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’.