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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.

26 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 >> http://goo.gl/5S6Pb 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
  6. Augusto #

    Hi, If a transgender man feels more feminine inside, would that make him more attracted to men? and if that’s the case wouldn’t that make him somewhat gay? Thanks

    April 25, 2016
    • Evon Niranjan #

      Hi, here is what I think. A transgender man may feel more feminine because she considers herself a woman. That is gender, i.e either male or female. Sexual orientation is which sex they are attracted to. Lesbians identify themselves as women, some more “feminine” than others, but nevertheless attracted to women. There are also men, who are more feminine than most, but are still attracted to women. Femininity and masculinity is just a character to a person.

      April 30, 2016
    • Katrina #

      In statistical terms, a woman with a male birth certificate is more likely to want to date men than a man with a male birth certificate, but it is by no means certain that she will prefer to date men.

      However, a woman who wants to date only men is hetrosexual, regardless of what her birth certificate says she is, and if she wants to date only women, she is lesbian, regardless of what her birth certificate says she is.

      June 17, 2016
    • If he feels more feminine inside , he can be a woman again .

      July 4, 2016
  7. Who would a transgender man have sex with? Another man or a woman? If another man then he is simply gay isn’t he?

    April 28, 2016
    • Jesse H. #

      Jerrod,

      Although I’m fairly certain your question is well intended and asked for the sake of clarification, I’m also VERY certain that this question would never be asked of a person who is heterosexual.

      In all the years that I have been a member of the LGBT community, this is one question that I consider inappropriate to ask of anyone, unless we are attending a human sexuality course in school.
      I would like for anyone to answer my question- why do others think it is OK to ask anyone from the LGBT community who they have sex with? Would you ask anyone outside of this community this question?
      One’s sexual orientation is of no concern to others and I can say that sex is not the driving force for most of us and is only one facet of our character. Unfortunately, there are others outside of the LGBT communities that seem to think it is the only piece and then base their entire perception of us on that aspect alone.

      I’m a person who transitioned from female to male, but I maintained my lesbian identity. I’ve never identified as heterosexual and I don’t have sex with men or heterosexual women. Regardless, my sexual life is of no concern to anyone but myself and my partner, who have all been lesbian in the past and will always be lesbian in the future.

      April 30, 2016
      • cyb #

        Now that was quite an aggressive reply without exact answer for an innocent question raised by someone who wants to understand the different shades of sexual identity and orientation.

        Maybe I am wrong, as I am a heterosexual person, but I try my best to answer using simple mathematics/logical relations:

        1. transgender man (feels as a woman) + interested in women = like a lesbian in male body
        2. transgender man (feels as a woman) + interested in men = feminine gay
        3. man (feels as man) + interested in woman = heterosexual man
        4. man (feels as man) + interested in men = masculine gay
        5. transgender man (feels as a woman) + interested in both sexes = feminine bisexual?

        I suppose, there can be transitions in the states and the scale can vary, but correct me if I am wrong.

        April 17, 2017
      • Jesse H #

        Greetings,

        All the trans men I know and have known, do not “feel as a woman”. They are female from the beginning and believe they should have been male. Accordingly, all the trans women that I know and have known, do not feel as men. They are male from the beginning and believe they are women. The piece of your equation that is missing is sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is intrinsic. Sexual orientation is rarely affected during transition but is certainly embellished upon.

        I have never been heterosexual. I have always been a member of the gay community and my orientation is lesbian. 30 years after my transition I still remain attracted to lesbian women, and only lesbian women. I’m not attracted to heterosexual women because I’m not heterosexually oriented.

        I’m aware of only a few trans men who maintain their lesbian identity throughout. The reason given to me by almost all others; they were attracted to women but did not feel, nor wanted to claim being lesbian.Those trans men claim heterosexuality.
        Accordingly, trans women- who still remain attracted to women- call themselves lesbian because of their attractions to women before, during, and after transition.

