Today I write to you to be an active part in helping the transgender people of our campus feel a little more comfortable and a little more accepted. A long, long, long time ago, when I first moved to the U of O campus, I was a blumbering, uneducated individual. I stumbled over pronouns and wasn’t sure about referring to the person in the past tense. Now that I’m a much more worldly woman, I know my way around an identity—and I know the importance of being respectful and trying to correct my mistakes if I’ve made them. To help any well-meaning students out there wanting to watch their words, I’ve compiled a basic glossary of terms for your reference.
To ensure I’m up-to-date on all things transgender, I’ve referred to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) glossary and Gay Center material—a good sex columnist knows when she needs an extra hand.
Transgender: Someone who identifies with a certain gender that is not the one they were assigned at birth. Their identity is not dependent on anything other than what they feel. Regardless of surgeries performed or hormones taken, if someone tells you they are transgender, they are.
FTM: Stands for female-to-male, describing how some transgender people will identify.
MTF: Stands for male-to-female, describing how some other transgender people will identify.
Transsexual: A term preferred by some, but not all, transgender people. However, unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term, and many transgender people do not identify as transsexual. If you’re in a pickle, just ask what the person prefers!
Transition: Includes some or all of the following cultural, legal and medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) some form of surgical alteration.
Sex Reassignment Surgery: Refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition (see “Transition” above). Preferred term to “sex change operation.” Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS.
Cross-Dressing: To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it. “Cross-dresser” should NOT be used to describe someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other sex, or who intends to do so in the future. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity. Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation.
Transgenders, a transgender: Don’t use transgender as a noun. The preferred terms are a transgender person and transgender people.
Transgendered: As any good writer would tell you, that’s grammatically incorrect. Only verbs can have an –ed added to transform them, and as we saw above, transgender is an adjective, not a noun or a verb!
Hermaphrodite: The word “hermaphrodite” is an outdated, stigmatizing, and misleading word, usually used to sensationalize intersex people.
She-male, he-she, it, trannie, tranny, gender-bender: These words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used. Ever.
Lastly, watch your past tense. Many transgender people feel they have always been the gender they have come out to you as, but had to hide it for whatever reasons—so don’t ask or talk about them “before they changed” or “back when you were a man/woman.” Ask the transgender person how they would like to be referred to in the past tense. One solution is to avoid referencing gender when talking about the past by using other frames of reference, for instance “Last year”, “When you were a child”, “When you were in high school”, etc. If you must reference the gender transition when talking about the past, say “before you came out as current gender.”
Lessons to be learned:
Hope you’ve been educated, you ladies and gents and intersex people alike. Gender neutral language doesn’t yet exist in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start using it in society right now. When in doubt, follow the advice I always give: Use respectful communication. If you’re not sure if your significant other is down to be gagged and spanked, ask politely first. If you’re not sure whether the person beside you in class wants to be called a “he” or a “she,” kindly get some clarification.