On “Transvestite” and “Transsexual”

I hate these words. The first sounds like a pathology, like some medical term for a psychological disorder, which makes sense because it used to be one. It’s also cissexist, since it’s rarely applied to trans men and usually just gets stuck to glammed-up guys.

Transsexual in particular is immensely misleading! It makes it seem like being trans is all about SEX, like, copulation, because that’s the root of the word–SEX.  Meeting this word when I was younger fucked up my idea of who I was for years. I thought being trans (which I knew I was) also made me a pervert, some kind of bizarre orgasm-seeking creature obsessed with being prettified. THAT IS NOT THE CASE. BEING TRANS IS ABOUT GENDER DYSPHORIA (for me) and subconscious gender and brain maps and the relationship I have with my body and the relationship my body has to itself. None of that is about orgasms. No more transsexual, please. It creates unnecessary ambiguity about the person taking the label, and can mislead hapless cishetero folks into stigmatizing us.

Fuck these words. Get them out of the lexicon.

Thank you and have a nice year.

What It Means when Someone Refuses to Use Your Correct Pronouns

Another from Everyday Feminism.

This excerpt is from Point Six, which nails it.

“It might make you uncomfortable or upset to think about using people’s proper pronouns. You might hate worrying about whether you’ll get it wrong.

But consider what I talked about above: Being misgendered is a much more uncomfortable experience for trans and non-binary people.

If you’re only thinking about your discomfort, it’s a sign of your cis privilege. It means that you think your comfort should be catered to first.

In other words, you think your comfort is more important than trans and non-binary people’s.

This sort of ties in with the previous sections. As a cis person, it’s a privilege for you to think that cis people are the only people who exist. You don’t have to consider how other people’s experiences might be different.

As a cis person, it’s a privilege for you to take your pronouns (and gender identity) for granted, and to have other people constantly validate that.

And if you believe that only people like you exist, and on top of that, are constantly validated in this belief—well, it’s easy to think that trans and non-binary people who insist on using their pronouns are just making things up.

Except, you know, we’re not.

The discomfort and pain that we feel is valid. It doesn’t matter less than your own discomfort. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that it matters more.”


Why I Call Myself Transgender

Gender Dysphoria: the persistent sensation/feeling/suspicion/pain that my body does not match what my brain (or some other subconscious authority over what my body should be) thinks it should find.

That’s it. Other people who call themselves transgender but don’t feel dysphoria about their bodies’ physical genders? I don’t know why they would take the label transgender.

We have words for “transcending binary gender” without feeling dysphoric: nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, bigender, agender, gender nonconforming, etc. Why don’t we use them as such?

I want there to be clear definitions for this stuff. It’s been too confusing for too long.

On Singular They

The Good: Nonbinary and genderqueer folks have a pronoun to use when referring to themselves that doesn’t specify gender, that has existed for a long time in popular usage, and has been used singularly already for a long time.

The Bad: The fact that our culture is more comfortable blurring the language’s ability to accurately denote the number of things to which a word refers (by using singular they) than simply using a word that could very specifically point out an ambiguous or unknown gender (such as ze/zir or xie/xir) while preserving the word’s ability to communicate number? That demonstrates the severe degree of discomfort our culture has with indeterminate and/or nonbinary genders.

I know my opinion is against the current trend in common usage. Again, I am very glad that the public is finding a way for language to avoid referring to gender. De-gendering the language is a HUGE step in making our culture more accepting of nonbinary and indeterminate or unknown genders. But singular they will always have problems. It will always blur number. It will further codify our cultural insecurity with nonbinary genders rather than creating an unfraught space for them. It creates more opportunity for confusion.

We have words for this kind of thing–singular nongender pronouns. Why aren’t we using them? And why are we avoiding them with such prejudice? Our culture loves to invent new words (think mansplaining, think gaslighting, think asshat) and play with grammar (think Doge memes, think “because” as a preposition). Why are we recoiling from a great opportunity to do more of what we enjoy?

I regret that nongender singular pronouns do not enjoy the popularity singular they currently does. Granted, singular they has been in use for a long time already. I was taught to use it in grammar school. It’s one of those accepted exceptions to the rule. Or perhaps it enjoys such popularity because it’s easier to ask your parents and friends to avoid certain pronouns (he/she) in favor of other familiar ones (singular they) than to ask them to use new ones they’ve never heard before (ze/hir etc).

I thought about taking singular they as my preferred pronoun. I chose against it. As a writer, as someone with a focused awareness of the rhetorical implications grammar and syntax can perform, I understand the problems singular they communicates better than some. It condones our culture’s gender insecurity in its disregard for number; singular nongender pronouns don’t sacrifice number, and they accomplish the same thing singular they does: making space in the language for gender identities besides male and female. Singular they is a step in the right direction, and I applaud the folks who have worked to normalize it, but there is more solid ground one could tread. Singular they is a hackneyed compromise. Singular nongender pronouns are more efficient, more elegant, more accurate than singular they can ever be.

On the Pronoun Spectrum


I arrived in St Louis yesterday. I grew up here, then I left, with little desire to return. My mother’s house seemed surprisingly tiny, and surprisingly dingy. There are more cracks in the ceilings, more scuffs on the walls, stains on the carpets, more clutter and cat hair. The cabinet doors lean sloppily on hinges whose loads have become, over time, more than they were meant to support.