        My “aggressive” response comes from years of questions such as those that come from heterosexuals who feel it is even acceptable to ask. My assumption here is that no LGBT person has approached and asked you the same question without regard to civility. I have never asked anyone of any walk of life those questions. It’s non of my business.

        I also take issue with the presumption that anyone in the LGBT communities are merely their sexual behaviors. How about asking “what’s it like trying to acquire employment during transition?”, or “do you have family support regarding your decision?” These are much kinder questions. The others are ones own business.

        April 18, 2017
    • Stephen #

      Jesse H., why are you so confused?

      This is a blog post made with the purpose of explaining and sorting out the differences between trans and gay, with the purpose of discussion to clear up questions exactly as stated by Jerrod above. This is NOT a casual conversation in a social setting, party or workplace. If it were, then the question of “who do you prefer to have sex with?” Would of COURSE be inappropriate, at least in most instances.
      However, this not one of those settings, and Jerrod’s question is perfectly appropriate and would actually be helpful to many if answered.

      Why are you struggling to see the difference? And why are you being so judgemental?

      May 5, 2017
  8. Lee Bacon #

    Thanks for the answers. I believe that I now understand the difference. Question? Will or can deviate individuals take advantage of regulations for LGBT people to hurt or injure any individuals. For example trans genders using restrooms with straight children presents danger from deviates, not the transgendered folks.

    May 14, 2016
    • Jesse H. #

      It’s unfortunate that this question has to even be asked.

      With that said, this question implies that trans folks are sexual perverts that molest children. Historically and statistically speaking child molesters have never been trans- just heterosexual males who can’t keep their hands off children. This group of creeps would very possibly take advantage but they’re already opportunistic creatures by the mere act.

      Trans folks are a separate group of people and we have been offended by, and have stood up against, the idea that we are the offenders. If there is an individual lurking and presumably molesting children in bathrooms, I’m fairly sure that the person is just a creep and NOT a transgendered person.

      May 14, 2016
      • cassware #

        Well said!

        June 12, 2016
    • Stephen #

      Jesse H., once again, you fail to comprehend the question, and your misunderstanding I think says something about your OWN thought processes.
      Lee Bacon was not saying anything disparate about the LGBTQ community. YOU are the one associating the word “deviate” with that community, not the original poster.

      The original question was, could laws that are gender identity friendly regarding public spaces be possibly abused by criminals or sex offenders (such as child molesters, kiddie pornography voyeurs, etc) to THEIR advantage as well? Such as, does giving access to the women’s restroom to a broader spectrum of people (not just biological females but to trans folk as well) make it easier for someone with ill intent (such as a hetero voyeur or pedophile) to have access to the restroom for illegal purposes?

      Lee was in no way conflating the LGBT community with the word “deviant”…that was YOUR mindset, not his.

      May 5, 2017
      • Jesse H #

        Greetings to those who find my contributions off putting and to all others that get it. I stand by what I say and I am not confused. This forum is for the open and honest discussion of MY (transgender) mental health and that of all my trans peers.

        My comments and contributions are honest and open and all mine. Take from them what you will..

        Having said that, my journey started decades ago. My thoughts and comments are based on years of experiences as a gay/lesbian/trans person. My comments are based on generations of exposure to hate, bigotry, and outright laws banning me from my rights as an American citizen. My experiences and resulting comments are based on multitudes of homophobes calling me and others like me, a deviant.

        One of those rights is based in what is appropriate to ask ANYONE of their sex, sexuality, sex practices, etc…My opinion is that no one has the right to ask me that and I have NEVER asked any heterosexual that question. A potential employer cannot ask this question. It’s against the law.
        In the past these types of questions were based in curiosity and lewdness on the part of the person asking. I would never put anyone in that spot. My experiences have been with heterosexual people under the impression that it is perfectly alright to ask any “abnormal” person this question….in any of its shapes, forms, or implications.

        It has also been my experience over the years that when these situations do arise, we “deviants” are the first to be called into suspicion and put under the microscope of all those who stand in judgement of what we “might do” to others in society.

        Unless you’ve been there …you won’t get it.

