How does the ‘T’ fit within LGBT+?
Some people – both transgender and cisgender LGB people – argue against the inclusion of T issues alongside LGB issues because they consider sexual orientation and gender identity to be incomparable. However, CUSU’s group is an “LGBT+” group, including advocacy of transgender issues within its remit. There are a number of reasons for including trans people within LGB+ safe spaces and advocacy:
1: Many trans people are gay, lesbian or bisexual and conversely many gay, lesbian or bisexual people are trans. Non-binary gender identities render heterosexuality nonsensical.
Those transitioning from one gender to another in most cases will be moving into or away from the LGB community; as most people who transition retain their sexual orientation (although not always – it is not uncommon for transgender people to identify as heterosexual or homosexual both before and after transition), a transgender person is likely to start identifying as gay or lesbian as a result of their transition, or is likely to have previous links with the LGB community which they do not wish to entirely break with as a result of subsequently identifying as heterosexual.
Similarly, those with non-binary gender identities are likely to place them in a position in which heterosexuality is nonsensical, due to there being no “opposite” gender to their identities.
2: Trans people have always been present in the LGB community.
LGB communities have long held ties with those with transgender identities. Although gender identity and sexual orientation are not comparable, many LGB people consider themselves non-gender-normative, ranging from “butch” lesbians and “femme” gay men, to drag kings and queens who are often non-heterosexual, through to those who more radically question societal assumptions around gender.
Historically, at the birth of western LGB rights activism, there was very little to no understanding of trans identities and no distinction was drawn between gay people and trans people. Consequently trans people were subjected to the same injustices as LGB and so were included in the communities at the time.
3: LGB people often challenge gender boundaries in their social behaviour and may even be targeted because of their gender presentation.
Similarly, much of the prejudice facing both LGB and transgender people results from assumptions around what is considered to be gender-appropriate behaviour – that there are certain ways one is ‘supposed’ to act as a member of a particular gender, including being attracted to those of the ‘opposite’ sex. Much of the discrimination against transgender people is also likely to be familiar to LGB people (particularly older persons) and come from similar quarters – many are disowned by their family, and are subject to verbal, sexual and physical assault.
4: Learning to accept your trans identity can be in some ways similar to the process that some LGB people experience in recognizing and accepting their sexuality.
LGB and trans people have to face similar issues as they come to terms with the sexuality and gender identity respectively. These include the common processes of disclosure and coming-out, adjusting and adapting or choosing not to adapt to social pressures to conform to the norm, and fear of loss (or indeed actual loss) of relationships.
5: Many identities within the ‘+’ have strong links to trans identities and may have broader notions of sexual orientation.
The ‘+’ at the end of LGBT+ is an attempt at creating a broader and more inclusive community and some of the identities covered by it fall outside the traditional areas covered by LGB. For example polyamorous or asexual identities can be held at the same time as LGB ones, creating a fuller picture of what it means to be LGB. Some identities, such as pansexual, are sexual orientations that include non-binary gender identities or may not be based upon gender identity at all, something that traditional views of LGB identities fail to include. Intersex people are frequently included within the ‘+’, which again falls outside the remit of sexual orientations. When creating an inclusive community it would be illogical to exclude any related identity.
6: We’re stronger together.
The transgender community is relatively small compared to the LGB community; although most statistics are based upon those accessing public healthcare, it is estimated that somewhere between 1 in 500 and 1 in 125,000 people are transgender. These figures are of course based on western notions of trans people and in some countries, where different ideas are prevalent and there is much greater acceptance, anything up to 4% of people may identify as trans. Because of the relatively small numbers of trans* people in this country, ensuring a safe environment may require advocacy from the non-”T” elements of LGBT+.