Thursday, January 17, 2013

Questioning the Term "Transgender"

This is exceedingly personal and, a personal narrative is- as its name implies, personal. For the sake of real discourse, it must be maintained that from the personal comes the political, and never the other way around, or we risk sacrificing what's important, (i.e., the truth,) for what's convenient, or useful as propaganda. That said, while I'm writing about gender identity, I'm presenting my own perspective on my own experience, and in no way should this be mistaken for a political statement or manifesto.
I've been thinking about the word "transgender" alot lately. Although I'd never dream of denying my own history, I'm no longer certain that I can identify with the term, and here's why: first, I must begrudgingly confess my compulsive disorder regarding language, particularly when it comes to grammar and the obsessive drive to find the exact right word for any given situation. Mind you, I don't always succeed, and much self-flagellation has ensued as a result, but this is slightly beside the point.
The "point" is, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines "Gender" as, "sexual identity", not biological sex. The selfsame dictionary defines the prefix "trans" as "across; on the other side; beyond".
In that light, let's examine the word "transgender":

"Across gender": this would mean encompassing more than one gender.

"On the other side of gender": this suggests that there was some initial place from which an original gender identity was formulated prior to being changed; while I'm certain this is applicable to many who identify as "transgender"- and for the sake of argument, I'll include myself, it doesn't exactly match my own experience in that, I always knew I was female, regardless of what the doctor stamped on my birth certificate. This brings us to...

"Beyond gender": while I've known many who legitimately identify as "genderqueer", or outside the male/female binary, I do not. I identify as female and I always have, regardless of my presentation at any given time.

So you see, in several ways this "transgender" thing is a conundrum; if when asked about my identity (this kind of thing comes up in conversation far more often than I'm comfortable with,) I simply say "I'm a woman", it will be read one of two possible ways: either more or less at face value, (I'm exceedingly thankful for "passing privilege"!), or that I'm challenging the socially accepted definition of the word "woman" itself. For my part, both apply. While I was not born with ovaries, I was born with an XXY chromosome and a female gender identity, and while I have had to utilize medical and cosmetic intervention for the purpose of aligning my external gender presentation with my internal identity, I'm far from alone; there are millions of women the world over who- for one reason or another suffer from hirsuteness (typically male pattern body and facial hair growth), have no ovaries, etc. Would any concientious person have the gall to suggest that they aren't women?
Equally important, there's the issue of the personal as the political: as an "out" "transitioning woman who was at one time thought to be, and presented herself as a man (etc. etc.)", whether I like it or not, any way in which I explain my identity to the world matters. If I reject the mantle of "transgender", I will be perceived by my trans* sisters and brothers as a turncoat, and by the
cis world as "proof" that trans* experiences are somehow less than genuine.

Maybe I can find a way in which the term trans* is personally applicable. Afterall, my entire life is in transition: my wife who met me when I was presenting as male, is straight, (I identify as lesbian,) and finds herself grappling with her own identity within our relationship, and my parents who, for 43 years believed that they had had a son, must now come to grips with the fact that they suddenly have a 44 year old daughter.
Perhaps I need to come up with a new term, one that more accurately fits my identity. Maybe, the next time some probing questioner asks me what I am, (and I feel safe to answer truthfully,) I'll reply, "I'm a woman living a life in transition", or, maybe that's far too long winded and will lead to too many other probing questions I'd rather not deal with. The fact is, if some future gatekeeper or self-appointed gender gendarme has the chutzpah to ask me "what are you?" I'll likely answer "I'm a woman ", and simply leave it at that.

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