Transsexual Is Not a Sexual Orientation

One of the trickier things about queer movements, unsurprisingly, is finding the words to describe ourselves, our community, and those around us.  Words are incredibly important to many people in terms of self-definition and claiming membership in a community, but the words to describe gender and sexuality are often new and have different definitions depending on who you talk to.

One thing I just saw at work, though, in an interesting CDC report on health disparities, is a definite linguistic gaffe.

Although Healthy People 2010 specifies that health disparities include “differences that occur by gender, race or ethnicity, education or income, disability, geographic location, or sexual orientation,” only a limited number of regularly published national- or state-level health reports include information on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or heterosexual identity) as a demographic variable for comparison.

Since when is “transsexual” a sexual orientation?  There are some differences in opinion on the meaning of words like transsexual and transgendered, but I’m pretty sure most people commonly understand “sexual orientation” to relate in some way to sexual desire and/or sexual partners.  Trans* identities, on the other hand, refer to an individual’s gender identity.  Can we get this right, CDC?  It’s bad enough to lump “T” in with “LGB,” while simultaneously ignoring trans peoples’ needs and priorities.  But I think it’s even more egregious to suddenly refer to trans* as a sexual orientation, as if trans people didn’t have sexual orientations in addition to gender identity.  It’s part of a broader trend of ignoring the sex lives of trans people and assuming that a trans person’s identity is entirely constructed around hir gender identity/transition.  To me, it feels dehumanizing.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on January 14, 2011, in trans and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. What a gross error! I hadn’t really given much thought to the inclusion of the T in “the acronym,” but now that I do I realize how problematic that really is.

    • Yeah, there are differences of opinion about the acroym–personally, I like the idea of some sort of “umbrella” alliance between all queer people, but I feel like LGBT groups usually marginalize trans people (as well as intersex, bisexual, etc.) in favor of gay and lesbian priorities. A lot of it, of course, is timing–it started out with gay and lesbian, and then bi and trans were added on in an attempt at inclusion. But when you do it that way, you end up with the sense of “all right, I suppose you can join our party.”

  2. What ends up happening more often than not is that the T gets forgotten even though it’s “lumped in there.” There’s still a ton of transphobia (not to mention biphobia) in the queer community, and it’s a HUGE shame. I organize a queer social group and we have almost zero trans members even though we’re inclusive. I’m honestly not sure how to reach out to the trans community even though I really want them to be apart of our events. We have so much richness to add to each other’s experiences and knowledge.

  3. The trouble is that the term itself was created by early self-appointed ‘gender specialist’ from medical institutes, which may have advanced helpful but also less helpful ways to approach some trans-identity issue but were quiet wrong and misguiding form the start when choosing to use – sexual – in their taxonomy. The result is confusion from not very aware peoples probably creating an amalgam as if it were ‘just another’ sexual orientation and these researcher were confused as much as the lazy so-called ‘journalist’ we have today in most media.

    As for the gay rights and liberation movement in the US, many of today ‘good gays’ (iow: the ‘cisnormativity & heterosexnormativy modeled nearly copycat version of homosexuality’) seem to favor loss of memory for it was mainly trans people who had the guts to react first to recurrent police raids who developed into the Stonewall riots.

    Since I have being harshly beaten, bruised and thrown away from a gay club (which I hoped to be sort of a social refuge in my early coming-out days) by two muscular homosexual males clients, I became very cautious and aware of the sexism and misogyny which I still often face, in various levels of attitudes, when confronted with some of these guy loving guys.

    Some lesbian issue certainly intertwine with these “LGBTIQWHATEVER” too often forgotten nonetheless crucial issue about – women – priorities.

    I observe that often the least questioned or constructively represented groups or individuals about their nevertheless urgent and crucial issues remain intersexed, transgender -and- women as well as queer and gender variants or gender-queer peoples. Fair exposure and consideration of issues also intertwine with prejudice based on status, class, ability, age, ethic group, presentation, etc … Kyriarchy all the way.

    On a side note, I’m not a ‘primitivist’, ‘green anarchist’ or the like but I’ve found reading “Patriarchy, Civilization and The-Origins of Gender” by John Zerzan quiet interesting. Specially if interested in studying how, when, why, division and related demarcation occurred or were enforced around gender.

  4. I love this article. Too true. I’m constantly trying to explain to people why the t after lgb simply doesn’t make sense. It confuses people, even people within the queer community. I have a mix that confuses people all the time, being a transgender pansexual feminist. But that wouldn’t confuse people so much if the media and society would just stop putting out the idea that sexuality, gender identity, and gender roles all have to do with each other.

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