The link between sexual orientation and gender identity explained... or convoluted.
Updated: Jun 27, 2021
In this week’s five-minute think piece, I’m discussing the links between sexual orientation and gender identity, which connects with three of the nine protected characteristics (gender reassignment, sex, and sexual orientation) in Equality Act 2010. Let’s get started…
As many activists, especially trans equality activists point out - sexuality (who one is attracted to) and gender identity (how one identifies) are separate. And they are right... to an extent. Yes, a trans-person can identify as straight, gay, bi, pan, asexual, etc. just like any cis-person... so their gender identity doesn’t determine their sexuality per se... but it seems like the language of sexuality is lagging behind the developments in the arena of gender identity. Take me for example. For most of my life I have identified as gay, a homosexual... homo-sexual (flaming homosexual at that, gay as a picnic basket)... that suggests that I’m supposed to be attracted to the same sex (which is a biological concept)... but I’m attracted to the same gender (social construct)... if I were attracted to the biological sex I should probably be attracted to some pre-op trans-women because of what’s between their legs, maybe broad shoulders, or a strong jaw line. - I’m not. I am, however, attracted to trans-men (i.e. I don’t exclude them just based on their gender identity) as well as cis-men (and non-binary people). I do recognise, however, that some cis-men may be attracted only to other cis-men. So, are we homo-sexual or homo-gender-sexual? Surely there’s more to attraction than just physicality, it is also driven by social constructs – and therefore by societies.
Therefore, we need new vocabulary. Think about this: to what extent has language influenced how we identify ourselves? After all, the terms heterosexual and homosexual are relatively new as they were invented in 19th century (the terms, not behaviours they describe, and as a side note, heterosexual originally meant a deviant/ obsessive attraction to the opposite sex). Before we had these terms, were we as rigid in our attractions or has the society put us into neatly defined categories and we internalised that? Does that mean that sexuality is much more driven by socialisation than what many of us want to believe by describing sexual attraction in purely biological terms? After all, using biology to say that homosexuality is natural helped gay men defend the legitimacy of our existence. Don't get me wrong, I believe that biology plays its part, but so does society. And whether it is nature or nurture driven shouldn't have any impact on how morally accepted homosexuality is. It’s easy to conceive that the more we disrupt the traditional binaries between cis-men and cis-women the more we find that we are pan-sexual. You see it happening already - more and more straight men are coming to Grindr (an LGBT dating app) to look for trans-women (putting aside for now how problematic and fetishising this may potentially be) it shows that with growing visibility and acceptance for trans-women (still in early stages) straight cis-men feel more and more comfortable in expressing their sexuality not just with cis-women... So in that sense there is indeed a link between sexuality and gender identity.
While the Equality Act 2010 should recognise more sexualities than just heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual as it does now (to start with asexual and pansexual should immediately join the cannon) we have to make sure that our language more accurately reflects our sexual orientations as they're linked to our changing understanding of gender and its role in our society.