Ben, a dear friend, accompanied me. Ben is cisgender and an amazing ally. Ben sat in the passenger seat for seven or eight hours from his east Tennessee house while I drove here, where I plan to stay temporarily but indefinitely, until my financial circumstances change for the better. My family and I tend not to get along, but we say we love each other. This sort of behavior makes me wonder what other people mean when they talk about love. I am pretty sure this part of my family uses that word to speak of reluctant but blood-bound obligation, something like duty or honor. I pull into the driveway with my shields up.

Continue reading

On Labels

I’m rereading Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, and it’s making me think about labels again: which I take, which I don’t take, why, and what they mean.

The tricky part about labels is that they imply a unified meaning for everyone who uses them, and frankly, that’s not the case. Much of the language transgender folks use to describe our experiences was invented in the last two decades, and most non-trans people don’t know what any of it means since they’ve rarely ever had to use or read it.

My friend Rachel asked me to define genderqueer to her a while ago. It was really hard to do, since I haven’t met a lot of people who are openly genderqueer, who talk about genderqueer stuff a lot, or who even use the word. I think I told her some wrong stuff. I thought genderqueer had more to do with style than identity. And bless her heart, she’s trying to learn. I wanted to honor her request, and I told her what I knew. But perhaps doing something like that–acting like a dictionary or a representative of my people–could be more harmful than helpful in that it supports the belief that trans people are experts on trans people. We’re not. Would you expect every woman to be an expert on feminism? Or every South African person to be an expert on post-colonial politics? Of course you wouldn’t.

Serano uses genderqueer in Whipping Girl more like I would use the term nonbinary. Who of us is wrong? I would actually like for one of us to be wrong, so that the vocab can solidify in the common lexicon. I volunteer to be wrong here.

I suppose the most accurate thing I could do, then, instead of pretending that I am the authority on how every person uses these words, would be to tell you what I mean when I use them. Other people will use them differently.

ALLY PROTIP: The best thing you could do if someone tells you they’re trans or nonbinary or whatever and you don’t completely understand what that means (or even if you think you DO completely understand what that means), would be to ask, “What does that mean to you?” or “Why did you pick that word?” or something of the like. It will give your friend an opportunity to explain hir understanding of how that term describes hir life.

I take these gender labels. I call myself

transgender person


gender dysphoric


gender fluid

depending on what part of my gendered identity I am currently discussing.

I call myself transgender because I’ve felt, for the majority of my life, gender dysphoria: that something is wrong or off or painful about the gender I was assigned at birth and that my body matured into. I would think that’s the most basic common factor between anyone who identifies as transgender: a life of feeling something is wrong about the gender ze was assigned at birth.

I call myself transfeminine because I’m transgender and I lean feminine. I have more of an affinity for stuff our culture traditionally associates with females and femininity than I do for stuff our culture typically associates with males and masculinity. Further, I’m transitioning away from a generally-classified-as male body into having a generally-classified-as female body, and legal identity, and appearance, and manner of behavior, etc. Femininity is the shit yo.

I call myself gender fluid because my experience of gender changes depending on who I’m around, what I’m doing, what’s going on, how I’m feeling, etc. My experience of gender is fluid, not static.

I consider myself politically nonbinary and/or genderqueer because I don’t believe in pre-fab binary genders, I think the gender binary is quite harmful, I don’t believe there are only two genders, I don’t believe anybody IS one gender, I don’t want to have to be forced to pick a gender (though when I am I picked female), I wish our society recognized more than one gender existed, and I want to undermine the influence of the gender binary everywhere.

Gender dysphoria is difficult to describe. I made a post on a different site a while ago about my labels. Here:

I consider myself transgender because my physical gender and identified/subconscious gender are misaligned, and I experience gender dysphoria as an effect of the relationship between them. It’s a very physical, chemical, internal experience. Another way to think of this is that my brain has a map of what it expects to find when it checks to make sure everything is cool with my body every few seconds, and it’s kind of constantly on red alert because it doesn’t find what it expects to. There are other reasons people take this label, but that’s why I do. For me, it’s less about the state of my body and more about my body’s experience of itself.

Having gender dysphoria is the one reason above all else that I consider myself transgender.

Well, those are the labels I take. I am really interested in hearing what labels other folks think and why people take them!

On (Not/) Passing

I think about passing a lot because I don’t pass. I mean I don’t look/act/talk/sound/walk/dress in a way that invites an easy, coherent gender label. I don’t look traditionally female or male. Not passing creates problems for me. I notice I take a lot more anxiety with me into public spaces now, because I don’t know how random people I’ve never met before will treat me. It takes me a lot longer to get ready before going out as well, most often because my limited wardrobe doesn’t offer me a wide sampling of outfits or looks that I think look good on my current (not-)male-and-(not-)female body. Clothing is way harder to find now, but so is having a face that looks coherently feminine. When I look coherently feminine, I’ve noticed people treat me better, they give me female pronouns without me having to ask, and I generally feel more at ease (until I start speaking). Passing acts like a bubble of additional safety I can take with me into unfamiliar places and situations. Therefore, passing–presenting a coherent and single binary-aligned gender–comes with privilege.

So when I read something like this, it thrills me. I would love to not have to worry about passing as much as I do. I wish our culture afforded people with non-binary, genderqueer, and transgender appearances the type of recognition that would help me feel less like an outsider in public. I wish our culture simply accepted other genders than male and female as, well, existing. It’s getting better, but there’s still passing and not-passing privilege, which indicates our culture still values unified binary genders more than ambiguous or dissonant genders.

So an article like this really grills my cheese.