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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Question MarkI’m catching up, but still behind. Today we have two short letters that I have some thoughts about, but that I am unable to answer with much certainty, so I hope that readers can give these writers some additional information.

A reader writes: “I found your website while googling around on gender-neutral pronouns. My question, in brief, is this: Is it just me, or are gender-neutral pronouns mostly sought by people who were assumed to be cis women at birth?

“I love the idea of genderqueer and have happily appropriated the parts that work for me and read a fair amount of queer theory over the years. It occurred to me today that most of the third-way writing I have read is by people who no longer want to use girl-pronouns after being assigned she/her at birth, where as trans women tend to love getting access to (and perhaps ideally only using) the girl pronouns versus seeking some third way.

“I googled a bit hoping to find some evidence to the contrary, but didn’t find much. Perhaps I’m insufficiently thorough. Thanks in advance for your reply, and also for your patience with my question and any parts I may have phrased inelegantly or insensitively.”

I don’t know whether or not this is true, but it appears to me, as well, that the majority of people who prefer gender-neutral pronouns are those who were assumed to be female at birth. I do know some genderqueer-identified people who were designated male at birth who use “they,” and I know some who use “he” and “she” interchangeably. But again, the majority of people who I have found to use “they” or “ze” were designated female at birth.

I’m not aware of any statistics on this, or whether or not any surveys or studies have been done (if anyone knows, please fill us in), so my answer is coming from personal experience.

If my personal experience transfers to the larger culture (and I don’t know if it does or not), and I had to give my thoughts on why this might be, I would say that I think that the “gendered” life experience is different for those who are designated female at birth and those who are designated male at birth, and this causes potentially different responses to any feelings of gender incongruity. (more…)

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Question MarkIn these two letters, we look at the confusion around, and intersections of, sexual orientation and gender identity. Here we go:

A reader writes: “I’m dating a trans man now and it’s been amazing. I’m still slightly confused as I have always considered myself as a straight female and have always seen him as male, but at the same time I’ve accepted that for the moment he is still female and am willing to do stuff with him (obviously, haha).

“I know labels are not the best way to go about things, but I’m not sure of how else I can understand what I am feeling? I hope this doesn’t come across as naive or stupid. I’m just a little bit confused.”

It’s not uncommon for those who are dating trans people to become confused about their own sexual orientation. For you, it seems pretty straight-forward – you’re a straight woman dating a trans guy, so you’re a straight woman … because he’s a guy.

I would argue that he is not “still female.” I think what you mean is that he has not had any type of genital surgery. Maybe you even mean that he is not taking hormones. But if he’s living as a man, then he’s not female. And if you see him as male, then he’s not female to you, either.

Just because he has a different body type from what you might be used to doesn’t negate any of that. If you’ve been with several men in your life, you know that their body types vary widely, even though they all might have come closer to the particular prototype or representation that we have of a “standard” male body than your current lover’s body does. No matter. He’s a man, you’re a woman, and the label for that type of relationship in Western culture is “straight.” (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I was hoping I could get your opinion on this issue. I recently read a diatribe by a cisgender gay man stating that those who identify as girlfags are being disrespectful to cisgender gays and lesbians, as well as gay transmen.

“I agree that the term does sound pejorative, and it would be better if a new term was coined. But I believe that it is a legitimate identity. What do you think?”

I had never heard of this term before, so I had to look it up. On Urban Dictionary, “girlfag” is defined as: “A woman who is very attracted to gay/bi/trans men. She may (or may not) also feel she is (fully or partly) a ‘gay man in a woman’s body.’ Girlfags identify primarily as queer, and are often attracted to more types of people than just gay/bi/trans men.”

I think every identity is legitimate. I also think that reclamation of negative or harmful language can be beneficial in certain circumstances. However, I have three criteria for reclaiming pejorative language, and I feel that all of these criteria need to be met before a word or words can be reclaimed:

1. The people reclaiming the language must be aware of the history of the language – the word or words to be reclaimed – and how that language was used against people in the past (and still today). What is the origin of the language? How did it come into general use and how did it come to be used against a group of people? What were and are the ramifications of that use? The people reclaiming the language need to be fully aware of this and make a conscious decision to reclaim the language based on their thorough knowledge of the past. (more…)

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Question MarkHere are some short questions and short answers. I (and I’m sure the writers) would love to get reader input on any or all:

A reader writes: “When someone says they are a transsexual man, does that mean that they are a woman contemplating their sex identity or a man contemplating their sex identity? Pardon me if this was offensive, it was purely out of curiosity so I don’t mess up in the future.”

No offense taken. It’s a legitimate question. (Here’s a link to some vocabulary terms that might also help: Trans-lations.)

In most cases, when a person says that he is a transsexual man, what he means is that he has transitioned in some way from female to male. In other words, he was assigned female at birth, and now lives as a man. When someone says that she is a transsexual woman, she means that she was assigned male at birth and has transitioned in some way to female.

This is particularly confusing when the press refers to a “transgender man” when they actually mean a “trans woman,” and vice versa. I could go into a long diatribe about the whole “transgender” and language thing, but I won’t (because nobody wants to hear it again).

Suffice it to say that when people refer to themselves as a man or a woman and any form of “trans” is in front of that, they will generally mean that they are living in a sex and gender that were not assigned to them by the outside world at birth.

