Why I try not to get hung up on terminology

When I was first coming out “trans” as a word of its own hadn’t really caught on yet.  “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.  “Transsexual” was still a perfectly acceptable way to describe someone who wanted hormones and/or surgery.  “Genderqueer” was for anyone who didn’t fit either of those categories.

However, those definitions were regional.  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.  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.  Most people use “transgender” as an umbrella term, but some use “trans” or “trans*”.  It’s pretty rare for guys coming out now to use “transsexual”, but I still hear/see it occasionally.  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.  It doesn’t.  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.  It’s like the trans equivalent of a Brit calling a proud southerner a “yank”.  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.  Words I used to come out to my mother could well be considered offensive by a guy coming out now.  They’re hard — if not flat out impossible — to keep up with.  So I try very hard not to dismiss someone’s question/idea based solely on word use.  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.  Keeps the discussion going and tends to be a bit more effective.

26 Replies to “Why I try not to get hung up on terminology”

  1. Speaking as a Brit, I’d only ever use “Yank” in a negative sense.

    Completely agree with your approach. Thanks for the post.

    • In my family of Brits its a joking term more than an actual insult. Like, say someone mixes up Tower Bridge and London Bridge, they’d get an eye roll and “bloody Yanks” the same way a 15 year old who thinks Miley Cyrus is the first person to sing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” would get “damned teenagers”.

  2. I have never met a trans man in real life that called himself transsexual, even though that would be the most accurate description, as if it’s the sole domain of trans women. I try to not be annoyed that this word is avoided, but when it’s combined with the tendency for trans men to claim the words “tranny” and “fag” as ID’s, it makes most me want to slap them.

    • The places I’ve lived “transsexual” isn’t even used by trans women anymore. It’s considered out dated and somehow offensive. I’ve heard everything from “it’s too clinical” to essentially “that’s what The Man uses to keep us down”. There was a shift in my home town right as I was coming out and it drove me nuts. Transsexual fits with how I identify, none of the other words do. I *like* that it’s clinical, to me being trans is a medical condition rather than a political identity.

      Of course, the shift came right as the whole “who cares what’s in your pants?” movement started so I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

      (For reference, I care what’s in my pants. You’d think that’d count for something.)

  3. I started calling myself a transsexual again about 3 years ago, to set myself off from transgendered people. Not because I have a problem with being transgendered or something, but because being read as transgendered caused constant misunderstandings that drove me nuts.
    The misunderstandings came up when people thought I was queerqueer because I’m effeminate, and also when they assumed I don’t want to be a “real” man but rather “in-between”, or “not female”. And they thought it was about the gender *role* for me, while I was fine with the female role (we had that discussion before, I’m just explaining it for the new guys).
    I find that transsexual, referring to the physical sex, not to the social gender, describes me best so far.

    “Of course, the shift came right as the whole “who cares what’s in your pants?” movement started so I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

    (For reference, I care what’s in my pants. You’d think that’d count for something.)”

    Lol, very good NA 😀 I always had a strange feeling about that too. I mean, if guys are happy with what they have that’s excellent, but it sometimes feels as if wanting a penis is considered not pc nowadays. *yuck* who would want *that*?!!

    Over here surgeries are covered by health care, and we have the same ideology, so it’s not about lack of funds and trying to live with what you get.

    Though on the downside, we have old school transsexuals who consider anybody who doesn’t get *all* surgeries, no matter the risk or outcome, as “not really transsexual”, which is annoying too.

    • I’ve started using ‘transsexual’ again for similar reasons. I’m not like guys who identify as transgender and I think recognising those differences is perfectly valid. If nothing else, it helps prevent disagreements over things like whether ‘FtM’ is a gender identity. When I’m lumped in with guys who feel that it is at least one of us is going to get screwed over. With two different terms it allows for both groups to be right and move on to other, more important things like legal protections.

      Yeah, the “it doesn’t matter if you have a penis!” movement is great…for some people. I want a penis. I’d really like to have a penis. I’m not so cool with what I’ve got, but it’s the best option I have for now so I’m going with it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, it means that not everything in life is fair.

