On the 1st of March 2013, we at Transgender and Intersex Africa read a piece on the Inkanyiso website titled “Definitely Not Gaysbian” (link below).The article was interesting as it discussed one of the most “taboo” subject within South African LGBTI community, but it was also confusing for us.
What caught our attention was the definition of gaysbian. The definition in the article read as follows; “The term Gaysbian is used for people who are gay men/trans-woman dating butch lesbians/trans-man.” From our understanding the term “gaysbian” came from a combination of two words, ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’, in other words a combination of two words expressing sexual orientations. So what were the words “transman” and “transwoman” doing in this definition? These are gender identities not sexual orientations. The definition made use of forward slash signs (/) allowing the juxtaposition of the names in use, in other words from the definition we could deduce four statements that “define” gaysbian;
Gaysbian is used for people who are gay men dating butch lesbians.
Gaysbian is used for people who are trans-women dating butch lesbians.
Gaysbian is used for people are gay men dating trans-men.
Gaysbian is used for people who are trans-men dating trans-women.
So from the four statements, the only statement that can stay true to the definition of gaysbian is statement one, when a gay man dates a butch lesbian. Including trans*people in this definition is both disrespectful and contributing to the misunderstanding of transgenderism.
When a trans*woman dates a butch lesbian, is it a “gaysbian” relationship? The trans*woman is not a gay man, she identifies as a woman and she is dating a woman. So in this relationship one of them is a lesbian woman and the other is a trans-woman, a gender identity. The trans* woman might be homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, etc. but she definitely is not a gay man, so the definition of “gaysbian” does not apply in this context.
When a trans*man dates a gay man, he is a male identifying person dating another male identifying person, they might both be gay (when we consider their sexual orientation), yes there are gay trans* men, in this case none of them is lesbian, so how can we use the “gaysbian” term to define their relationship?
When a trans* man dates a trans* woman, this is a relationship between a man and a woman, who both might be heterosexual, so how can we call this “gaysbian”?
Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Transgenderism is primarily about gender identity and gender expression. Transsexual refers to people who wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery to align their bodies to their gender identity. “Trans” could either mean a transgender person or a transsexual person. From the definition “transwoman” or “transman” could either mean that these people are just transgender or they are transsexual. So here is a scenario, if a transsexual woman dates a butch lesbian, is it a” gaysbian” relationship? No it’s a relationship between two women.
The structure of the definition also indicated one of the biggest problems within the South African LGBTI community; the continuous clustering of transwomen with gay men and the clustering of transmen with lesbians, as if “gay men “ and “transwoman” is the same thing or butch lesbian and transman is the same thing. As already stated they cannot fall into the same boxes, clustering transwoman with gay men is disrespectful to their gender identity and it is a constant reminder of the body they were born in regardless of their identity, a gay man is a man and a trans* woman is a woman. The same goes for transmen; it is disrespectful to cluster them with lesbians, as if the two are synonyms of each other. A lesbian woman is a woman and a trans* man is a man.
Yes, a lot of transwomen “hangout” with feminine gay men and a lot of transmen “hangout” with butch lesbians, but it is not the same these identities are not the same and should not be treated as if they are the same, gender identities in this context differ and that cannot be ignored. Many trans* people use the LG community as an “entry point” in other words a point to discover yourself and build social circles before you “truly” come out or identify as trans*, but we cannot continue to label a person as a gay man even at the point when they have discovered themselves and are identifying as female.
One of the most dangerous forms of this “clustering” is within HIV/AIDS studies, you will realize that in most cases when it comes to HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, transwoman are put in the same category as gay men and MSM individuals. This has then created a situation where the majority of transwomen then choose not to read or access this HIV/AIDS prevention information because it does not explicitly respect their gender identity but rather concentrates on the bodies they were born in and equates their situations to those of gay men.
Gender identity politics and Queer politics are complicated but we just need to learn to respect each other and remember that as we try to fight heteronormativity we must not in the process create homonormativity.
About the Author
Nthabiseng Mokoena is an Advocacy Coordinator at Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA)
2013 Mar.1: Definitely NOT “Gaysbian”
… But a Relationship between Two People
by Yaya Mavundla & Lesego Tlhwale