A reader writes: “I’ve always felt like I was male from being a young child, and now I feel ready to begin my journey. My question is: I understand there is no guarantee with hormones, but do people who are younger when they begin hormones see results sooner?”

Hmm. That depends on the person. I don’t think there is any research behind this. In my experience, it seems to me that people who are younger when they begin often have “better” results. By that, I mean that I have seen young people masculinize relatively quickly when compared to older people (but “quickly” is just a matter of a few months), and it seems to me that they generally get better facial hair and muscle tone. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “This is my second year going to TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance). I am still having difficulty understanding a lot of the terms used by the transgender community.

“MTF and FTM I can understand, while others are not so easy. Also, I would like the understand more GLBTQ words and definitions as well. I’m a lesbian who barely understands the community lingo. I thought I was butch, then I understand that I’m seen as a soft butch. Now I think I’m gender queer. I’m 34 – all these new words are making me feel old and unsure.

“Is there a book or dictionary (with pictures) that can better explain to me the different terms and views?

Welcome to the world of ever-evolving language. Just when you thought you knew what a word meant, its meaning starts to shift. This is normal for language in general, but when you have a community that has been put in the position of having to create its own terms on its own terms, you tend to get multiple, and sometimes misunderstood, meanings.

I don’t know of one specific book or dictionary that explains all of the terms used in the LGBTQ community. It would be massive and ever-changing. But I think there are some things that can at least help out. I did a search for “LGBT dictionary” online, and there are a lot of websites that have many definitions.

The problem with books and websites is that, as I said, words and meanings change over time. Also, usage can vary from group to group and from region to region. Age factors in, as does race, ethnicity, class, and culture. So no matter what you do, you will probably be wrong, or at least a little off, at some time. However, if you have a base to start from, then you can learn to shift and adapt. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “As a transgender man who transitioned about five years ago, I have been hearing the conversation about the word ‘transgendered’ (with the ‘ed’ on the end), and would like to know:

1. Why the ‘ed’ on the end?

2. Why do people take issue?”

Don’t even get me started. Oops – too late.

I have had an issue with this for many years, and I have written about it before, but that was a while ago, so I will reiterate for those who are not aware of my feelings about this.

When I started transition (in 1997), “transgendered” was the appropriate term. You will see it throughout my book Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience. It is grammatically correct, it sounds right, and it makes the most sense as an adjective, which is what it is.

While not all adjectives take an “ed,” “gender” does. I am a gendered person. If I am a gendered person, then it would follow that I would be a transgendered person (although I don’t identify in this way – I identify as a transsexual person).

I am left-handed, not left-hand. I am brown-eyed, not brown-eye. I was married, not marry, and now I am divorced, not divorce. Sometimes I get tired (not tire) of the whole argument, and I have gotten to the point where I am determined (not determine) to leave it alone – except when it comes up, as it has here.

Somewhere between 1997 and today, “transgendered” became a negative term. It wasn’t just that people began to prefer the term “transgender” because the tongue didn’t have to do as much work. It became offensive. Some of the reasons that were given to me for this offense were that the “ed” signified that being transgender:

> was something that the person had done and was finished (not finish) with.

> was something that had happened (not happen) to the person, rather than something ongoing that the person is.

> was something negative, like being divorced (which is not necessarily negative, depending on the situation). (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “How can a mother be sure her 23-year-old is transgender and not gender variant?

“I raised a daughter who was outgoing, confident, lots of friends, intelligent, accomplished, and seemingly happy. No complaints about being female, no engaging in ‘male’ activities – no signs other than some androgynous dress in high school.

“Then she goes to college. After one year I noticed she was moody and questioned her – she admitted finally that she thought she was male and didn’t want to talk about it. Stunning, but I tried to be supportive, the college was helpful, he’s had plenty of friends, and family members have been neutral to supportive. My son and I have always been, and remain close. I love him dearly.

“For three years I have had to initiate nearly every conversation about this, but Ben has always been very defensive about the topic of being transgender. A year ago (in spite of being in a supportive environment), he needed treatment due to feeling suicidal and homicidal. This concerned me greatly, and I wanted Ben to make sure he didn’t have psychological problems that needed resolution before starting T (depression and other mental illness runs in the family).

“Ben now says all is well and he has just started T. I realize he’s an adult, and it’s his life to live, but as his mother I’m concerned. For all I know, he didn’t tell his new therapist all that happened a year ago.

“He is still so feminine (in dress, mannerisms, interests, activities, etc), and he talks about being ‘queer’ and about gender-bender events he goes to, and he’s going through an exhibitionist stage where I find ‘steamy’ photos online of him posing in a combo of male and female items. He says he wants to start T to get a deeper voice and to pass as male, but then he runs around in heels and feminine attire, which is confusing to me.

“I know every transgender person has their own story, but this doesn’t even seem close to typical. Ben seems gender variant to me, or maybe rebellious to an extreme. It’s hard to get him to define things, since he gets defensive and doesn’t want to talk, and if I ask too many questions he says it ‘invalidates’ him.

“I’m not going to reject him either way, but I remember being confused and headstrong at 23, and worry that he could be making a mistake. Should I just sit by and let things play out, even though the results could be terrible?”

The answer to your first question – the first sentence in your letter – is that there is really no way for you to accurately tell, because both “gender variant” and “transgender” are socially created terms that have no medical or psychiatric backing, in the sense that there is no diagnosis or agreed-upon professional definition for either one of these terms, that I am aware of. (more…)

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