On a Connection between Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
I sometimes wonder what cis people think are the hardest aspects to transitioning. Maybe they think that coming out is the hardest part; maybe it's dealing with discrimination, harassment, and transphobia; maybe it's having to unlearn some habits, and to learn how to be "the real me." Well, the latter is one of the more fun parts, actually: I get to experiment openly, without worrying anymore about playing a character, or a role. Speaking to my therapist today (who I see voluntarily, just because it's really nice to have someone like that to speak to), she asked me about what I meant by "my girlfriend." Did I mean just a female friend, or a romantic relationship?
Well, while she began as the former, we eventually moved to be the latter. I certainly didn't go looking for that to happen, nor did she, but it did, and I really think that those relationships are the best. But my therapist asked me about whether I had to re-learn how to be in a relationship, since this is my first bona fide lesbian relationship.
I've been thinking this for a long time: people routinely say that gender identity and sexual orientation have nothing to do with each other: trans and cis people can be lesbian, straight, gay, asexual, bisexual, or whatever. That part's true, but I think that it hides something false about the claim. I think that gender identity and sexual orientation are connected, but maybe not in the way that you think.
Now, some trans people's sexual orientation changes during or after transition, sometimes in response to social pressures to conform (so a MtF trans woman who was attracted to women while male may become attracted to men during or after the transition: sometimes they're happy, sometimes they're not. I've spoken to some of the latter, and they admitted that they changed because of social pressures to be straight). That didn't happen to me. I've always been attracted primarily to women, and nothing's changed about that.
But to return to the point: sexual orientation essentially asks the following question: Who am I attracted to? That is, Which gender am I attracted to? Gender identity essentially asks the following question: Who am I? That is, What gender am I? I think that there's a further question: What gender am I attracted to, and as what gender am I attracted to them?
This latter question shows a connection between gender identity and sexual orientation. Here it is: that question allows for a cis male to be attracted to women as a woman. Suppose that this cis man is actually a trans woman: she'll remain attracted to women, but she may have always considered herself lesbian, even though she was born male. This is essentially my experience.
I've always been attracted to women, however consciously or subconsciously, as a woman myself. This isn't meant to imply that I always felt or identified myself as female: I didn't. As I've noted elsewhere, I didn't start to have clear gender identity thoughts until 13, and didn't come to know for sure until 29. However, there was always something uncomfortable with my relationships with women (including a marriage at 24): I hated sex. I didn't hate it because I dislike sex itself, but I hated sex as a male — as having male genitals and a male gender role in the relationships. But in my current (lesbian) relationship, I no longer feel that I have to wear a mask, or play a role, or present a character that wasn't "me."
It's pretty cool. It makes me really happy.