Intersection of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

A concern I’ve heard often since becoming involved in Reading Pride is, “why would I want to go to Pride, I’m not gay”; this has recently been articulated by the organisers of Brighton Trans Pride when they stated in a BBC article (which wrongly, tiresomely and ironically claims that Brighton Trans Pride was “Britain’s first Trans Pride”)

Some felt that a traditional gay pride, being about sexuality and not gender didn’t represent us fully so we have created an event that is focused on gender identity and including people who do not fit within the stereotypical male and female labels. We’ve put the T first in LGBT

The claim that gender identity and sexuality are completely distinct is a common one, and to a certain extent this is true; however there is a huge intersection between the two, and claiming that the two are necessarialy distinct ignores this very important intersection and – I think – the trans* community at large is harmed by ignoring it and, equally importantly is harmed by insisting that LG and B is totally separate from T.

“Are you a lesbian now?”

One question my wife has been asked on a few occasions when people see pictures of us together is “does that make you a lesbian now?” Because I don’t – yet – present as female all the time, this becomes an interesting question, and at the heart is the question, “What do we mean by sexuality, when confronted with transgender identities”? In order to explain why this is interesting, let’s start by asking: what to we mean by ‘straight’ and ‘gay’?

In the absence of transgender identities, “straight” is the term used to describe people who are attracted to the opposite sex and “gay” is the term used to describe  people who are attracted to the same sex. All nice and simple. Now throw in a relationship where at least one partner has a transgender identity – we’ll use me as the example. If I present as male my wife and I are perceived as a straight couple. If, on the other hand, I present as female and my wife and I are thought to be in a relationship, then we will be perceived as a gay couple.

Does a Gender Recognition Certificate change your sexuality?

We can go further. In the UK, transsexual people can – subject to various restrictions – obtain what is known as a Gender Recognition Certificate (usually abreviated as GRC), which is a legal recognition of their “acquired gender identity” (a horrible phrase). Where this gets interesting is under this system, if a transsexual woman (for example) is in a relationship with a man, absent a GRC that relationship is considered under law as a same-sex relationship but if a GRC is obtained, this is now considered an opposite sex relationship. Under law, a GRC appears to have the effect of changing someone’s sexual orientation.

This legal change in relationship status turns out to be incredibly important if the couple happen to be married. If you’ve been reading about the Same Sex Marriage Act that was recently passed by parliament and has received royal assent, you may believe that this acheives marriage equality – you would be wrong. The law actually creates two distinct forms of marriage: “Same Sex Marriage” and “Marriage”. It also does not permit opposite sex partners to have a civil partnership or, most importantly, to permit a civil partnership to continue if one person changes their legally recognised gender. There is a similar issue for couples in a Marriage – the partner must consent to their relationship changing from being legally recognised as Marriage, to being legally recognised as Same Sex Marriage. This latter has a particularly galling history, and is referred to as the spousal veto

LGBT

In many respects, I do agree that it is important to recognise that just as gender identity  and gender expression are distinct, so too are gender identity and sexual orientation, and it is often a mistake to conflate them. But it is equally important to recognise that there is a huge amount of intersection between gender identity and sexual orientation. I have seen transsexual women in relationships with men state “I want nothing to do with the gay community: I’m a straight woman” without understanding that this is only possible because people have fought for her right to be recognised as a woman: and rights that have to be fought for can be revoked, and there are a lot of people who don’t think transgender people have any right to have their gender identity recognised.

The LGBT movement is strongest when it works together. Gender identity is separate from sexual orientation, but trans rights are gay rights, and gay rights are human rights.

Comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    The LGBT movement is strongest when it works together. Gender identity is separate from sexual orientation, but trans rights are gay rights, and gay rights are human rights.

    I agree with all this, except that I’d qualify “gender identity is separate from sexual orientation” by “not necessarily”. They can also be very much intertwined.

  2. Sarah Lambert says:

    “I have seen transsexual women in relationships with men state “I want nothing to do with the gay community: I’m a straight woman” without understanding that this is only possible because people have fought for her right to be recognised as a woman: and rights that have to be fought for can be revoked, and there are a lot of people who don’t think transgender people have any right to have their gender identity recognised.”

    Yes, but it was trans people who mainly fought for our rights, with precious little input (either then or now) from the LGB side of the equation. You have only to read comments on Gay Star News and hear the attitudes of Stonewall to see that we are right at the bottom of their campaign priority list. In fact Stonewall deliberately doesn’t campaign for Trans rights. Some of the most vehement transphobes are LGB I’m afraid.

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