Should there be a T in LGBT?
This question was prompted by my sister asking me this week to write a piece for my blog about the difference between your sex and your sexuality. In essence, she wanted me to make it clear, for those interested in knowing more about the subject, that the gender you consider yourself to be has nothing to do with your sexuality. In other words, knowing someone is male, female, transman (female-to-male), or transwoman (male-to-female) will not tell you whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. It is not them, but the object of their affection, that will give you a clue to their sexuality.
For those who are confused, here is my handy look-up table:
I believe that the confusion arises because so many transgender/transsexual people start their journey in the homosexual world. The realisation that they are trapped inside the wrong body often happens quite slowly. Until that realisation dawns, the explanation that makes sense for why, as a man they fancy men, or as a woman they are attracted to women, is that they are homosexual. Once the realisation that they are transgender happens and the individual takes steps to present as their correct gender, it is no longer sensible to say that they are homosexual. The only logical label to attach is heterosexual.
The above explanation is probably the most common route for a transperson to take, but there are numerous cases where the transperson, by changing their gender/sex, becomes homosexual. A male who likes women, but sees himself as a woman, takes steps to transition, and post-transition still likes women, becomes homosexual by definition. Equally, there are females who become transmen and still like going to bed with men.
Hopefully, I have cleared up that question for those of you curious about these things. I fully admit that as an explanation it is simplistic, and that human sexuality is infinitely diverse. (For example, I haven’t touched on the whole transvestite question, which is another box of sequins altogether!) As anyone who has read my previous posts will know, I am not keen on putting people in boxes with labels on them. I would rather say that, should any of us be lucky enough to find someone we love in this world, gay or straight, it is something we should all celebrate, and to hell with what you call it! Unfortunately, the human animal likes cataloguing things, which can sometimes be our downfall…
Cataloguing, or grouping, things set me thinking about the LGBT, or GLBT, coalition. I realised that three out of four of those letters relate to one’s sexuality and only the T relates to one’s sex/gender. I wondered when and why the T had been grouped with the LGB. So, I did some research and found that LGB started to be used in the USA in the mid-1980s. The T was added in the 1990s. So, the T was an after-thought. But, why?
It seems that when homosexual movements started to become active in the 1970s everyone displaying non-traditional gender behaviour was lumped together. As the scientific study of sexology, and the public understanding of homosexuality and gender variance, advanced, schisms within the movement began to appear. Lesbian groups with strong feminist leanings refused to take up gay causes; homosexuals who believed they were born that way criticised those who behaved in way that suggested homosexuality was a choice; and, homosexuals who displayed butch and femme behaviour were viewed as out of touch. By the early 1980s, transgender people were being excluded by homosexual groups, accused of wanting to act out male/female stereotypes, and bisexuals were labelled as gays or lesbians who were afraid to come out. Acknowledging that all these groups had separate identities, but wishing to retain a political coalition, the LGBT initials started to be used in the late 1980s to describe the movement. Today, there are still LGB separatists that do not accept the T. They argue that there is little common ground between LGB issues and trans issues; they accuse transpeople of being “traitors” to the homosexual cause (by changing sex and “becoming straight”); and, just like within society at large, members of the LGB subset are not exempt from exhibiting transphobic behaviour.
On paper, maybe they have a point? The big issue for homosexual couples at the moment is marriage. This is not an issue for transpeople who change their sex officially. They can marry. Similarly, the big issue for transpeople is the funding of sex-change medicare and operations. It is not covered by health insurance in the USA and is not on the National Health Service in the UK. It is still seen as a choice to change sex, rather than a medical necessity. This is not an issue for homosexuals.
There is no doubt that the LGBs number more than the Ts, and that the LGB agenda has won some high-profile victories in the drive for equality. Most people now know about homosexuality, but many people remain uninformed about transsexuality. Based on this, it would be easy to assume that the Ts need the LGBs more than the other way around. But, that would be to assume that the Ts are still finding their voice and require the assistance of the LGBs to get their message out there, rather than an alternative explanation in which trans issues have taken a backseat to those of the larger LGB community. Whatever the reason, the result is that the majority of people are no longer shocked by homosexual behaviour, but are still fearful of the trans community.
Maybe the transgender community would be better off joining with a health coalition to fight for the right to medical treatment and equality in the workplace? Recent research indicates that people are born with Gender Dysphoria. It is a congenital condition, like Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus, Esophageal Atresia, etc, in which the parts of the brain responsible for sex responses develop differently in transpeople. However, congenital malformations frequently come with lifelong physical disability and mental impairment, something with which gender dysphoric people do not have to cope. Campaigning on issues of wheelchair access, for example, would be a stretch for most transpeople! However disconnected one feels that the LGBT coalition is at times, it is difficult to see such a radical change of direction happening now. The Ts are stuck with being an after-thought on the end of the LGBs.
However, far from being an adjunct, I believe that the LGBs need the Ts more than it would at first appear. The reason the LGBT coalition works has to do with empathy. As I have said, before becoming part of the trans community, many transgender people are part of the homosexual community. They therefore understand the issues about which homosexual and bisexual people campaign. They may have come out twice, once as homosexual and once as transsexual. They may have faced rejection by family, friends, and employers, in doing so. Before transitioning, they may have experienced being denied the right to marry their partner or adopt children. In the worst cases, they may have been imprisoned or physically threatened for being homosexual. The Ts are therefore allies for the LGB cause. They will stand up for equal marriage rights alongside their LGB friends, because they know how it feels. As anyone who has done any campaigning knows, the more voices you can attract to a cause, the more change you can bring about.
But, while Ts are doing this, they must not forget to stand up for their own rights and make their issues heard. It is important that we talk about our experiences, to inform those we meet. Just because Ts can empathise with the LGB cause, it doesn’t mean it works the other way around. Don’t forget to talk to your LGB friends, as well as your straight friends, they need to understand your journey too. Being trans is just as alien to a homosexual person as it is to a heterosexual person, which brings me back to my original point. I believe that the T in LGBT should be there, but we have to remember it is different and that sitting on the coat-tails of the LGB coalition, hoping they will include T issues in their next rally, is not necessarily the way to get our voice heard.
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