The Definition of “Transgender”

“Should We Scrap the Word ‘Transgender’?” is the title of a post by Dr. Jillian T. Weiss at the LGBT blog The Bilerico Project.

Dr. Weiss is an associate professor of law at Ramapo College in New Jersey and a consultant on transgender workplace diversity.

Her entry was posted on January 3 and only a day later it had generated more than 100 comments. Many people on all sides of this topic had strong opinions on this subject.

Here’s an excerpt:

The definition of “transgender” is not universally agreed upon. Some define it very broadly, to include anyone with a history or a hint of gender variance. Women who like sports. Men who like to cook.

Some people take issue with this broad definition. In fact, some transsexual people don’t like being included in the definition of transgender …

Some people feel that being placed in this catch-all category is obnoxious to them, and detrimental to obtaining their legal rights …

Is it unfair to lump them into a category of which they do not feel a part?

Here’s how Weiss feels about the word:

I myself am somewhat ambivalent about the term “transgender.” I identify as a woman of transsexual experience. However, that doesn’t compute for many people …

I also like the term “transgender” because I do feel a kinship with other gender variant people on a political level. I feel that our fight for dignity and rights is the same, even though our identities may be a little different.

At the same time, however, Insisting on using the term “transgender” is a little like telling someone to call everyone who fits into a minority status “people of color.” Yes, it’s handy sometimes. But it erases people’s identities and historical circumstances that are quite different.

To her point about the broad definition of the word, here’s how the NLGJA stylebook supplement defines “transgender”:

An umbrella term that refers to people whose biological and gender identity or expression may not be the same. This can but does not necessarily include preoperative, postoperative or nonoperative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex individuals.

Her post didn’t explicitly put it this way, but it seems to me that the argument is mostly about whether transsexual people feel comfortable being identified as transgender.

Is it fair to use the word “transgender” in an article when the word “transsexual” would have been more accurate? And even if it is fair, should journalists be encouraged more to use the word “transsexual” when appropriate?

To read the complete post and comments at Bilerico, click here.

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