trans woman

January 24, 2009

in-the-kitchenI identify as a trans woman.

In this context, I use the word trans as:

  1. an adjective, and
  2. an abbreviation

1. Trans as an adjective: I do not refer to myself as a transwoman for the same reason given by Lisa Harney in her comment on Cedar’s post Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine” etc (language politics #1):

[F]or a lot of transsexual women, ‘transwoman’ is othering because we’re transitioning to female/woman, and we’re not trying to be a special exceptional kind of woman (transwoman) which is effectively a third or fourth gender, but a woman who is trans (like a woman who is black, or a woman who is lesbian), and for us, the adjective form is preferable.

2. Trans as an abbreviation: I use the word trans as an abbreviation of transsexual, and not as an abbreviation of transgender (which I use as a more generic, umbrella term for people who are gender variant or otherwise questioning their gender): I do not refer to myself as a transgender woman.

By transsexual I mean that I was medically diagnosed as having a long-lasting, extreme case of gender dysphoria. However, I am uncomfortable with the mainstream medical definition of gender dysphoria as a condition in which a person feels that they are trapped within a body of the wrong sex. I prefer the term gender dissonance for the same reason given by Julia Serano in the glossary on the web page for her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity:

gender dissonance
A form of cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment of their subconscious and physical sexes. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term “gender dysphoria,” which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance regarding one’s sex with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.

In addition, I prefer the use of the female pronouns she and her (see also nixwilliams’ Getting pronouns right: a guide for spoken conversation), and the formal form of address Ms.

Get it? Got it? Good!

tg_black-on_pink_100x107Proviso #1: I see my transition as an ongoing, dynamic and open-ended process. Consequently, I reserve the right to modify, alter or otherwise change my views, opinions and self-identification as I continue to refine my personal value/belief system towards the formulation of an ideology – a “politics of being trans” – that works for me.

Proviso #2: Other trans people may have other definitions, or see things differently from me. This is not a problem. At least, not for me.

For answers to further Trans 101-related questions, please refer to the links in my blogroll under the subheading Trans 101 (hey lord, don’t ask me questions)

5 Responses to “trans woman”

  1. Anji Says:

    For a cissexual woman who is still learning Trans 101 this was really useful. Thanks Helen. :)

  2. Emily Says:

    I’m really glad to see more people using trans and transsexual this way. I find transwoman/transman/transperson quite dehumanising. We’re not some weird third gender, we are women, men and people, respectively, with a condition which we are working to fix through transition and creating a new noun for us instead of using an adjective to modify woman/man/person is hurtful.

    I also agree with you in the use of trans as an abbreviation of transsexual not transgender/transgendered.


  3. squirrel Says:

    I’m not sure that the use of trans as an abbreviation of transsexual here is really something that is to be agreed/disagreed with, unless it is the obvious, “Yes, I agree that that is the way you are using it and it is the word that you find suits you” sort of way. Agreeing with it in any other way seems to imply that trans as an abbreviation for transgender is incorrect in general, which surely isn’t correct. Transsexual isn’t a word that applies to me right now (although I’m using a slightly different definition from the one Helen is, the result is the same), and maybe it never will, but I’m certainly trans.

  4. Helen G Says:

    squirrel: Fair enough! As I say in Proviso #2: Other trans people may have other definitions, or see things differently from me. This is not a problem. At least, not for me.

    I wouldn’t dream of saying that this is my definition which everybody else should follow.

    Rather, all I’m saying is that this is a definition, and one which works for me at this point in my transition.

    Everything is provisional!

  5. queenemily Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this comment for a few days now.

    It’s interesting, I’ve been hesitant to describe myself as transgendered for quite some time, simply using trans instead. When feminist or transgendered theorists talk about gender performance, but leave the sexed body intact or idealised, that’s somewhere I depart from. My issues are not the same, and neither is my experience axiomatically reducible to queer, gay or lesbian experiences and theories.

    Transsexual, far better than transgender, foregrounds the role that sex has (the sexed body, the legal category of sex that stems from the sexed body). Julia Serano made a point of using it, and that seems right to me.

    On the other hand, I am leery of “transsexual” in some ways because it has all that enormous baggage, so it’s important to position ourselves as agents outside the diagnostic categories of the DSM or Harry Benjamin or whatever–eg gender dissonance, like you pointed out, is a better term that the pathologised psychiatric category of gender dysphoria. But it is nevertheless a more useful term for binary identified women like ourselves I think ;)

    So, swings, roundabouts innit.

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