Some Thoughts On The Word “Transgender”

I wrote this as a response to an excellent post in The Bilerico Project discussing the validity of the term “transgender”.  There is quite an interesting discussion developing in the commentary section following the post and I felt compelled to have my say.  I highly recommend checking it out.  Here is the link: “Should We Scrap the Word “Transgender”? By: Dr. Jillian T. Weiss”

It made me think, and of course write, and I wanted to share what I had to say with you my Dear Readers, as I felt it was important.  Please feel free to weigh in and discuss yourselves in the comments.

Here is what I wrote:

First of all, excellent post.  I believe polite dialogue on this issue within the community is always important.  That said, here’s my take.

I myself identify as a transsexual woman.  I have been on HRT for several years and am still pre-operative.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Financial of course.  Also, being careful to take my time and let things progress as naturally as possible.  But lately, my reasons have also been political.  The more concerned individuals, strangers and the general public seems to be with the state of my genitalia, the more inclined I am to leave it as is.  I am a woman.  I live breathe and think as a woman.  Unless we are sharing intimate relations, or I’m naked onstage (which has happened and probably will again…), the state of my genitalia should be of no concern.

I am medically altering my body and mind with the use of hormones so I identify very technically as transsexual.  I also however identify as transgender, again for very political reasons.  We are fighting an uphill battle to win equal rights for our community and I believe we need every body onboard that we can get.  It is only through solidarity within the community that falls under the transgender umbrella and with our allies in the larger GLBT community that we can hope to win these rights.  When we are splintered we are weak.  The only people this benefits are those who would oppress us.

That doesn’t mean we have to agree on every single nuance, but it does mean we MUST stand together and include every single person that faces discrimination based upon their gender identity or presentation.

It is not conformance to outdated ideas of what constitutes a “properly gendered” individual, but education of the general public as to the perception of gender and the evolution of what that represents, that is what we should be doing.  In plain English, we need to make them understand that what truly defines gender in a public setting is not anatomy but presentation and perception.  Okay, so maybe that’s not such plain English either, but it’s a complex idea and by ignoring the complexity of it we do a disservice to the movement.

The label “transgender” indeed represents a great deal of variation on a theme.  The theme of gender variance.  Perhaps it would help to think of it in terms of Jazz music.  The tune, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” can be played in any number of different styles with all kinds of different interpretations and still remain recognizable.  Whether by Louis Armstrong, Doris Day, The Mamas and Papas, Ella Fitzgerald or Erasure, it is still the same song although with widely varying musical and perceptual impact.

While “transgender” may include some folks with whom we may be personally uncomfortable, if we can’t find a way to accept them, how can we ask others to accept us?

I have faith also in the general public.  On a non-political, everyday interaction level, I have found most people, if you give them the chance, are quite capable of open-mindedness and acceptance of transgender people on an individual level.  And they are certainly capable of also sorting out on a practical level when someone is, for instance, entering a restroom to use it in the manner it is meant for and when there is a person whose intent and actions in entering a restroom are socially and legally inappropriate.

Of course there are those who will panic and judge all of us without thinking, but that is why we need legally protected rights and general education.

Finally, as performer who works in a popular medium, sketch comedy and improv, it is my experience that people often need a certain generality or shorthand in order to easily and quickly grasp larger concepts.  I can refer to someone who is “African-American” in a scene and give an audience a general enough idea of what I’m talking about.  But if I say, “You know Joe in the office, the medium-dark-skinned, Indiana born and raised, Hravard Educated, Gay Man of Haitian and American slave descended, African origin ethnicity, guy in accounting?” instead of, “You know Joe in the office, the African-American guy in accounting?”  The whole thing will come to a crashing halt.  Too much information.

We need generalities to understand the world.  And if you want to know how an individual SELF-Defines, well then, just ask.

Lorelei Erisis at Noho Trans Pride 2009


5 Responses to “Some Thoughts On The Word “Transgender””

  1. 1 AnnieRo
    January 26, 2010 at 5:16 am

    Please forgive my naivette. What rights exactly are you tranny queens wanting. Will I be required to recognize a fully functioning gay male wearing a dress while he urinates standing up in a ladies room as a “Lady”? Me thinks you ask to much.

  2. 2 Erisis
    January 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    (Cue long exasperated sigh….) No Annie, I doubt you will ever “be required to recognize a fully functioning gay male wearing a dress while he urinates standing up in a ladies room as a “Lady””. Because a Gay Man who wishes to urinate while standing, even one in a dress, is most likely going to use the Men’s Room. Me thinks you assume too much.
    Or perhaps you meant your comment as broad satire? I hope not. As a comedy professional, I really have to say you need some work. There are some excellent classes available at The Improv Asylum in Boston!
    Further, as far as I know, I’m the only “Trannie Queen” currently engaging in activism ’round these parts. Miss Trans New England 2009 in fact!!!!
    As for the rights were asking for? The right to pee in peace is actually just a small part of what we’re working for. Mainly, we’re working for the right to gain and keep gainful employment, proper housing and services. And to have a few protections against being beaten or killedjust because of who we are.
    You know, stuff like that. I thought you Right Wing types were supposed to be all for people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps and being self-supporting???
    By opposing this fight for our rights, you encourage poverty, crime,unemployment, etc..

    • 3 lisalee18wheeler
      January 27, 2010 at 1:55 am

      “By opposing this fight for our rights, you encourage poverty, crime,unemployment, etc…”

      This is a pretty broad statement, don’t you think? Personally, though I don’t support ENDA, I do support equal rights for everyone. Everyone. And yes, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is a really good idea, for everyone.


      • 4 Erisis
        January 27, 2010 at 3:11 am

        Indeed, you’re quite right, it is a very broad statement. I rather felt the fine detail argument tools weren’t going to work too well for that particular replay though. Something more along the lines of a philosophical sledgehammer seemed in order.
        I myself don’t particularly like the need for special legal protections, but my own experience has taught me that we are at a distinct disadvantage without them. (See the text of my speech from Lobby Day) All we are asking for is a more level playing field, or at the very least a less dramatically biased one.
        And thank you for your comment! Intelligent dialogue is vital to any movement.

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