The Postmodern Intersection of Lesbian and Transgender Politics
By Widow Centauri
San Diego State University
Department of Sociology
INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM
There is little awareness in the mainstream regarding trans-issues. One of the
major issues surrounding the lack of awareness is the issue of what to call transgender
people. The problem is that we lack language patterns and terminology to define and discuss gender variant folks. The structure of the English language does not have pronouns that reflect the full spectrum of the human race. Cisgender people need to know how to refer to transpeople in order to talk to and about them in ways that are neither offensive nor awkward. Given the limitations of the binary-based vocabulary available to us in this culture it is important to assess the use of several gender-variant neologisms (GVN) that have begun to circulate in the transgender community, such as zhe, hir, grrrl, boi, and hiz.
This paper covers the issues surrounding the gender binary, in the structure of the
English language, and the politics of identity that present themselves through this binary. My research questions focus specifically on the perception and performance of gender. I answer some preliminary questions about the potential for a gender-neutral pronoun to gain regular usage.
My thesis explores the patterns of GVN use. I ask questions about the perception
of GVN within the LGBTQQIIK & GQ community. What I have found, thus far, is that the perception of gender as essential perpetuates a tremendous amount of fear and hostility towards the use of GVN. Not all people feel this way and many people are using GVN to create a more tolerant cultural discourse. There is a strong divide in opinion around the issues of GVN. A socio-cultural war is happening around the use of these words.
The potential of GVN to alter the way that gender is perceived and performed is a main focus of my research. I am looking at how people see gender performance in everyday life. The political parameters of being a gender extend throughout society. The structure seeks “to keep gender in it’s place by posturing as the foundational illusions of identity” (Butler 1990: 34). Because GVN allow a more fluid approach to gender, they are germane to reevaluating the way society views the expression of gender.
Gender oppression and essentialism permeates every facet of modern life. Even constructs of sexual identity within the rubric of LGBTQQIIK & GQ identities are encroached by dualism that is presupposed in language. The terms lesbian and gay are inherently dualistic. They presuppose a gender binary and that there is “same” sex. Love and lust exist outside of the realms of dualism.
Very little research has been done on GVN. My thesis lays the foundation for more research to be done in the future. I have looked to research in the field of linguistics, lesbian and transgender politics, and contemporary social theory to extrapolate and build on my work on GVN. I have reframed GVN usage in several different ways. I have looked at GVN usage through the lens of moral panic and fear based hegemony, through the influence of the mass media, and in regards to the politics of identity within the queer community.
Lesbian politics have given me a springboard from which to jump. Much has been written on the division of opinions within the political sphere of lesbian politics. There are lesbian feminists who are inherently conservative in their beliefs and those who are not. Stone throwing in the lesbian community has all of us fighting over weather or not the patriarchy has created the tools that we are embracing hoping for liberation. Women embrace a political ideology that is consistent with the best choices they can make from the life experience they have had; this however has led the politics of lesbian feminists to be radically divided since the 1970s. The well-documented historical account of hostility within a gendered community has given me an excellent place to begin asking questions of essentialism.
The 1991 Michigan Womyn’s Music forcibly ejected a transwomen on the grounds that ze had not been born a woman. The term ‘womyn born womyn’ sprung into light and a national discourse on who counted as a “real” woman appeared within the lesbian community. Several feminist scholars supported a fundamentalist view of essentialism, others argued for a more fluid view of gender. The lesbian community and the politics of who is entitled to take up space in it have given me a tremendous amount research to look towards in the context of how people respond to GVN.
The use of GVN and queer trans-cis relationships being supported, within the lesbian community, creates a broader spectrum of gender and sexuality. This in turn supports human rights and equality. When a lesbian identified woman falls for a transman she is still a lesbian. A lesbian in love with a transman. They are simply people who are in love. GVN have the potential to eradicate the dualistic nature of gender; this in turn flips everything we think we know about sexual preference up on it’s head. We cannot have terms based on dualism, to identify ourselves, in a world where dualism is not prevailing.
Women and men, girls and boys – these essentialized identities have been so engrained in our way of thinking about gender that we begin the indoctrination even before birth. Cisgendered people have a tremendous amount of privilege in this society. Privilege to not defend their gender identity and the privilege to be ignorant about their privilege are just the starting point. Transgender people are often discriminated against when dealing with the socio-legal enforcement of society. When completing forms that require one to select a gender, few people reflect on the socially enforced binary that is accepted as the natural and right way of things. People in this culture rarely consider the reality of anything other than the two choices on the checklist. Redefining gender as having more choices would be nothing shy of a revolution.
Gender variant neologisms are becoming quite popular in the transgender
community. The power of language to alter perception is self evident. Gender variant neologisms have the potential to eradicate the confusion, and in turn the discrimination, that transpeople have to deal with. Many cisgender people have no idea what to call transpeople and resort an automatic monologue about how “he used to be a she,” or some such outing and dehumanizing variation of a pronoun. Language creates reality. Adding gender-variant terms to the English language can give transpeople an opportunity to simply be people.
Transpeople have to fight for their right to be taken seriously as human beings.
The problems that transpeople face are tremendous. They encompass having parents and
family members disown them, not being able to use public bathrooms, having
mismatched gender identity and identification, job place discrimination, trouble with
health care, names that do not reflect the gender they present in the world, and a slew of
other difficulties. They fight this massive institutional oppression so that they can be themselves.
Transgender people in the US are a marginalized group. They can be legally
discriminated against for their gender non-conformity. The massive amount of
discrimination that transgender people experience in this culture on a day to day basis
includes being forced from one closet of secretly needing to transisition into another closet of passing as their gender. This creates fear, silence, and invisibility within an already marginalized group. This “pass as quickly as possible” syndrome creates a life long closet mentality and prevents accurate statistical data on transpeople from coming into the public sphere. “One of the criteria for mental health is how well …[transsexuals] have ‘passed.’ A transsexual in a heterosexual relationship who has no contact with other transsexuals is ‘normal,’ a success” (Califia 1994:181).
Though there are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of transpeople in the
United States, most of them have gone to a tremendous amount of trouble to go unnoticed
and thus undocumented. There are no viable statistics on how many transpeople exist
because they do not want to be counted. The massive amount of discrimination that
transpeople face has them living in hiding and wanting to pass as quickly as possible. Changing their name, physical features, gender, identification, and geographical location prevents researchers from getting an accurate count of the number of transgender people in the United States. The high level of discrimination that exists in his country effectively forces them to remain invisible.
The fact that Americans have only two gender options is limiting, many cultures
have several. American Indians have what are commonly known as two-spirit people,
in India there are hijras and sadhins, and in Thailand kathoey. Many societies
have multigender models of sociopolitical recognition, as well as language that reflects
the full spectrum of humans in their culture. If language creates reality, and gender is
created by language choice, it becomes obvious that we need to add new gender-variant terms to the English language.
IDENTITY POLITICS AND LABLE FREE PRIVILEGE
When we stop to think about the categorization of people and how the labels we
have been assigned effect us we can begin to clearly see the stigma in being different. If
it is impossible for a woman who was labeled male at birth to change her documents to
reflect that she is female, what troubles will she have in the world? Anytime someone
looks at her legally required, government-issued identification and it claims that she is
male, ze will be faced with hassle. Ze may get a knowing smile and nothing more. But
all too often gender non-conformity creates confusion, hostility, anger, rage and violence. Identification that does not match your gender presentation creates a slew of problems,
both legally and politically.
Because it is tremendously difficult to live your life as someone who does not fit
in, many transpeople go to great lengths to transition and pass as a “real” man or a “real”
woman. The desire to be normal can be crippling. Michael Warner, in his book The
Trouble With Normal: Sex Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life (1999), covers the social
pressures that go into the normalization of a culture that has historically been deviant.
