Identity, Orientation, and Bias

By Tammy Plunkett

I will be the first to admit that I got gender identity and sexual orientation confused when my child came out as transgender two years ago. In all fairness, lumping T in with LGBT (which was the extent of the acronym that I knew at the time) sort of implied that they were all related. I have since learned that they are not the same at all. One is about how the individual sees themselves and feels inside, the other is about who they are attracted to and love. (Read more about this in Kayla’s Blog here)

It took me a while to realise the bias that I held towards people who identified as transgender. I was already a very socially liberal person, yet I was raised in a world that favoured certain characteristics, standards, and norms. Just like a fish doesn’t know they are swimming in water, I didn’t know that I had been surrounded by beliefs perpetuated by a gender binary and heteronormative society.

I firmly believe that none of us wants to have prejudice and that very few people want to be called racists, misogynistic and xenophobic. I also believe that most people who are biased do so because of fear and misinformation. This is my effort to shine a little light on things.

Let’s define bias

Bias is disproportionate weight in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Biases can be learned by watching cultural contexts.

That last sentence is the important one. Biases are created by generations past, at social gatherings, in some churches, through television and movies, in song lyrics and our reading material. Today, in Alberta, our bias generally venerates and gives more importance to a cisgender, straight, North-American or Western-European, middle to upper-class, white, Christian, man.

Bias is not always blatant. Sometimes it’s the absence of representation that defines a role. We didn’t see female lawyers or doctors in 1825 and now women doctors and lawyers are everywhere. Women haven’t suddenly become more capable of the profession, it’s because society has changed its bias. It is a big deal today to have an openly gay person of colour or transgender woman hold a position of power because it is not something that we have seen in abundance.

The Sexualization of Bias

As a society, we have made everything pride-related about sex. Can you imagine if marriage preparation courses only focused on the sex after the wedding? There is so much more to a marriage, and the human experience for that matter, than sex. Yet, for a person who is part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, sex is all we see and hear. When the general public only sees the pride community through the lens of sex, no wonder they are shocked and troubled when they hear of a five-year-old who asserts that their gender is not what their body parts suggest. How can a five-year-old know anything about sex? Again, gender identity is about how the individual sees themselves and feels inside and has nothing to do with sex.

The darker side of carrying the bias that gender identity is a sexual issue is that too often Trans people are seen as sexual deviants. This is why there is a huge uproar about having a transgender woman in a bathroom, what if they rape our daughters as they go to relieve themselves?! This is a narrative that we have been spoon fed to maintain our bias. The simple fact is that no one has ever been attacked by a transgender woman in a bathroom in North America. However, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly half (46%) of respondents were verbally harassed in the past year because of being transgender and nearly one in ten (9%) respondents were physically attacked in the past year because of being transgender.

Time for Change

None of us can face our bias until someone points out what else is possible. I challenge you to take some reflective time and question some of your beliefs. Ask yourself where these beliefs come from and how are they being reinforced by the people around you and the media you consume. Lastly, I encourage you to come out to a community coffee and meet the real human beings in our city and see that in essence, they’re really not that different from you and me.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.


1 thought on “Identity, Orientation, and Bias”

  1. Thank you for this post. It certainly has helped me to understand that a great deal of education is needed and welcomed around all these confusing LGBTQ acronyms. As a 57 year old gay man , and now the President of the Cochrane Rainbows, I was questioning how far was my head buried in the sand? Why have I not heard of these many different acronyms? The fear of not really knowing how to address people based on their preferred pronouns . The fear that I may unintentionally hurt someone with my lack of knowledge and understanding around those very real concerns you pointed out. Questioning, if I’m really suited to lead an LGBTQ SOCIETY!!!!
    Your blog has awakening me to understand I’m not alone with all this confusion. A reminder we are all in this together. Confirmation that I am the person to lead an LGBTQ community initiative. I may not have all the knowledge at this point , but I do have the passion and compassion to collaborate, to learn to speak publicly to help create inclusive safe spaces / communities for all humans.
    Thank you for inspiring me to continue on with my journey and minimizing some of my fears.
    Keep up the great work you do.

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