Just lately, I have come to realise that there is a big, big problem within the LGBT community and it seems to reside largely within the T, or Transgender, part of said community. The problem is labelling. Who am I? What am I? For myself, I find it quite easy. I am a woman. Unfortunately one with a male body, but a woman nonetheless. In the medical profession this would classify me as a ‘transsexual’, an easy to remember term that denotes what I am without the need for long explanations. For others its not so simple. For the sake of clarity though, I will write within my own sphere of experience.
So, what are these labels? In the context of this blog they are the words used to describe a person’s gender identity in relation to their physical body. They are used to replace long winded explanations. For example, as I have said, I am a woman, but I am also inhabiting a male body and am undergoing male to female transition to correct this in the best way possible. Rather than saying all this each time I meet someone, I can just say “I am a transsexual woman”. Thanks to the media, both social and audio/visual, most people I am likely to meet will probably have a simplified view of what a transsexual is and what it means. They may know the basics and need further clarification but, overall it gives them a starting point of reference.
Since the early ’80’s another term has slowly crept into use. This is ‘transgender’. It is meant to be an umbrella term encompassing all those gender non-conforming labels. Unfortunately it has also become interchangeable with transsexual, and also become the seemingly preferred label. It has since been shortened to ‘trans’ or ‘trans*’, usually to denote a transsexual person but also to describe anyone who’s gender identity or presentation is outside the ‘norm’, (whatever that is). It can be confusing. One can say “I am trans” or “I am transgender” but, does that mean transsexual, transvestite, gender-queer, agender, bi-gender, etc? You can see the problem there. For most transsexuals the problem with the trans* label can be relatively easy. A male-to-female transsexual, like myself, can also be a ‘trans woman’ and female-to-male is a ‘transman’. Simples. I have to admit though, when talking to older people I still use the term ‘transsexual’ because its the term I grew up with.
It’s with the usage of such terms that the problem I mentioned earlier arises. Unfortunately some within the trans community have become extraordinarily sensitive to usage of terms and is ever ready to jump up and shout whenever they are misused or misconstrued in public, in the media or anywhere else. Rather than helping, this approach tends to hinder the trans community by giving the appearance of weakness and insecurity. I know there is a possibility of me upsetting some people by saying this, (and I apologise in advance), but, jumping up and down like spoiled children every time someone misuses a term of reference creates and reinforces an image of uncertainty, of self-doubt. I know that misuse of labels and terms can result in problems, (it has for me, several times), but the correction needs to be made calmly and clearly, not by pouting and shouting. If the person being corrected acts like an idiot then, by all means, treat them like one, but we shouldn’t act the same. We suffer enough problems as it is without creating more ourselves.
The requirement for labels is a distinctly human problem and is one of language. It gives us a point of reference to work from. It enables us to be more succinct and to the point in our speech. Language evolves over the years, words change meaning, new words come to the fore and each time we need to adjust. Mistakes will be made, misuse and misunderstandings will happen and will be corrected. People will be angry with the misconstruction’s and mistakes and that can’t be helped. What we need to do is remember this and make allowances. Only then will understanding and acceptance be forthcoming.
Otherwise the labels become liabilities.