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Posts from the ‘gay and lesbian’ Category

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 transgendered 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.

The differences between the Transgender and the Gay/Lesbian experience.

While transgendered individuals are now often lumped in with gay folk under the “LGBT” umbrella (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), there are certain differences in experience that are important to understand. Historically the G&L community was accepting of trans folk, and over the years became more inclusive of them, but there are important differences.

  • Transgendered Individuals (and I’m speaking of mostly, but not exclusively of transsexuals here) experience gender dysphoria, whereas gays and lesbians do not.
  • Transgendered Individuals have to jump through many “hoops” in order to transition, whereas gay folk just “come out”. Coming out is also part of the T. experience, but there are many more steps involved to transition. Transgendered Individuals deal with body dysphoria, as well as social acceptance isues.
  • Transgendered Individuals use medical services much more. Trans folk need hormones, surgeries, voice, facial hair, therapy, etc..
  • The sexuality of a Transgendered Individual might be “straight”. If a transman is attracted to women, then he’s straight, if a transwoman is attracted to men, then she’s straight.
  • Gay and Lesbian are variants of sexuality, whereas transgendered individuals have variants of gender.
  • Society has become a little more accepting of Gays and Lesbians, and the acceptance of transsexuals lags behind.
  • Gays and Lesbians don’t have problems using bathrooms, whereas Transgendered Individuals can have problems. When one is in transition or has transitioned, but elected not to have SRS (sex reassignment surgery), it can be very uncomfortable (and possibly dangerous) to use a bathroom that does not offer sufficient privacy.
  • Family members of a Transgendered Individual do a little more “coming-out” than with a Gay or Lesbian family member. Example, someone who discovers they have a gay son, can decide to share or not share that information when asked about their son, but someone with a son who has transitioned to a woman, now has a different decision to make when someone asks them about their “son”.
  • The Transgendered Individual has to deal with name changes, legal documents, titles, etc for example explaining historical anomalies, such as why one’s degree was granted under a different name.

Well, what does one do with all this information? It’s just good to be aware of it. There’s a benefit to joining forces for political purposes, but there’s also the danger of minimizing or equating the Transgender experience with that of Gays and Lesbians

 (For a more basic discussion of the Difference between Gay and Transgender see this post.)

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


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