Why is the Term Transgendered?

Ever since Kinsey created the spectrum/continuum between Heterosexual and Homosexual we’ve been cursed with lines. The only thing that commends itself about lines is that they are easy to read–for most us, at least, most of the time.

And we have, over the years, created/discovered a number of other lines that have become the way we in the GLBTT2IQQA (I think that is all of us) and straight allies, and others, have used to explain that we do not live in either/or but in gradations, spectrums and continuums.

I think I’ve captured most of them below:






Look closely, the usage of four of them is the same–the fifth, however, is quite exceptional–and I say marginalizing.

Forgetting the use of the past participle (that is, adding “ed” to transgender) it is the only spectrum/continuum in which the term on the left is used as the category and umbrella term for the whole line.

For the first two, the umbrella term is “gender.”

For the third, the umbrella term is “sex.”

For the fourth, the umbrella term is “sexual orientation”–or “orientation” for short.

Why is the umbrella term for the fifth “transgendered?” Why the special treatment?

Women have never accepted the idea they should be called “men” for, say, convenience sake. They would never accept the argument that the term “man” or “men” is used to include them has derived from history and is why they should accept their erasure from discussions that would otherwise include them.

In fact, feminists have long argued for the power of language and the necessity for specific inclusion for the term “woman” or “women” in discussions that include them or are about them.

Logically, in the second and the third line, it would be absurd to call feminine and female masculine and male, respectively; and it would be just as absurd to do the reverse.

Why, it would be like calling apples oranges.

Now, what would be the point in erasing the existence of one or the other?

In the fourth line, it would more than absurd to call homosexual people heterosexual–we would see that for what it is, heterosexist or heteronormative privilege, erasing the minority with the majority term. Gay and lesbian people do not have to endure that indignity.

But in the fifth line it is considered convenient to call transsexual people–a minority among a minority–by the term denoting the majority of the continuum.

This in violation of the rules of absurdity, logic and what we can now say cissexism and cisnormative privilege that can be gleaned from our scrutiny of the first four lines.

A personal experience.

In organizing for the last Transgender Day of Remembrance–called in many parts of Canada Trans Day of Remembrance–there were some early concerns regarding the way it would be called. Most of the people I was working with represented an organization that describes itself as a transgender support organization. At least half of those present were transgender, that is, were not concerned with surgery.

Numerically, the number of transsexual people in its membership has increased more than a little in the four and half years I’ve been aware of its existence–and since I was, for a short time, a member. Today, I believe all of its executive are transsexual people.

That is, those who have had and those who are intending to have surgery.

In our first discussions, the majority of those present desired to revert to “Transgender Day of Remembrance” from the three previous years’ usage. I argued for the use of the term “trans” as inclusive of all transgender and transsexual people. It was, at one point, suggested that since I had used this term, why not call the event “The Trans-Transgender Day of Remembrance?”

For some reason, possibly because I had used a term I believed inclusive, the use of the term transsexual in, say, “The Transgender-Transsexual Day of Remembrance” or maybe “The Transsexual-Transgender Day of Remembrance” was not on. Both of these usages were dismissed out of hand with clearly no understanding of what I was pointing at.

For quite a while now, I say “transgender and transsexual people” or “transsexual and transgender people” because I realize what we have, and must have if our campaigns are to work, is a coalition.

This logic has been a difficult one to sell–and especially at meetings of this group–because it is seen as inconvenient and probably divisive. The line often used is that there are too many divisions among GLBT people, with the implicit consideration that gay and lesbian people have used a forced singular identity, or oneness, based upon sexual orientation, to great success.

Among the most prominent casualties of this forced adherence to a singular identity have been Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Beth Elliot, Sandy Stone, Reed Erickson. The many transsexual women who were the Compton Cafeteria Riot. All transsexual people and most, if not all, quite unknown to those I was working with and the current generation as a whole.

Exclusion, and of course marginalization, an inherent result if not goal of the strategy of forced singular identity.

I have argued against this in previous blogs.

This terminology becomes all the more absurd in the current discussion in Ontario when one hears the things like ‘sex-change surgery for transgenders.’ Now, I don’t know any transgender person who wants surgery, because the definition of the term ‘transgender’ does NOT include a permanent movement from male to female or female to male. Permanent movement is the definition of the term ‘transsexual.’

Yeah, I know this is inconvenient, especially for those who reside in the territory of the majority.

I am reminded of gay men of a certain age who speak nostalgically of the time when everyone who wasn’t straight was gay–lesbians, bisexual people, transgender people, transsexual people. Sure it was convenient and not divisive for them but it obscured increasingly marginal populations while retaining their hold on power. And it is the most marginal people who most need to be recognized.

Silence for marginal people means our death.