His perspective on the homogenization of queer culture, to look and act as
heteronormative as possible, is that it seriously limits the available choices that people
have to express themselves in this world (Warner 1999).
Phelan argues that the declaration of coming out is essentialist and based on a Truth that is heterosexist in nature. Ze points out that the process of being a lesbian is constantly called into question. Is she “really” a lesbian? Is a common question whispered under the breath of many “real” dykes.
“Essentialism is linked to oppression, … lesbian essentialism is understandable; when one is presented with a stigmatized identity, it makes sense to challenge the stigma surrounding that identity. To do so serves, ironically, to reinforce the solidarity of that identity even as the stigma is rejected. Maintaining and strengthening such essential identities, however, will not end our oppression. We must find the room and the strength to confront the fear that perhaps there is no single core to lesbian identity” (Phelan 1994: 50)
(Be)coming out is defined by Phelan to be an identity construction defined by heteronormative expectations. Through declaration of your status as a true lesbian you can conform to the proper role within a heterosexist dualism. This truth of being a lesbian presupposes compulsory heterosexuality. Belief in patriarchal dualism keeps the binary in tact. Hegemonic forces encourage us to believe in this oppression as a means of identity. This keeps women from rejecting the binary through identity politics embedded in hegemonic colonialism. Judith Butler agrees that:
“Identity is assured through stabilizing concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality, the very notion of ‘the person’ is called into question by the cultural emergence ‘incoherent’ or ‘discontinuous’ gendered beings who appear to be persons but who fail to conform to the gendered norms of cultural intelligibility by which persons are defined” (Butler 1990: 17).
The pressure to know who you are, to be normal, even within queer culture is so intense that a great number of the members of this culture have accepted the heterosexual / heteronormative mainstream model of identity as the default, thus labeling themselves ‘other’ in exactly the way that suits and benefits the reinforcement of the heteronorms that queer culture claims to reject. Foucault suggests that the category of sex and gender will disappear and dissipate thought the disruption and displacement of heterosexual hegemony. Until the LGBTQQIIK & GQ community places the politics of identity under critical examination our identities only serve to reproduce heteronormative sex and gender categories.
This idea will certainly piss a lot of people off. The politics of identity, queer identity specifically, have been fought for. Lesbian and gay identities are essential and dualistic by design. Pat Califia argues that “homosexuals tend to have a strong investment in their own ‘appropriate’ gender identity. ‘I am a man and I want another man’ … ‘I am a woman and I want another woman’” (Califia 1994:179).
Gender defenders do not want to lose their categories of sex and gender because it brings pleasure, pleasure that requires little or no critical examination. Culturally speaking, dual sex / gender roles are all that most of us have been allowed to imagine. Intensely gendered identities reinforce that gender based pleasure that the binary constructs. People feel that they are entitled to their limited identities because any new labels and / or social roles that deconstruct the rigid system could potentially alter the blissfully unexamined pleasure. New ways of categorizing humans might not allow them to express gender in the socially sanctioned way that they have clung to as a primary identity their whole lives. Gender is the first identity. My name was baby girl for three weeks of my life while my parents took their pretty time figuring out what to call me. People cling to the gender binary like a security blanket. If they cannot be men and women exclusively – what will they be? How will we manage to create such intense pleasure and pain without a dichotomized other? This scares a lot of people.
How people perceive the gender of others is a main focus of my research. I am curious about the flexible nature of gender fluidity in the eyes of someone who clings to sex / gender identities in heteronormative ways. I was having a rather graphic conversation with a (self described) dirty old man. He told me that he is not gay in such a certain tone that it seemed almost homophobic. “I’m not gay, but I like chicks with dicks. I like trannies. There is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make me gay.” And indeed it does not. There are plenty of straight and heterosexual identified men who have sex with other men. There are plenty of lesbians who love transmen. Your sexual identity is not a fixed and frigid system of gender and sexual preference. The world is not that simple. Yet so many people see it in the black and white shades of dualism.
