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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.

16 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
  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
  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

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