What Does It Mean to Be Gay?

· Updated on December 14, 2023

Being gay is the sexual orientation of individuals who are attracted to members of the same sex. Gay individuals can experience feelings of love and intimacy in various ways, including forming romantic relationships, sharing a household together, or engaging in sexual activities.

The LGBTQ+ community is vast and ever-evolving, making it challenging to pinpoint where one stands on the spectrum—and that’s perfectly okay! Sexuality is fluid and can change over time, so the crucial part is allowing yourself the space to explore and discover what feels most authentic to you.

In this article, we’ll delve into what it means to be gay and the facets of being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Where does the word Gay come from?

The term “gay” has roots in Old French, where it originally meant “joyful” or “carefree.” Over time, it evolved to signify individuals who are attracted to the same sex. The term gained prominence in the 20th century, becoming a widely accepted identifier for homosexuality. 

The word gay is probably the most recognized term when referring to the LGBTQ+ community. Although many associate the word gay with men loving men, lesbians, non-binary individuals, and other identities might use the word gay as an umbrella term. 

@sydneykidneybean Decided to start with the basics 🌈❤️ #gay #queerwordoftheday #definition #funfact ♬ original sound – Sydney


Alternatives to the word Gay 

Because identity is personal and different people are comfortable using different terms there are a variety of ways to say the word gay, including: 

  • Homosexual
  • Queer
  • MLM
  • Lesbian

Labels and terms carry nuanced connotations, and personal comfort may dictate the choice of one term over another, even if they essentially mean the same thing.

What makes someone Gay?

Being gay refers to an individual who is attracted to members of the same sex. However, one’s identity can go beyond this label. Some gay individuals may also identify as asexual or use the term “queer” to encompass their gay identity.

Understanding one’s sexual orientation is a personal journey that can unfold at any age.No one else can invalidate someone’s queerness, and there’s room for complexity and intersectionality within every individual’s queer identity. Self reflection and educating yourself is the best way to understand whether or not you fall under the spectrum. 

While the term “gay” is often associated with a binary definition, it doesn’t solely apply to cisgender individuals. Nonbinary people can be gay too, and using they/them pronouns is entirely valid for them. Trans individuals can also identify as gay, highlighting the diverse and endless connections between gender representation and sexuality.

Is this identity for you?

The LGBTQ+ community is expansive, offering numerous ways to express one’s identity. It might be challenging at first to understand where you fall on the spectrum. If you’re uncertain about whether you identify with the gay community, consider reflecting on the following questions:

How does the term “gay” make you feel?

Reflect on your emotional response to the term “gay” when referring to yourself. It should evoke feelings of confidence, pride, and joy. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s perfectly okay. You may need time to explore your feelings or choose not to label yourself as gay. Some people opt for labels like queer or sapphic, while others prefer not to use any labels at all. The key is to find a term f that makes you comfortable. Or not! A lot of individuals choose not to use labels and that’s totally okay too.

Can you picture yourself dating, having sex, or being in love with someone of the same sex?

Reflect on how you perceive individuals of the same sex. Do you see them only as friends, or are there feelings of romance and attraction present? If you can envision yourself in a relationship with someone of the same sex or engaging in sexual activities with them, you might identify as gay. If you feel the same way about individuals of another gender, that’s okay too! Bisexuality, pansexuality, and other sexual orientations include attractions to different genders.

How do I feel about societal expectations and norms?

Consider whether societal expectations or norms are influencing your understanding of your sexual orientation. Are you able to separate your authentic feelings from external influences? What society considers “normal” might taint understanding your sexuality. Let yourself explore how you feel about romance and sexuality without the idea of societal expectations in mind. It might help clear up how you REALLY feel. 

Gay Representation in Media

Growing up with media that predominantly features heteronormative storylines can shape our perception of romance. Queer media plays a crucial role in illustrating that sexuality has nothing to do with a happy ending, and queer individuals deserve joy too. Engaging with books, movies, and TV shows that depict gay characters is an excellent way to understand gay sexuality and find comfort in seeing relatable representations on the screen. 

Here are some of our favorite watches:


  • In & Out: This lighthearted comedy explores the comedic and heartwarming aspects of coming out as gay in a small town.
  • Love, Simon: A heartwarming coming-of-age film centered on a gay teenager navigating love and self-discovery.
  • Pose: Set in the vibrant ballroom culture of the late 1980s, this TV series explores the lives of LGBTQ+ characters, including gay individuals, against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  • Call Me By Your Name: Based on the novel, this film depicts a summer romance between two young men in Italy. The book is also an incredible read!


Our culture page is a fantastic resource for more content related to LGBTQ+ identities and the incredible people who embody them.

The Gay Pride flag

The rainbow flag representing the LGBTQIA+ community was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978. The colors on the flag represent the following in order from top to bottom: life, healing, sunlight, nature, harmony/peace, and spirit. While this is the original and traditional gay pride flag, it has evolved overtime to more inclusive forms including the:

  • Philadelphia Pride Flag: which added brown and black stripes for more representation of queer Black and Brown folks.
  • Progress Pride Flag: which took the black and brown stripes of the Philadelphia Pride Flag and added the pink, light blue, and white stripes of the trans flag in a chevron pattern over the original pride flag.
  • Intersex Pride Flag: which was built further upon the Progress Pride Flag by adding a block of yellow with a purple circle inside of the white chevron area of the Progress Pride Flag to add intersex representation. 


The bottom line is that gay representation matters, and understanding the nuances of the community is essential for allies and community members alike.

Identity and sexuality are fluid, and it’s entirely normal for one’s identification to evolve over time. Embrace the journey and recognize that it’s okay to identify as something completely different this year than you did last year.

If you connect with the ideas above and are contemplating coming out, ensure that the conditions are safe. Have a plan of action regarding housing and food in case things don’t go as planned.

In addition, be sure to learn about the other LGBTQ+ identities, subscribe to the INTO newsletter to learn more. 

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