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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.

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