More on transgender v. transsexual

Posted on 03 Jun 2011 at 11:52am

CRISTAN WILLIAMS | Cross-posted from Ehipassiko

Since my last post on this issue, I’ve met a few really cool folks in the “transsexual-not-transgender” camp. I was fortunate enough to meet one transsexual named Zoe. We messaged back and forth for quite some time over Facebook, and she really helped me to better understand where she’s coming from. And you know what, I 100 percent support her decision to self-identify herself as transsexual and not as transgender. The thing that seems to separate Zoe from the seeming majority of those in the TS-not-TG camp is that she’s not a hypocrite, she likes facts, and she speaks for herself instead of presuming to speak for all other transsexuals.

TS people don’t identify as TG anymore

A big problem with the idea that TS people no longer identify as TG is that it’s a demonstrably fallacious idea. The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force recently published the largest American trans study ever with more than 6,000 respondents. In this study, they actually asked how we self-identify. Care to guess how many self-identified with the term “transgender”? Ninety percent. Yup; as in almost everyone but a small minority.

Q4 http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf

Double standards are fun

Also, I’ve not yet seen the TS-not-TG group address a double standard I regularly observe:

• Most in the TS-not-TG group will regularly group TS and IS people together when talking about themselves because, they claim, being grouped together with other types of trans folk is offensive to them.

• However, most in the TS-not-TG group seem to have a blind-spot when it comes to acknowledging that in many regions of America, intersex people are offended when they are grouped with transsexuals.

• So, it’s somehow OK to demand that all transsexual people stop being referred to as transgender because the very idea is seemingly too offensive to contemplate, but it doesn’t matter that grouping themselves with IS people is incredibly offensive to some IS people. That double standard is what I think most might view as being hypocritical.

Grouping us together is something new that was done to us

I’ve also noticed that many of the TS-not-TG people feel that they were grouped with other types of trans folk only very recently. Perhaps where they come from, this is absolutely true. However, it’s demonstrably incorrect to make that claim for all transsexuals. In Houston, for example, our community purposefully began working to create one unified community that encompassed all types of trans people in the mid-1970s.

200463_10150115596550480_760380479_6324637_2962813_n Houston, 1976. Note that even then, we were one politically active community.

What about civil rights?

Another thing that irks me is the demonstrably false notion that if all non-cisgender are grouped together, that we transsexuals won’t get our civil rights. If that’s so, why then is it that in Houston (Bush-land) TEXAS, a deep-south RED State, we have …

• Houston City Council members sponsoring TRANSGENDER events

• The TRANSGENDER community supporting the mayor of Houston – an out lesbian – in politics.

• The second openly TRANSGENDER judge in the nation.

• Houston becoming home to the only TRANSGENDER Center and Archive in the nation.

• An Executive Order protecting TRANSGENDER people from discrimination.

• The County Sheriff, Houston mayor, a number of elected Judges and most of Houston city council always attending and supporting any event our TRANSGENDER community puts on.

• Everyone from the FBI to the TABC meeting with Houston TRANSGENDER leaders to learn how to improve their interactions with non-cisgender people.

We did all of that in one of the reddest states in the union by becoming one active and unified community back in 1975 when HPD could and would get away with literally murdering people like us.

la.jpg Houston Mayor and 2 judges perform a ceremonial swearing-in of openly transgender judge,
Phyllis Frye, at the Transgender Unity Banquet, 2011.

It’s a demonstrably false notion that presenting a united trans community somehow slows the march toward transsexual civil rights or somehow retards the quality of life transsexual people might hope to enjoy.

It’s called a dictionary

Lastly, I want to point out that regardless of what definition one chooses to confer upon the term “transgender” or how you personally feel about the term, all non-cisgender people are part of a group that the English language defines as being “transgender.” Look up the word in an English language dictionary. Just because someone somewhere uses the word in a manner consistent with the English language and in a way that the majority of the population in question would agree on and self-identity with, it’s (IMHO) a little unreasonable for a TS-not-TG person go around claiming that they’ve been somehow personally wronged when someone somewhere refers to the non-cis community as the transgender community.

The drama of elitism

al Ashley Love: Being called transgender is assault and sexual objectification.

And the above gem brings me to the whole concept of trans elitism. Claiming that merely having an English language term to talk about non-cis people as a group is even in the same ballpark as assault and sexual objectification is, I think, a little over the top.

Some in the TS-not-TG group have what they call, “Harry Benjamin Syndrome” (HBS).  HBS is an effort to rebrand the term, “transsexual”. HBS people, like the “we’re not TG, we’re all TS/IS” group, are hoping to link the idea of transsexualism to intersex conditions in a worthy, but largely misguided effort to destigmatize the plight of transsexuals.

What’s the stigma that some in the TS-not-TG/HBS camp are trying to overcome you might ask? Well, that stigma would be all of the other types of trans human beings. A world view that blames our non-cis brothers and sisters for our plight instead of focusing on our real oppressors is lame IMHO. Also, you know what else I think is lame?

199661_10150115611005480_760380479_6324791_3360434_n Check out what Harry Benjamin thought about transsexual people who transition – from Sexology, 1963

The man after whom HBS people have rebranded transsexualism believed that a non-cis male who transitions to female is still male. Yup. They named their syndrome after someone who believed the exact opposite of what they espouse.

And, the wrap-up

Don’t get me wrong, I think that in all likelihood, transsexualism is an intersex condition (at least, according to the growing mountain of studies looking at brain morphology). If you don’t want me to call you transgender, then I won’t. If you claim to speak for yourself and your own experience, I won’t take issue when you talk about your own experience. To be clear: If you’re someone who doesn’t prefer to be referred to as transgender and instead prefers to be referred to as transsexual, I think that’s fine.

However, when you presume to speak for all transsexuals, when you blame-shift our plight onto the backs of our non-cis brothers and sisters, when you make demonstrably false claims, make up ironically laughable syndromes and refuse to acknowledge your own hypocrisy, then I’ve got a problem that I’ll probably continue to blog about and lampoon from time to time. I also think that if you don’t want to upset yourself every time someone else refers to your non-cis experience, you’ll probably need to make allowances for the current English language terms that the majority of transsexuals use by not claiming that someone assaulted you (*cough-Ashley-Love-cough*) should they refer to you as being part of the non-cis community.

Cristan Williams is executive director of the Houston-based Transgender Foundation of America.

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