The politics of intensely gendered identities give rise to a cultish ideology. “Gayness becomes a state of sexual grace, like virginity. A fanatical insistence on one hundred percent exclusive, same-sex behavior often sounds … like a superstitious fear of contamination or pollution” (Califia 1994:186). Identities labeled gay, straight, and bisexual all presuppose that a sex / gender binary exists and that a heterosexual ideal is the default identity. No one has to come out as straight in this culture.
Lesbian is a term that presupposes a sex /gender binary. Lesbian is a term that represents women loving women. What happens when the face of women changes? Relationships between women who identify as lesbian and trans men or transwoman, trans-trans lesbian relationships, and other queer trans-cis relationships reveal the changing face of lesbian politics and the fragile nature of gender itself.
Lesbian politics have an angry history of who gets to be a real lesbian. Who counts as a real woman. Who is really a lesbian and who is merely an imposter. The question boils down to whether or not lesbians ever sleep with men. There is a tremendous amount of hostility in the community around such questions. You can’t be a real dyke cause you slept with a man, you are the dreaded bisexual – despite what you may say about it, or how you may identify. The lesbian community can be very exclusionary. The ideology surrounding the politics of lesbian identity leaves a lot of people feeling like liars and imposters. The fact of the matter is that some lesbians sleep with men. This does not make them not real lesbians it merely indicates that they had a reason to sleep with a man. But so often if other lesbians discover this the label of bisexual is tacked onto the boy-loving dyke and she no longer qualifies as real.
Quite a bit of my research focuses on who has the power to label and to create identity. Do we get to state our identity ourselves, or do we label others? Inclusion in a group might be better left to self-identification especially when sex and gender ambiguities are involved. The power to name yourself, to tell the world who you are, to attest to your own identity is essential in the process of being a full citizen, of being truly human. No one else can tell you if you are a real lesbian, a real woman, or a real human worthy of all of the privileges and benefits of being such – but there is always someone wanting to try just that. There is always someone wanting to tell us that we don’t count. Why do lesbians, an already stigmatized group, perpetuate this intolerance?
Gender variance brings questions of essentialism, questions of sexuality, social conditioning, who counts as a “real” man and a “real” woman, and indeed what it means to be human. We all spend so much time perpetuating the gendered norms that when GVN come along and threaten to disrupt this binary, a lot of people have rather violent reactions. I have found through my initial interviews that people have angry and hostile reactions to GVN. These words must be pretty powerful.
How do you identify? This has become a question that I have to ask. I want to be able to understand someone’s identity without having to ask – “who or what are you?” It seems like an awkward and demeaning way to introduce yourself. I can see how this type of question could be taken to be insulting. The idea that you should have to tell a stranger what your sex and gender politics are as you state your name is a pretty dramatic leap into the unknown.
I have recently made a friend who I tried to read first. I looked at this person and talked to this person and did not ask how they identified. I’m sure I made giant mistakes in the way I referred to this person. I may have used inappropriately gendered pronouns, I may have assumed that their sexuality was lesbian identified, or queer dyke, or something leaning towards not biologically male and not straight seeming.
There is a tremendous amount of pressure to guess someone’s gender identity in this culture. The social construction of gender roles and presentation has simultaneously constructed an expectation to read and understand the gender presentation of. What a lot to try to interpret without having a quick conversation so you don’t mangle the interaction, don’t out people, don’t force an identity upon someone else. Dichotomized genders keeps us from communicating with each other about our needs, desires, identities, and how we navigate the world. We need to start asking a few questions before inserting foot into mouth.
After about 48 hours or constant exposure to my new friend I summoned up to chutzpa to ask, “how do you identify?” I was certain that we had become friends and that it was not an inappropriate question. The answer I got did not surprise me but it made me wonder if I had used terminology that did not jibe with the identity of the person I was speaking with. I wondered if I had made raging sexist comments (as I am apt to do in the company of friends, joking, or just being silly and stupid). Had I hurt this person’s feelings by not asking the question of identity immediately upon meeting?
