B.C. on Gender: About TGs

Labels and All That Jazz

[Jaye Davidson]
Dil (Jaye Davidson) and Fergus (Stephen Rea) in The Crying Game.

TG is short for Transgendered. This is the latest umbrella term used to denote people who are "differently gendered" or, literally, "cross-gendered". RuPaul is transgendered. Jaye Davidson from the movie, The Crying Game, is transgendered. Some people would claim that k.d. lang is transgendered.

I can hear you now, saying, "I think I know what you mean, but can you be a bit more precise?" The simple answer is, "No, I cannot."

"Transgendered" is a somewhat eclectic term, and no one person has the copyright. And perhaps it's better that way, because (if you're a student of semiotics), words have a way of taking on a life of their own, and people use precise definitions to exclude other people who want to use that word. I've personally read some wars on the Fido Gender conference and Usenet's alt.transgender conference about whether or not people are "real" transsexuals or "just" transvestites. I hope this doesn't happen with the word "transgendered".

So why do we need a word like "transgendered"? Many TGs would insist that we don't. "Transgendered" is, after all, another label, and those of us who are transgendered need another label like we need another hole in our heads. But there are many reasons why we need an identity. Firstly, because TG-related politics are coming into existence, and frankly, forming vague lobby groups of unlabelled people doesn't work in our label-oriented society. Secondly, because the labels that we have are causing division, and fighting in the community. And finally, because the human mind needs categorizations (this point is wrapped up in a lot of cognitive psychological theory) -- that's the way we think.

I've read that Virginia Prince first coined the term; I'm not sure. I am sure that the term is fairly recent, though. If you read Issue 60 of The TV/TS Tapestry, you'll see a letter from Virginia promoting the term "Bigendered". That was 1991, and "TG" hadn't been proposed.

Virginia writes:

... Now I think it is time and necessary to generate a new and acceptable term for us.

I say necessary because there is an aspect of this terminology problem that has not been given much consideration, but which is vitally important, and that is the public perception of whatever term is used. Whether we like it or not, the public needs to have a descriptive term which they can easily understand and use, which is also acceptable to members of our community. We are not like alcoholics, drug abusers, criminals, voyeurs, pederasts, schizophrenics, epileptics, or a million other types of people. Therefore, we need a handle by which others can comfortably refere to us, distinguish us from other types of people, and which is positive and not condemnatory.

Virginia's term, "Bigendered" never caught on, but it seems like "transgendered" is here to stay.

Other Terms

Nothing has plagued the TG community more than attempting to agree on what we mean by the terms that are used. Here are some common words, as I understand them. YMMV.

Transsexual (TS)
According to medical literature, a transsexual is someone who requests a sex-change operation. Generally, the perspective is that a "true" transsexual is "really" a member of the "opposite" sex, who was trapped in the "wrong" body, and seeks surgery to correct nature's mistake. Transsexuals often make the distinction between pre-operative TSs and post-operative TSs. The problem with this word started when people started calling themselves "non-operative TSs". Some suggested that the non-ops weren't "real" TSs. This is always good for a flame war on alt.transgender.

Another distinction that's usually made among TSs is whether the individual is a male-to-female (M2F) TS, or a female-to-male (F2M) TS. Some people use the acronyms MTF and FTM respectively.

Transvestite (TV)
Someone who dresses in the clothing of the "opposite" sex. Like "Transsexual", the term originates in medical literature, and many feel that it has a certain ring of pathology to it. Strictly speaking, both "Transvestism" and "Transsexualism" are mental disorders, and many people dislike the term because it connotes something "sick" that needs to be "cured".

Crossdresser (CD)
Those who refused to use the term "Transvestite" started using the term Crossdresser. It's an anglicized version of "Transvestite", but it came from the TG community, not the medical community. As Virginia Prince eloquently pointed out, though, "this is a term that says what we DO, not what we ARE."

Transgenderist (TGist)
Just to make things confusing, some people use the term "Transgenderist" to mean someone who lives full-time as a member of the "opposite" sex without going through surgery. It's an alternative to "non-operative TS".

I have a lot of problems with terms like "opposite sex", which I'll talk about later. I'm trying to make these definitions simple, but sometimes I have to over-simplify.

Still More Words

I recently picked up the book Blending Genders, edited by Richard Ekins and David King. The book has a couple of interesting alternative words:

"Male femaling"
I have to admit, I hate this phrase. First up, it only caters to the M2F TGs. I presume that Akin would also use "Female maling", although it is not used in the book. I dislike this term because it reduces the behaviour of TGs into trying to be the "opposite" sex, which, as I said earlier, I have a problem with.
Stephen Whittle cites a definition of "queer" as "to fuck with gender". I kind of like this, but I don't personally use the term, because I think most people associate "queer" with sexual orientation exclusively. Some people think that all TGs are queer, and others think that all queers are transgendered. Maybe they mean the same thing (shrug).

Also, Leslie Feinberg's book, Transgender Warriors usually just refers to members of the TG community as "trans-people".

Copyright © 1999 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated July 17th, 1999

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