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Why the T? BCW talks LGB+T.

In simpler times we were all gay. But then the word “gay” started to mean “gay men” more than women, so we switched to the more inclusive “gay and lesbian”. Bisexuals, who were only part-time gays, insisted that we add them too, so we did (not without some protest), and by the early 1990s we were the lesbian, gay and bisexual, or LGB community. Sometime in the late ’90s, a few gay rights groups and activists started using a new acronym, LGBT — adding T for transgender/transsexual. And that’s when today’s trouble started.  

Barry Church-Woods


On an almost daily basis, I’m asked “Why the T?”

I’m running a blog called LGBTicons. Some people struggle with the inclusion of transgender or transsexual in the acronym. They say gender and sexuality don’t align naturally, so why lump them all together?

Recently I was accused by someone that identified as trans, of herding up all the perverts and making a spectacle of them. I joked about that being my average Saturday night, but it struck me that I’ve still not got fully round to explaining my own personal beliefs and motivations for the inclusion of those born to the wrong gender.

So here it is. My perfectly rational explanation.

Many people who identify as transgender or transsexual have at some point or other in their life also identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Not all, but some. Some continue to do so, some don’t. Some start to when they transition.

It’s a big world filled with wonderful people.

I just want to write a blog that I can relate to, and hopefully others do too.

It’s a concept echoed by many organisations across the world though Cambridge University Students Union go deeper. They are adamant that there are a number of reasons for including trans people within LGB safe spaces and advocacy:

“A transsexual 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”.

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, through to drag kings and queens who are often non-heterosexual, through to those who more radically question societal assumptions around gender.

Similarly, much of the prejudice facing both LGB and transgendered 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 transgendered 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”.

But doesn’t this make things messy? Is adding the T slowing progress, or worse, are we in danger of the trans population being left behind?

John Aravosis thinks so but is not dissuaded:

“The main argument, which I support: practical politics. Civil rights legislation — hell, all legislation — is a series of compromises. You rarely get everything you want, nor do you get it all at once. Blacks, for example, won the right to vote in 1870. Women didn’t get that same right until 1920. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided a large umbrella of rights based on race, religion, sex and national origin, but failed to mention gays or people with disabilities. People with disabilities were finally given specific rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, but gays as a class had still to be granted a single civil right at the federal level. If we waited until society was ready to accept each and every member of the civil rights community before passing any civil rights legislation, we’d have no civil rights laws at all. Someone is always left behind, at least temporarily. It stinks, but it’s the way it’s always worked, and it’s the way you win”.

I have a sense that over the past decade the trans revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least above, and thus it never stuck with a large number of gays who weren’t running national organizations, weren’t activists, or weren’t living in liberal gay enclaves like San Francisco and New York. Sure, many of the rest of us accepted de facto that transgendered people were members of the community, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so. A lot of gays have been scratching their heads for 10 years trying to figure out what they have in common with transsexuals, or at the very least why transgendered people qualify as our siblings rather than our cousins. It’s a fair question, but one we know we dare not ask. It is simply not p.c. in the gay community to question how and why the T got added on to the LGB, let alone ask what I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman”.

I’m not passing judgment, I respect transgendered people and sympathize with their cause, but I simply don’t get how I am just as closely related to a transsexual (who is often not gay) as I am to a lesbian (who is). Is it wrong for me to simply ask why?”

Lesley Roberta has another perspective:

“I am not really interested in being part of the LGB and their causes. I am not interested in being seen as part of the LGB issues. Because I will be blunt, I am not part of the LGB in LGBT. My issues are transgender issues. I don’t want to have people mistaking my transgender issues as being about SEX.

It isn’t about my sex life, it is about my gender and how I want to be perceived by others. It is my whole life and my happiness that is my issue as with many other transgender individuals.

Life is hard as T; I am simply too worn down, too under powered to cope with problems, ANY problems, not specifically on my list – my transgender issues list.

I am a woman; I just currently have some parts I need to get rid of.
I am unsure if that will even help.
I just want to be seen as the woman I am.

Sex is not integral to me. I don’t want my sex life to be part of the transgender discussion.
Sex is basically a 30 minute amusement. I’d rather focus on making the other 23 hours and 30 minutes in the day more comfortable mentally and physically.

My transgender issues? New wardrobe for my self expression, hassle issues in public, particularly bathrooms, being addressed with the wrong pronouns, being rejected because of me.

Note: LG people are usually rejected based on their sexual orientation, not their being.

I just want to be acknowledged as existing. I don’t want to force anything on anyone. I just want people to actually see ME. Not the person they insist on seeing.