I’m certain that a lot of people surrounding this person refer to him as her. He seems like a boi dyke, that is the presentation I get. The vibe I pick up. I know this person is active in trans issues but I didn’t ask about the nature of the involvement. This person has an ambiguous gender presentation that can be read in several different ways. It depends who is looking.
The answer I got about identification was as ambiguous as the gender presentation I was staring at. A convoluted answer about the situation: “trans, gender queer, I don’t identify as a woman.” I listened to the details of identifying as this or that based on the company one is keeping.
So this person’s identity is fluid. Identity can be as mutable and as flexible as personal politics and as gender performance. What to wear, how to present yourself, how to identify, and how to gender yourself can, and do, change based on the situation. Who are you with? What are you doing? Is playing up a more traditional gender going to assist you in getting what you want or need? Is it going to protect you from a dangerous situation? If gender performance and presentation can be seen in terms of a cost benefit analysis, this whole mess of gender can be seen as something of a game. Are gender presentation and identity politics like a change of clothing?
If they are this fluid, GVN seem to have implications of being tools of radical social change. GVN can assist in perpetuating the conception that gender is a change of clothing, a tube of lipstick, a suit and tie, a stance, a salary – a performance. These ideas threaten the rigid nature of identity politics based on homonormative queer culture. Terms that represent our identities based on binary gender and preconceived dualism limit the social presentation of gender, limit our identities, and serve to reproduce a heterosexual default identity. GVN perpetuates gender fluidity and human liberation.
Lesbian, dyke, fag, gay, bisexual, woman, man, boy, girl, sister, brother – these terms, as well as others, presuppose a binary system of identity and exclusion. If you don’t follow the prescribed norms your humanity can be questioned, even within queer culture. How can a limited scope of available identities be good for liberation?
When the topic of trans politics and identities intersects with lesbian identities and politics we have a very sticky situation. The sector of evangelical feminists who rigidly cling to the identity of woman based on the bio sex you were identified with at birth have perpetuated an essentialist identity of women since the 1970s. This history of real women, real lesbians, and womyn born womyn is an ugly battle of exclusion based on fear. Fear that if gender identity is not based on a solid fact like bio sex and genitalia, that it might be mutable. The categories of gender and indeed the rules for who qualifies as a woman are on the front lines of this sociopolitical war, this gender revolution.
So right wing feminists are feeling threatened by the constructs of gender fluidity but what else is at stake? If gender is changeable and mutable and based on your mood, what could that mean for the entire structure of how we perceive gender in this culture? Could it mean that the heteronormative expectations might have a chance to be critically looked at? Well if gender can be self selected, if the binary gender structure starts to manifest a critical dialog in mainstream culture it is almost certain that the limited scope of gender presentation will have a chance to be deconstructed.
If the mainstream culture starts asking questions about what makes men and women so real a gender queer dialog could become manifest. We might have a chance to question bigger constructs than queer marriage, yeah or neah. We might have a chance to question the whole construct of homosexuality, the construct of heterosexual identity being presupposed, and what identity is all about any way. In a hegemonic culture that strives in every element to reproduce such limited versions of humans we have to ask: What is Gender?
If gender isn’t fixed, rigid, and dualistic we cannot have dichotomous terms like gay and straight to describe our identities. If people can simply be people and gender can be reconceptualized as a polity of fluxuating identity; we need to have new terms and new frames of reference to describe the ideals, the dreams, the ways we choose to live and love each other. I’m looking to this construct of creating new words within the LGBTQQIIK & GQ rubric to help create a broader understanding of gender as fluid.