So why the special treatment for transsexual people?


5 Responses to Why is the Term Transgendered?

  1. Callan says:

    I don’t believe that Transgender Transsexual are labels for two ends of the same continuum.

    Wouldn’t the two ends be, say, Cisgender Transgender for a gender variance spectrum, or FixedSexual Transsexual for body compliance spectrum?

    For example, I know many transsexuals who claim to be normatively gendered for their identified body, if not for their birth ones. And I certainly know many people for whom they feel very little need or desire to go outside the gender role assigned to them.

    Gender Variance and Body Compliance seem to be two different spectra to me.

    It may be true that someone who rejects their body as “wrongly sexed” and wants to change it may inherently also reject the gender role assigned based on birth body assignment, so that all transsexuals can be identified as transgendered at some point, even if they see that change to “normative” after they re-identify their body based on chemical and/or surgical intervention; therefore all transsexuals can be identified as trans (crossing) assigned gender at some point in their lives.

    But clearly all transgender identified people are not required to take a fixed position on body modification, on changing secondary sexual characteristics. Some change none, some change some, and some swear they will never change any and then change all. Being transgender identified is not contrary to being transsexual identified, like some other oppositions you posit.

    And besides, where do bisexuals reside? Or the intersexed? They live between oppositions, on a real spectrum.

    Are transgender and transsexual two ends of one spectrum, or do they both have spectra of their own?

    I suggest the latter.

  2. Jessica says:

    The great failure of Kinsey, of course, is that he used a line–and we have forever been using lines since.

    I certainly do not disagree that there may be other geometric shapes that more correctly, more realistically, describe the ‘actual’ reality.

    But just as so many geometric shapes are only conceptualized with great difficulty, if at all, the purpose of this blog is to simplify, not render more difficult, the conceptualizing of the point I am making.

    I have always believed the concepts we are exploring at at the forefront and by definition fluid–every trans person is quite unique and any attempt to bring some understanding to this field tends, more than for some other, to do some changing to the reality.

    This was one attempt on my part to bring some understanding, possibly only to me, to this.

    Thank you for posting.

  3. catkisser says:

    Me?, I’m off all the lines. I thought of myself as transsexual most of my life, learned post-transitioned I was born a tetra-gametic chimera (true hermaphrodite) and had been surgically assigned male at birth.

    I’ve corrected my body, been a very very active trans-activist, founded or co-founded several state and national trans rights groups, set up one of the few housing coops for newly transitioned women, raised funds for GLBt Katrina victims and written the only detailed set of essays about transsexual priestesses in the ancient world out there….and I am a total pariah in trans circles because around eleven years ago I started advocating for the use of “transgender and transsexual” so that identities would be respected and allow for actual coalitions on the common issues.

    After ten years of out and out banning from activist lists, constant libel and slander directed at me and even death threats and attempts to totally disrupt my life I have come to the conclusion that the bulk of those in the TG communities are essencially abusers towards women of transsexual history. No other conclusion is possible, no coalitions are possible, no common ground is possible. They needed the legitimacy of medical transsexuality and the acceptance we had built up then…….now they wish to erase us from view to hide the fact that, for us, surgical solutions are necessary because that would reflect on their own claims to penised womanhood. It’s that simple.

  4. Evangelina Carters says:

    It was Harry Benjamin who, influenced by Kinsey, who provided research material for Hary Benjamin and his book “The Transsexual Phenomenum” who first described lines or continuums. You have to remember that this was the sixties and things were different. In Benjamins terms his scale was transvestite at one end and transsexual at the other. Transgender did not come about until Charles Prince stuck his unwanted nose in and used the term “transgender” coined originally by Hirschfield (I think, correct me if I’m wrong)which in Prince’s parlance meant “full time transvestite” As far as I am concerned it STILL means that.

  5. Jessica says:

    I am certainly aware of at least some of your history, cat kisser; it is something of an inspiration to me.

    I have also used the terminology “transgender and transsexual” having some success in persuading people to use it, though not receiving positive reaction from transgender-identified people.

    It is interesting to me there has been such interest in this commentary in recent days.

    This, at the same time there are published reports of concern the definitions in what was called the Mather Shepard Hate Crimes Bill will cover gender expression–that is, transgender people–but not gender identity–that is, transsexual people.

    This is the American side of the border.

    In Canada, there has recently been a human rights complaint filed against Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada on behalf of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

    The filer of this complaint is the Executive Director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, which DOES include transsexual people. In their definition of homophobia, though, he includes gender non-conformity, which I take to be gender variant, that is, transgender, as part of all things associated with gay and lesbian people.

    So, transsexual people are left out of a complaint the filer’s day job supposedly includes.

    I begin to wonder where these trends meet.

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