“Transgender” vs. “Transsexual”: What’s in a Word?
A Rose By Any Other Name…
…Does Not ALWAYS Smell as Sweet.
I first started writing about transgender issues on Facebook when I wanted to provide some basic guidelines for cisgender people regarding how to talk to and about transgender issues. In my very first post I stated:
While a small number of people use the word “transsexual,” they are in the minority; it is considered offensive by many and the word “transgender” is generally the appropriate word to use… See “‘J’ and Some Definitions,” in this blog, originally published on Facebook on April 13, 2012.
I’ve learned considerably more about trans* issues since then, one issue of which is the split between people who refer to themselves as “transgender” vs. those who adamantly refer to themselves as “transsexual” and insist that they do not fit under the “transgender umbrella.” (see below.) Apparently it’s a big political issue that has not only caused divisiveness in the LGBTI community, but there is now a huge chasm in the trans* community as well, with some individuals attempting to force their labels on others and attempting to create a hierarchy regarding who is “really” trans*.
Transgender is an umbrella term that includes different types of gender variant people (including transsexual people) so transgender women could, for example, refer to either a woman who was assigned male at birth, identifies as a woman, but does not wish to undergo physical changes, or a transsexual woman. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_woman
I completely disagree: Transsexual/transgender, intersex , androgyne and polygender people do not belong in the same category as cross-dressing and transvestite people; furthermore, the entire concept of a cisgender person deciding to categorize and label people without their consent pisses me off. None of these groups should be lumped into a single category because they are completely DIFFERENT from each other.
In my last post I addressed the Power of Language. That post specifically addressed pronouns. I believe that respecting people’s preferences regarding labels (if labels are needed at all—I personally despise labels) is just as important. This is what I got when I posted my feelings about this on the facebook page “Boycott GLADD’s and AA’s T-Shirts: ‘Transsexual Will NOT be Censored.’” My response follows:
MY FIRST COMMENT:
WOW. Just like many disenfranchised groups, it is amazing that anything gets done with all of the infighting.
First of all, in the US, people who dress in clothes of the opposite sex part-time are referred to as “transvestites,” not “transgender;” although there are some who place transvestites under the transgender “umbrella,” they don’t belong there.
Second, all of the people I know who refer to themselves as “transgender” have a medical condition that requires medical treatment—some have been able to afford the surgery, some not yet—but they ALL are what you define as “transsexual.” IT IS JUST A FLUCKING WORD. I fully understand why you want to differentiate yourselves from cross-dressers, but saying that people who use a different word to describe themselves WHEN THEY ARE JUST LIKE YOU (which may, in fact, be cultural in origin, based on geography and/or age) is divisive and destructive.
Third, the psychiatric diagnosis “Gender Identity Disorder” was created so that people can get the psychiatric evaluations necessary to ensure that only individuals whose gender is truly in conflict w/their physical bodies get treatment and that they are making an informed decision (and able to give informed consent). As a licensed mental health professional I KNOW that transgenderism/transsexuality is NOT a mental disorder, but there has to be a billable psychiatric diagnosis or insurance companies will not pay for these evaluations, pure and simple.
Forth, while some transgender/transsexual people I know refer to the discordance between body and gender as a birth defect or medical condition (which I do, to differentiate it from a psychiatric disorder), some do not, as they do not wish to be viewed as “disordered.”
Geez, have some respect for the words people use to refer to themselves. For example, younger LGBTI people are using the word “queer” now, while others of us cringe at that word as offensive. For some people the word “transsexual” is just as offensive, although it may not be to you.
I’m cis, so you can discount everything I have to say and tell me to f-off. But ironically enough, I guarantee that my trans friends would completely support my comment.
The other person made reference to the DSM IV & V before I did but then edited it out before I got the screen cap, making it look as though I was being argumentative. SHE brought it up. btw, I DO have my DSM IV right next to me….
MY NEXT (long) COMMENT:
I’m just asking you to back up what you’re claiming.