      We have the old school transsexuals too. Mostly with trans women, but I’ve met a few guys who feel the same way. It’s funny, they end up annoying me more than the “there is no gender, everyone is genderqueer” idiots. At least the people who believe everyone is genderqueer can sometimes make interesting points, the people who believe everyone needs every surgery on earth are just arrogant. What if I’m an epileptic who’s allergic to anaesthesia and almost died getting top? Even if I was happy with the lower surgery options then, I still wouldn’t do it. No point in having a dick if I’m just going to be dead.

  4. I haven’t seen that around here very much. Most of trans women in my support group outright say that they are transsexual, not crossdressers or even transgender and most of them seem to have a problem with what’s in their pants.

    The shift toward transgender being used by trans women hasn’t taken place here, or has just barely started. The other trans men have been the first two I’ve met since moving here and they were really quiet. I’m interested to hear how they talk about it.

    Where I used to live, I felt like the only one cared what was in my pants. It was politically incorrect to talk about trans people NEEDING surgery to feel good about their bodies. I got a lot of shit for saying that it was really important for me to have top surgery right away. They would tell me that I should just bind for years and wait to see if its what I wanted. I hated binding – it helped wreck my back and I wasn’t small (at all!) so it was really hard for it to look right for me. When I met small-chested pre-t hipster guys that avoided surgery and hormones, many of them bragged that they didn’t need it to feel right. Whatever! Years later they had all started the process and in my gloating phase I really wanted to say “Welcome to the Transsexual Club! leave your stupid judgments at the door. And please don’t pander to me and say that you LURVE your bagina, because we all know you want a big cock just like me!”

    • I always love to hear how regional these things are. If a woman at my local group was to call herself a transsexual she’d be considered very odd, possibly a bit brainwashed. It’s just not something that’s said and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

      What is it with this idea that surgery is somehow bad? It’s annoyed me since I first noticed it cropping up. If you don’t want surgery great for you, that extra cash will make for a great wardrobe, but leave those of us who do alone. I’m on the incredibly small end of the chest range and I still want top. Partially because binding sucks, but also because I just hate looking at the things. I was on the verge of anorexia for years before I realised that I have virtually no fat in my chest, it’s all breast tissue. That sort of dysphoria isn’t cured by a binder, I don’t care how much people tell me to “love my body”.

      Btw, if you ever actually said that to anyone you’d totally be my hero. Only times I can ever come up with anything that amusing are either ten minutes after the fact or when someone’s likely to bash my face in.

      • Lol. Maybe one day I’ll get the another chance… who knows.

        As for surgery the only reason why surgery is looked down upon is that many people believe that it’s the social role that’s more important and if you can get recognition as a man without surgery, then why get it? My reasons were similar to yours – I couldn’t even look at them without feeling intense dysphoria and I bet that if they were small, I would’ve felt the same way. Along the same lines of body dysphoria, my hips drove me crazy! They were wide and plumpy – besides wanting a deeper voice, this was my big reason for wanting T therapy. A lot of people thought that was misogynistic and that I should want T for more germane reasons, like the voice, the hair and the muscles. I love the way my hips look now. I still have a meaty butt, but at least it’s male-shaped and it looks good in men’s clothes. 🙂

        • How on earth is it misogynistic for a man to want a male body? This is the aspect of gender theory that has never made sense to me. I am a guy. Physically I feel that my body should be that of a male. Gender roles be damned, at the end of the day you can call me Lady Yvonne Fluffenhaus if it means I get my penis.

          If anything that’s working against strict gender roles. It’s saying that society’s expectations of what a man or woman is don’t matter, the body does. Take away gender expectations and I’d still be trans. It’s like the ultimate in gender stereotypes being bullshit.

          • I think it seems more misogynistic to some feminists because women get more shit for being fat than guys do, so when I said that I had a problem with my “woman” fat, they took it personally. Not wanting breasts is more acceptable, I think, to talk about in terms of transition. Not liking your shape, especially if you’re curvy or feminine-looking like I was, is probably be a trigger for many women. I get it, but I wish that women would not take trans mens’ body dysphoria so personally. It’s not like I was saying I hate fat women, but I guess that’s what it gets translated to. Frack, I don’t know what people are thinking, but this is my best guess.

          • I so don’t get the taking it personally thing. Possibly it’s because I’ve always been a more analytical than emotional thinker, but it’s just seems so illogical.

      • “What is it with this idea that surgery is somehow bad?”