        I’m not just an oddball questionable somebody out here displaying my anger. I am an activist in my communities. I’ve been in front of the government officials getting laws passed that “allow” me the rights that are mine by birth. I’ve had my passport denied me because some official somebody wanted me to have an additional body part before they would deem me worthy. I’ve stuck my neck out for my rights and those of all of my LGBT peers.

        I am not confused.

        May 5, 2017
  9. Andrea #

    I am a transgendered person. Gender identity is normally shaped long before any idea of sex or sexual preference. I identified as a girl and only wanted girls as friends. If there are any hormones involved they are not the same, at that early stage, except at puberty when some really distressing physical changes take place which is when more of the profound conflicts emerge. The dissonance, in my case, resulted in a number of suicide attempts, self-harming, private cross dressing and a fractured conciousness.

    Do not for a moment believe that a trans person finds life easy or from time to time would wish they could just be normal. In my case this has made me particularly vulnerable to psycologists, psychiatrists, counsellors and even people in the ‘deliverance’ ministry. These engagements not only delayed my coming out they also provoked more inner turmoil and self rejection.

    I loved being with women and avoided men (still do!) I am also only attracted to women and am married with children. Ultimately though, I had to come out. The relief after so many years of stealth (and disception) was huge and I let everybody know and openly started on a long journey to transition. Now, having partly transitioned I would prefer to see myself as lesbian as my attraction to women is unchanged.

    So, this is only to confirm that gender identity and sexual preference are indipendent but both are much more complex than binary. Like most human characteristics they are a continuum more resembling the normal distribution bell curve. I really appreciate the American native idea of “two spirits” as it is inclusive.

    From time to time I have had to fend off more predatory gay men because they misread my personality, dress of long hair as camp.
    As a child, like so many other trans folk have reported I was bullied, ridiculed and even raped.

    Nowadays I live to be authentic, defend the rights of anybody descriminated against (not only gender!) and help parents and significant others who are dealing with a child who is experiencing gender identity issues.
    To me those are the amazing benefits of being a transgendered soul.

    August 7, 2016
  10. Catlin #

    It is so enlightening to finally find a full legitimate discussion on the differences between the two. As a transwoman (Nonop), I find that Andrea’s discussion has hit at the heart of all of the prejudices of people. As a North Carolina native, I find that the control that is placed on transgender exceeds even the control on known child molesters, and we do not even have ANY rights in this state. Why wont the NAACP or the NCLGBT get behind a formal push to overturn the bigot laws that have been passed.
    I fly under the radar, and now do not even go out of my own home because of these bigot laws. I am 70 years old and this is the most stupid law that I have ever seen. Please look up NC house bill 2, and tell me what you think. Please note that although I didn’t graduate from college, I have more than enough education to understand that HR 2 is a detriment to ALL transgender in ALL STATES!

    December 16, 2016
  11. Larry Garner #

    I am struck by what appears to be a huge uptick in the cases of young children (4-10) who now have “come out” as transgender. I have a notion that most of these young kids are actually gay or lesbian, but since that orientation is “sexualized”, it presents as transgender. “Boyness” or “Girlness” at that early age presents largely as a matter of clothing choice, but later, post-puberty, would present as gay or lesbian if parents didn’t so quickly yield to a small child’s claim to having a transgender identity.

    February 2, 2017
  12. J #

    Unbelievable!!!! Let me get this straight – you are transgender until you mature and want to have sex with the same biological person as you so at that time you become gay????

    February 23, 2017
  13. Könn #

    Uh, no, gender is not fluid. You are either male or female. Gender expression can be fluid though. Gender expression is not a fixed trait; it can vary through time.

    March 15, 2017
  14. Diane #

    Right..attractions vs inner self. I don’t know if a trans female could be lesbian? Why a biological straight man would change the body to female.. ( that would be interesting that a straight man sexually attracted to women but inside feels as a woman and not comfortable with his body!) If that is true..it could be vice versa for straight biological woman.

    October 30, 2017

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