It has taken time, but now the public has more appreciation for what the T in LGBT stands for. They may still have some way to go in understanding what it actually means to be transgender, however considerable progress has been made. We can partly thank Caitlyn Jenner for expanding that conversation and allowing the T to be equally relevant in the line up of letters. Yet I would argue that the T doesn’t belong there at all.
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The L, G and B are about sexual identity; the T is about gender. Lumping the four initials together only enhances the misperception that they are interchangeable terms. They are not.
I am a transgender woman. In my 40s I started recognizing feminine feelings that I couldn’t ignore — but I was still attracted to women. I was questioning my gender yet my sexuality remained unchanged. Only later in my transition did my sexuality change in tandem with my gender — like orbiting planets that never meet. However the sexuality of transgender people (which may or not change) is the most irrelevant factor in our transitions. We are not coming to terms with being attracted to same sex or different sex people, it is the correctness of our assigned gender that we are figuring out.
Of course I admire and respect lesbian and gay campaigners over the years who have laid the groundwork for the level of acceptance that there is now, but I am neither gay nor lesbian. I am a straight woman — with a past.
As part of an often discriminated against sector of society, there is solace, appeal and leverage in being part of a group. Not, however, if the alignment blurs the picture.
I would gladly be part of an "I hate kale" group (very easily in fact), though I wouldn’t be comfortable in an ‘I hate fruits and vegetables’ conglomerate if that was the only other option. I’m sure I’d be reassured that others disliked different vegetables, though to be assumed a fruit-hater would be skewing my association and not helping the public perception that it really is OK to dislike kale. (I am actually quite fond of broccoli.)
Does it matter? Perhaps the route to self-acceptance is relevant. I accepted the unexpected truth about myself, transitioned, and now live my life as the woman I am. In that respect, I am complete — done. I appreciate that I will always be a transgender woman but that’s no reason to wave a flag about it to remind me of my gender past. It was an anomaly which was corrected; bigger than removing a scar, not as invasive as a bone marrow transplant. My sexuality, meanwhile, is irrelevant.
Unlike Groucho Marx, I am happy to be part of a club that has me as a member. I go to an LGBT health clinic in New York, I advocate LGBT causes and I visit LGBT-friendly venues — so thus I am part of the LGBT community. I certainly have plenty of gay friends (possibly more than if I were not transgender) and just like those people, I had no choice in being what I am.
Now is the time to clearly separate and differentiate gender and sexuality: transgender understanding can advance better by severing the suffix from LGB. And to be clear, I would be delighted to be part of the TKH community — Transgender Kale Haters.
Nicola Jane Chase is the author of Tea and Transition: A Story of Love, the Human Spirit, and How One Man Became One Woman. (Telemachus Press 2015.)