Thursday, February 16, 2012

Addendum: Trans-

When is a prefix a word? When no one wants to say what the root is.

On a dating profile, a person says that they are trans. What information have they conveyed? How is a potential date supposed to interpret this?

The term transsexual is specific. To be born transsexual means to have a congenital defect in which the sex of the body and the sex of the brain (to oversimplify a bit) are out of sync. The cure is to change the hormone balance, surgically alter the sexual characteristics of the body, and allow the person to live as the sex their brain tells them they are. Male to female—straightforward. Female to male—more complicated, but the general idea is the same.

If the term transgender was non-specific, the term trans seems to be even more so. That seems to be why some people like it. They can convey that they are vaguely part of the already vague LGBT while saying almost nothing about themselves. "Trans" seems to mean anyone who is not male-bodied who lives as male in a societally acceptable masculine fashion, or female-bodied who lives as female in a societally acceptable feminine fashion, or anatomically intersexed (intersex, itself an overly broad term, is always separate from trans-anything).

You can't tell the players without a scorecard. In fact, you can't tell the players with a scorecard, because there are so many different scorecards.

People born transsexual, whether pre-op or post-op, whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual, even those who eschew "normal" gender expression, should avoid the non-word "trans" like the plague. If you were born transsexual, there is no need to obfuscate. And once you have successfully dealt with your birth defect, there is no need for any "trans" word at all.

Sadly, the non-word is everywhere. People who should know better use it and perpetuate the obfuscation, often in the name of some sort of inclusiveness or political correctness. People who do know better use it intentionally to obfuscate. When your purpose is to baffle people with bullshit, to deconstruct reality, to destroy the ability of words to convey specific meaning, then the last thing you want is anyone knowing what you are actually talking about.


Anonymous said...

I remember a few months back when my son referred to me as "Daddy" in front of someone, who gave me quite the odd look. I said, "oh, I'm trans," and while it seemed to mitigate things, I didn't like saying it. I wondered what he thought... did this guy now think I was a crossdresser? One thing for certain, he didn't think I was a woman.

Happened again about three months ago at his preschool and I said to the Mom next to me, "oh, I transitioned a while ago; we're still working on names."

I probably overthink this stuff... on one hand, I guess I shouldn't feel like I have to explain myself. On the other hand, I don't want people thinking I'm anything other than what I am.

Sagebrush said...

On the one hand, I imagine young children will adapt better than older ones. On the other hand, they call you things like "Daddy" in public! I wouldn't want to make my kid appear dumb in front of other people, but I might be tempted simply to shrug as if to indicate that "Daddy" is obviously wrong.

It's really never any good for us whenever we have to out ourselves.

Anne said...

"When your purpose is to baffle people with bullshit, to deconstruct reality, to destroy the ability of words to convey specific meaning, then the last thing you want is anyone knowing what you are actually talking about." ~Sagebrush

B R I L L I A N T !

Brenda Fernández said...

Really girl, I don't get what's the issue with using a less specific word. It happens everywhere. Saying we shouldn't use trans as an inclusive word because it's "obfuscating" sounds to me like saying we shouldn't talk about dogs but about German shepherds and cokcers and bulldogs etc. To me that's nonsense. I use trans* as an inclusive word and I'm perfectly fine with it. I do consider myself transsexual, but tend to avoid the term because some people give it certain definitions that wouldn't fit me. Especially here in Spanish-speaking Argentina most people seem to think "transsexual" is someone who has already had SRS. And the pre-op folk are called "travestis" (which doesn't really equate to the English "transvestite"), lumped together with crossdressers and transgender prostitutes. So, to avoid having those discussions of "no, you aren't" I say I'm trans/transgender (in the "umbrella word" sense). In written texts I sometimes even write trans* to make it explicitly inclusive. I really don't understand why it would be wrong or bad to do this. If you would only talk of yourself as a transsexual and think no other word like trans etc is right, then I'm fine with that, too. But I wouldn't tell others that it's wrong that they (sometimes or always) use a different or more inclusive word.

Sagebrush said...


I have less issue with "trans" being inclusive than with its lack of meaning. It's not analogous to "dog." Even though "dog" doesn't tell you what breed of dog you're referring to, it does convey a meaning that we can probably all agree on. "Trans," not so much.

Brenda Fernández said...

to me, it does have meaning. Sometimes it's used just meaning transsexual, in which case yes, it's better to just say transsexual to make it clear.
Otherwise, and more commonly it's used meaning transgender as the umbrella term for "people with gender variance (either in their sex/gender identity or gender expression)". So anyone whose gender identity and/or expression do not correspond with the one associated with the sex they were assigned at birth is trans.
When it's spelled as trans*, it makes explicit the inclusion of gender-variant people who identify themselves outside of the male/female binary.