The ABCs of Gender, Sexual, and Racial Equality

Photo credit: Leanna B. Powell

One of Baltimore’s cafes that promotes equality right on down to bathrooms. Love Red Emma’s! Photo credit: Leanna Powell

I’ve been having some of the most mind-opening conversations of my life recently as I’ve been interviewing women and men about gender and listening to podcasts covering privilege, gender, and sexuality. In discussing and listening, I’ve come across terms that I was unfamiliar with (such as “cis-gendered”). This piqued my curiosity to learn more about gender, sexual, and racial equality. Below are some terms that may be helpful in educating ourselves and others about gender, sexual, and racial equality. This list is by no means comprehensive, but just a smattering to get your feet wet. Whether you’re well-versed in your equality vocabulary, or just beginning advocacy efforts, you are needed. No matter where you are in the journey, let’s ask each other questions, have a posture of a learner, ask how we can help one another as allies, and change the world. Comment below with your experiences in allyship, advocacy, or questions about these words/topics.

Asexual: one who does not experience sexual attraction
Ally: (in context of equality) one who unites with other causes, organizations, or people to promote the global concept of equality promotion (ex: a gender ally, an LGBTQIA ally)

Binary supremacy: the belief that genders fall into two (and only two) separate and distinct categories and that a male or female identity is superior to other identities
Butch: A woman who adopts what would typically be considered masculine characteristics. Note: This is not a derogatory word when used for self-identification. Just like “gay,” or “retarded,” the word is not inherently disrespectful; it’s only disrespectful when used inappropriately.

Cis-: as in, cis-gendered: identifying with your biological sex.
Cis-privilege: The benefits and privileges that go along with identifying with one’s biological sex.

Dyke: Lesbian. Note: this is not a derogatory word if someone self-identifies as a “dyke.” Some women do not like the word “dyke” because of its oppressive roots, while others have reclaimed the word and found identity as a “dyke.”

Egalitarian: Having equal rights, regardless of social, economic, or other distinctions such as income, race, or religious or political beliefs; as in egalitarian marriage (vs. complimentarian marriage),  for example.
Equity (vs equality)In simple terms, equity is equipping everyone what they need to be


Photo credit: Everyday Feminism

successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Consider the image below- if everyone was equal, they’d have the same view, right? But what about the children? They need a boost to be able to enjoy the same view. Policies like affirmative action are temporarily necessary to give equity to educational and career opportunities until people of less privileged backgrounds who’ve had long histories of exclusion can experience equality.

Femmephobia: The devaluation, fear, and hatred of the feminine and anything commonly related to femininity (the color pink, high heels, etc.) that denotes femininity as inherently inferior.

Gay masculine of center: One example of many forms of self-identification, this identity is used by some women who tilt toward a masculine side of gender identity
Gender binary:
Classification of sex and gender as two separate and distinct identities: feminine and masculine

Hapa: A term that originated in Hawaii to describe one who identifies with mixed racial heritage, with partial roots in Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry.
Heteronormativity: The social and cultural constructs that assume heterosexuality is the norm.
Homosexuality: A word some find hurtful, as it links to days when homosexuality was a clinical disorder (some instead advocate using “a person who is gay/lesbian”); a term that The New York Times dropped from usage in 1987, while Fox News continues to lag behind.

Intersectionality: The concept that cultural oppressions (i.e. gender, race, class, and sexual orientation) are all intertwined and that we can be oppressed through multiple identities (ex: a gay African American can be discriminated against for being BOTH gay AND African American)
A condition experienced by approximately 4% of the population in which there are genetic, hormonal or physical differences thought to be typically male AND female. Some choose to self-identify as intersex, while others find this identity troubling. One thing we can agree on: Don’t use the word ‘hermaphrodite!’

Jail: The place 97% of rapists don’t enter; the place where a gay Ugandan can go by law simply for being gay through the 2014 Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act (rooted in laws from British colonization); the place where interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced to for interracial marriage in 1958.

Kinsey scale: A rating scale developed in 1948 in order to account for research findings that showed many people did not fit into neat and exclusive heterosexual or homosexual categories.

Late onset adrenal hyperplasia: One example of an intersex presentation affecting 1 in 66 individuals.
LGBTQIA: Acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Ally

Microaggressions: small, everyday examples of negative statements about a non-dominant group or marginalized identities; may be implicit or explicit.  
Monosexism: Belief that a person can only be attracted to ONE (and only one) gender.

Non-binary: Umbrella term for anything that doesn’t fit in the stratified gender binary model; one can self-identify as non-binary.  

Outing: When someone reveals another gender identity or orientation often without the person’s consent or approval.

Pixie manic dream girl: A female trope known to be carefree and playful and whose primary role in a film, book, or television show is to awaken the heart of a man. What does this have to do with equality? Equality is a byproduct of acknowledging the unequal or oppressive messages we encounter in everyday life, including media and advertising.
Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. In simpler terms, “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.’

Queer: Umbrella term for one who identifies outside of the societal norms in regards to gender and sexuality; once was considered a derogatory term but has now been reclaimed by many LGBTQIA as a desired form of self-identification.
Queer femme: One of many forms of self-identification; typically someone who identifies as a lesbian who exhibits typically feminine traits.

Racialized sexism: When women of color are discriminated against in both race and sex, often stemming from issues of privilege

Sexual entitlement: Belief that another “owes” you sexual encounters that can take the form of sexual harassment, ogling strangers, and demanding sexual favors. While any gender can act sexually entitled, women disproportionately experience male sexual entitlement as expressed in many media, language, and cultural norms or attitudes
Sexual fluidity: Term used to describe that one’s sexual identity and attractions can shift throughout the lifespan; there is a tendency for sexual minority women to experience higher levels of sexual fluidity than men.

Third wave feminism: Current wave of feminism (though some advocate we’re in the fourth) that began in the 1990s focusing on changing cultural constructs of language, embracing intersectionality and allyship (in regards to sexual orientation/identity, race, and class), securing equal opportunities for women, and celebrating the accomplishments of women past and present.

Photo credit: UN

Photo credit: UN

UN Millennium Development Goal 3: One of the 8 goals established in 2000 by the UN to “promote gender equality and empower women” internationally

Vagina Monologues: Play written by Eve Ensler depicting womens’ experiences with masturbation, rape, sex, orgasm, female genital mutilation, menstruation, love, and birth.
V-Day: Global activist campaign started by Ensler to end violence against women and girls. V stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.

Women only space: A place committed to empowering women in safe spaces; historically the women’s movement failed to include trans women but is now changing to promote inclusion. Opinions vary about women-only spaces. I personally have benefited from women-only spaces and also felt torn about them- a post for another time.
Woke: (Often “Stay woke”) A phrase used to encourage critical thinking about social injustice, often used in relation to racial injustice. The term can be traced back to singer Erika Badu in 2008 but became popularized during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Xenophobia: fear and hatred of strangers or of anything that is unknown or “foreign”.

You:  A person needed to address equity and privilege while engaging others in the discussion.

Ze and zir: Gender neutral pronouns that can be used the same way “he” or “her” are used. Ze is singular, as in “he” or “she-” “Ze laughed.” Zir is a possessive pronoun, as in “it:” “I called zir.”




-Developing your awareness of cissexism
-8 Ways to Stop Street Harrassment
-Identifying problematic language
-Identifying gender neutral language
-Strategies to move past “privilege guilt” 

Share your own! Comment below!



“Unwrapping my Lollipop:” Musings on the Best and Worst “Christian Sex” Advice I’ve Received

“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”

I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of “Half the Sky” as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristoff discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference.

The sad things is, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. Truth is, I kinda wish my parents did. Not in a lecturing way or in an embarrassing way incorporating stick figure drawings, but honest talk about human sexuality. When you give youth freedom and a framework for values that don’t demand or shame, youth, in my observations, are generally receptive to what you have to say. ((Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, sorry. We can talk about this over Christmas dinner. Should make for lively conversation while we’re passing around the ham.)) According to the 2010 National Campaign report, eight in ten teens (80%) say that it would be much easier for teens to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents. Similarly, six in ten teens (62%) wish they were able to talk more openly about relationships with their parents.1

Moving away from the home realm and into public education, I remember first being presented with the birds and the bees in 6th grade health class. I didn’t quite understand it, but “The Miracle of Life” video in 9th grade biology class certainly helped clear up a few things. Then came my freshman year of college in which my Sexuality in a Diverse Society professor had the class write a list of as many words as we could think of for “penis” and “vagina.” One person from each group had to read their group’s list aloud to the class. There were lots of giggles and guffaws, plus a few phrases I never thought to associate with human genitalia, leaving me utterly baffled and slightly disturbed.
Sex ed’s debut can be traced back to the 1970s, when their was growing public concern about STDs, teen pregnancy, and increased access to birth control.2 Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education. 17 states and the District of Columbia require that information on contraception be provided. 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided, 26 of which require that abstinence be stressed, while 11 require that it be covered.Generally speaking, you can’t be a teen in America and not hear something about sex during the course of your education, but the content of what you hear may vary greatly depending on your state, locality, whether the school was public or private, or whether it had a religious affiliation.

Moving away from public education into the media, it can go without saying that sex messages are rampant. “Whistle,” a song apt to play on any pop station since it’s release in summer 2012, teaches youth how to perform a blowjob in one catchy tune. But let’s not be naïve here, sex has always been sung about, whether subtly or directly. Baby boomers, remember Peggy Lee’s 1958 hit “Fever” and Righteous Brothers’ “Ebb Tide” circa 1965? Oh, and let’s not forget about Marvin Gaye’s 1973 smash hit… well, you probably already know the title.4

Moving away from media and into religion, this is where I heard both the most appalling as well as the most beautiful messages about sex, some of which are quoted below. Too often, I fear the Church is silent and bashful about sex; one reason, I purport, that youth look to society and friends for answers to questions that they fear are not allowed to be talked about in religious settings, perhaps feeling embarrassed for even pondering such thoughts or questions.

Conversely, when the Church has spoken out about sex, many messages I heard have either been shaming or repressive. Specifically, shaming messages have concentrated upon condemnation of pre-marital sex, and in the process, have hurt and shamed young men and women who have regrets in this arena. Not a picture of the grace and forgiveness I believe Jesus wishes we could experience, and certainly not helping any of us to forgive one of the hardest people to forgive when it comes to something so personal: ourselves. Repressive teachings in the Evangelical culture are those often associated with women and sex. This includes messages ranging from giving your husband pleasure whenever he wants it because this is what he is entitled to as “your leader;” to “You’re a woman. You shouldn’t feel sexual until you’re married. Be pure and chaste.”

I think there’s a place away from both the over-sensualized music videos of Rihanna girating on youtube, and away from bashful “don’t have sex” conversations that discusses sex in a real, authentic way, unabashed in rich, non-shaming, gracious, and open discussion. Bona fide conversations, not lectures, that point to something to bigger than ourselves… our Creator. Herein describes some of those aforementioned messages and a more holistic alternative:

Worst Messages Received About “Christian Sex”:
“In the past, teenagers heard lessons or sermons with theologically suspect object lessons–involving simulated plane crashes, cupcakes with mangled frosting, boards with nail holes in them, roses with missing petals, and wads of chewed gum–meant to be analogies for sexual sin and its consequences.” -Linda Hoffman Kimball, Teaching Saintly Sex (great article on not-so-great teachings)

