Transgender? Transsexual? The power of words in self-determination

Posted on 27 May 2011 at 2:50pm
Nikki Araguz

Early this week, we had a What’s Brewing post here on Instant Tea that included information about what was at the time a pending ruling from state District Judge Randy Clapp in Wharton on a lawsuit challenging Nikki Araguz’s right to the pension of her husband, a Wharton firefighter who had been killed in the line of duty.

In that first post, we used the term “transgender” to refer to Araguz, which is the general umbrella term that we use here at the Voice. We based that on conversations with advocates in the trans community who told us that “transgender” is an umbrella term that includes all those who are gender variant, while “transsexual” specifically refers to those who have fully transitioned or are in the process of transitioning.

So I was surprised to see comments to that first blog about Nikki Araguz taking us to task for describing her as “transgender” instead of using the term “transsexual,” and pointing out that Araguz had, in her personal blog, asked that the media refer to her as transsexual instead of transgender.

And then, Michi Eyre sent me an email explaining to me why my rationalization was offensive to her. We began an email conversation then that was quite enlightening for me, bringing home — once again and quite forcefully — the point that words have great power, and that all of us, in every situation, should choose our words most carefully.

Some people might see this as an unnecessary argument: Transgender, transsexual — isn’t just six of one, half dozen of another anyway? Well, no, it isn’t. Because we are talking about words that are more than words. These are words that encompass and describe and express individuals’ identities. Everyone has the right to identify themselves, instead of having someone else tell them who they are. So shouldn’t it follow then, that each of us should also have the right to choose how to express our identity, and how we want others to acknowledge that identity?

So, in hopes of maybe broadening some horizons — including mine, of course — and maybe even opening some minds by helping start and perpetuate and open, honest, respectful and productive dialog, I am, with her permission, reprinting here Michi Eyre’s explanation to me of the difference between “transgender” and “transsexual” and why it matters which one we use.

Please read her statements and please comment. Add to this discussion. But keep it respectful and productive, otherwise this is just another grand argument and nobody learns anything.

From Michi Eyre:

I am a transsexual, and I am pre-op. A transsexual is someone who IDENTIFIES as the gender that is different than their gender assigned at birth and is currently going through medical processes, not necessarily surgical, to live their life in their identified gender.

Someone who is transgender may or may not identify as their birth gender but may contain some kind of gender variant aspect to them. This includes crossdressers, transvestites, drag performers, femme boys, butch women and gender queers.

As a writer, the general rule I use to identify someone as transsexual is:
• The person has stated they have obtained gender reassignment surgery, or
• The person has stated they are on a hormone replacement therapy, or
• The person has obtained a legal name change to a name congruent with their gender, or
• The person has changed the gender marker on their state identification or passport card.

With the recent struggles that transsexual/intersex and transgender people have faced in Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada and Massachusetts when it comes to securing anti-discrimination rights, the major hang up has been over the term “gender expression” and the vagueness of legislation that properly defines gender identity and gender expression where it can be verified through a third party and not “self determination.”

As a result, there is a small but growing movement of people, including myself, who feel that gender identity and gender expression are two different things and they need to be treated differently.

Gender identity relates to a medical issue that involves a diagnosis, mainly gender identity disorder (GID) and results in the patient starting a hormone replacement therapy and going through a minimum of one year of “real life experience” (RLE) until they are eligible to be reviewed as a candidate for gender reassignment surgery (GRS or SRS).

Not all patients who are on HRT continue through with SRS due to financial or health reasons. But since they are considered the gender that they were not born as, they can obtain paperwork from their physician to have their gender changed on their U.S. passport and if their state allows it, on their driver’s license or state identification card. Patients will also obtain a legal name change to a name that is congruent with their identified gender. These changes are regardless of whether the patient has had SRS. (Note: Some states, I believe including Texas, requires SRS to change a driver’s license/ID card.)

Now when you look at that situation, you would think that it is cut and dried what gender identity is. You have a third party verification of the condition and you even have a government recognition of the corrected gender (passport and driver’s license change process) and changed name.

