Anti-transgender LanguageTrans Progressive Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Commentary: Trans Progressive
It’s kind of strange, but many people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are just not aware of the terms that are considered anti-transgender by the transgender community. So with that in mind, let me point out some terms to avoid.
There are variants to this term, such as he/she, and shim, and these are always offensive. These are equivalent to the antigay pejorative fa**ot – which you may hear between friends as a joking putdown, but it’s never okay for someone who isn’t gay to refer to a gay person by that term.
The variants of this term are thing, and that thing. Transgender people have gender, and it’s the gender with which they identify. So she is what you should call a male-to-female trans person, and he is what you should call a female-to-male person. For genderqueer people, they may prefer gender neutral terms for gender, such as ze, and hir. If you’re not sure what gender pronoun a trans person prefers—just ask. Most trans people appreciate being asked what gender pronoun they prefer.
In the same vein, putting a transgender person’s pronoun in quotation marks, or putting quotation marks around a transgender person’s first name—such as writing “Autumn” Sandeen—would be a way of calling a trans person a deceptive liar.
Transvestite has a legacy as a medical term, much the same as homosexual is also a clinical phrase. Even though both transvestite and homosexual were initially coined to destigmatize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, they have become stigmatizing and demeaning terms. The better term for a transgender person who crossdresses is crossdresser. (And by the way, a transsexual is not a crossdresser).
Deceptive, fooling, pretending, posing, and masquerading
If you don’t like having people on the religious right telling LGB people that there are only heterosexual people, or that lesbian, gay and bisexual people choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, then you might understand that telling a trans person that he, she, or ze is deceptive, fooling, pretending, posing or masquerading is essentially doing the same thing.
This is close to she-male. Trans-gender people aren’t bending gender anymore than LGB people are bending sexual orientation.
Now here’s the real tricky one. This term is a self-identifying term for a significant number of transgender people —it includes many female-to-male (FTM) transgender people – and a significant number of drag performers as well, but is a demeaning term to others. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) states in their Media Reference Guide that it is a word that “only serves to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used.”
Tranny is a difficult word in the same way that queer is a difficult word for some LGBT people. There are those in the LGBT community who identify as queer, but if you ask most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who were alive in the community in the 1960’s and 1970’s, they’ll hear the term as a pejorative. They remember the pejorative being hurled at them by their haters and wonder why the heck younger LGBT community members would ever want to reclaim the term queer. In other words, pretty much everybody who identifies as queer feels a part of the LGBT community, but not everyone who identifies as LGBT identifies as queer. Queer is an identity term that may be specific from person to person.
Tranny is about the same for the transgender community. It’s a difficult word because many transgender people hear it as a demeaning pejorative, while others attempt to reclaim the word and use it as an identity for themselves. Although many identify with the term tranny, not everyone who identifies as transgender welcomes being called tranny. If you don’t know if a particular transgender person identifies as a tranny, the better thing to do is not to use the term.
By the way, transgender and queer community icon Kate Bornstein disagrees with me on the term tranny. She points out that it was the first term that transgender people used to define themselves, and that the term has no medical legacy – much as queer was one of the first terms that LGB people used to define themselves and isn’t a term with a medical legacy. When gay and bisexual members of the LGBT community make tranny into a pejorative, our most positive response is to own the word. She believes transgender people have the opportunity to re-create tranny as a positive term in the world.
Kate also argues that saying that FTM’s can’t call themselves trannies eerily echoes the 1980’s lesbians, who said I couldn’t use the word woman to identify transsexual people, and the 1990’s lesbians, who said transgender women who identify as lesbians couldn’t use the word dyke.
I avoid the term tranny. I believe the term tranny just comes with too much baggage, and avoiding use of the term saves me from unnecessarily inciting my transgender peers. I definitely believe that if you aren’t transgender, you shouldn’t use the term except to refer to someone you personally know who identifies as such.
So, now you know the basics of how to refer to transgender members of the LGBT community. I hope that you take this advice to heart to prevent awkward social situations.
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