Rethinking The Term "Transgender"

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Rethinking The Term "Transgender"

This is exceedingly personal. While I'm writing about gender identity, I'm presenting my own perspective on my own experience,which in no way should this be taken for a political statement or manifesto. 

I've been thinking about the word "transgender" quite alot lately. Although I wouldn't dream of denying my own history, I'm no longer certain that I can identify with the term, and here's why: the American Heritage Dictionary defines the term "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 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 dichotomy, I do not. I identify as female and I always have, regardless of my presentation at any given time.

So you see, it's a conundrum: if when asked about my identity (this kind of thing comes up in conversation 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 extremely 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 not 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 tell them that they aren't women?
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 who's gender was initially misunderstood", or, maybe that's too long winded and will lead to too many other probing questions.

Maybe instead, I should simply say "I'm a woman," and leave it at that.


Check out Evie's blog HERE.

Comments [6]

Jenny Aisenberg's picture

nice post

I find that people who are easily offended by *your* relationship to *your* own identity are generally deeply insecure about their own identity in some way. I thought this was a good post, you're being honest about your own interior process, what more can you do? I also, for whatever it's worth, think it's perfectly natural & legitimate for people to have different ideas about what being trans* means to them, or being queer, or being a feminist. or being jewish, for that matter. every aspect of my identity means something different to some, many, or most other people; so what? but I guess it's easy for me to say that, I'm a postmodernist. I don't believe in objective reality ;p

"We're all born naked. The rest is drag."
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)

Evie Frishman's picture

in answer to someone's angry response to my narrative Facebook

I received an angry personal message on Facebook about my narrative, insinuating that I was turning my back on my community and "...bricking myself back into the closet". In response, I added the following as a sort of ad hoc introduction: "This is exceedingly personal. A personal narrative is, as its name implies, personal. For the sake of real discourse, it must always be maintained that from the personal comes the political- never the other way around, or we risk sacrificing what's important, i.e., the truth, for what's 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 taken for a political statement or manifesto."

Not2Taem's picture


Some folks stay in the egocentric stage for a lifetime. Some go through it anew under the stress of redefining/redeveloping/reaching themselves. I try to remind myself of this when other people spatter paint with their inner turmoil.

I enjoyed your post.

Marcie Bianco's picture

kate bornstein talks about

kate bornstein talks about this alot -- experience within the big trans umbrella is different for everyone. some people need to staunchly hold onto the gender categories that they so easily previously dismissed (in order to change genders), others not so much.

Evie Frishman's picture

It's a comfortable place to

It's a comfortable place to be when you're unsure of your own place, and not only where gender and sexuality are concerned, but whenever one is on shaky new ground, one tends to cling to something established. It's the process of self discovery/definition that forces one to confront the assumptions that come from that established place and find their own way.

Grace Moon's picture

I'm sure there's a time and

I'm sure there's a time and place, but when identity is constantly policed, in either extreme, it is turly counter productive to progress. Hats off to you for you sharing you personal perspective.

We actually had to really think about how to define our top 25 list, since so many lbtqi  (etc) have so many really personal ways of defining. Yet for the sake of brevity or simplicity we opted for the definition we used, and still got a little flack.

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