Identifying as non-straight, and identifying as a woman: they’re important political, personal and professional issues to think about. And, of course, we need to fight for the rights of both women and LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) individuals. But are they different things?
I’m going to argue that LGB issues and feminism are not only similar, but heavily overlapping. I’m also going to argue that to be effective feminists we should actively be involved in the issues of the LGB community rather than seeing it as something niche, or something separate. Whilst some of this article overlaps with problems faced by the trans* community, the focus here is exclusively on sexuality.
Firstly, gay men are often stereotyped as being weak, flouncy, verbal, and being a sexual threat to straight men. Men as a sexual threat has long been part of feminist rhetoric. Gay men are also imagined to wear bright colours, take care of their appearance, and enjoy dancing, glitter and musicals – all typically feminine traits. This is gender stereotyping (a feminist issue). Additionally, such femininity is considered a ‘step down’ because femininity is inferior to masculinity (a feminist issue).
The gay community also has noted problems with misogyny, which is a clear feminist issue. This can include: disgust at the concept of vaginas (which may be considered a trans* and woman’s issue), misogynoir (misogyny directed at black women), and dismissive references to female hormones. Rapper Azealia Banks also calls out misogynoir from gay men – whilst such problems have also been placed as part of general society and the need for feminism more widely.
Lesbian women, contrary to gay men, are stereotyped for having short hair, being butch (or tricking straight men for not being butch enough), dressing in a masculine style, and being fat and hairy (relating to not being “feminine”, therefore not being attractive) and hating men. These are all feminist issues.
Another feminist issue is that lesbians are often left out of conversations about being “gay”, politically and otherwise. Marriage equality is often called gay marriage, for example, which erases women and non-binary sexualities although not everyone agrees with this distinction. Lesbians are often over-sexualised, which is a feminist issue. The relative societal status of a relationship that doesn’t include a man – having lower household income because both potential wage-earners are women – is also a feminist issue.
There are other links to heteronormativity and feminism, such as people asking gay men “which of you is the woman” and lesbian women “which of you is the man”. Feminism actively tries to counter prescribed gender roles of this fashion.
Bisexual individuals (including pansexuality and other non-binary labels) often face discrimination and distrust. Bisexual men are often considered partway to “coming out” as gay (because if you’re attracted to both men and women, why would you step down into a female role by getting into a relationship with a man?). Bisexual women can be framed as keen on threesomes, and portrayed as desiring to please men with their same-sex interactions. The social policing of sexuality is a feminist issue. Feminism combats sexuality policing because it’s nobody else’s business what consenting adults get up to. Additionally, bisexuality is often called a “phase”.
Someone being told their sexuality is a “phase” is a feminist issue. This also includes people who define as asexual, as such individuals often lose ownership of their own sexuality.
Going feminism-first, the sexuality of feminists is often called into question. This is homophobic in of itself (to be feminist woman, you hate men, and to hate men, you must be a lesbian). Some of the arguments levelled at lesbians are the same as those levelled at female feminists: you must have been abused in the past, you need to find a good man, what’s wrong with men and why do you hate them so much?
Feminist men are often accused of just wanting to “get laid” (gender stereotyping) or are assumed to be “white knights” (a clear feminist issue). Occasionally, feminist men may be considered “whipped” (a strange term, which on the surface seems to mean gender power role-reversal). The latter point links into toxic concepts of masculinity and gender norms (the idea that treating women as equals creates a power imbalance). These are bread-and-butter ideas for feminists.
In conclusion, due to societal norms, gender and sexual orientation are often treated like similar things. This means that LGB issues are feminist issues. They stem from gender norms and expectations, gender roles (and what happens when you violate these), and permissible expression of sexuality. People’s sexual orientation is couched in a world that privileges men – particularly prescribed stereotypes of masculinity that include power, control, hyper-libidinous behaviour and aggression.
If we are to be effective in supporting people across the gender spectrum, and support people in a feminist way, we had better start caring about LGB issues. This isn’t about waving the intersectionality flag for show, and catering to “niche” groups who happen to fall into the feminism of the (predominantly white) middle class. When it comes to LGB discrimination gender, sex and sexuality overlap so much that to care about feminism is to care about LGB rights.
It’s National Coming Out Day
Today is National Coming Out Day which is a day of raising awareness and destigmatization for the LGBTQ community.
It's #NationalComingOutDay! Come out as gay. Come out as trans. Come out as supporting equality. We need your voices now.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) October 11, 2017
2. If you think you're ready to come out as LGBT then pick one person you trust and speak to them. It's not a race! #NationalComingOutDay
— Wayne Dhesi (@WayneDavid81) October 11, 2017
3. If you don't feel comfortable using a label for your identity then don't. Try explaining how you feel instead. #NationalComingOutDay
— Wayne Dhesi (@WayneDavid81) October 11, 2017
You were NEVER created to feel ashamed, unworthy, condemned or defeated. You were created to feel victorious. #NationalComingOutDay
— Daniel Brocklebank (@Dan_Brocklebank) October 11, 2017
Texting is the preferred method of communication for young people.
— Luke ♋️✨ (@LukeGrayyy) October 11, 2017
Proof you have great friends who also will throw you a party.
— ash 🍂 | 293 (@flickerofhcpe) October 11, 2017
Great Advice, don’t feel pressured to do anything or be afraid to show your true self…Write your own story!
Don't feel pressured into doing it.
You'll know when the time is right for you.
Write your own story ❤#NationalComingOutDay
— Iain (@BeaIe_) October 11, 2017
Today is #NationalComingOutDay! My message to LGBT youth: We love and accept you for who you are. Don’t be afraid to be true to yourself!
