Want to be a better ally to lesbian, gay, bi and trans people but not sure where to start?
Unsure what’s a stereotype, what’s an assumption and, for want of a better term, what’s absolute rubbish?
This might get you started.
Here are 10 common misconceptions about LGBT people and their lives:
1. Coming out only happens once
‘Coming out’ is something LGBT people have to do again and again, if they choose to do so.
Whether we start a new job, meet new neighbours, make new friends, come into contact with old friends or meet up with distant relatives, it’s a decision we have to make constantly.
There’s also a misconception that people usually come out at a young age. Realising you’re LGBT, and feeling comfortable enough to tell others, can happen at any stage of life, whether you’re 15, 55 or 95 years old.
For trans people, depending on whether passing is an integral part of someone’s trans identity or not, they may choose not to come out.
For non-binary people, meaning those who don't identify as only male or only female, or may identify as neither or both of these genders, coming out can be time-consuming, as it might involve explaining their identity outside of what other people understand about gender.
This might include physical gender cues (hair or clothing) and/ or behaviour which is historically or culturally associated with a particular gender.
2. Same-sex couples have ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles
Same sex relationships come in different shapes and sizes. Some people may display attributes or take on responsibilities typically associated with what it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ but others won’t.
(And even then, there’s a longer conversation to be had around the fact that those associations are based on sexist stereotypes, rather than what makes someone ‘male’ or ‘female’.)
On the flipside, people’s assumptions that same sex couples don’t form families is also way off.
There’s a whole host of ways for LGBT couples to have children, whether that’s donor insemination and fertility treatment, adoption, fostering, or surrogacy.
3. Gay men are ‘feminine’ and lesbian women are ‘butch’
Nope. There’s a whole spectrum of identities within the LGBT community and ‘butch’ and ‘feminine’ are just some of the ways people might identify. These attributes aren’t related to gender identity or sexual orientation. They are just part of who someone is and how they present themselves to the outside world.
4. Bisexual people are greedy and/ or they can’t make up their minds
Again, this is an out-and-out no, and is a biphobic assumption to hold.
Being attracted to more than one gender doesn’t make someone ‘greedy’, or imply that they plan on dating more than one person at a time.
It also has no impact on someone’s fidelity. Genuine commitment isn't related to who or how many genders you find attractive.
You might have heard the term pansexual. And you might have heard the gag about it meaning you have the hots for a saucepan. Groan.
‘Pansexual’ is a term people might hear used less often, but it has absolutely nothing to do with kitchen utensils.
Identifying as ‘pansexual’, in a nutshell, means your emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction towards another person isn’t limited by biological sex, gender or gender identity.
You’re attracted to the person. Full stop. It’s kind of simple when you think about it.
Stop for a minute and think about all the different things you find attractive in a person. Don’t get carried away! Are you always attracted to people of the same weight, height, race? With the same eye colour, hair colour, accent? No? Does that mean you can’t make your mind up? Or that you don’t know what you want? No.
For bi and pansexual people, part of this openness is the genders they’re attracted to. It doesn’t mean they’re confused or undecided.
5. Being trans means having surgery
Trans is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth.
Being trans doesn’t automatically mean that someone will undergo any medical interventions. Each person’s transition will involve different things.
For some trans people, this might include hormone therapy or surgeries, but not all trans people want or are able to have this.
Transitioning might also involve things like changing name, ‘coming out’ to friends and family, dressing differently or changing official documents.
People who identify in other ways that sit within the trans umbrella (that Stonewall uses), like non-binary, might not necessarily opt for medical interventions either.
6. Being trans means you’re straight. Or gay. Or you only date other trans people.
Who you’re attracted to is who’re you’re attracted to.
Someone’s gender identity, before, during or after transition, doesn’t make a difference.
People in the trans community come in all shapes and sizes. Some trans people are lesbian, gay and bisexual, in the same way that some are straight.
This is no different to the way in which people who aren’t trans identify.
And trans people don’t only date other trans people, like people with blue eyes don’t only date other people with blue eyes!
7. We look and act like the LGBT people you see on telly
Unfortunately, we’re still at a point where LGBT representation is often white, young, cisgender and of non-faith background.
That leaves a LOT of gaps for a LOT of people who’re part of our community. If you hear LGBT people talk about ‘visibility’ a lot, that’s because it’s vital for us.
Have you heard the phrase, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’? Well, if you’re growing up without visible role models, it can be really hard to understand and embrace your identity.
Don’t forget that LGBT people are present across all communities within society – this means there are lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people who are also:
- Senior citizens
- People of colour and /or black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME)
- Disabled people
- People of faith
- Young people
That might sound obvious, but often the specific experiences of those groups are overlooked, which in part is because LGBT representation is not diverse enough.
It’s important to understand the idea of ‘intersectionality’ – a term which describes how someone can suffer lots of different types of discrimination just because their identity overlaps several minority groups, like race, class, gender, age, ethnicity, health and so on.
For example, a bisexual person with a disability might face ‘dual discrimination’ for being both those things.
8. The LGBT community is one big happy family
Being part of a minority group in no way means LGBT people are from a community without prejudice.
Racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia are all, sadly, present in the LGBT community.
It’s also easy to think homophobia biphobia and transphobia aren’t an issue within the LGBT community, but that isn’t the case.
This is why we, as LGBT people, have to also be active allies to all individuals within our own community.
9. Gay people thrive working in arts and media
This is most definitely a myth. In fact, these are the sectors which are least represented in our Top 100 Employers list at the moment. The Top 100 is part of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, a great benchmarking tool which employers can use to measure their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace.
This was, and still can be, used as a derogatory term for LGBT individuals.
But the term has been reclaimed by many LGBT people, particularly those of a younger age, who feel empowered by it.
For many, ‘queer’ provides a particular freedom of expression that ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ bisexual’ or ‘trans’ might not, and provides an identity that they feel relates to their experience.
Some LGBT people of dual identities might not feel that terms like ‘gay’ represent them, because of the historic prejudice that those people have faced within ‘gay’ circles’.
This is the case for many POC, which is why we often see the acronym QTPOC (Queer or Trans People Of Colour) used in conjunction with or instead of LGBT POC.
At Stonewall, we recently made the decision to expand our ‘Some People Are…’ t-shirt range to include queer, because many supporters and individuals approached us asking for this option to reflect their identity.
We did this with the knowledge that not everyone uses this word and some people might have different, often negative associations with it. We will always strive to be sensitive to that.
Come Out For LGBT
Our new campaign is all about the part we all have to play in creating a world where everyone, everywhere can be themselves. There’s a whole range of ways you can Come Out For LGBT to show your support and have an impact on the lives of LGBT people you know, and many more that you don’t.