So, You Are an LGB Ally – How T is Different

Are you an LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) ally?  Or maybe you are L, G, or B.

Think you know T (trans)?  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

A lot of pain is caused by people assuming that being a trans ally is just like being an LGB ally (or an L, G, or B yourself).  But it’s not – there are key differences that too often are ignored.

Here’s some differences:

Acceptance for Some Trans People is About Invisibility

For much of the LGB community, the desire is to be who you are, wherever you want to be: to be able to bring a loved one with you to the company picnic, to be able to get legal recognition of your relationship, or to be protected from discrimination when people see you as you are.

For some T people, this is the same – particularly for people who identify as non-binary.  They want the right to be accepted as they are, without having to confirm to an inappropriate category.

But, equally, many want to be recognized as the binary gender they identify as. They don’t want to be asked if they are trans, they don’t want to go to a trans-pride rally, and they don’t want to be outed. It’s not that they aren’t proud of who they are, but rather that they know who they are. It isn’t a third category. It’s one of two categories already recognized.

You want to respect a transsexual who identifies as a woman? It’s simple: treat her as a woman. Not a transwoman, but a woman.  And treat yourself the same way – treat yourself as a woman (or a man), not a ciswoman or a cisman – that still creates a distinction when someone else just wants to be part of the same group you are in.  Treat this person like any other person. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to someone who considers themselves non-binary. But many trans people do consider themselves binary.

That leads into…

Not All Trans People are Non-Binary

Just as not all LGB people are bi, not all trans people are binary. It’s insulting to a gay to insist that he’s “really” bi. In the same way, it’s insulting to insist a trans person who identifies binary is really non-binary!

So, you don’t create bathrooms that are “male”, “female”, and “trans.” You don’t ask someone if they are “male,” “female,” or “trans”, as that creates a difficulty for a binary trans person – are they a man or a trans person? And are you really wanting to know about chromosomes and genitals (male, female) or gender, anyhow?  What you do is consider things like single-user bathrooms that everyone can use and forms that provide a blank rather than a checkbox for sex or gender.  But you don’t create a “trans” choice that may make some people feel pressured to identify essentially as a third-gender. At the same time, you recognize that some people are non-binary and you provide that option as well – just do so in a way that doesn’t pressure a trans person.

Trans is Not the Future Civil Rights. It’s the past too.

Remember Stonewall, where the gays rose up against oppressive laws and police? Go back and read about it again, and read why people were prosecuted. In general, it was for crossdressing.

When people promote an employment non-discrimination act that throws T people to the curb, they are denying the heritage and the people that helped fight for (and win) rights for gays. Nobody that does this, no matter how much of an ally they are for LGB people, is a T ally.

Trans People are at Higher Risk

Trans people face higher risks of violence, homelessness, and unemployment than LGB people. Trans people are more likely to be kicked out of their home, have their identity used against them in child custody cases, and lose connections to former friends when they come out.

While sadly many LGB people have also faced these things, it’s important to be careful about saying you can relate. It’s generally best to not compare sufferings.

Trans People are Discriminated Against by LGB Groups

Just because a place claims to be LGB friendly, doesn’t mean it is T friendly. This is particularly true for transwomen. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival comes to mind – they welcome lesbian women, so long as they weren’t born with a penis, complete with justification about how women can’t feel safe if there is a “man” there (typically referring to a transwoman that way) – very discriminatory BS. I’ve heard stories from transwomen about being excluded from lesbian-friendly survivor support groups, dating sites, social events, etc. I know others that have been discriminated against in some Metropolitan Community Churches (one of the first “gay friendly” denominations). Just because an event is LGB friendly doesn’t mean a T person is going to be welcome.

It’s also important to remember, despite this blog mostly drawing a distinction between LGB and T, things aren’t quite this simple. Plenty of T people are L, G, or B.

Trans and LGB People Have the Same Problem, But it’s not Recognized

Trans people face discrimination and violence because they don’t fit someone else’s idea of the gender role they should live. (edit: of course it’s due to prejudice ultimately – that prejudice is based on the idea that people should fit certain gender expectations of prejudiced people)

LGB people are similar. But this is one that a lot of LGB people get upset about when it’s mentioned. Part of this is because a lot of gay people have been insulted and told they are like women, while a lot of lesbians are insulted by being told they are like men – when obviously this isn’t true. Gay men are just as “man” as straight men. The same goes for lesbian women – they are just as “woman” as a straight woman. So it is understandable there would be a gut reaction. But the issue is still there: The reason a gay man is discriminated against is because of the gender role they are living. They are living, as a man, but not following the stereotype properly – they are attracted to other men, after all. That’s where their lived gender role (that of a man) fails to fit the stereotype of what others believe a man should be.

It is because of this that trans people have long recognized that the LGB movement is about gender roles, just as the T movement is about gender roles. Not the idea that gender roles must be dismantled (although obviously some people believe they should be), but rather that one should be able to live as they identify, even when someone else doesn’t like that choice based on stereotypes and expectations.

Some T People will Always be Clocked

If I see a non-trans man at Wal-Mart, who is alone, I have no idea if he is gay (barring a T shirt that says, “I’M GAY!”). Yet that man can very well might be living as a gay man, openly.

However, some T people, aren’t fortunately enough to be able to live as they are without people knowing they are trans. They simply never get seen as a human being apart from being trans. They are always trans, to everyone, all the time. They are always on-guard, and even completely innocuous things, like going to Wal-Mart, can become an ordeal. It can be hard to just leave the house.

So It’s Just Not the Same

The summary is simple: Trans people have desires and overlap with the LGB community, but also have concerns unique to their community.

Sexual Orientation is a Continuum

Uh, no.

It’s not.  Really.

Yes, I know there are gays and lesbians and bisexuals.  Sure.  I know that some people are mostly attracted to men or mostly attracted to women, but have some attraction for the other gender, and that the relative preference for one gender over the other can be all over the map, depending on the person.

I get that.  But I still say this is the wrong way of looking at sexual orientation.

This is the political way of looking at it: we separate people into groups, primarily based on whether what they do is persecuted by society at large.  Straight people don’t get persecuted, pretty much everyone else does.  So we define groups based on the factor that causes persecution: is the person attracted to the same sex?  Then we divide this further: is the person attracted to both sexes, and to what degree (perhaps)?  Maybe we even throw in, “I’m not attracted to anyone” or “I’m only somewhat attracted to anyone.”  And, for politics and identity, this can be a fine way of dividing things.  Nor will I fault Kinsey for his use of a continuum scale.

But is that really the most important thing in finding relationships?  For some people, yes, sex or gender is an absolute – the relationship can’t work without that, there is no attraction without that.  For others, it’s not important at all, but some other characteristic – possibly something that most other people don’t care about – is what is important and can disqualify those who lack it from being considered as partners.  Others might find sex or gender important, but not an absolute – they might strongly prefer men, but at the same time be open to a woman who has certain traits.

Sexual orientation is a great simplification of reality – and why that translates into the inapplicability of the experience of one person with an orientation to members of the entire group that share that orientation.  It’s a simplification of the mosaic of desire into a simple line.  You lose most of the mosaic when you turn it’s two or three dimensional design into a one-dimensional line (or worse, a binary choice). It’s important that our expressions of experience consider that not everyone – even those in the category we identify with – would agree with all the things we consider essential to our experience as a member of that category.  If you know one gay man, you know one gay man!  That one gay man’s experience may or may not be similar to other people’s.  We’re a mosaic, not a line.