“What terms in the cisgender, GSM, or trans* community are problematic?” 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge Part 19

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: What terms in the cisgender, GSM, or trans* community are problematic?

So, um, first off, lol at the idea of a “cisgender community”. I’m just going to focus on GSM and trans communities here.

In which case, I’ll start with the obvious one, from the question itself: trans*

The asterisk version of “trans” fell out of favour pretty quickly after rising in popularity. It was intended as a more inclusive term than the non-asterisk version (i.e. it was intended to convey the inclusion of non-binary identities under the trans(*) umbrella, as well as allowing for the multiple versions of trans(*) identity (as in, transgender as well as transsexual – more on that one in a minute)), but there are a number of problems with it.

One of the major sources of side-eye for “trans*” is that it didn’t actually come from within trans communities – the term was coined by a cisgender person. Which is another way of saying that this way of talking about trans people was not self-defined, but rather a label put upon us from the outside. I don’t think that this is necessarily a death knell for a term, as communities often actively appropriate and claim words that were originally created by non-members of those communities.

However, it doesn’t stop there.

The thing is that adding the asterisk to trans in an attempt to “include” non-binary people is either 1) actually implicitly excluding non-binary people from trans identity; or 2) non-consensually including non-trans non-binary people in a category they don’t identify with. I’ll unpack both of those:

When you claim that somehow adding an asterisk to trans is more inclusive of non-binary trans people, you actually imply that that non-binary trans people aren’t “really” trans. We are rendered into a footnote, an addendum. We are pushed out of actually transness, into um, asterisk-ness? The thing is, though, that I am not an asterisk. I am trans, plain and simple. And so are many other non-binary people.

But. On the other hand, many people who are neither men nor women are not trans. Within cultures that don’t operate on a strict gender binary, that actually have socially codified alternative gender roles and identities, the cis/trans binary doesn’t make sense, and the trans narrative doesn’t fit people who fall into the non-binary gender categories of these cultures. Such folks often actively dis-identify with transness, and to insist that they are still “trans*” is to invalidate their sense of self.

And so, trans* has pretty well died by now, as a term. Good!

The other thing I find sometimes problematic in terms of language within trans communities isn’t a term itself, but rather a mode of language policing: that is, I sometimes take issue with the ways in which other trans folk insist that “transgendered” is “not a word”, or that “transsexual” isn’t a thing.

In general, I get the sentiment. Transgender is the best umbrella term here, for sure. Transgender is an adjective, a modifying descriptor of a person, much like many other descriptors that identify people’s axes of oppression. It can be said that people are transgender (not transgendered), in the same way that people are black (not blacked), autistic (not autisticked (autismed?)), etc. And like, ok, I guess? But also, this implies that the English language is consistent in a way that it never has been. And it smacks of privilege; like, not everyone has a high level grasp of grammar, nor should they care about minor quibbles as long as they can communicate themselves.

Of course, some people are actively bothered by being called transgendered, and those people have a right to define what words are applied to them, as does everyone else. But by the same token, there are trans people who actively identify themselves as transgendered, and they get to do that, ok? It’s not wrong for them to do that. It is a word.

Ditto for transsexual. The word does not even remotely apply to trans people generally, but there are folks who actively and specifically identify themselves as transsexual, as changing their sex, and not just their gender. They also get to do that. Everyone gets to use the words that best describe their own experience and understanding of themselves.

To be honest, this is why I prefer “trans” as far and away the best umbrella term, “transgender” if you must have a longer one. And I do think it is important to correct people (especially cisgender people) that I see using “transgendered” or “transsexual” as general terms. But I don’t correct them by telling them those aren’t words. They are words – I know they are words because people use them, and that is literally all it takes for something to be a word. They just aren’t the best words, or the right words to used in all contexts.

There are other things I could talk about here, I’m sure – this prompt has endless possibilities for me, really – but I’ll leave here for now!

But please, do tell me: What words that come up in trans communities do you have an issue with?


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

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