This Christmas, I’d really like to be Aunt Lesley, I’d like my gifts for mom to be from her daughter and my gift to my brother and sister to be from their sister. She’s a great baker.

I’m tired of people having trouble wrapping their head around the idea. And I don’t think being associated with the LGB community really helps. Because my problems have absolutely nothing to do with sex.

I’d settle for the world just accepting that people are not as limited as it seems so many need us to be. I want transgender acceptance, and transgender Equality”.

Autumn Sandeen is a Gulf War veteran who honourably retired from the U.S. Navy in 2000 (after 20-years of service).  She is also transgender and has this to say on the matter:

“I receive emails every day with Google keyword searches. Many of the keyword searches are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) specific; many are trans terminology specific.

In one of those emails on Thursday, October 27, 2011 came a web search ping for this Yahoo Questions question:

Why are Trans People lumped together with LGBT when Trans People are basically Straight stuck in the wrong body?

For some reason I felt a need to take a stab at answering that question. So here’s my answer to why the the T is “lumped together” with the LGB of LGBT community:

Well, first of all, your basic presumption on sexual orientation of trans people is incorrect. According to the Task Force’s report “Injustice At Every Turn” (subtitled “A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey”), the reported sexual orientation of the 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming study participants in the survey broke down this way: Gay/Lesbian/Same-gender = 21%, Bisexual = 23%, Queer = 20%, Heterosexual = 21%, Asexual =4%, Other (specify) 11%. In other words, transgender portion of directly overlaps the LGB portion of the LGBT community at a rate somewhere in the range of 65% to 76%.

Secondly, there is an external force that pushes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) together as a community — the commonality of discrimination based on visible gender expression. If one thinks for a moment, the most discriminated against members of the LGB portion of the LGBT community are lesbians who, by societal sex and gender norms, are considered masculine; and gay men who, again by societal sex and gender norms, considered feminine. It’s how many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people visibly express gender identifies them as lesbian and gay. And, some in our society — despising lesbian and gay people — single out these visible LGB people for harassment and discrimination.

Trans people have the same gender expression issue — especially trans women. Male-to-female people who don’t “pass” in their target sex are also perceived to be feminine gay men because their gender expression, and are subject to discrimination as such. And, when they call trans women pejoratives, those pejoratives are often “fag,” “faggot,” and “fairy” — anti-gay epithets.

As Kate Bornstein describes it, we folk in the LGBT community are all “gender outlaws” — all lesbian, gay, and bisexual people all “violate” societal sex and gender norms by our sexual orientations and/or our gender identities. And, that “violation” of societal sex and gender norms, be it from whom we love or how we identify our gender, is the “why” behind why many of us LGBT folk are singled out for harassment and discrimination. And, we should note here that those who hate LGBT people can’t tell gay men, trans women, drag queens, and crossdressers apart — as well as not being able to tell butch women, trans men, and drag kings apart. Many in society see all those who don’t conform to societal sex and gender norms as being lesbian or gay — with all the anti-LGBT hate that goes with being perceived as lesbian or gay.

Lastly, gender variant people have been part of the LGBT civil rights movement since before the Stonewall Riots and Uprising. Drag queens and folk we’d now identify as transgender — such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera — were there battling for equality back in the days that the movement was called the Gay Liberation movement.

In other words, there are several reasons that LGB is “lumped together” with T in the LGBT community. And to quote suffragist Alice Paul regarding her civil rights movement — with a quote that could apply to any civil rights movement, including the LGBT civil rights movement — “I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.”

I don’t know if my answer will be rated a “best answer” to the question asked, but I know it’s the most thorough and likely on the nose answer of the ones that have been provided as of the time I posted my answer.

For me, the important thing is that I plan to be one stone in the great mosaic of the LGBT civil rights movement. For those of us who care about equality, being a stone in that great mosaic is a significant thing”.

And I couldn’t agree more.

So no matter who you are, and where you’re from, you’ll always be welcome to visit this site.  Hell, if you’re feeling frisky, you can join nearly 60,000 others by subscribing for free, and I’ll ping you a daily email.  Just scroll down and follow the instructions.


Categories: LGBT

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3 replies

  1. Love it, but what about the Q and the I and the … and the … and the … and when did IDAHO become IDAHOT? Why, this year, due to that T, again! I don’t care how many letters, we should be inclusive until we add H for Heterosexual and Human and then we won’t need an acronym because we’ll have equality.


    1. Ha! I’ve been meaning to write something on the Q becoming ‘questioning’ over ‘queer’ for a while too; but that’s a can of worms that I’m not sure I want to open.

      As ever, thanks for sharing on Twitter and remaining a brilliant champion of our stuff.


      Liked by 1 person

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