Embracing Divergence: Thinking Outside the Box on Sexuality

This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

I’m a sucker for female-driven sci-fi stories (anyone else waiting for film versions of Octavia Butler books?), so I couldn’t wait to see the first Divergent film. In case you haven’t seen it, the film depicts a world in which people are divided into five different factions based on human virtues. Each year, 16-year-olds take a test that indicates which faction would be the best fit for them. The main character, Tris, is known as “divergent” because she doesn’t fit into any one category. She’s told she must keep this a secret, as she would face danger or be an outcast if her divergence is discovered.

As usual, the film reminded me of the work I do in sexuality education. This dystopian future with strict rules about which category someone belongs to is not vastly different from the present day, at least when it comes to sexuality. In our society, people are put in boxes with simple labels. Sometimes the labels or the boxes just don’t fit. If we embrace a society without boxes or with multi-dimensional labels, it can help us all get to know each other on a more meaningful level. And it can keep those of us who may not fit into a single label or box from feeling left out.

In this month’s Ask Elizabeth column, I’ll focus on questions about not fitting into certain boxes and labels. If you have a question that you’d like to see answered in this column, send them to me at [email protected].

Q: What if I feel like I’m not a boy or a girl?

When we’re born, we have our biological sex (our physical anatomy). Based on that, society usually tells us that we’re supposed to look and act a certain way, like wearing certain colors or playing with certain toys. Our gender identity is different. Gender is  about how we feel on the inside. Some people feel like they are boy or a girl, or man or woman, and this matches their biological sex. Others may feel like their gender doesn’t match their biological sex. Transgender or trans is a term to describe people whose gender identities don’t match their biological sex and/or most people’s ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman. All of these are normal feelings. Trans people express their gender identity in lots of different ways. Some trans people may dress or act in order to be seen as the gender that feels right for them. For others, neither box feels quite right, and they may not choose either role. It’s up to each person to decide what feels right for them. It’s also important to remember that someone’s gender identity isn’t related to their sexual orientation (who they’re attracted to).

Q: I’m a girl, and I’m attracted to guys, but lately I’ve been attracted to other girls. Does this mean I’m a lesbian?

This is a really common question. Your feelings are yours alone, and no one else can tell you what they mean. Sexual orientation is who you are romantically, emotionally and physically attracted to. Some people who are attracted to the same sex identify as gay or lesbian, and some people who are attracted to both men and women identify as bisexual. Some people don’t think any of these labels fit, and they may choose not to use any labels. It’s up to you to decide who you’re attracted to and how you want to label yourself, if you want to at all. There’s no right or wrong answer. Though we may feel a lot of pressure from society, including friends or family, to pick just one “box,” we don’t have to. It’s totally normal to feel attracted to both guys and girls, and it’s not always 50/50. It’s just as normal to be unsure or questioning. Sometimes how a person identifies or who they’re attracted to changes, and that’s fine too.

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