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What is the Difference between Gay and Transgender?

This may be a very basic post for some and if so I invite you to skip it, but it is one of the most frequent search requests that land people on my blog, so I thought I should write a very clear answer to this query. (I wrote previously about the difference between some experiences of gay and transgender people here.)

OK, to begin with let’s define some terms.

‘Gay’, ’Lesbian’ and ‘Bisexual’ refer to sexual orientation, in other words – who you are attracted to.   A man who is attracted to other men could identify as ‘Gay’ or ‘Homosexual’.

‘Transgender’ is often used to mean ‘Transsexual’(Transgender refers to a larger group of people than that) has to do with one’s gender identity.  Gender Identity is how one identifies in terms of maleness or femaleness.  For a transgender or transsexual person one’s gender identity is different from what one might expect given ones natal or biological sex (‘Sex’ here refers to one’s biological sex – how one was born.)  Gender is not always the same as one’s sex.  ‘Gender Identity’ is how one feels inside, and Sexual Orientation is who one is attracted to vis-à-vis your current gender presentation.

To get back to the question ‘What is the Difference between Gay and Transgender?’ – we see that the difference is one has to do with sexual orientation (who you are attracted to sexually) and the other has to do with gender identity (who you feel yourself to be).

Why then all the confusion?

I think it has to do with the fact that queer folk – (i.e. gay lesbian and bisexual) might have more overlap with gender queerness than other (heteronormative or ‘straight’) folk.  In other words – among gay men – there may be a larger percentage of gender fluidity – or those who identify as somewhat more feminine than among straight men and the same with gay women.  This is their natural ‘Gender Expression’.  Indeed Freud remarked on the biological characteristics of gay men back in the early 1900’s.  Therefore it is possible to confuse or conflate sexual orientation with gender identity.  In addition, much of the stigma and discrimination suffered by gays and lesbians over the years has more to do with their visible gender non-conformity than with their invisible sexual preference.  The world has very little tolerance for gender non-conformity, although the world is changing.

Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. i like this !! basic or not..there is so much confusion. on this topic. i particularly relate to “visible gender non-conformity.”….been the story of my life…well said!

    October 31, 2012
  2. Dahlia #

    Great post. I consider myself a straight pre-T, pre-op transguy. Growing up in a small religious community, it took me a while to accept myself for who I am. Finally, at almost 40, I’m being true to myself and with the world. I’ve recently docuented my story on my blog >> It is my intention to join those who have been able to become themselves inside and out in the near future.

    November 13, 2012
  3. This is a very good blog entry on this topic. I have written about how people will say things like “LGBT”, but they are not necessarily considering the transgender community when they say this. As a therapist who provides therapy to the transgender community in Dallas, I see these types of misconceptions on a regular basis. Thank you.

    December 4, 2012
  4. Jesse Harris #

    I have a few comments regarding being transgendered and sexual orientation, and about the statement that the gay and lesbian communities are historically trans friendly.

    To preface my comments I do not have to be stealth at work. I’m socially and politically active within the LGBT community. I’m an advocate for trans questioning individuals. I’m a volunteer in the community. I regularly “out” myself for the sake of a teachable moment. And I live in one of the most LGBT friendly cities in the U.S.

    I am FtM and I still identify as lesbian. I have never been heterosexual. When I transitioned (1986) I was told I “had to be” heterosexual because I am still attracted to women and there are/were no other options.

    I tried dating heterosexual women with disastrous results. There is a mind set that comes with an orientation of any kind, and I am not heterosexually minded. Heterosexual women expected behaviors and ideals from me that are heterosexual, and male, in nature. I didn’t have any surgeries to create a penis and the heterosexual women I dated wanted that physical presence. I also experienced their later paranoia regarding people that would perceive them as lesbian in my presence, when in reality this was not possible because I look like a man.

    I cannot call myself “gay” because the connotation has changed over time to represent gay men, and I am not a gay male. And unfortunately, my “dating pool”, such that it is, has decreased to near zero because women that identify lesbian will not date persons such as myself. I totally understand this due to my previous lesbian background. It’s a conundrum.

    Regarding the friendliness of the G/L communities toward the trans community- I still have regular conversations with people who ask “why do we have to include them(trans)?”. And I remember when I was lesbian, all those years ago, asking the same question.

    May 30, 2014
  5. I hate the fact that people commit suicide over dumb stuff like this. just accept people for who they are and STOP bullying them for it😑

    January 24, 2015

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