        I’m pretty sure it’s a reaction against the “all transexuals need to have all possible surgeries as quickly as possible (and if they don’t they’re not really trans and just confused)” attitude that seems to have been prevelant among “mainstream trans” folk and trans psychiatrists for many years.

        It seems to be pretty common for the majority of people to take one of two massively polarised positions on any debate like this, it’s something I find very strange about people in general.

        In this particular case, it’s also something that occasionally makes me feel like a bit of a sell out because I’ve decided after many years of saying I didn’t feel the need for chest surgery that I now want to have it. But then that’s the same mentality that expects people to pick one way of being, one way of thinking, one box to sit in, and stick to it for the rest of their lives, on pain of being accused of being “confused” or “going through a phase”. My response to that is that *life’s* just a phase, and that doesn’t make it any less true in the moment.

    • “When I met small-chested pre-t hipster guys that avoided surgery and hormones, many of them bragged that they didn’t need it to feel right. Whatever!”

      Don’t get me even started on those!!!!!!
      I have developed intense hipster phobia during the last years.

      • You are so not the only one. Mine is more race and poverty related than trans (all the rich little white kids telling me how to fix my old neighbourhood like we’re all just stupid brown people is…irritating, at best), but I still have to work hard to remind myself that hipsters can be nice people just like everyone else.

      • Lol. Me too. Where I used to live was hipster heaven; in fact most of my friends were hipsters. There were some awesome ones, but in general, I found them to be annoying and entitled. I particularly hated how it was cool to pretend to be poor, meanwhile they’d have drug-fueled parties paid with their parents’ money.

        • The pretending to be poor thing was the worst because when I was a student, I assumed that all my poor looking friends were as poor as me. But they still had all that free choices and could travel and so on, and I didn’t know how they did it, so I assumed I must be more stupid then them. Nobody talked about money, only after several years, I found out that they were all funded by wealthy or simetimes even rich parents.

          • This happened to me more after college, when I assumed that other people were on their own. I also felt stupid when I realized that the reason I couldn’t afford a nice TV was because I wasn’t being floated 2 grand a month and not because I was making less money.

            I had this one friend who spent all day playing video games, mixing music, and smoking a ton of pot *just* to piss his parents off. Lol, I think he supplied a group of 20 people with free pot just because he could. He was a nice guy, but things like this piss me off because I saw it so frequently. The town was small, but you wouldn’t know it with the amount of drugs and partying that went on – it was insane. I knew way too many people who were young alcoholics and drug addicts because there were just so many drugs being passed around. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-drug, I just saw way too much sad styff and I’m pretty sure it was because these kids just had too much money to burn.

          • And when you are a bit tense about where your next money comes from etc. they tell you: “Relax, be cool, man” *laughs hysterically*

  5. I knew several rich hipster kids in college. It was really frustrating to know they just sat around smoking pot all day, trying to find new ways to waste money. Then they would complain about how they didn’t have any money (cause they spent it all duh!) while I’m sitting in a dorm with a mini fridge I stole from a lounge, furniture I took out of dumpsters, and student loans out the wazoo trying to find a way to scrape together money for top surgery. I want to figure out a way to convince about 8 hipster kids to each give me one months allowance, because then I’d have more than enough for surgery. Maybe if I through some kinda art opening/ concert and ask for donations. Hipsters love that kind of shit.

  6. Terminology chaos is also an issue here in Germany. Worst example in my opinion is, when someone says they’re genderqueer, it may either mean they are really in-between or it refers to political genderqueerness or they’re both. I don’t like it when gender identity terms are hi-jacked in a political way. I prefer to refer to myself as transsexual as average people at least have a bit of a clue what that means.

    • I’m not thrilled with the political genderqueer issue either. Partially because I think it’s illogical (you’re going to fight gender norms by…insisting that everyone who falls outside those norms is genderqueer…right.) and partially for the same reason as you.

  7. Personally, I have issues with refering to myself as “transsexual” simply beacuse it has emphasis on the “sexual”, and therefore instantly puts people in mind of it being about a fetish or kink. It feels like I’m giving people too much info, suddenly it sounds like I’m telling people about my sexuality when often I’d much rather not (unless I’d like to sleep with them). Plus it’s too much like “homosexual” for my liking, when they are of course very different issues. So I use the word “transgender” as an alternative, which I personally feel describes it better and gives people a better impression of me (usually in non-trans circles)

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