Give your husband sex whenever he wants it, even if it hurts you; menopause is no excuse. -Debi Pearl, Created to be his Helpmeet (see chapter 16)

Have long hair. -Athol Kay, Girl Game: Have Long Hair

It is your role to lead your wife into a fuller understanding of what Scripture teaches about your sexual relationship. -CJ Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know with a Word to Wives from Carolyn Mahaney

Homosexuality provides a particularly obvious example. Lesbianism typically presents a different picture from male homosexuality. Many lesbians were once actively, unambivalently heterosexual, whether promiscuous or faithfully married. They might have conceived, borne, and raised children without much questioning of their sexual identity. But over time the men in their lives proved disappointing, violent, drunken, uncomprehending, or unfaithful. Perhaps during the unhappiness of a slow marital disintegration, or while picking up the wreckage after a divorce, other women proved to be far more understanding and sympathetic friends. Emotional intimacy and communication opened a new door. Sexual repatterning as a lesbian came later. The life-reshaping “lusts of the flesh” were not initially sexual. Instead, cravings to be treated tenderly and sympathetically—to be known, understood, loved, and accepted—played first violin, and sex per se played viola. -David Powlison, Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (I would love to see the research that supports Powlison’s claim that “many lesbians were once heterosexuals unambivantly heterosexual but the men in their lives let them down”).

We women were designed by God to be helpers and to make men successful- Carolyn McCully, Sex and the Single Woman

We need to discover what makes us attractive to our husbands. What clothing, hairstyle, or makeup do they find most appealing? As always, the standard of “modesty and self-control” set forth in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 applies. And we should strive to care for our appearance—not only when we go out, but also at home where only our husbands see us. As my childhood pastor used to say, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!” Well, what color should that barn be painted? The answer is, whatever is attractive to our husbands! -Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know, Carolyn Mahaney (Maybe we can explore how to honor our husband’s/wife’s/girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s preferences regarding attraction, but what I wish I heard in each of these relationship talks is that first we need to discover what makes ourselves feel comfortable in our own skin. We need to have our sense of self before delving into the wishes, preferences, and requests of what others would like from us. That quality- being a person who possesses their own sense of self and identity- is damn sexy.)

When we choose to obey God and give our bodies to our husbands—even if we don’t feel like it—God will reward us with pleasure. -Carolyn Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, pg. 118 ((I do not think women should be encouraged to “martyr” themselves with their vaginas for the sake of a man’s sexual promptings. I’m not saying to ignore your partner’s desires completely, as I think that would be selfish, but if women are to pleasure their husbands when they don’t feel like it, why aren’t men being told that they should pleasure their wives even when they have E.D. or aren’t “in the mood? (Yes, I believe that there are actually times when a man may not wish to have sex at that particular moment.))

Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times, and be thou ravished always with her love.-Proverbs 5:19 (I don’t think it’s a woman’s responsibility to let her boobs satisfy a man at all times–i.e. 24/7. For one, if you’re around each other 24/7/365, you’ll probably wish for some space away, even for an hour, at some point- which naturally includes boobs. Additionally, I think this puts so much value and emphasis on a woman’s breasts- is that fair? What if she has a mastectomy? Similarly, some men who have ED experience feelings of worthlessness, shame, and depression.When we put so much emphasis on particular parts of the body, we forget about the rest: the WHOLE person that you committed to loving “in sickness and in health,” which I think also includes “in arousal and non-arousal.”)

-You’re not married: Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Oh you’re married? Sex is good. Sex is good. Sex is good. (Is it wise to make grand-sweeping claims that sex is a “bad thing” that suddenly becomes “good? Can we better articulate this by proposing that there is a life stage in which sex can be maturely enjoyed physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and other life stages in which this would be premature?)

-Sex is solely for procreation. (This is where I disagree with the socially conservative sects of the Catholic Church. Sorry, but I think ya’ll are missing out.)

