When I was first coming out “trans” as a word of its own hadn’t really caught on yet.Â “Transgender” was not yet an umbrella term, it was what you used for people who wanted social transition, but not any sort of medical treatment.Â “Transsexual” was still a perfectly acceptable way to describe someone who wanted hormones and/or surgery.Â “Genderqueer” was for anyone who didn’t fit either of those categories.
However, those definitions were regional.Â A friend who came out at the same time in a different part of the country had “transgender” for anyone with a non-binary gender ID and no particular word for people who wanted social, but not medical transition.Â The word for “genderqueer” was everything from “genderblender” to “bigender” to “agender”.
I can’t even really say the terms have been entirely defined now.Â Most people use “transgender” as an umbrella term, but some use “trans” or “trans*”.Â It’s pretty rare for guys coming out now to use “transsexual”, but I still hear/see it occasionally.Â Going to trans groups in different cities, states, and sometimes countries means that I end up hearing damned near every term there is and most of them have been used in at least two or three different ways.
You’d think all that exposure to different ways of describing being trans would mean that I don’t make mistakes.Â It doesn’t.Â I am always putting my foot in my mouth, usually because a word I’m used to means something else when I’m in a new area.Â It’s like the trans equivalent of a Brit calling a proud southerner a “yank”.Â To the Brit that just means the person’s American, but to the southerner it’s something else entirely.
What’s more, trans-related terms change at a much faster rate than just about anything outside the tech industry.Â Words I used to come out to my mother could well be considered offensive by a guy coming out now.Â They’re hard — if not flat out impossible — to keep up with.Â So I try very hard not to dismiss someone’s question/idea based solely on word use.Â That doesn’t mean I won’t correct words that are less than appropriate, but I’d rather deal with the point of what the person is saying first.Â Keeps the discussion going and tends to be a bit more effective.