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

28 Responses to “Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine” etc (language politics #1)”

  1. shiva said

    I’ve encountered trans people who prefer “transfeminism” (without the space) to “trans feminism”, because for them “transfeminism” is not just “feminism that is trans” or “feminism of/for trans people”, but something beyond or transcending feminism itself (if that makes sense).

    I totally agree with you on the other terms tho. It never felt right to me to write “transman” or “transwoman” as single words, even when the majority of trans bloggers seemed to prefer that usage, so i stuck to the with-space usage even though i was a bit worried that people might object to it. I’m kind of glad that the with-space usage now seems to be agreed on as the better one…

  2. shiva said

    Incidentally, your font seems to put a space after the letter “e” in most words (eg. “encountered” and “feminism” in my comment above). Or, at least, i seem to read a space there, which can be a bit visually confusing.

  3. Cedar said

    about ‘e’…

    Huh. It doesn’t do that to m e… (;P )

    re: ‘transfeminism’–Those folks can’t change the historical origin of the word (Koyama’s manifesto), so there’s a certain degree to which that response feels disingenuous. I don’t know, I guess I’d want to hear what they have to say directly, but my first impulse is that that’s pretty busted. My first instinct is ‘that’s really appropriative’.

  4. shiva said

    Well, Koyama uses “transfeminism” and “transfeminist”, without the space, in the manifesto, and i think there’s definitely an interpretation of the manifesto (albeit one i disagree with) that says “transfeminist” is something one should call oneself instead of “feminist”.

    The people i’ve encountered arguing for that usage have generally been people who haven’t wanted to call themselves “feminist” because, for them, “feminist” was associated too irreversibly with gender-essentialist radfem ideology, and thus transphobic by definition.

    I’m not sure that using a term in a different sense to the sense it was first used in is “appropriative”, because in my understanding of postmodern(?) critical theory terms don’t have fixed meaning and aren’t “owned” by their first authors anyway. But i have to say that “appropriation” in this sort of context, and what is or isn’t it, is a concept that i always find extremely hard to get my head round, for possibly neurological reasons.

    The space after “e” thing could be my monitor, or my OS (Ubuntu). I noticed it because i was trying to work out what “transfe” and “minism” meant (doh)…

    Or for eg. “seemed” looks like “see med” (let’s see how different those look now…)

    (God, the Transfeminist Manifesto is a *fucking awesome* piece of writing. I need to re-read it more frequently.)

  5. Cedar said

    I have too many problems with that word and that essay to discuss them here, but I disagree with you on several fronts, and I cover a lot of that in Beyond Inclusion.

  6. shiva said

    Er, i’m not saying i agree with that assessment of the word “feminist” – just that i have met people who do…

  7. Emi Koyama’s use of “trans” in “transfeminism” is itself appropriative, being as Emi herself is not transsexual, although she makes a point to speak for trans women.

    While I feel

    “feminist” was associated too irreversibly with gender-essentialist radfem ideology, and thus transphobic by definition.

    accurately reflects my current feelings, I’d never switch to “transfeminism” because I’m tired of trans- compound words and because I agree with Cedar that Koyama’s Manifesto spends too much time subordinating trans women to radical feminism.

    I’m more inclined to divest myself of the “feminist” self-definition entirely. I feel the movement’s too busted in several ways to address all women, and will continue to center privileged women at the expense of women of color, trans women, women with disabilities, and so on.

  8. Cedar said

    Huh. I’m pretty attached to the word feminist & to said movement.

    I feel like a ‘oh it’s beyond trans* feminism, it transcends…’ is just yet another step of appropriation, where our voices appropriated but to ‘on our behalf’, and then other people take that & make it irrelevant to us…

    (The part where this is dubious was that I kinda leap to the conclusion of it being non- trans women who say this. (and no I don’t mean non-trans woman, different things))

  9. Oh, I was attached to it. I’m not anymore. Stated ideals? Certainly. Actual practice? Way problematic a lot of the time. :(

  10. And I meant appropriative specifically because Emi Koyama is trying to speak for transsexual women, eclipsing our voices with her own, with the Transfeminist Manifesto.

  11. Elly Rouge said

    I am always a bit confused about language and terms, because, well, it really depends so much on the people: e.g., I respect that some trans wo/men want to be called trans wo/men with the spaces and so, and on the other hand most trans I know IRL would rather go only with trans. And personally I’d had to think more about it, but I think I’d rather go with transwoman than trans woman, precisely because that’s a bit distinct from “woman”.

    Oh, well.

    Concerning transfeminism, well, I tend to use the term sometimes, to talk about intersection of trans and feminism and to remember that trans issues are also part of feminist in groups where feminism is reduced to cis (and, in practice, straight) women. Now I understand that you may find it deeply linked to Koyama’s manifesto (I didn’t know she wasn’t trans, and I’m not sure it should change the opinion I have of her texts) but well… I don’t think many people I know ever heard about her or transfeminist manifesto…

  12. Elly, for a lot of transsexual women, ‘transwoman’ is othering because we’re transitioning to female/woman, and we’re not trying to be a special exceptional kind of woman (transwoman) which is effectively a third or fourth gender, but a woman who is trans (like a woman who is black, or a woman who is lesbian), and for us, the adjective form is preferable.

    The point of trans feminism is trans-centered feminism. The point of one word “Transfeminism” is?

  13. shiva said

    Somewhere or other, i had picked up the notion that Emi Koyama was male-assigned-at-birth. Looking at her website now, tho, i can’t actually find anywhere that she says that.

    Will have to think about whether that changes how i feel about her writing. The Transfeminist Manifesto is still the first place i point people who want to know about trans* stuff…

  14. Elly Rouge said

    “Elly, for a lot of transsexual women, ‘transwoman’ is othering because we’re transitioning to female/woman, and we’re not trying to be a special exceptional kind of woman”

    Yes, I get it, no problem, it’s why I (try to, at least) use the space usually.

    “The point of trans feminism is trans-centered feminism. The point of one word “Transfeminism” is?”

    Well I am not sure I know the subtleties of English language, but I see the real difference for the term “transfeminist”, because if I say “I’m a trans feminist” that means I am a feminist that happens to be trans (so it gives information on who I am), whereas “I’m a transfeminist” means I’m a feminist centering on trans issues (so it gives information on what I do).

    So I would see “trans feminism” as “feminism by trans people” whereas “transfeminism” would be “feminism taking into account trans issues”.

    But English isn’t my native tongue so it’s quite possible I’m completely wrong on this. (But since it’s quite a national trend here to import English words without understanding their precise sense, I don’t see it as a real problem /o\)

  15. Emi’s intersex.

    Trans feminist = feminist who happens to be trans?

    Radical feminist = feminist who happens to be radical?

    Cultural feminist = feminist who happens to be cultural?

    Having a separate word modifying feminism/feminist in English does modify your focus as a feminist.

    I mean, it’s not really grammatically accurate to use trans as an adjective for every noun you can apply to someone, because it’s really only appropriate to use the adjective when distinguishing. Most of the time, I just say I’m a woman, and end up saying “trans woman” a lot online because I’m frequently talking in ways that make the contrast necessary.

  16. shiva said

    I know Emi’s intersex, but intersex people are usually assigned to one or other binary sex at birth, or at least raised as one or the other (unless they’re REALLY lucky). (Obv, you know that too.)

    so if (like my best friend IRL) Emi was raised as a boy, but now identifies as a woman, then i think she has the right to identify as a trans woman, cos thats basically what she is – otherwise, you’re defining whether someone’s a trans woman or not by birth anatomy rather than by experience of gender (mis)assignment (which i think everyone on this thread can agree is fucked up and wrong) – however, if Emi *wasn’t* assigned “male”/raised as a boy, then, yeah, i think it’s problematic for her to call herself a trans woman…

    Sorry for hogging this thread. I’ll step back now.

  17. Elly Rouge said

    “Trans feminist = feminist who happens to be trans?

    Radical feminist = feminist who happens to be radical?

    Cultural feminist = feminist who happens to be cultural?”

    Yeah, right OK, I see your point :)

    Still, I don’t think it’s exactly the same thing, but I’m unable to argue why :x

    But maybe it’s just that I like barbarian neologisms. I think some people use “lesbofeminist” too (at least I saw some results on google), and I also like terms like transdyke/lesbotrans, lesboqueer, transfagdykes (instead of LGBT). I mean, it’s not specific to “trans” (don’t know if that makes it less wrong, though :o )

  18. Cedar said

    EK does position herself as a trans woman in places, but also notes several instances where she accesses women’s space without trans* stuff coming up as an issue, at all, and as assuming women-only space would be ‘home’ and sisterhood for her when she was 16–and the things that she lists as changing that are ableism and racism.

    So I’m not willing to go quite as far as Lisa & say in some definitive way that she’s _not_ a trans woman, she positions herself as oppressed-as-such in situations where she has privilege–which is appropriation even if she is trans as well as intersex.

  19. She’s speaking for transsexual women in the Transfeminist Manifesto. I mean, explicitly so.

    She’s not a transsexual woman, and everything that I’ve read that she’s written has implied that she was assigned female at birth and lived her entire life perceived as a girl or woman.

  20. [...] as a transwoman for the same reason given by Lisa Harney in her comment on Cedar’s post Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine…: [F]or a lot of transsexual women, ‘transwoman’ is othering because we’re [...]

  21. [...] wanted to apologize for my careless language use lately. If you haven’t read Cedar’s fantastic post on language politics, get thee to Taking Up Too Much Space.  Seriously. Like, [...]

  22. [...] Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine” etc (language po… "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." (tags: trans feminism gender)   Comments (0) [...]

  23. [...] about properly linking their sources. The best linkers explain links in-text–”I found this great post on language and trans* identities from Cedar over at Taking Up Too Much [...]

  24. [...] post trail led me to one on the blog Taking Up Too Much Space that I want to link particularly: Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine” etc (language po…. Wow. this one just made me stop, think, reasses and feel [...]

  25. kylandris said

    I want to thank you for pointing this out to me. As somebody who does regularly say ciswoman and transwoman without the space, I think I will be more conscious about how I use those terms now.

    Most of my personal experience (with both myself and with friends) is with people who consider trans to be part of their gender and so leaving out the space always seemed quite natural if not out right desired. And generally, if trans is not part of somebody’s gender identity there’s no reason to mention it at all. Except for certain context, and I will now be vigilant about including the space in those contexts.

    What are your thoughts about cis woman vs. ciswoman? Same deal?

    • Cedar said

      Kyle,

      I think there’s a distinction between saying “transness is a part of my gender” or “transness is one gender characteristic of mine, which inflects/affects the others, and greatly affects my experiences”–each of which I would agree with emphatically, in fact “trans” is the only gender term I identify with without reservation–and ‘because I’m transsexual, I don’t really occupy the subject position/social location of ‘(wo)man’–which is incredibly transphobic, if strategic for some unscrupulous men for a number of reasons.

      Alternately, I might say that I don’t fully identify with the word ‘woman’ (nor fully not identify with it)–not because I’m MAAB but because that’s how I determine my own gender. Saying that “transman” is a distinct category from “man” says that people assigned female at birth are all inherently less male/having inferior manhood to people assigned male at birth and identifying as male (and vice versa re (trans)woman).

      “Cis(wo)man” as one word 1)is derived from “trans(wo)man”, 2)plays a supporting role in propagating “trans(wo)man” sans space, 3)retains the idea that somehow cis and trans women do not share a gender category in the same way that trans men and trans women do. But in all honesty I think I explained that.

  26. [...] “transman,” which ties into the discussion of cisgender cissexual and cis privilege: http://takesupspace.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/put-the-goddamn-space-in-transwoman-transfeminism-trans… Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Trans Men and Ciscentric Male PrivilegeWhat gets [...]

  27. [...] seen some people argue against putting the space in transgendered related terms such as trans woman because “trans is a prefix”. Now, this [...]

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