Equal rights battles and advocacy efforts have brought together gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and genderqueer people over the past several decades. But that doesn’t mean that the basis for these identities is the same — in fact, sexual orientation and gender identity are very different.
Sexual orientation is who someone is sexually attracted to. Gender identity is who someone is. They are, as trans woman and former Olympian athlete Caitlyn Jenner explained to ABC News’s Diane Sawyer, “apples and oranges.”
Still, this remains a very common misconception. But a transgender person can identify as a woman, even though she was assigned male at birth, and be gay (attracted to other women), straight (attracted to men), bisexual, asexual (sexually attracted to no one), or attracted to a traditionally undefined gender. Trans men, gender nonconforming people, and genderqueer people can also be sexually attracted to men, women, both, no one, or another preference.
Mara Keisling, a trans woman and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, acknowledged that this concept can be difficult to explain. “If somebody was living as a man dating women, and now they’re living as a woman dating women, what does that mean? They were straight; now they’re gay,” Keisling said. “But did their sexual orientation change, or were they always attracted to women?”
This infographic, put together by Trans Student Educational Resources, helps break through some of that confusion by showing how a person’s gender identity and expression fall outside characteristics like sexual orientation and sex assigned at birth: