Important disclaimer: This is but one trans woman’s take on what has become a highly controversial term. I have penned it in the (perhaps implausible) hope of fostering more nuanced and historically situated dialogue about the word, and about language more generally. This piece is primarily intended for other trans folks, and for that reason, I have posted it on my blog rather than a more heavily trafficked or broader LGBTQ-themed website. People who are not trans-identified are free to read this, of course, but please realize that this is a personal blog, and not a space intended to serve as a platform for you to voice your opinions about the word—I suggest that you go elsewhere to do that if you are so inclined. Anyone who presumes that I am advocating for the continual usage of the word, or who cites this essay as evidence that they have “permission” to use said word, has clearly misread this piece and/or are blatantly misrepresenting my views. The vast majority of this essay was written in 2013, and it should not in any way be interpreted as me “taking a side” in any recent peripheral debates that have taken place within trans female/feminine spectrum communities lately. This is a substantial piece (with notes, it is over 10,000 words!), so I encourage readers to refrain from judgments until they have read the entire thing, as this piece may take some unexpected turns. Finally, some trans people find the word that I will be discussing to be very upsetting, so they should take this as a trigger warning that I will be using the “T-word” (sans abbreviations, hyphens, and asterisks) throughout this piece.
- “our first own language word for ourselves that has no medical-legacy” and which was coined in order to unite drag queens and transsexual women in Sydney during the ’60s and ’70s (as pointed out by Kate Bornstein).
- a word co-opted by pornographers and the sex industry in order to market trans women and others on the trans female/feminine spectrum as sexual objects.
- a word that people who are attracted to trans people have subsequently adopted to describe their attractions to us (e.g., “tranny chaser,” “tranny fetish”), and which some trans people also use to dismiss those very people (e.g., “He’s just a fucking tranny chaser”).
- a word that the mainstream public employs to ridicule trans women, and sometimes cis women, for “doing womanhood/femininity badly.” (as discussed by Hazel/Cedar Troost)
- a word that trans people reclaimed during the ’90s and early ’00s in order to challenge trans invisibility and cis assumption (as I discussed earlier).
- a word that some transgender spectrum people (especially on the trans male/masculine spectrum) use in a subversivist manner in order to imply that their gender identities/expressions/politics are more radical and subversive than other people’s (as discussed by Hazel/Cedar Troost).
- a word that cisgender hipsters bandy about in order to give the impression that they are politically progressive or cutting edge because they supposedly have some familiarity (usually a highly superficial familiarity) with trans communities and culture (e.g., Christian Siriano and his slogan “hot tranny mess”).
- a word that trans-unaware cisgender people use, not as a slur, but rather because they have heard other trans people (e.g., Julia Serano, circa 2001-2005) use the term self-referentially, and thus presumed that it was a neutral term that transgender spectrum people use to describe themselves.
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14. While I prefer “trans woman,” those who prefer “transwoman” can point to words like “congresswoman” as precedents. People who like the term “transsexuality” can point to “bisexuality,” whereas those who prefer “transsexualism” can point to “lesbianism.” Those who hate the usage of transgender or transsexual as a noun can point to the word “gay” (i.e., we don’t talk about people being “a gay”), whereas those who do not mind will cite the fact that it’s OK to talk about someone being “a lesbian.” Those who hate the plural versions “transgenders” and “transsexuals” can stress how inappropriate it is to refer to “gays,” whereas others can point to the frequently used plural words “lesbians” and “queers.” The arbitrary nature of the “transgender” versus “transgendered” debate is discussed in note #13.