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Transgendered (No, I Didn’t Make That Up)

I thought I was done with my whole schtick about transgender language and then another thing rose up from the watery depths and made me feel foolish and ignorant. Instead of being a good little girl and blushing and issuing deep apologies, I did my usual thing and asked, “wait, isn’t it possible I was the right one in all of this?” In fact, I usually assume I am anyway, so what gave me pause? The word of the day of course is ‘transgendered’; real word or bumpkinesqe pidgin English that paints a picture of me stoking up a coal fired still in the heart of Appalachia?

When I was a trans newbie, I stepped in it all the time. I was still often marking myself as one of the mouth breathers by throwing around taboo relics like ‘transvestite’, ‘hermaphrodite’, and ‘she-male’. OK, not the last one. Never the last one. All the while I was trying to relegate ‘transsexual’ to the dust bin of Webster’s ‘once-acceptable-but-now-naughty’ words to little avail. It’s OK, I’m still working at it. Since I’ve advanced a few levels, I kind of got it, but still super vague on a number of things. I mentioned before I’m clueless with the whole third gender pronouns. Last Spectrum meeting there was someone who I think preferred ‘zim’ or ‘zir’, and I made every effort not to engage because I knew I was going to fuck that up royally. I’m also still pretty shaky when it comes to gender queer. Oh, I validate it, but I put my stamp on there after only skimming the manifesto, and only then after a 2 hour night’s sleep. I totally support them, whatever that is exactly. I realize I sound like a real piece of work here, but please listen, I apparently don’t even have my own stuff set just yet.

Right here in my own blog, or maybe the repost in PinkEssense, someone make it a point to state that my use of ‘transgendered’ to describe myself was soundly incorrect. “After all, you wouldn’t describe someone homosexual as being ‘gayed’, would you?” They had me, I would never. I really felt like a giant boob, issued apology and explained myself as someone who makes up words all the time. That is true, I do, and it’s a cold snap in Death Valley when someone actually notices and corrects me. It’s naary when they do, but I try to hold my ground. In any case, I made the unusual call that they knew, and I must certainly be wrong. I stopped using it for months, gloating in my keen understanding of the educated trans persons razor sharp patois.

You know of course that since then I have seen other people use it over and over again. At first I nodded to myself sagely for being in the know. “Ah, there went I before becoming the very flower of articulation. Poor, poor ladies, for they know not what they say.” Just recently then I was tooling around on Jenny Boylan’s website because as a trans writer, she’s kind of a heroine to me. Dammit, right there, on her own site, presumably in her own words in the ‘About Jenny’ section, “Transgendered author, Jennifer Finney Boylan…” Yet again, I felt like a giant boob. All those people I was raising my eyebrow at were right, and here was I, the smirking fool with an eyebrow raised that hadn’t even been plucked properly in a few weeks. Really have to keep up on that. If Jenny said it, then it has to be a real thing. And even it wasn’t before, I think we can allow her the right to coin words and have them accepted. If I can get away with it, she sure can.

When I stopped and thought a little more, it all made sense in a way, at least in my own mind. Just because ‘gayed’ isn’t a word doesn’t invalidate ‘transgendered’ as being one. They are two different things and two very different words. If you look at the transgender condition, the most common theme is that adopting it as a self description usually follows some kind of grand revelation we were keeping from ourselves. Yes, we were born transgender and always were, but didn’t own it until sometime later. At that point we became transgendered; transitioned from the self identification of our outward birth gender to our true gender. If I were a peasant girl, unaware of being next in line for the throne, then finally coroneted, I would say I was queened since I wasn’t aware before. OK, I looked that up and apparently that word has some other implications, but you know what I mean I hope. Anyway, in my mind I would describe myself as being transgender, or a transgendered person. OK, I’m good now.

Seriously, Don’t Call Me Crazy

The humans have an irrepressible devotion to classify things. Never mind that the sum population will never, ever even come close to agreeing on whatever the standard mostly accepted classification of any given item really is. Maybe it’s an error in the manufacturing process, or there is some grand reasoning in the overall design we just can’t see, but it’s real. Humans will spend countless hours coming up with and defending their own classifications, and even more attacking someone else who is just as set on theirs. In the pristine towers of academia it can get pretty pissy, but down on the streets all it takes is a simple opening like, “technically speaking, it’s actually…”, to spark bloodlust and war. The trans population is embroiled right in the middle of all this malarkey.

The grand question in all of this really centers around, “Transgender, eh? So… what is that exactly suppose to be anyway?” Most of the folks asking this question are about as qualified to contemplate this as Huck and Jim floating on a raft on the ol’ Mississippi wondering if “stars was made, or just happened”. As a result, we get to hear all kinds of craziness, some closer to the mark than others probably, but still a wide right in the best of cases. “Trapped in the opposite gender body” “Mental illness” “Right brain in a left body” “Lifestyle choice impaired” “Jokers who just like to try to fool everyone” “Medical condition” “Two-spirit” “Reincarnated as the wrong gender” “Perverts”  “Super-duper flaming gay” “Childhood abuse victims” It goes on, and only gets worse from there.

The reality is that we don’t really know what this is. It’s infuriating to try to explain to cisgender people, including therapists. The latter are very happy to accept their fee, cash or insurance, and ensure we get proper care all while attempting to “dissect us with their blunt little tool”. That line is from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and by most estimates the very worst depiction of a “trans” person in mainstream media to date. Don’t worry, I’m sure there is an upcoming post where I get all hissy pants about that as well. As it stands, the psychological community is currently keeping us in the DSM under the auspices of ensuring we have the means to get proper care. It does make sense in a way, because it is nearly impossible to get any type of coverage for something that isn’t classified as a four alarm problem. But is this a good thing overall?