It is especially important to address GVN within the lesbian community. The possibility of reconnecting a fragmented ideology through seriously questioning of what it means to be a lesbian is possible in a world where gender and gender roles are no longer dichotomous. We can embrace GVN to support people who are obviously part of the lesbian community, but who may not fit the heteronormative model of female or lesbian. The power of language to alter perception is self-evident. Language creates reality. Gender variant neologisms are germane to reevaluating the way society views gender.
We need to shift the focus from LGBTQQIIK and GQ identities to the heterosexist institutional practices and discourses that limit everyone’s ability to achieve full citizenship. The privilege of heteronormative values is embedded in our language. If we shift the focus to the hegemonic colonialism that limits all of us through a discourse of identity politics based on dualism as truth we will realize rapidly that the terms we have to engender this are not adequate. He and she are not appropriate, satisfactory, nor neutral enough to free us from blatant sexism and gender oppression.
There are still evangelical, Victorian, lady-like feminists roaming the halls of the academe. They are out there insisting that gender be defended as preserved in all its dualistic glory. There are many people who do not appreciate the use of GVN, nor the ideology that such a set of new words represents. Kate Bornstein calls them Gender Defenders.
I’m coining the term Label Free Privilege to identify a phenomena that I have seen come about in my research — the group of people who articulate that they will not tolerate the labels of GVN. People who do not want to be called cisgender even though they are not trans, people who are offended by the use of the word transgender as they identify as transsexual and expect that everyone should know the difference, people who would rather assist in the perpetuation of the gender binary because it is a safe and cozy place where no one is expected (nor allowed) to question the status they have in society. They seem to be saying “you are not allowed to call me that, I am not that word, I am this other word.” They are Gender Defenders with Attitude.
We all have labels that society has slapped on our forehead that we may not like, that we may completely disagree with but that we know exist and can do little to change. Through my initial interviews I have encountered an ideology of gender defenders. Many of them will not honor GVN. They refuse to give credence to anything other than the rigid and socially sanctioned gender binary. I have encountered people who have banned the use of GVN in their homes. Many people are willing to fight for the continuation of the gender binary because it is safe, unwavering, and it is where they have developed their identity. It is very difficult to ask people to reinvent themselves and to create their own gender when the social conditioning has repeatedly told them that gender is reflective of dual sex identities. People really and truly believe in the XX / XY chromosomes and their stability as natural and right. The way it should be. Asking them to change this concept is a little like asking people to believe that the world is round, not flat.
LIST OF TERMS
LGBTQQIIK & GQ:
An Acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed, Interested, Kinky, Gender Queer
A person who has not and does not intend to transisition sex / gender categorization. A grassroots terms to identify anyone who does not identify as trans.
An acronym for gender variant neologisms. Any new word that depicts gender as a variation on the dual sex / gender binary.
Some common GVN include these located on the MIT website:
boi: Pronounced “boy.” A female-bodied person who intentionally or non-intentionally
expresses and/or presents culturally/stereotypically masculine, particularly boyish,
characteristics. Also, one who enjoys being perceived as a young male, and/or
intentionally identifies with being a “boy” rather than a “man.”
genderfuck: The idea of playing with gender presentation and cues to purposely
confuse “standard” or stereotypical gender expressions.
genderqueer: A gender-variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor
female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.
hermaphrodite: An outdated term, usually considered offensive, for intersex persons.
See also “intersex.”
hir: A gender-neutral pronoun, used in place of him/her. Pronounced “here.” See also
intersex: The condition of being born with genitalia that is difficult to label as male or
female, and/or developing secondary sex characteristics of indeterminate sex, or which
combine features of both sexes. The term “hermaphrodite” had been used in the past to
refer to intersex persons, but that term is now considered negative and inaccurate.
Some intersex people are also transgender, but intersex is not typically considered a
subset of transgender, nor transgender a subset of intersex.
