Why is the Term Transgendered?

May 25, 2008

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:

Man———————————————————Woman

Masculine————————————————-Feminine

Male———————————————————Female

Heterosexual——————————————-Homosexual

Transgendered—————————————-Transsexual

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?

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