Very hard to say. On one hand, I’m very glad my work insurance suddenly started covering “transgender surgery” (exact words in the policy) because it’s going to save me a ton of cash when previously it was considered an unallowable cosmetic procedure. By covering it, they consider me to be someone who ‘has something’. But what is that something? And how excited am I to be tagged with the diagnosis of a mental illness when the real treatment is simply being myself? The hormones, the laser treatment, the various surgeries – these are all really, really nice things to have, but all I really need is to be myself and present to the world as the person I am dead certain I am. Not exactly indicative of a mental disorder, right? The vast majority of people have a problem doing this anyway to begin with, and the only real thing that separates us is that we something look a little strange doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think there is something that sets us apart from cisgender people. The explanation I’m going with is that we have brains that formed different than the body, possibly due to a lack or, or false surge of, certain hormones early on in uterine development. Hard to prove at the moment, but it seems crisp, clean and fits Occam’s Razor, or at the very least a Bic disposable. If so, it’s a form of intersex that is inclusive of the brain and not just the genitals. That I can live with. It’s a bona fide medical condition, a condition of birth (not a birth defect!), that should be covered by treatment and without the scary sounding stigma of ‘mental illness’. So don’t call me crazy; well, at least not for this.

Comment Responses to “I Hate ‘Transsexual'”

Holy potatoes! I had intended to dedicate today’s post to how the GSA is AOK in my book, but my last post on the word “transsexual” managed to bring out some *strong* feelings in the people who read it. It just wouldn’t be right in my book not to address this, so I’m going to attempt to discuss some of the commentary received on my main blog Michellelianna, my reposting on PinkEssense, personal messages, and of course Facebook. It would appear I jangled a nerve or two. If I miss anyone’s salient point, mea culpa, I’m doing this from memory.

I’m going to start with the easy stuff first. A few respondents became very indignant about being lumped into a generalized category with cross-dressers, female impersonators and such. I was disappointed to see the term “pervert” being thrown about. I absolutely do not agree with this thinking. Yes, I got annoyed when several people asked me if I could “just do this on the weekends”. My irritation was their misunderstanding of my existence, and assuredly not that people for whom this would be an acceptable solution are in any way less than. We are not all the same under the transgender umbrella, but we are equal. As a class so frequently misunderstood, feared, and attacked, I think the very least we can do is show a kindness of spirit, understanding, and inclusion. I’m willing to be proven wrong on most issues, but not this.

On to a topic even easier… I know I used the term “transgendered” and that is doesn’t officially exist anymore than “gayed”. I’ll confess right now. I make words up. All the time actually. Incredibly, I am hardly ever called on it. Here is my thinking: if I make up a word, it fits the flow of what I’m typing out, and people understand what I’m attempting to communicate, it is then a word, “official” or not. I know this irritates the hell out of purists, but chances are I’m not going to stop. I do have a degree in English and I do understand this makes my little habit nearly unforgivable, I also feel all rules are made up and therefore changeable, breakable, and somewhat illusory to boot.

One of the more prevalent types of comment can be boiled down to, “why are we so focused on labels anyway?” That one is more difficult. I do have a lot of thoughts on the matter I’m going to address in a future post regarding why it is so difficult to get anything done (which to summarize, is that I think the trans community is trying to address way, way too many things at once, and currently the notion of “trans community” is an ill defined collection of individuals). For the record, I also don’t think a lot of time should be focused on labels. The intent of the post was to present a slightly humorous look at my personal peccadilloes regarding language. Should I ever have the opportunity to address Congress or even appear on ‘AM Buffalo’ for some reason, I’ll come armed with much more relevant subject matter.

Someone wrote up a long medical sounding description wherein she and I were referred to as “fian Females”. I immediately agreed as my last name is  and I identify as female, so this made perfect sense. Then she totally lost me with a description of nephritic tube formation and I wasn’t so sure. On about the fifth reading I think I understand and agree and concede that fian Female sounds a lot nicer to me than transsexual, which I still find a bit naary.

I received lots of pros and cons regarding the word transsexual itself. The main takeaway was that the ‘sex’ in ‘transsexual’ is not meant to convey libidinous preference, and also that cisgender people often take it that way anyway, making us all uncomfortable. I’ll clarify. My discomfort is not with the word, but with the way people say it that it comes out very lascivious sounding, especially when uttered by Tim Curry or Stewie from Family Guy. I understand a certain segment of the population tends to fetishize our condition, and that is one thing. I just don’t want to give the impression that I do.

I got a very clever reference to the Transgender Borg indicating the eventual assimilation of individualized pockets of trans around the planet that will one day speak with one voice, and hopefully shoot lasers at our detractors. It is certainly an interesting idea, but at the moment it resembles a bunch of cats duct taped together. If it does happen, I call dibs on being Seven of Nine, figuring I have ample time to get my buns in shape.

All in all, it seems like a pretty divisive issue. Some don’t care, some care a whole lot. Some like the standard terminology, and some make my dislike border on apathy. Others offer alternatives that while likable, will probably never go into vogue. I still don’t care for it, but on the same magnitude that I don’t care for orange clothing; it doesn’t enrage me, I’ll never buy it, but I suppose I’ll put it on if there is nothing else to wear and find a way to live with it. Until the Transgender Borg catches me unaware in her hideous pumpkin colored pants suit.

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