Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine” etc (language politics #1)
October 15, 2008
When I read Whipping Girl, I didn’t think that “transwoman” (without the space) was insulting/ungendering/whatever, but she’d asked for folks to stop, to put a space in between and make it two words, and so I did.
Now, I’m amazed that I *ever* thought it was ok.
There are two basic problems.
1)Asymmetry and [cis] as unspecified default
The first problem lies primarily in the asymmetry in usage of “trans(wo)man” and “cis(wo)man”–the fact that whenever women who are transsexual are being spoken of, that ‘trans’ must always be specified even when it might seem clear from context–whereas in speaking of women who are cissexual, there’s no need to say ‘cis’ unless we are talking in a trans context–even if we specifically mean cis women. …That is to say, were we to accept the one-word terminology, there would be “transwomen” who are almost always referred to as “transwomen”, but “ciswomen” are generally referred to as “women” and occasionally as “ciswomen”.
Listen around you. Even in the trans community, neither men nor women are ever free of the ‘trans-’ prefix / adjective, except when it’s being spoken by someone who is intentionally making hir speech jarring. It’s like you always have to keep reminding everyone–she’s not a [real] woman, she’s trans. Try referring to us as men and women, and leave out the trans part. If you feel weird, uncomfortable, or like you’re communicating something other than what you mean, that’s internalized cissexualist bullshit, because we are every bit as much ‘men’ and ‘women’ as cis folks are–unless we define ourselves as otherwise gendered. When someone calls a specific person a ‘man,’ hir audience can safely impute ‘cis’–because if the speaker was not positioning that man as cissexual, ze would be sure to specify ‘trans.’ Practically the only time I’ve really ever heard a trans woman referred to by ‘woman’ standing alone from ‘trans’ is in the sentence ‘trans women are women.’ In contrast, trans women are referred to as trans[ ]people/folks/etc all the time.
At first blush, this doesn’t seem any different than the problem of unspecified whiteness, temporarily-able-bodied-ness, straightness, etc. It’s important to evaluate whether one’s claim is about “women” as a whole, or specifically cis ones or trans ones, to be intentional about including/omitting information about a person or group’s cis/trans status, self-reflective about why it’s relevant or irrelevant, and to use language to undermine cis*-as-default.
But at another level, it’s not.
2)The Gender Quaternary and “Trans” as “not really”
Combining “trans”/”cis” and “(wo)man” into one word create a 4-gender system: ‘transmen’/[cis]‘men’/'transwomen’/[cis]‘women’–as opposed to the two binaries of gender “man”/”woman” and gender status “cis”/”trans”.
(yes, I’m aware that both quaternary and binary are fucked up & there are other options, I take said other options, I’m 1)talking about a discourse that does this so my commentary kind of has to, and 2)the point I’m driving at here is mostly relevant to the right of equal claim to binary categories.)
Within the quaternary, women who are trans can never share a category with who are not–and since, in our society, cis women’s womanhood is the gold standard, trans women’s womanhood is always lesser in this scheme. Whereas, in the interlocking binary, you can have two women of different gender statuses–gender statuses which are no more (or less) relevant/formative/foundational/essential to that (wo)man’s (wo)manhood than her/his race, age, hair color, etc.
I don’t know how well I’ve explained it. But start putting the space in, decide to follow it, and it’ll pop out at you.
So put a fucking space in–and do it in your speech too.
Sorry everyone for my absence–it’ll be a couple more days before I’m really “back, ” but I thought I’d give y’all update by editing a piece I wrote in April (before this blog was created