as well. Students who study abroad develop not only academic skills, but also their communication skills and tolerance for new ideas.

It is important to note however, that you may experience some unique stressors during your time at TWU that your peers will not. Students sometimes report difficulty adjusting to the cultural differences they find at TWU and the greater DFW area. Your experiences of homesickness, getting along with your roommate, and difficulty in your courses may also be experienced differently from your peers. These stresses may make you sometimes feel depressed, anxious, and socially isolated. Although some level of stress is normal, it is important to recognize when stressors are so intense that you may need to seek help.

Some signs that may warn you that you are experiencing a mental health crisis are:

  • Intense feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Physical changes such as large weight loss or gain and significant changes in sleep habits
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of enjoyment in things you once liked to do
  • Socially isolating yourself from others
  • An inability to control your emotions
  • Low grades
  • Substance abuse

If you feel that you are experiencing a mental health crisis, there are many options:

  • Many individuals find that making an appointment at the TWU Counseling Center and talking with one of our staff members for a few sessions is extremely helpful. This can be done by calling 940-898-3801.
  • Students also find making an appointment at Student Health Services can be helpful as well. TWU Student Health Services, like the Counseling Center, offers many unique services, such as working with students issues of physical illness and medication management concerns.
  • Share your concerns with other individuals in your life, such as family members, faculty, RAs or your hall director, friends, and roommates.
  • If you feel that you need immediate help, please see our section on emergencies.

If you experience stress in transitioning to your studies here at TWU, we want you to know that other students have gone through similar circumstances. Sometimes these students found the assistance they desired in various campus areas. Even if you do not feel that you are experiencing a mental health crisis but just want some extra support, there are other places around campus where you can find help. Here are some resources that may be beneficial:

Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach

International Affairs

Myths and Assumptions about LGBQ People

Being gay is contagious

Most LGB individuals were raised by straight parents. Sexual orientation is most likely determined by genetics. 

Gay people recruit others to be gay

Sexual orientation can't be changed. Gay people are attracted to other gays. This myth may come from the fact that many gay people don't come out until they older, when they meet someone to whom they are attracted. This doesn't mean that they weren't gay before, just that they hadn't come out yet. Gay people do not sexually stalk straight individuals for casual sex.

There are specific gender roles in gay relationships

There are a variety of forms of gay relationships, just as heterosexual relationships.  Sometimes there may be specific roles for each person, sometimes these roles are very flexible.  Original butch/femme roles may have come from imitating heterosexual roles.

Gay men want to look like women and lesbians want to look like men

Some gay men do enjoy wearing women's clothes, but most don't. Most conform to cultural expectations for men's dress.  Lesbians usually do not want to look like men. Their choice of dress is more often determined by comfort and, possibly, by rebelling against stereotyped ideas of what women should look like. Some lesbians enjoy dressing very feminine.

Gay people could change if they want to

Research has repeatedly shown this is not true--that sexual orientation is something we are born with.  Examples of people who claim to have changed their orientation usually indicate someone who has changed their behavior in response to internal or external pressure to be heterosexual. This is often at great cost to self, because basic feelings haven't changed. 

Sexual orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. And some people report trying over many years to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual with no success. For these reasons, psychologists don’t consider sexual orientation for most people to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed. The American Psychological Association has made several official statements that conversion therapy is unethical.

Therapy could cure homosexuality

Treatments that claim to cure homosexuality are just successful in coercing heterosexual behavior—you cannot change a person's inner feelings about their basic orientation.

People are gay because they were sexually abused

Most people who were sexually abused do not take on a gay identity. Gay and lesbian people, just as heterosexuals, may have been abused, but this has no relation to their sexual orientation. Straight women who have been sexually abused by men may have difficulty relating to men, but this does not mean they are lesbians.

Gay persons sexually molest children

Approximately 95% of child molesters are heterosexual men.  A molester who abuses boys is not usually gay--many will abuse children of either gender. 

Gay people do not have stable or long relationships

Even though gay and lesbian relationships do not have the social supports which heterosexual relationships have, many gays and lesbians form long-term, monogamous, stable relationships and consider themselves to have a lifetime commitment to each other. Many heterosexual people have trouble forming stable relationships; so do some gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

Gay people do not have children

Many gays and lesbians are parents. They may have children from a prior heterosexual relationship (many come out later in life). They may also choose to have children within their gay or lesbian relationship, by adoption or artificial insemination.

Homophobia only exists in straight people

Homophobia--an irrational fear of homosexuals or of being homosexual--exists in straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people growing up in a culture that oppresses people who are not heterosexual.  Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have homophobic feelings just as straight people do. They have internalized these feelings from the culture, and often have problems with self-hatred and lack of self-acceptance.

If a person has sex with opposite sex, then they can’t be gay

Many people do not realize they are gay until later in life, partly because of the negative views our society holds of gay people.  Prior to this they may have heterosexual relationships.  Some gays and lesbians also engage in heterosexual relationships in an effort to hide or deny their gay/lesbian identity.  And many people are not exclusively either heterosexual or homosexual.  They may find themselves attracted to people of either gender.  At different times they may engage in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

Gay people can’t control their sexual urges

Gay people have the same range of level of sexual desire as others. This myth may arise from defining gay people by their sexual behavior, i.e., being gay or lesbian is all about whom you have sex with.  Many other factors go into LGB identity.

Coming out is a one time process

For most gay people, coming out is a lifetime process. In any new situation or relationship, the gay person must decide how out to be. These situations can include simple activities (i.e. shopping, opening a joint checking account, picking out furniture, buying jewelry, taking your child to the doctor, attending parent night at school, or having company over to your home).

Gay people are not happy because they isolate themselves

Some gay people are isolated because of fear of disclosing their gay identity. However, many are active in gay and lesbian communities and find that a great source of support.  Except for how they are affected by oppression, there is nothing to indicate gay people are any less happy than others.

Hollywood portrayals of gay people are accurate

Hollywood reinforces gay and lesbian stereotypes and prejudices. There are few accurate portrayals. The media often focuses on the individuals behaving in extreme ways (e.g., during gay pride marches, acting effeminate).

Discrimination only impacts racial and ethnic minority groups

There is extensive discrimination against LGB people. People can be fired, lose custody of their children, experience housing discrimination, etc.  In most states there are no civil rights protection for LGB people. GLB’s are not eligible for federal jobs (prisons) or military positions. Security checks still inquire about sexual orientation.

Being gay is a mental illness

The APA has determined that being gay is not a mental illness. Research has shown that being homosexual is not associated with emotional or social problems. However, many LGB people experience distress due to oppression and homophobia. Objective scientific research over the past 35 years has consistently shown that homosexual orientation, in and of itself, is not associated with emotional or social problems.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed the term “homosexuality” from the official manual that lists all mental and emotional disorders. In 1975, the American Psychological Association took the same action. Both associations urge all mental health professionals to help dispel the stigma of mental illness that some people still associate with LGB orientation.

Defining Terms

Gay - Can be either male or female. Someone whose primary sexual/emotional attraction is toward someone of same gender

Lesbian - Term representing gay women, although some women prefer to be called “gay."

Bisexual - Attracted to both men and women. May form relationships with either gender at different times in life.

Heterosexual - Primary attraction is toward someone of opposite gender. 

Transgender - Experiences conflict between biological gender identity and inner feeling of being male or female.  May feel like a man in woman's body or vice versa. May pursue surgery to change physical gender.

Homophobia - Irrational fear of homosexuals or of being homosexual.

Heterosexism - The assumption of the inherent superiority of heterosexuality, obliviousness to the lives and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, presumption that all people are, or should be, heterosexual. A systematic set of institutional and cultural arrangements which reward and privilege people for being or appearing to be heterosexual while establishing potential punishments or lack of privilege for being or appearing to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered. (Evans, N. J., & Rankin, S., 1997)

Compiled by Dr. Carmen Cruz and Courtney Aberle of the TWU Counseling and Psychological Services


Page last updated 4:20 PM, May 24, 2022