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Can We Just Go Back To ‘Sex Change Operation’ Already?


There is just something special about being part of a very small minority and living in constant worry of pissing off other members of your niche minority simply by choosing the wrong words. It’s one thing when an ignorant portion of the greater world population uses slang and terminology designed to be hateful, but when we start bickering amongst ourselves about these things, I feel we missed the boat all together. I think we should talk about this because I’ve been seeing way too much of it on the blogosphere and other bastions of free or repressive expression.

I’m going to talk about a fairly benign example, mainly because it’s on my mind at the moment. When I first came out to myself as trans over 2 years ago now, I still thought of it as “a sex change operation” in which the surgeon does whatever it is they do to turn penile tissue into vaginal tissue and do away with the boys. Then I leaned that this was antiquated and the real players called it Sexual Reassignment Surgery or SRS. Fine, it’s SRS then. Sounds a lot more standard medical-ly anyway. Within a few months, all of a sudden it’s “Oh, heavens no Michelle! Tis not our sex we change, but in fact our gender!” Fine, fine then, whatever; it’s GRS now I guess. Then just last week I have someone telling me about their GCS. I had to look it up, and lo and behold, now the word ‘reassignment’ is suddenly inflammatory because we are really correcting something. For the love of pistachios, how does anyone keep up?

For all the name changes, the basic surgery remains the same; reconfiguring penile tissue into vaginal tissue because they are essentially made of the same stuff anyway. As long as that is the result of the procedure, that is what I want, whatever it happens to be called that given week. Here is my point though. As a trans blogger, very active in the trans community, and planning to get this procedure this calendar year, if I can’t keep up with what it is being called on any given month, how is anyone else going to? It’s like changing the combination on a locked door the vast majority have no interest in opening to begin with. So why do we do it?

The first reason I can think of is that people are prickly about this. There are just some who if they can find a way to take offense, they jump right on it and demand satisfaction. While this may be somewhat true, I think the majority of it is people getting sick and tired of being misunderstood. Whether it be your mail carrier or dentist, the probability is high that the person you encounter next isn’t at all aware of the difference between sex, gender, orientation or much of the growing body of terminology surrounding these things. Mainly because it doesn’t apply to them, so they don’t really care. The result is many trans people constantly explaining themselves and wishing they carried around a little printout of the Genderbread Person to wipe the empty, slack jawed, and incredulous looks off people’s faces.

The current situation though, due to the constantly corrected set of terms and the amount of animosity that comes with misusing them, makes anyone ornery, including me. To date, I have yet to pull a new and improved term out of my ass and have to explain things any less than I did before. Sure, yes, it is “more correct” at a etymological level, but then I end up having to actually explain more because I’m not using the term people already know, which in spite of our best efforts to date, remains ‘sex change operation’. Unfortunate as it may be, when I use that, at least I only have to explain what I’m having done and not a convoluted history of the terminology. Side note, while I explain that many/ most trans people would really, really prefer not to be asked about this, I continue to leave myself open to questions. While it is no one’s business, I don’t mind, it gets knowledge out there, and may spare someone who cares a great deal.

Long story short, I think we need to have a national vote of some kind to settle this thing, roll out the number one answer after Richard Dawson hoots, “Survey says…!” and stick with it. Shit, I just totally dated myself again. Until we do that, I also propose a moratorium on pissiness when other trans people use one of the other terms still floating out there. We have enough on our minds without being overly politically correct amongst ourselves.

Now, looking at the evolution of the terminology, I think we ought to skip right to the end and maybe assume the next sentiment is that we don’t need “correction” after all because we are wonderful, and that it should be Gender Affirmation Surgery, because we are affirming the gender we already are through this procedure. Inevitably, someone will decide that highlighting the whole ‘gender’ thing to begin inherently leads to transphobia, so let it be Personal Affirmation Surgery. Now the focus is too much on the fact that we need medical intervention, which is personally intrusive terminology on too grand-ish a scale, so drop it just to Personal Affirmation Procedure. Voila! A sanitized term for mass consumption. Plus I really can’t see where people will confuse PAP with anything else.

Next week on Michellelianna: ‘Taking hormones’ evolves to Puberty Baseline Reversal, colloquially known as ‘PBR me, ASAP’.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

6 responses »

  1. I agree. No surgery can reassign gender; otherwise, male soldiers who get their junk blown off by land mines would suddenly turn into women. “GRS” is just biological determination by another name. “GAS” and “GCS”just sound too euphemistic. “SRS” is probably actually the best term when you think about how it’s determined what’s written on the birth certificate; however, “sex change” is also relatively accurate because it is your external sex that’s being changed. The only problem I have with that latter term is that it is somewhat stigmatized.

  2. “Here in Eastern Canada the wait period is 12-14 months (Government paid.) ”


  3. Honestly, I don’t really care. I’d be much more interested in talking about how we can work to increase access to the procedure, however.

  4. Your attempt to be correctly correct is correct in every way Michelle. In my case I always describe myself as a transgender 1st, then once my GRS has been performed I will refer myself as trans-woman. No matter which way you say it you just know that it will require more description.
    I’m very proud of who I am and what I have accomplished in life and I’m always glad to share the details.
    As for SRS or GRS, it all relates back to the description transsexual versus transgender. (Transsexual is so porn related to me.)
    No matter what name or initials you give, it seems to be guaranteed that the definition will be the one your daughter uses LOL
    Here in Eastern Canada the wait period is 12-14 months (Government paid.) Yahoooo only 8 more months till the trans-woman emerges and different questions will surface, (can you have intercourse like a woman?)
    Smiles & hugs

  5. You make some good points actually. I was one of the ones calling it GCS for a long time because I’m not changing my gender. Then again, Sex change is about right….I changed my sex to match my gender. I guess the issue is that the surgery itself gets confused with the process of transition and suddenly people think sex change = transition and that’s not really the case…esp for those that are non-op and/or can’t afford surgery, etc.

  6. love this! …in a chat group i used to which i used to belong, (for parents and caregivers of transgender kids) the people seemed to have way more time on their hands than i do, and perhaps not much to keep their minds entertained….always coming up with new ‘labels’ for our kids, more correct labelsl, i guess…not mtf because they’ve really always been female, not ‘identifies as’ because that seems to indicate confusion on their part.

    i was way okay with the ‘affirmed girl’ label, and just as i was feeling comfortable with that, someone found something wrong with it.

    i know it’s not pc, but my daughter sees herself as a girl, plain and simple. a girl who by some cosmic accident got the penis that should’ve gone to some boy who is running around with her girl stuff.

    cis-folk are always trying to ‘box’ those who aren’t cis. some of them take offense that a word has come up with which to ‘box’ them, er…. us. but really, if labels must be, can’t they be whatever the person who wears it chooses? it’s just as hard, after all, trying to keep up with the most recently somewhat agreed upon version of the proper terminology as it would be to simply use “trans”….*pauses* ….. *looks around for incoming lightning bolt* ….whew!
    then if elaboration upon the finer points is required, draw them.

    as for the srs , for now my daughter refers to it as ‘when i finally get rid of that thing’…although i’m sure that’s not politcally correct, at least it is clear.


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