LGB - but why T?
We see it, we hear it everywhere we turn in the gay community - LGBT. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. But if you stop and think about it for a moment, why is the transgender community included in the collective term for gay and bi people?
Transgender is a term covering those who do not conform to conventional gender roles - the two most prominent groups being transsexuals and transvestites. However, crucially, neither transsexuals or transvestites are identified by their sexual orientation, so why have they been ‘lumped in’ with LGB?
Most Transgender People are Not Gay
Most transgender people are not gay. Transvestites are more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual 1, and the desire to cross dress feeds an emotional or sexual need that is not linked to their sexual orientation.
Transsexuals on the other hand believe that they have been assigned the wrong gender at birth, and are the opposite sex to the genital gender into which they have been born. Again, this is not connected with being gay or bi! In fact, a pre-op transsexual man who fancies other men would correctly be described as being heterosexual, because his real identity is that of a woman.
A Disservice to the Gay Community
Aren’t we doing a disservice to the gay and bi community by including transgender people in our LGB family? Male transvestites in particular portray a role that is inconsistent with the reality of gay men today.
Most gay men don’t wear women’s clothes. If we include a group of (often heterosexual) men who do wear women’s clothes under LGBT then aren’t we associating ourselves with an image that is not representative of gay men today? Haven’t we moved on from these stereotypes?
Not only that, but by accepting the unique needs of the transgender cause under our LGB umbrella means that by default our own causes will get less attention, as our resources are stretched thinner.
A Disservice to the Transgender Community
By allying themselves so closely with the LGB movement transgender people risk having their conditions even more misunderstood than they are now. How many people in the UK think transvestites are gay? Or think transsexuals are always homosexual?
However, the transgender cause believe they enjoy more publicity when included within the LGBT community. Michelle, a spokesperson from the Gender Trust which is the largest UK charity supporting transgender people, said “We are happy to work within the LGBT umbrella” and went on to explain that the exposure they receive is much greater than they could receive otherwise.
Michelle also added that many issues that faced by transgender people are similar to those endured by gay people - bullying, discrimination and prejudice, particulary in schools “Bullying in schools can be a real problem for transgender children, and we find that supporting them along with gay children is vital.”
LGBT and the Bigger Picture
Some argue that the inclusion of transgender in LGBT is vital and to separate them would be politically unwise.
Peter Tatchell, of the LGBT human rights group OutRage! told the Mothership Blog today
“Sexual orientation, gender, gender roles and gender identity are all interlinked. They are part of a matrix of issues that revolve around sexuality and definitions of masculinity and femininity. That is why gay liberation is so strongly linked to women’s liberation, and rightly also linked to transgender liberation. Straight machismo and orthodox males and female roles underpin the oppression of queers, transgender people and the female sex. To try and separate the LGB from the T, and from women, is political madness. Queers are, like transgender people, gender deviant. We don’t conform to traditional heterosexist assumptions of male and female behaviour, in that we have sexual and emotional relationships with the same sex. We should celebrate our discordance with mainstream straight norms. The right to be different is a fundamental human right. The idea that we should conform to straight expectations is demeaning and insulting.”
Another Way for LGBT?
Taking Peter Tatchell’s argument to the extreme would mean that we could end up allying ourselves with countless social groups which challenge traditional gender assumptions, and by doing so watering down our own precious identity as gay and bi people.
For instance, why not include women’s rights groups under our umbrella, and bi-curious, and battered husbands, and Fathers for Justice? All are social groups that challenge the conventional roles of gender identity, so why not include them too?
It’s about drawing a line. We have to draw it somewhere. Or what do we stand for as gay people? I say we’ve drawn the line in the wrong place - by including the mostly heterosexual transgender community under our LGBT umbrella does not serve us, or them, well.
Is there a third way for LGBT that would protect all our interests?
Instead why not allow the transgender community to stand on its own two feet? This may cost them influence and maybe cash, so we could look at ways of supporting them and lobbying for them so they get the resources they need. Who knows, it may even raise their profile by moving out from under our shadow.
Also, we should join forces where we share mutual interests - like for instance tackling bullying in schools, or prejudice anywhere, as long as our differences are properly identified.
Shutting the Stable Door
This is unlikely to happen. The LGBT umbrella has been firmly established for years now - since 2005 officially 2, and informally since the 1990s, and is now recognised worldwide. The LGBT horse has bolted, and separating the T from the LGB would be a huge task.
This is a shame, because including the transgender community with lesbian, gay and bisexual people clouds all of our identities - identities that we’ve fought to be recognised, and which we so rightly celebrate.
by David Abrehart
(c) Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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