Time for a ‘sensitive’ and possibly controversial post. Sorry.
I am repeatedly struck by what I can only interpret as the latent homophobia within the transgender community. Time and again on transgender message boards, forums etc I see people saying things along the lines of ‘I am a crossdresser, but I am not gay’, or ‘I am transgender, but I am straight, not gay’.
It seems that after a long internal struggle people are willing to accept who they are and identify as transgender but they fear a stigma. A stigma of being perceived as homosexual. What is going on here?
I understand that we all want to be perceived ‘correctly’ by the world. Whether it is about our gender, our role in society, our vocation or whatever, we want people to see who we really are. This is true of everyone, but is perhaps more true of the transgender community because for so long many of us have been moving through the world and been seen as and forced to conform to a gender that we do not identify with. So I suppose I can see that a transgender person would not be happy to be perceived as having a sexuality that is not in fact their true or actual sexuality.
However, I get the distinct feeling, given the tone of how people speak, that there is more going on here. Some people are very keen to assert the fact that they are ‘not gay’. Almost too keen. Now of course when coming out to your sexual partner about your gender you will need to be very clear to them about what this may mean for your sexuality and the relationship. They will almost certainly be confused and need information clarity and probably a lot of reassurance. They are invested in you and the relationship and have a right to know what is going on, what it means for the relationship and ultimately for them. However does anybody else need to know about your sexuality?
I have always been of the view that another person’s sexuality is irrelevant to me. Whether you are a member of my family, a friend, a work colleague, a teammate or anything else, your sexuality is really none of my business. You could be gay, straight, bisexual, asexual or anything. It does not impact on the way we interact, what we do for each other or our mutual care and concern. Your sexuality does not impact on me in any way. The only time a person’s sexuality becomes relevant is when one or the other party has a sexual interest in the other. At that point however you stop being friends, co-workers etc and become something else. This requires a deft touch. But guess what? It would require a deft touch regardless of the person’s sexuality. Sexual relationships are tricky. especially I suspect ones that ‘evolve’ from some other preexisting relationship. I have friends who happen to be gay and lesbian. I may or may not have some bisexual friends, I do not care. They are my friends and that is all that matters.
I have never had a friend of any gender (as far as I know) want to turn our platonic friendship into a sexual relationship. If they did they never told me or I was to naive to notice. This is perfectly fine with me. I have had one or two strangers (of both genders) hit on me. This is awkward because I am happily married and we are monogamous. In the very few instances where someone has expressed an interest I have been able to say that I am married and left it at that. This is true of both men and women. I have never felt insulted, offended or slighted by the attention and I hope they have not felt offended by the rejection.
I have however seen other people take a great deal of offence when approached by someone of the same gender. Even if that person is at a gay bar (for example). I have never been able to reconcile this attitude. For starters, let me just say that if you are a biological male and you are wearing women’s clothing you have probably lost any right to call yourself ‘straight’. You may not be gay but you are not straight. Regardless of your sexuality you have to accept that you are not displaying bog standard, vanilla behaviour. Secondly, when it comes to being transgender the labels and definitions start to break down very fast. Is a cis-woman who is attracted to a trans-woman lesbian? What if the trans-woman is ‘just’ crossdressing and is otherwise ‘male’? What about admirers who are attracted to the feminine form (especially the excessive feminine traits accentuated by a number of trans women) but who needs his sexual partner to have a functioning set of male genitalia in order to be satisfied? Is he gay, bi, hetero or what? Frankly no definition works really well in these cases. A number of trans women enjoy the idea of being attractive to a male as it somehow validates their presentation. They feel that it is objective proof that their feminine presentation is ‘working’. They may however have no desire to act on this attraction. Now I make no judgments about this behaviour but it does show that the desire to be desired does not equate to a desire to act on that desire. Finally, even if you are a ‘perfectly straight’ cis-gender person and someone approaches you, so what? They made a mistake. All you need to do is be polite and say ‘sorry, I am not interested’. There is no need to be offended, insulted or feel slighted. Someone made a mistake. That is all. But I digress…
To summarise then, the transgender person’s sexuality is almost certainly composed of shades of grey rather than a black or white binary. The transgender person may be very clear about who they are attracted to but no matter how clear this is in their own minds and no matter what this attraction is, they cannot call themselves ‘straight’. Finally the transgender person’s sexuality is relevant only to themselves and their sexual partner/s.
So why then the ongoing need for so many people to assert their sexuality? Sadly I fear that it is often the result of some latent homophobia, perhaps rooted in a desire to assert an identity, but sadly this plays out in a negative manner.
It is clear from the above that sexuality and gender identity are very different things: cis-men and cis-women can be attracted to the same, opposite or both genders; trans men and trans women can be attracted to other trans people, to cis-people and to either gender. Gender identity is not in anyway related to sexuality. This is a very hard concept for many people to grasp. Many people grow up in a world where men are attracted to women and therefore it seems that gender and sexuality are the linked. This is not true. There is indeed a high correlation between gender and sexuality (whether this is innate or socialised into us however is questionable) but we must remember that correlation does not imply causation. Gender is in fact distinct from sexuality. As long as transgender people keep on repeating the refrain ‘I am trans but not gay’ or variations on this theme they somewhat counter-intutively continue to reinforce the fallacious link between gender identity and sexuality. The non trans person hearing this refrain will think that if this trans person feels the need to assert the difference then they must be somehow exceptional, somehow different to the rest of the trans population.
Also, whether done with malicious or benign intent, this statement has the effect of denigrating homosexuality. The received message is that the person will admit to being transgender, but will not admit to being gay. The impression is that being gay is somehow worse than being trans. As I say this may not be what the person seeks to convey but there is a very real danger that this is the message that will be received and it will entrench homophobia in society rather than encourage diversity, tolerance and acceptance.
My fervent hope is that transgender people will soon simply say ‘yes, I am transgender’ and leave it at that. Our sexuality is irrelevant. Let’s build a society where sexuality is irrelevant for everybody other than a person’s sexual partner/s. This would surely be a more tolerant and happier society than the one we currently have. We are all on the same side here. Let’s act that way!
I would be interested to hear from people. It is entirely possible that I have got this very wrong and that there is no homophobia, latent or otherwise. If I have got it wrong, please let me know. I would love to hear from you and understand this dynamic better.