Attraction to members of one’s own sex and the desire to be of the other sex are rarely the result of a conscious choice, but there are important differences between trans people and gay people. For some trans people the desire to assume the opposite gender is fetishistic in origin; in this sense at least being trans can be rather close to a sexual orientation (Ray Blanchard calls it an “erotic target malfunction”). But for other trans people, the source of their “identity” lies in a deep-rooted desire to be of the opposite sex. The origin of this is not clear, and in many people (myself included) it predates puberty and is not primarily a sexual orientation. There are very important differences between being trans, in this sense, and being gay. For some people identifying as “trans” can be a temporary phase, and although activists deny it, being trans can be a phase during development. The truth of the matter is that “trans” is not a single condition, and there is not a single way to understand it. In contrast, to be attracted to members of ones own sex rather than the opposite sex is an easily understood form of difference.
There are some very important consequences of these differences. For example, to try to help a gay person to be straight is inhumane, but to help somebody with gender dysphoria to live with their birth sex is humane – or at least so I would contend. Self-acceptance – as somebody born male but with a deep desire to be female – is surely healthier that the violent assertion that one is, contrary to all objective evidence, a woman.
The surgical course is necessary for some, but is a far from perfect solution. Male gonads are removed and replaced not by female gonads but by medication; vaginoplasty yields a simulacra of female genitalia that will typically try to heal itself out of existence for the remainder of adult life. But all of this is extremely complex. That is why the 2004 Gender Recognition Act establishes such a severe test for recognition of a change of gender. This is also why we should resist groups who recklessly encourage children to imagine that sex is a plastic thing. A five year-old may believe that they can have the body of the other sex in the same way that they accept the literal truth of the existence of Father Christmas. The reality of sex reassignment is much more complex than this. For some people it may be a necessary solution to a deep and complex problem. But it is nevertheless still a very complex solution; for many (most) who suffer from gender dysphoria, learning to accept their biological gender without denying the reality of their dysphoria may be a far more humane solution.