What is meant by sexual orientation?

Mhairi looks back on our conversation at The Kickback in April.

We kicked off The Kickback on April 16th by discussing what we thought was meant by sexual orientation, with Shaniqua saying that she was unsure after we’d spoken upon walking in, but she would say it’s the person you’re attracted to, that you want to be with. Everyone seemed to agree that this attraction was emotional and physical, but we discussed the idea that surely sexual orientation should come from a sexual attraction first.

We discussed the times that we may have been emotionally and physically attracted to a person that we didn’t want to actually be with or in Shaniqua’s words “get freaky with”. Elisha pointed out the difficulty when he said, “Often times we want to hide away from our sexuality because we worry about what everyone else is saying”. It seems that for many of us in the room, we weren’t always clear on our sexual orientation at one point or another and later discussed why it can be so difficult.

I really wanted to see when and how people come to terms with their own sexuality. Shaniqua explained how sometimes you could know what category you would put yourself in without being completely sure, mentioning how the exploration of each other is all a part of growing up.

We spoke about the way schools are handling sexual orientation, especially following an openly homosexual headmaster’s attempts to reform sex education within his school. Many parents had a lot to say about this but we felt that it was important for boys and girls to be taught the same things, for many reasons, as a lack of education can cause stereotypes and bias.  As an example, some people believed that homosexuality caused HIV when Jai pointed out that 75% of cases are heterosexual. Shaniqua spoke about how her religious beliefs shouldn’t interfere with education saying, “Despite being Christian, I want to learn about the LGBT community. I’m not going to try and shield my children from something that is happening in the world.”

Unfortunately, sexual orientation has a huge correlation with mental health so when we are not providing support or a healthy environment for those around us, we see evidence in statistics that outline a rise in depression and suicide amongst the LGBT community. We tried to look at ways to tackle this with Shaniqua saying that people needed to be aware of the services they can access. Jai expressed the importance of open-mindedness and listening, even if you don’t necessarily agree with someone.

“You have to treat everybody like they’re human” – Shaniqua

For those who are going through a low period of mental health caused by issues of sexual orientation, Daisy pointed out how it is often helpful to “be around people who identify similarly to you and are like you”. In thinking about this, we talked about the impact of a mentor, rather than a peer. Louise spoke about her experience, telling us, “When I was growing up, I didn’t have a role model to tell me that the things I was experiencing were okay. I’d like to be that for someone else though.”

Humi works for Diversity Role Models, an anti-bullying LGBT charity. She spoke about how they try to humanise the experiences of sexual minorities for young people who might not know anything about the LGBT community. As well as defining terms, they also attempt to introduce students to people who are just like them, pointing out how the experience of a white gay woman is different to a black gay woman.

We were very fortunate to have Naomi break down some of the history that explains the discrimination that homosexuals are facing today. She said, “Britain criminalised homosexuality around the world. It was something that was accepted in Asia and Africa but was then criminalised. Now, Western countries are legalising and decriminalising it and it’s seen as progressive.” Daisy pointed out that we essentially put homophobia into these countries.

We then went on to discuss why this criminalisation happened, with Naomi saying that was a way to control people. Humi importantly mentioned how “A lot of people say it’s not natural, because a man and woman together can produce a baby. That’s where it consciously and sometimes subconsciously stems from.” Things have changed from generation to generation, due to the changing of laws and the way that people often look to the law or to religion, but it is also true that for the older generation, they just didn’t have the numbers or resources that we have in order to stand up and speak out.

“Each generation has a generally higher wave of consciousness” – Daisy

We next spoke about language and how if you ask someone if they’ve got a boyfriend, it closes conversation. Humi explained how it can be better to ask if they have a partner, rather than making assumptions. We generally found it very difficult not to talk about gender when talking about sexuality. However, language is evolving. Daisy said, “I like the term queer”. When we thought about where the impulse comes from to ask heavily gendered questions, I came to the conclusion that having equality at the heart of one’s mind enables you to ask less biased questions.

We also spoke about who we were growing up and the importance of questioning everything, and how we, as quite a niche little group, were able to grow and adapt. Meeting people from different places and backgrounds changes you as a person.

Humi said that many of the prejudices people have are deep-rooted in anger that comes from fear – fear of the unknown. This fear is released when you introduce someone to it.

So consider this: It’s important to not just say you’re wrong to people, but rather think about the things you asked yourself when you were coming to the same realisations and use that to start conversation with others.

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