As Bob Dylan once sang, the times they are a’changing, meaning that the ways in which we approach certain topics must evolve accordingly. Although we’ve made strides in LGBTQIA equality in recent years, there are still those who are hell-bent on keeping the status quo alive. Just this week, the Supreme Court of America ruled in the favor of a baker from Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple on the grounds that it was against his religion. This opens up questions about whether religious beliefs will trump anti-discrimination laws in the future.
With this in mind, we can all make an effort to be better allies and support LGBTQIA communities to the best of our ability. To help you get started, we’ve assembled seven of our best tips on gender and sex etiquette in the 21st century:
- Respect the terminology. Just because you may not understand someone’s orientation or have never heard it before doesn’t make it any less valid. Along those same lines, you should never assume how someone identifies. Pay attention to how people refer to themselves and if you’re still not sure, use their name or ask for their preferred pronoun. Avoid microagressions like referring to a group of female-appearing people as “Ladies” or using “Girl” to emphasize a point.
- Don’t ask what’s in someone’s pants. It’s incredibly invasive to ask someone what their genitals look like. If someone is trans, it is absolutely none of your business where they are in their transition, even if you’re dating and expect to be sexually intimate. Allow them to offer that information willingly and open your mind to the fact that what someone’s genitals look like does not define their sexual experience.
- Never speak to someone else’s experience. All of the books and movies in the world won’t tell you what it’s like to walk a mile in the shoes of a trans person, so don’t position yourself as an expert if that’s not part of your identity. The best way to learn is to support LGBTQIA activists and teachers — buy their books, listen to their podcasts, go to their events, and always trust their experiences.
- Always get consent before trying something new. This seems obvious, but ask a group of women if they’ve ever had a man “accidentally” try to put it in their butt and you’ll be surprised at the results. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been together for five years or five days, always get consent before trying something new with a partner. This also extends to people who make assumptions about what a person enjoys based on their sexual orientation or gender. Not every man who identifies as gay enjoys anal sex. Not every lesbian likes to eat pussy. Don’t use LGBTQIA folks to act out your sexual fantasies, especially if you don’t know whether they share them.
- Never shame someone for their sexual preferences or fetishes. The rule of thumb is that as long as it’s safe, sane, and consensual, there’s no reason or room for judgment. If you don’t understand, ask about it in a respectful manner. Accept that no one owes you an explanation about their personal sex life and that they reserve the right to not answer.
- Be careful about disclosing someone else’s gender identity or sexuality orientation. Just because someone is out to you doesn’t mean that they are out in everyday society. Be mindful about what you share regarding your friends’ gender or sexual identity, as you never know what unintended consequences could transpire as a result. If you’re unsure whether someone would want you to disclose their orientation or identity, keep your mouth shut.
- If you see something, say something. If you see someone being harassed or abused for their gender or sexual identity, try to deescalate the situation if it is safe to do so. Sometimes even just stepping in and acting as if that person is a friend can make a world of difference. In addition, it’s important to stand up to relatives and family members who make offensive remarks. You don’t have to do it in an aggressive or judgmental manner, as that often makes people defensive. Simply saying, “That’s not okay,” can remind people that words have consequences.
This is by no means a comprehensive list and we encourage you to share your personal etiquette tips and what works best for you. Happy Pride Month!