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Posts tagged ‘identity’

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.

Book review: Letters For My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect

Letters For My Brothers

Edited by Megan M. Rohrer & Zander Keig. 2010 Wilgefortis. Kindle Edition.

With writing by: Jamison Green, fAe Gibson, Cristopher Bautista, Chase Ryan Joynt, Malcolm Himschoot ,Lou Sullivan,  Reid Vanderburgh, Aaron Raz Link, Elliott Anthony Brooker, Aaron H Devor, Patrick M Callahan , Zander Keig, C.T. Whitley, Raven Kaldera, Tucker Lieberman, Lyle Blake, Keith Josephson,  Evan Anderson and Matt Kailey.

The book provides the newly-transitioning man with the wisdom of nineteen older brothers who have traveled the road before and offer their views, advice and thoughts on the trip.   As one of the editors – Megan Roher notes in the introduction to this Kindle book “Transmen, who rely solely on online materials to learn about transition, miss out on the wisdom that can only be found in a mentorship experience.”

The short, to the point chapters are a refreshingly devoid of artifice.  The standouts (for me) are Christopher Bautista’s essay which expresses the powerful impact of acceptance:

 …reading that little piece of paper was the most terrifying thing I had ever done. But the entire class of a hundred something people, all of them, started clapping for me. All of that previous frustration from the quarter melted away. I had made my declaration to the class, and they had accepted me. I had never thought this would happen. I no longer had to pour so much effort into trying to pass as a guy, to dress like one, act like one, talk like one, like I had to do in the outside world. My class was fine with who I was, awkwardness and all. And for the first time that quarter and in my whole life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. It felt like home.

Chase Ryan Joynt’s essay expresses doubt and uncertainty about what type of man he should be and will be.

…I struggled for a long time with the various versions of masculinity that were represented in my community. Upon reflection I think that I subconsciously attempted to fit myself into the versions of trans that I thought were acceptable and available…

Reid Vanderburgh gives clear advise and reassurance on various tricky points in transition, such as:

Let yourself feel lonely. You’re losing your lesbian community, and you don’t yet have community to replace it. That’s okay. You didn’t fit that identity, and now that you know it, you really can’t stay. Know that in the future, your individual lesbian friends are still going to be there, but it’s not going to be the same.

Aaron H Devor, an academic writes particularity well on discoveries about male privilege:

…everything I say now sounds more authoritative, or more ominous, or both. Sometimes that works in my favour. Sometimes, especially with women, that evokes fear, resentment, or hostility. I think that I’m just making a plain statement. They see and hear me throwing my weight around. I get tense and may raise my voice a bit in anger because I’m hurting. They perceive me as being scary and abusive.

There are more examples, but I recommend getting the book!

On the down side the writing was uneven, as can be expected in a group project and there was some subtle anger towards male to female trans folk:  “…I have quit working at [].. Felt I was wasting my time on all those male-to-females.” and  “In hindsight, not being in that group was one of the best things that could have happened to me, as it was led by a domineering transwoman who had a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude about how transition was supposed to work.”

However, that aside, there’s a lot of wisdom, comfort and inspiration to be found in these pages and any newly transitioning trans-man will want to read them at least once if not more and hopefully will also be inspired to go out and find some real-live brothers to connect with.

Internalized Trans-Phobia

I recently wrote a short section on “internalized trans-phobia” for a forthcoming book.  So I thought I’d share it here.  (Note it’s aimed at a somewhat young audience).

What is it and how do you get it?

Internalized trans-phobia refers to feelings some people have inside about their being trans that they might not even be aware of.  It refers to how some people hate that part of themselves and are ashamed of it.  The phrase comes from the similar experiences of gay folk who sometimes have “internalized homo-phobia”.

How does this happen?  This happens because of discrimination, ignorance and stigma in society against people who display gender non-conforming behavior.  In other words against men and boys who appear feminine or girls and woman who appear masculine or “butch” or people who are more gender-queer and don’t appear to be completely male or female.

Historically, trans-folk have been the butt of jokes, been made fun of, laughed at, been misunderstood and have been the object of derision and violence.  Transgendered people have been seen as “less than”.

This attitude has been widespread and so to finally arrive at the idea that this could be you; that you could be a member of this hated group can be very scary.  Not only that, but by growing up in a culture and society where this attitude is common, you take it in and part of you believes it whether you want to or not. This can happen because we often learn the attitudes and beliefs of those around us before we become self-aware enough or wise enough to start questioning them.  We often learn these things from trusted people around us – parents, teachers, church leaders, etc.  so that we tend not to question them.  We learn that a certain group of people can be mocked before we know that we are in that group – and then we are stuck in the position of hating something about ourselves.

Sometimes the messages or feedback we get from parents and teachers when we are very young contribute to feeling bad about being gender variant.  Like a parent disapproving of acting too “boyish” or “girlish”.  These messages can be very quick and subtle, like a Mother telling her young son not to “stand like a ballerina”.

This is what causes internalized trans-phobia.

What are the effects of Internalized Trans-Phobia?

Feelings of hate and shame for yourself which you might not even be aware of can result in low self-esteem and depression.  They can cause you to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and inferior, even unlovable.  They can make you feel like hiding a big part of yourself or pretend to be someone else.  They can make you to not want to be around people, to withdraw or be a loner.  These feelings can certainly make you feel very unhappy and angry.  Some people take a long time to come out as trans because they have so much internalized trans-phobia.  It can hold you back in life, not only in terms of finding a way to be the gender you are, but in many areas of your life such as forming deep and satisfying connections to others.

Sometimes internalized trans-phobia can keep you from connecting with other trans-folk.  When one has a deep hatred of the gender-queer inside it can get confusing to be around other trans-folk.  You may see them in the way you learned early on – as freaky, or not good-enough in some way.  The negative feelings can get pushed outward in this way.

What can you do about it?

The first thing to do is to try be aware of it.  Try and acknowledge it if you have it. This is hard to do because we usually automatically try to avoid things about ourselves that we are embarrassed about.  One can feel ashamed of being ashamed!  It gets complicated so it really helps to have a therapist who is knowledgeable about gender issues to do this work with, but a supportive friend or a support group can work too.  It helps to have lots of people in your life who are supportive and positive about your being trans.  It takes time to “undo” deep down beliefs about gender-variant people, just like it took time to get them.

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

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