-The pages I ripped out of “Undressed” by Jason Illian (Apparently, I disagreed with them so strongly that I threw them away- specifically pages 105-108).

“Let me teach you something. Those who tell you that sex is intimate and sacred… they’re right. But please also know that you are God’s child, not an item to be assigned a value. Your sexuality can never make you worthless. It is your responsibility to respect and love the part of yourself that creates pleasure and life. Get to know yourself well enough to decide what’s right for your body. Always honor your boom-shaka, va-va-va-voom, and chicka-chicka-wow-wow, because this world is jam-packed with people who will try to tell you what those things are for. And if you lose your own voice amid the warnings, whining, and admonishments, you’ll lose the most important matter at hand: Your Creator gave you sexuality because He loves you. It’s a blessing. And it only belongs to you.” -Abigail Wurdeman, Sexual Responsibility

“Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” -Song of Songs 2:7 (“Can’t Hurry Love” pops in my head every time I come across this verse.)

In response to Rob Bell’s five year old son asking his wife, Kristen, what “sexy” means: “Sexy is when it feels good to be in your own skin. Your own body feels right, it feels comfortable. Sexy is when you love being you.” -Rob Bell, Sex God, p. 46

“You are not alone. Whatever you struggle with, whatever you have questions about, you are not alone. It doesn’t matter how dark it is or how much shame or weakness or regret it involves, you are not alone.” -Rob Bell, Sex God, pg. 62

-The entire “Flame” video by Rob Bell

“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” -1 Corinthians 6:12 (Something to the tune of we have freedom here to be whoever, do whatever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also remember that every choice we make- not just our sexual decisions- has a consequence- either positive, negative, or a mix of both).

“Her desire for children doesn’t come from between her legs. It comes from her heart. She believes it’s possible God wanted to give His children a gift so grand, that He created the most intense bodily sensation.” -Susan Diamond, God’s Gift So Grand

If none of those messages hit home, may I offer another alternative? Gracious, comprehensive, and holistic dialogue to counter an all-too-often rote conversation about just waiting to have sex until marriage. This one’s particularly for all the girls out there— as many messages (such as the “lollipop” quote) are disproportionately directed at girls’ “purity:”

To all the high school (and middle school) girls out there— if you have a friend who is being pressured into having sex, do her a favor and help her listen to and discover that voice that’s inside of her, her very own, somewhere, potentially pleading to be heard among the sea of other voices trying to drown or dissuade her. In a joint-survey, Seventeen Magazine and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy discovered that one in five teenage girls (22%) reported having sex because they were pressured to (not because they wanted to).6 Help a sister out and ask her to look deep inside and see what she really feels.

-If anyone tries to shame you or invoke fear about a sexual decision you have made in the past, remember that you are more than your past regrets and realize that the person sharing this is more concerned with displaying pompous power than being a source of grace and guidance in your life.

-Ask yourself some good questions. What does sex mean to you? What do you think is the purpose of sex? How do you believe you can honor yourself, your relationship(s), and God with your choices?

-Don’t be afraid to speak up when you hear something that seems incongruent with what your heart, soul, and faith tell you— Even if it is someone from the Church.

-Challenge yourself to define your view of love. This, to me, is the most beautiful thing I’ve read about love and wish to include it as a reading at my wedding one day (way down the road):

“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

And one final question to ponder… where does your affirmation come from? If you can’t find value, worth, and acceptance from within-the person made and loved by God,- it’s going to be even harder to find it when placed into the hands of someone else.

Feel free to comment below. Please note that any derogatory comments will be deleted.

What messages have you heard about sex? What resonated with you as wise and helpful and what was not?
Looking back, have your views about sex changed over the years?
Why do you think conversations or messages about sex are often “hush hush” or overtly hyper-sexualized? (I realize that sex is a personal and intimate thing to discuss, but on the whole, I believe it is being talked about anyway—- and often in extremes.)