This should not be breaking news, and yet it will be for many. Why is this so?
Back in the 1990's, lesbian and gay organizations started adding transgender people to their missions. It seemed to be a reasonable expansion -- transgender people face many of the same prejudices that gay people do.
But much like the general population, most people in the gay and lesbian community did not understand that, while the prejudices were similar, the underlying issue is quite different. Many still don't understand this.
So when the missions were expanded, many gays and lesbians innocently continued saying that their organizations "serve the needs of all gay Americans." Many still do say this.
The result is that many Americans who have heard the word transgender think it means another kind of gay.
The problem is that some transgender people are not gay. Take Chaz Bono for example. Chaz came out as a lesbian in 1995 because, living as a female since birth and being attracted to other females, that made him a lesbian in society's eyes. It took Chaz until 2008 to realize that he was truly a man. Now, living as a man who is in a relationship with a woman, Chaz is considered by society to be straight.
Many people don't think this through when a friend or loved one undergoes a transsexual transition. In my case, I was living as a male since birth and was attracted to females, making me considered to be straight. After I concluded my true gender was female, some were truly speechless once it clicked for them that my continued attraction to women meant I was now considered a lesbian.
But some don't continue to be attracted to women after transition. In her book When The Opposite Sex Isn't: Sexual Orientation In Male-to-Female Transgender People, Dr. Sandra Samons postulates that these transitioners are surprised to find that they like the way men react to them as women, enough to seek a romantic relationship with one.
Confused? Don't be. All you have to remember is that sexual orientation is completely different from gender identity. You can't tell one from the other.
As a lesbian, I'm comfortable being involved with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) organizations. And while gays and lesbians have generally welcomed me, they usually don't get why more of my trans friends are not involved.
So, let's imagine that you were born male and that you've undergone a transsexual transition to live as a woman. You have done everything you can to blend in as a woman and it rarely comes up that you are trans.
You are attracted to men. You'd like to meet a man and have been very careful to be sure people know this. You never go to lesbian or gay social situations to avoid giving the wrong impression about your sexual orientation. (And, of course, because your chances of meeting a straight man there are pretty slim.)
But in spite of your best efforts, people keep referring to LGBT people as if they are all gay. As a result, straight men who know your history avoid dating you to avoid appearing to be gay. Dates with other straight men abruptly end when your history comes out, again because of your date's fear of appearing gay.
Don't get me wrong - as a gay woman, I don't think there is anything wrong with being gay. Society is very slowly moving toward the same conclusion, too. But fear of being mislabeled as gay is not going away fast enough to allow many of my straight trans women friends to experience the love and validation that comes from being in an enduring, committed relationship.
What can be done to help? Lots of education is needed, for sure. But for starters, try saying that LGBT organizations "serve gay and trans Americans." It's not perfect, I know, but it's a simple change that will make folks ask what the difference is. And when they do, that's when the education can begin.
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