This post is part of a series on Debunking the 10 (+1) Lies About Trans People.
Myth #4: Transgender people are gay
When I first came out to my closest friends, the first thing I used to tell them is I’m not gay. While this might seem a tad defensive, I had a calculated reason for doing so. I know – instinctively? – this is the most common myth about trans people. Even the term “coming out” for most people means revealing one’s sexual orientation. Most people haven’t heard much about transgenderism; for many, the only time they’ve heard of it is in the acronym LGBT. Of course, since the other three letters (LGB) all refer to sexual orientation, the assumption is that the T is similar. One would assume.
I must admit, I used to be puzzled why LGB + T is a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m honored to stand beside my LGB brothers and sisters. It just took me a while to see why since the T is a totally different animal.
Now I know (sort of) why transgenderism is placed in the LGB block. One reason is historical. As social outcasts, gender variant people (from transvestites to “classic” transsexuals) found their niche in the same clubs and houses as the equally socially-outcast gays and lesbians. When the gay community got the courage and power to rise up and defend itself, transgender people followed suit. We are fighting for different causes, but historically we’ve been fighting in the same arena.
Both gay and trans people fall under the category “queer,” which is a convenient way of saying “we’re different.” From a more philosophical/sociological view, all queer people confront the fact that society tells us to be/act a certain way based on our biological/anatomic sex.
But what’s the big difference? Gay guys are effeminate, transwomen are super effeminate – they must be the same thing, except transsexuals are super gay! Right? Wrong.
The difference is this: lesbian, gay, and bisexual people deal with sexual orientation, whereas transgender people deal with gender identity. Sexual orientation and gender identity are completely different parts of personhood that can affect each other but are only marginally related! Sexual orientation has to do with who you are attracted to. Gender identity has to do with who you feel yourself to be.
Generally speaking, gay men identify as men and like other men. Lesbian women identify as women and like other women. Bisexual people usually identify as the sex they were born as and like both the same sex and the opposite sex. These are the general rules. Transgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or heterosexual just like everyone else. Their gender identity does not necessarily determine that they like men or women. Some transwomen like men; others like women; others like both. The issue of sexual orientation is a little more complicated for transgender people, but it shouldn’t be confused with their gender identity.
The strongest way this myth asserts itself is among ultra-conservative people who think that transsexuals are those ‘especially freaky gays.’ This misunderstanding is probably because of the prominence of drag queens in LGBT pride events. There is a side of gay culture that likes to perform ‘in drag’ – as female impersonators or personas – in gay or drag clubs. These people tend to (cross)dress very flamboyantly. As I detail in Myth #7, drag queens and trans people are not the same thing.
The more common way this myth asserts itself is through the fact that gay men are associated with effeminacy whereas lesbian women are associated with masculinity or tomboyishness. Since transwomen are feminine, they are assumed to be partaking in the effeminacy of ‘the gays.’ Since transmen are masculine, they are assumed to be especially ‘butch’ lesbians. However, at the end of the day transgenderism isn’t really a matter of feminine and masculine characteristics; it’s a matter of core identity. Gay men may (or may not) have more stereotypically feminine characteristics, but their core identity is male. Butch lesbians might act more like men, but their inner identity is female.
The truth is (and I believe I speak not only for myself), as a trans person I relate more to the plight of intersexed people than I do to the gay community. In some ways a person born with Kleinfelter’s syndrome has more in common with us trans than a gay guy. As a transwoman, I identify much more with the lesbian community than the gay male community. While transgenderism certainly complicates sexual orientation, it is an entirely different issue and should be treated as such.
- Myth #1: Transgender people live crazy lives.
- Myth #2: Transgender people are confused.
- Myth #3: Transgender people are mentally disturbed.
- Myth #4: Transgender people are gay.
- Myth #5: Transgender people are radical liberals with crazy ideas.
- Myth #6: Transgender people hate their bodies.
- Myth #7: Transgender people perform in drag shows.
- Myth #8: You can tell someone is transgender just by looking at them.
- Myth #9: Transgender people aren’t “real” men or women.
- Myth #10: Transgender people are weird.
- Myth #11: Sex and gender are straightforward.