Yesterday my friend Nicola Griffith tweeted about a survey that Lambda Literary is running to see how they might improve their website. I clicked through to do my bit, and the very first question turned out to be, “What is your sexual orientation?”. One of the potential answers was “Transgender”.
And very emphatically NO. Let me explain why this is important. Trans people, just like all other people, exhibit the full range of human sexual choices. They can be gay, lesbian, bi, straight or asexual (and apologies if I have left any flavors out). That’s not relevant to their gender identity, which is all about their lives, not just their sex lives.
Unfortunately the idea that being trans is some sort of “perversion” is commonplace, and heavily promoted by conservatives. Firstly, of course, being L, G, B or A isn’t a perversion either, it is a perfectly natural variation. But trans people often go through surgery to be able to live in their preferred gender, and the the standard Daily Malice line is that, “these people want to have surgery to be able to indulge their unnatural lusts, and they want us to pay for it on the NHS!”
Equally the conservatives in the American Psychiatric Association use the allegation that all trans people are sexually aroused by cross-dressing as an excuse for classifying being trans as a mental illness. Because, you know, someone who wanted to undergo major surgery and a lifetime of medication just in order to satisfy their sexual desires might indeed be a bit crazy. (There are, of course, some people who are sexually aroused by cross-dressing, but those people generally don’t have any gender identity issues.)
So a question that describes “Transgender” as a sexual orientation is actually supporting a misconception that people commonly use as an excuse for discriminating against trans people.
I suspect that if you asked them the majority of people who do change their gender they would tell you that they’d happily accept a lifetime of celibacy in return for being accepted as the person they believe themselves to be. Of course they shouldn’t be forced to do so, but for many it is a reality anyway because so few people are willing to accept a trans person as a lover.
Because civil rights campaigners tend to use the LGBT acronym to define a loose community, governments and corporations trying to be sensitive often make the mistake of asking the same question that Lambda did. That’s understandable, people often need education (though I note that the current UK government makes a point of talking about “LGB & T people” to make it clear that they know there are multiple issues involved). But an LGBT organization really should know better. Thankfully I know that there are good people like Nicola involved in Lambda, so I’m not mad. But it is depressing.