You all know what LGBTQ stands for, right? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and then either Questioning or Queer.
Back in 1990 when I joined Act Up, the Q (when it was used at all) was presumed to mean questioning. That’s changed, depending on who you ask. Queer used to have a very particular theoretical meaning, though these days it’s accepted more and more as an umbrella term for people with minority sexual orientations and gender identities.
I like that. I think it’s useful.
Some people today, though, and particularly people younger than me, often wonder why sexual orientation issues and gender identity issues are connected. Aren’t they very different phenomena? What’s the link?
I’ll grant that it might seem today that sexual orientation and gender issues are very separate, indeed; but that separation has not always been the case in public perception.
As a matter of fact, it hasn’t always been the case among us queer folk.
When I was a boy, for example, gay men were presumed by the public to be men who wanted to be women or men who thought of themselves as women. Even as recently as when I was a teenager, back in the Stone Ages of the 1970s, gender identity was barely understood by anyone in the way we understand it today.
I, myself, only rarely distinguished transgender women from effeminate gay men in those days. Of course, we didn’t call them transgender women then. Gender identity was barely a theoretical concept.
For the people who ask why we added trangender people to the LGBTQ movement, the answer is that we didn’t. Our transgender brothers and sisters have always been with us and part of us. Only vocabularies have changed.
Transgender men and women are integral and organic to the LGBTQ movement and always have been.
From the proto-gender-queer 19th-century Uranians , to the roaring days of Queer Berlin  of the 1920s and 30s, to the drag-queen-and-trans-led Stonewall Riots  of 1960s Greenwich Village, transgender men and women have shared a cause and fought for rights along with lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people.
The T is there in the acronym because people with minority sexual orientations and minority gender identities have been struggling and fighting for our rights together since the birth of our movement.
Part of the reason why transgender visibility feels like a newer thing than visibility for lesbians and gay men is that in some ways people are thinking differently today about sexual orientation and gender identity than we did as little as even a generation ago.
Transgender people as a phenomenon, of course, are as old as humanity.
As a concept or a construct, not so much, with some standout cultural exceptions.
After sexual orientation as a construct became common, transgender people were usually thought about or assumed to be the same thing as lesbians and gay men — or a particular subset of lesbians and gay men.
The transgender women who stood up for all of our rights during the Stonewall Riots had probably never heard the word “transgender,” for example.
They mostly called themselves drag queens and more than likely considered themselves to be gay. They probably understood at some level that gender identity was a thing, but seeing as how the term “gender identity” had not yet been born, talking about it was limited.
Even thinking about it was constrained by lack of understanding and vocabulary.
Transgender women and transgender men were among the founding members, however, of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance, the original New York City rights organizations spawned from Stonewall’s churning waves.
Transgender men and women have been part of the struggle for what we now call LGBTQ rights for as long as that struggle has existed.
We’re seeing increased visibility for trans people and trans rights, in particular, today because we understand much better than ever before that gender identity is a particular biological phenomenon separate from sexual orientation. (Caveats apply. Some of the science is complex and nuanced. That’s a subject for a different article, though.)
This understanding is relatively new.
It’s newer than the struggle for what we think of today as LGBTQ rights.
The understanding is new, and communication about the understanding is new. That’s wonderful, in some ways. It’s a lot easier to advocate for people and rights when you have accurate language to talk about those people and those rights.
Transgender visibility and distinction are increasing because a lot of us are finally “getting” transgender in ways we never could or did before now. As an older queer man, I’d like to remind my younger confederates that full human rights and dignity for trans people have been priorities for queer people for a very long time.
The T isn’t tacked on to our acronym. It’s inextricably intertwined.
Previously published on Medium
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all-access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class, and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group, and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo Credit: Getty Images