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) October 11, 2017
Reminders on #NationalComingOutDay:
-if you can't be out, your sexuality is still valid
-if you aren't ready, your sexuality is still valid
— Mackenzi Lee (@themackenzilee) October 11, 2017
I would love it if you could be yourself. And be happy #NationalComingOutDay
— bella thorne (@bellathorne) October 11, 2017
Happy Coming Out Day!
Military Service Boosts Resilience, Well-Being Among Transgender Veterans
Transgender people make up a small percentage of active-duty U.S. military personnel, but their experience in the service may yield long-term, positive effects on their mental health and quality of life.
A study from the University of Washington finds that among transgender older adults, those who had served in the military reported fewer symptoms of depression and greater mental health-related quality of life. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.
The paper is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how a range of demographic factors, life events and medical conditions are associated with health and quality of life.
Estimated numbers of U.S. military personnel who are transgender vary widely, but range between one-tenth and three-quarters of 1 percent of the roughly 2 million active-duty and reserve forces. A study from UCLA estimates about 134,000 transgender veterans in the United States.
The new paper, by researchers from the UW School of Social Work, explores how military service affects transgender people because previous data indicated that, among LGBT people over age 50, those who identified as transgender were more likely to be veterans than lesbians, gay men or bisexuals.
Reports have indicated that transgender individuals serve in the military at higher rates than people in the general population. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey of 28,000 individuals, 15 percent said they had served, compared to about 9 percent of the U.S. population overall. And yet, little is known about how military service influences the well-being of transgender veterans later in life.
Other studies have shown that transgender veterans suffer higher rates of depression than other veterans. UW researchers were somewhat surprised, then, to learn that the transgender veterans they surveyed tended to have better mental health than transgender people who hadn’t served, said lead author Charles Hoy-Ellis, a former UW doctoral student who is now an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work.
The traditionally masculine culture of the U.S. military would seem to be a potentially difficult environment for someone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, he said.
But military service creates its own kind of identity, the authors said, because it presents often dangerous and traumatic challenges; overcoming those challenges builds resilience. And that’s where the identity as a transgender person enters the picture.
“Many people develop an identity as a military person — that it’s not just something they did but something that they are,” said Hoy-Ellis. “If transgender people, who are among the most marginalized, can successfully navigate a military career, with so many of the dynamics around gender in the general population and in the military, then that experience can contribute to a type of identity cohesiveness.”
The internalizing of negative stereotypes, such as those around sexual orientation, is considered a risk factor for poor mental health, added co-author Hyun-Jun Kim, a UW research scientist in the School of Social Work. Military service could be the opposite — a protective factor.
“Often when people think of the transgender population, they focus on the risk factors, but it’s equally important to focus on the protective factors and nourish those resources. In this case, what aspects of military service contribute to being a protective factor?” Kim said.
Researchers said they were somewhat limited by the size of their study sample: Out of the 2,450 people ages 50 to 100 who were surveyed for Aging with Pride, 183 identified as transgender. Of those nearly one-fourth, or 43, had served in the military. Of those who had served, 57 percent identified as female. People of color made up 29 percent of the transgender veterans in the study.
But as awareness grows about gender-identity issues, there is an opportunity to address support services for transgender veterans at the federal level and in the community, Hoy-Ellis said.
“This is a population that has served the country very proudly, and it’s important that we recognize that service,” he said. “Learning what we can about transgender older adults with military service may help us develop and implement policies and programs for people who are serving today.”
Other co-authors were Chengshi Shiu, Kathleen Sullivan, Allison Sturges and Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, all in the UW School of Social Work. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging.
Transgender TV Characters Have the Power to Shape Audience Attitudes
Watching transgender characters on fictional TV shows has the power to influence attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues, according to new research from USC Annenberg. Just published in the peer-reviewed journal Sex Roles, the research further highlights the ways political ideology shapes viewer responses to transgender depictions in entertainment.
The researchers surveyed 488 regular viewers of the USA Network series Royal Pains, of whom 391 saw a June 2015 episode featuring a portrayal of a transgender teen, played by transgender activist Nicole Maines. Those who saw this episode had more positive attitudes toward both transgender people and related policies, such as students using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. The fictional Royal Pains storyline was more influential than news events; exposure to transgender issues in the news and Caitlyn Jenner’s transition (which was unfolding at the time of the research) had no effect on attitudes.
Beyond the impact of the Royal Pains episode, the study is the first to demonstrate the effect of cumulative exposure to transgender portrayals, across multiple shows. The more shows featuring transgender characters (such as Amazon’s Transparent and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) that viewers saw, the more transgender-supportive their attitudes. Viewing two or more transgender storylines reduced the association between viewers’ political ideology and their attitudes toward transgender people by half.
According to Traci Gillig, a doctoral candidate at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the lead author on the study, “While media visibility of transgender people reached new levels in recent years, little has been known about the effects of that visibility. Our study shows the power of entertainment narratives to influence viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues.”
The research was conducted in collaboration with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center that serves as a free resource to the entertainment industry on TV storylines addressing health, safety and national security issues. HH&S Director Kate Langrall Folb explains: “We worked closely with the Royal Pains writers, connecting them with medical experts and providing information for the storyline.”
The results of this research suggest increased visibility of transgender characters in mainstream entertainment can have far-reaching influence on public perceptions of transgender people and the policies that impact them.
“Watching TV shows with nuanced transgender characters can break down ideological biases in a way that news stories may not. This is especially true when the stories inspire hope or when viewers can relate to the characters,” said HH&S Senior Research Associate Erica Rosenthal.
Read more about the research in an analysis by Gillig and Rosenthal. “Can transgender TV characters help bridge an ideological divide?” was published by The Conversation.
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