Now bring in “gender expression.” The key word here is “expression,” the ability to express one’s self. Gender expression can fall in a wide variety of categories, from those who cross dress because they enjoy wearing one or more articles of clothing of the opposite gender to drag performers who dress fully in the opposite gender as a part of their character. Cross dressers will also take on the mannerisms of the other gender and take on an “alias” when they are “en femme” (in the case of male to female).

Those who fall in this category are not seeking therapy and/or medical supervision and therefore are not following the WPATH standards of care. They continue to identify with their birth gender, their identity matches their birth gender and name. If they take hormones, it’s usually without medical supervision and some, especially drag performers, may obtain breast augmentation surgery, which does not necessarily require “sign-off” from a therapist like getting SRS does.

Also falling under this category are those who identify with their gender, either straight, gay or bi, but wear an article of clothing that some may not feel matches the gender stereotype — for example, men who wear masculine skirts, similar to the recent fashion trend in Japan.

Most of the objection we hear from legislators and from employers to trans protections laws is around the “gender expression” section, especially where it comes to access to sex-segregated public accommodations (public restrooms and locker rooms) as well as transitioning on the job and the impact such a transition can have on the workplace.  One of the biggest objections from employers are employees who decide to change their gender of dress and mannerism back and forth (or “flip flopping” as I call it).

Many in the transsexual community will accept a requirement of medical diagnosis in order to be protected in “private spaces.” Just recently in Connecticut, a Republican amendment was submitted that would require a medical diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder as defined in the DSM-IV in order to be considered protected under “gender identity.” I would support this type of an amendment only where it comes to access to private spaces. This amendment was shot down by the Democrats.

The problem is that those in the “equality” community feel that all of the “transgender” community should fit under a “one-size-fits-all” level of equality. But I feel they miss the mark when it comes to the issue of private spaces. For example, by using the definition of “gender identity and expression” that the equality federation organizations — HRC, GLAAD, the NCTE, etc. — are promoting would mean that someone who identifies themselves as male with a male sex drive would be permitted into the women’s restroom if they happen to be dressed in women’s clothing. This is where people are having a hang-up.

The equality community is too afraid to tell legislators and the public what kind of a sex drive a transsexual person has. I can speak from experience and I would put it at the point of chemical castration.

I do reach out on occasion to GLBT media because of misunderstandings of anyone who falls under trans (and to me, saying just “trans” when you are not sure is perfectly OK). I feel that while GLBT media does a great job reporting on gay/lesbian issues, many publications miss the mark on trans issues, and I usually attribute it to less knowledge of trans people (both transsexual/intersex and transgender). Perhaps, these publications need more trans people on their staff.

I do agree that things related to preferred language do change and there are regional language preferences. It was sad to hear the term “transvestite” in reference to transsexuals with medical diagnoses being used by the Connecticut House Republicans and even some Democrats.  This shows a lack of education that we need to correct.

GLBT media needs to set the standard that mainstream media should follow and therefore needs to be ahead of the curve.  It’s sad that some GLBT media sources take stories directly from a wire story without editing.

I will digress and agree that compared to other expressions that can be used by the mainstream media, transgender can be seen, even by some who are transsexuals to be more acceptable — especially than say, “tranny,” “shim,” “freak,” etc. This is reflected even in the GLAAD Media Guide, 8th edition. I do not agree with GLAAD that “transsexual” is an “outdated” term but they are correct that it is used in the medical and psychological communities.  Those of us who are truly transitioning are doing it for medical reasons and not social reasons.  I was myself born with a hormone imbalance. It’s easier for me to say “transsexual” than to say something like “chemically intersexed.” I only do not identify as intersex as I do not have any physical features that are ambiguous.

I think as we go along, we will be seeing more of this separatist movement where transsexuals and intersex persons will be declaring their independence from the “transgender” umbrella due to our medical condition that continues to be clouded by the social issues associated with crossdressing and drag performances.

Let’s continue this dialogue. This is good discussion. Some will agree with me, many will disagree.  But that’s why we are all individuals.

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments