Gender diversity, identity and sexual orientation

Western culture has for centuries been characterized by heteronormativity, where heterosexual orientation has been considered normal and natural. Deviation from a heterosexual relationship has mainly been considered unnatural and learned.

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Young people today are growing up in a society where traditional gender role patterns are constantly being challenged. New gender categories provide greater variation in sexual identities, and more complex categories for gender are established.

It is important that we, as professionals, can be good conversational partners when young people are exploring, or feeling insecure about, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. It is also important to remember that sexual identity is part of finding one’s identity in general, and that this “work” typically takes place during adolescence.

use of concepts, terms and words

Different terms are used to describe different expressions of gender and sexuality, and these are also constantly changing. Many prefer to use umbrella terms to denote diversity. Today, more and more people use the term “queer”. “Queer” refers to those of us who break the heterosexual and bisexual norms in various ways. LGBTIQ+ is also frequently used, and is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and “the rest”. In this text, we have chosen to use “queer” as an umbrella term.

Gender identity is about which gender we feel like and is not limited to the biological sex one was born with.

The term cis-gender is used when one identifies with their biological sex, and the term transgender can be used when this is not the case. People who do not identify with the two-gender model are also referred to as non-binary.

Gender expression is about the way we express our gender identity and how we want to appear. This is done by sending “signals” to others through, for example, clothing, use of voice, make-up and movements.

Sexual orientation is about who we are sexually attracted to, fall in love with and have romantic feelings for.

Vulnerability and minority stress

Breaking with the heteronorm and the two-gender norm in today’s society can cause minority stress. Minority stress can occur when we feel like a minority or that our gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation is not recognised.

It is not uncommon for minority stress to result in us striving to fit in with the norm we perceive society wants us to follow. For some of us, this can lead to us becoming lovers with people we don’t want to be lovers with or having sex with people we don’t want to have sex with, because we want to fit in. It is also not uncommon for minority stress to lead to social anxiety, isolation or school refusal among young people.

Unfortunately, research shows that those of us who identify as queer report a worse quality of life than the population average. Furthermore, research shows that a greater proportion of queer people are exposed to violence in close relationships, sexual abuse/violations and hate crime.

The terrorist attack in Oslo on Friday 24 June 2022 testifies to the seriousness. In surveys of living conditions, it is also seen that more queers have tried to take their own life, have had suicidal thoughts and suffer from anxiety and depression compared to those who state that they are heterosexual.

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Tips on how to be inclusive

As professionals, it is important to meet children and young people in an inclusive and open way. Here are some tips on how you can make a difference:

Make sure that your own sexuality does not become normative.
Be open and curious about topics related to sexual orientation, where this is relevant in the conversation. For example, if they’re talking about falling in love, you can use a gender-neutral word like “partner” or “boyfriend” until the person you’re talking to has said which gender they’re falling in love with. Ask if you’re unsure.
Create a “safe space” by placing “queer markers” such as brochures, posters, books or, for example, a rainbow or trans flag in the office, in the waiting room, in the classroom, the nursery, etc.
Organize or mark Pride where you work and attend local Pride events.
Speak inclusively in a way that promotes belonging. You can easily do this by, for example, saying “those of us who are queer” rather than “the queer”.
Be aware of the differences between the terms gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
If you are unsure of the gender identity of the person you are talking to, ask which pronoun the person prefers. This can be a good gateway to talk about the topic.

There are various digital services where young people from all over the country can get in touch and ask questions about gender diversity and LGBTIQ+ topics. Maybe you can hang up an overview in your workplace?

Skeivchat (Norwegian) is an anonymous chat service run by the Health Committee and served by young adults with their own experience of breaking with traditional gender norms.

“Skeiv ungdom” has both a helpline and chat service where volunteer young adults answer anonymously about everything young people wonder about being queer.

Ichatten” (Norwegian) is served by professionals with sexological education and trans competence who answer questions about gender and gender identity.

The chat for “Sex og samfunn(Norwegian) is operated by health personnel and answers questions about sexuality, sex and sexual health.

Are you unsure what different words and expressions mean? Check out the Norwegian dictionaries at “Skeiv A-Å” .

Do you want to raise awareness of gender diversity and sexual orientation in your workplace? Rosa kompetanse offers courses for, among other things, kindergartens, schools, health workers, social workers and child protection.