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.