Almost all of my trans friends use the word “transgender” to describe themselves—pre- or post-op—yet they are not fetishists, not wannabes, not part-timers… they are exactly what all of you are describing as transsexuals. Almost all of them view this as a curable congenital condition (except those who don’t want to be viewed as “disordered”.)
For the most part you’re fighting over a word. For example, some lesbians prefer to be referred to “lesbians,” some “gay;” infighting over how people refer to THEMSELVES and not respecting how people refer to THEMSELVES does nothing to help TS/TG people (not transvestites or fetishists–I could give a rat’s @$$ about them) get the rights they deserve, and only hurts the cause. I cringe at the word “queer” that younger people are now using because I remember its old connotations, but if they want to refer to themselves as “queer,” I RESPECT their right to do so and am not going to nit-pic over definitions because it accomplishes nothing but divisiveness in the LGBTI community.
I’m not trying to fight, but I have to ask: Are you being hostile towards me because I’m cisgender and therefore must not know what I’m talking about? Because my trans friends can tell you that I am more supportive of trans issues than many in the trans community. I DO understand that cis people pushed all the non TS/TG people under the “transgender umbrella” and do not agree that: 1) they belong there or 2) cis people have any business defining trans people. But when a legitimately trans person prefers the term “transgender” over “transsexual” and THEY ARE EXACTLY THE SAME AS WHAT YOU DESCRIBE AS “TRANSSEXUAL,” they should be respected and referred to by the term they prefer.
RESPONSE TO MY COMMENT:
MY FINAL COMMENT:
I’m not an idiot, am well-educated and I understand the meaning of the words. I also specifically mentioned that I am in the US and that there may be cultural differences. In common use, the word “transgender” in the US is used to refer to someone who is, by your definition TS, despite the existence of the “transgender umbrella.”
My friends are NOT cross-dressers, they are what you refer to as TS and many are taking hormones and are trying to find a way to afford surgery (some have already had it)–they have all been properly diagnosed by licensed physicians as having a medical condition that requires treatment. Unlike the UK, virtually no health insurance companies pay for SRS/GRS. I think the “transgender umbrella” is utter BS and would never refer to a transvestite or anyone else who does not meet the criteria for what you refer to as TS as “transgender.” I NEVER STATED THAT EVERY TS SHOULD BE LABELED TG. Screw PC—I merely stated that people should be RESPECTED and referred to by the label they prefer, if a label is needed at all. Oh, and I don’t feel “threatened” by people who don’t show respect for other people’s feelings—they piss me off for their lack of respect.
You are wrong—I do NOT feel that anyone who labels themselves as TG should get treatment—medical treatment for TS/TG should only be available and provided by licensed physicians after careful and proper diagnosis of a medical condition.
You obviously didn’t read my post; you apparently saw “transgender” and my self-disclosure as being “cisgender” and reacted. My issue is with you forcing YOUR label on other TS/TG people in the same way that cisgender people created the “transgender umbrella” to label YOU, thereby disenfranchising people who are JUST LIKE YOU. It is so sad to see that the TS/TG community is as divisive as the LGBT community–it’s a wonder you have any rights at all.
I don’t appreciate your condescending attitude towards me and you DO seem to be dismissive of me because I am cisgender. I would be happy to provide you with the names of friends who are, by your definition “transsexual” although most of them refer to themselves as “transgender.” I spend a lot of my time writing a blog dedicated to trans* issues, written specifically to educate cis people on trans* issues; some of my followers are trans* people, some of whom refer to themselves as TS, some as TG and they are all what you would call TS. People from the LGBT and non-LGBT communities have thanked me for doing so because they wanted to know more but were afraid to ask, because they are sensitive to people’s privacy and because they did not want to be met with hostility for using the “wrong” terminology or “saying the wrong thing.” This post is a perfect example of why.
The link to my blog, if you are willing to lower yourself to reading anything written from a cis perspective, is below. If you read from bottom to top (i.e., in chronological order) you will see the process by which I, a cis person, learned about trans* issues. You expect us to understand you—how about reciprocating? https://transcister.wordpress.com/
To anyone who is not happy with this blog or this particular post, I will conclude with a quote a read somewhere 😉 recently: