Sunday, September 16, 2007

Identity versus orientation

One person emailed and asked for some help on this issue. On one hand a straight woman is probably not the right person to write this post. I can't really tell you what it is like to be trans. On the other hand, I have had to think about it and figure it out, so maybe I am the right person. In either case, I think a blog post on the topic is needed and I am going to give it a try. I hope my queer readers correct and complete what I say in the comments.

The short answer is that sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to (in all senses of that word), and identity is who you are.

I ask you to take a moment and think about each of those separately. For me it is easier to go back to my childhood thoughts. When you were eight what did you think about the other children of your gender, and what did you think about the opposite gender?

Here are the things in my experience I refer to help me understand.

When I was in elementary school I remember watching the "giggly girls." I thought they were a different breed of girl. I was not like them. Sometimes I joined their games, but I was never certain what they were laughing about. They seemed to have learned some rules about giggling, whispering, and squealing that I never learned. I had a strong sense of being different from them.

But it never occurred to me that I might be a boy. It was clear to me that I was a different sort of girl. I was not one of those loud, raucous, competitive boys. I was a quiet, bookish, shy girl.

I had my first crush on a boy when I was in kindergarten. I don't remember what I felt, except that I was pleased that that boy was my boyfriend. The real stirrings of passion happened, as it did for all of us, in puberty. There were boys that I thought were cute, but one in particular that I wanted to be my boyfriend. I imagined kissing him, but mostly I imagined holding hands.

Being heterosexual did not mean just that when I had sexual fantasies I fantasized about boys. It meant that I imagined dancing and going on walks in the woods with boys. I wanted a boy to like me "like that." Long before I was ready for sex, I wanted a boyfriend. After I was ready for sex I wanted one too. But it was never just about sex. I never wanted to be with Hubby merely because I was sexually attracted to him. Being heterosexual meant that the people I am inclined to fall in love with are male.

That's sexual orientation.

I have a fairly good imagination and I can make up stories in my head in which I am different from who I am. I can imagine myself as Queen of the World, loved and obeyed by all. I can imagine myself as Buffy fighting... well, I can imagine myself as Willow casting a supportive spell.

I can also imagine falling in love with a woman. I can form a picture of who I would be if I were a lesbian.

However, if you ask me to imagine myself as a hawk, what I imagine is me in a hawk's body. I imagine what it would be like to soar on air. I don't know that I can imagine myself being a hawk. Once I am imagining sitting on a branch, springing into flight when a mouse appears, grabbing it in my talons and ... okay, done now. The point is that the more I think about being a real hawk, the less it feels like I am imagining ME at all.

With me so far?

So on a scale of 1 to 10, my ability to imagine myself as Queen of All I Survey is about a 10. My ability to imagine myself as a hawk in any meaningful way is about a 1. My ability to imagine myself being a man -- well -- it's about a 3 or 4. Just like imagining being a hawk, it is difficult to figure out what it would be for me to be me and a man at the same time. What I tend to imagine is me stuck in a man's body.

Now I have one more thought experiment for you. It is not one that any of my trans friends have found helpful, but it is the thing that made it "click" for me.

My husband gave me a DVD copy of Trick for Mother's Day (yeah, I know). He gave it to me because I love it. It is a sweet story of two young men falling in love, and one of those men is hot. I watch the movie and every time I sigh when they finally kiss. It is sweet and romantic. And if I imagine myself taking the place of one of those men in that kiss -- I'm a woman every time.


  1. I can't believe I am going to admit this, but I wanted to be a boy when I was little. Even when puberty hit I thought life would be so much sweeter if I was a boy. I remember thinking that being 14 and male would be perfect.

    I am completely strait and never even questioned my sexuality. I was very much a tomboy as a little kid though.

    Maybe it's as simple as that for Frankie; He thinks it would be easier to be a girl. Although the fact that he had made falsies takes it to another level now doesn't it?!?! :)

    My brain hurts!

  2. Just checking in.

    Hi there.

  3. Silph6:58 PM

    Wow, I must say that what you just wrote is INCREDIBLY articulate. I myself love thinking about identity (being gay and having joined -- and then leaving -- a Conservative Christian Church during your years of puberty would do that to you)!


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