Many intersex infants and children are subjected to numerous genital surgeries and
hormone treatments in order to conform their bodies to the standard of either “male” or
“female.” There is a growing movement to prevent such surgeries in children.
non-op (also non-operative): Individuals who have not attained and may not desire to
attain gender reassignment surgery, and may or may not take hormone therapy. For
many individuals, self-identification and self-expression, through cross-living or other
methods of gender identity achieve harmony or congruence between one’s body and
one’s gender identity and there is no need felt for surgical reconstruction.
Spivakian pronouns: New terms proposed to serve as gender-neutral, third-
person, singular, personal pronouns in English. See also “hir” and “ze.”
stealth: A transsexual, once transitioned, may choose not to reveal his or her
transsexual status to others (for example, to coworkers, friends, neighbors, etc.); this is
referred to as “going stealth” or “being stealth.”
stem: A person whose gender expression falls somewhere between a stud and
a femme. See also “femme” and “stud.”
stone: A person who may or may not desire sexual contact with the genitals or breasts.
Often used as “stone butch” or “stone femme.”
third gender: A gender-variant person whose gender identity is neither male nor female,
is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.
tranny: Slang for transsexual, usually considered derogatory, though sometimes used
as “in-group” slang.
tranny chaser: A term primarily used to describe people who prefer or actively seek
transpeople for sexual or romantic relations. While this term is claimed in an affirmative
manner by some, it is largely regarded as derogatory.
trans: Sometimes short for “transsexual,” sometimes short for “transgender.” See
individual listings for those terms.
transgender: Broadly speaking, transgender people are individuals whose gender
expression and/or gender identity differs from conventional expectations based on the
physical sex they were born into. The word transgender is an umbrella term which is
often used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, including: FTMs,
MTFs, cross-dressers, drag queens, drag kings, gender queers, and many more.
Because transgender is an umbrella term, it is often thought to be an imprecise term that
does not adequately describe the particulars of specific identities and experiences. (For
example, the identity/experience of a post-operative FTM transsexual will probably be
very different from that of a female-identified drag king who performs on weekends, but
both are often lumped together under the term “transgender.”)
transgenderist: A person who lives full-time in the gender role they are most
comfortable in without the intention or desire for GRS. Electrolysis, cosmetic facial or
body contouring surgeries or hormones may be undergone by a transgenderist.
transition: The act(s) of changing from one sex to the other, and/or the act(s) of
changing one’s physical body and/or appearance as part of a sex/gender change. For
most FTMs, transition is not a single discrete event, but a gradual set of changes over a
period of time. As such, it is difficult to determine exactly when transition begins and
when it ends. Some feel that their transition begins the day they begin hormone
treatment. Some feel it begins when they tell their loved ones about their identity. Some
feel it begins when they change their name legally to a male name. Some feel they are
“in transition” for a few years while hormonal changes settle in. Some feel that their
transition has officially ended when and if they are legally recognized as male. Some feel
their transition is complete when they have completed genital reconstruction surgery. In
short, what constitutes “being in transition” differs among trans men.
Trans@MIT http://web.mit.edu/trans • Useful Terminology about Trans and Gender Variant People 12
transman: An identity label sometimes adopted by female-to-male
transsexuals to signify that they are men while still affirming their history as
transphobia: The irrational fear or hatred of those who are gender variant.
transsexual: An individual whose gender identity does not match the sex that was
assigned to them at birth. Usually, transsexual people will seek hormonal and/or surgical
treatment in order to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity. See also
“gender identity” and “female-to-male transsexual.”
transvestite: A person who dresses in clothing generally identified with the
opposite gender/sex. The preferred term in the U.S. is “cross-dresser.” See also “cross-
transwoman: An identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals to
signify that they are women while still affirming their history as males.
two-spirit: A term for some Native persons who have attributes of both genders, may
have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes. The term ‘two-spirit’ is usually
considered to specific to the Zuni tribe. Similar cross-gender and gender variant identity
labels vary by group or nation.
ze: A gender-neutral pronoun, used in place of she/he. Pronounced “zee.”
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