The Death of the “Transgender” Umbrella

(Part of a three-part series:
Part 1: The Death of the Transgender Umbrella
Part 2: Why The Umbrella Failed
Part 3: Decolonizing Trans as Allies)

If you’ve traveled anywhere among trans or LGBT blogs in the past year or three, you’ve inevitably come across an ongoing battle over labels, and particularly “transgender” as an umbrella term.  It seems to be a conflict without end, without middle ground and without compromise.  And yet for discourse on human rights and enfranchisement for transsexual and transgender people to move forward at all, at some point that discussion needs to have some sort of resolution, and some thorough dissection of the argument will need to take place.  Could an alliance-based approach be a solution?  Or more accurately, could enough people on both sides of the argument be willing (that is, to not see their position as immovable) to seek an alliance-based approach for it to make a positive difference in the discourse?

I don’t know.  But something that has become clear to me over the past while is that the language is changing.  And I don’t have to like it, but I have to understand what that means.

I only speak for myself.  In the end, it’s all I really can do anyway.  I don’t speak for any trans-related community, don’t speak for The Bilerico Project or any of its other contributors, don’t speak for any other place I’ve posted or published writing, don’t speak for Alberta trans people — just me.

I say that because the international trans community is in a state of flux.  As the community defines itself, we’re discovering just how diverse “trans” really is, and just how inadequate any one single definition is when it tries to cover everyone.  A result of this is that in 2011, while the mainstream world is just starting to twig on to trans anything, trans and LGBT forums are finding nearly every conversation on trans issues, trans rights, gender studies and identity disintegrating into a debate about “transgender,” its use as an umbrella term, and whether there should even be an umbrella at all.  It’s reached the point that it’s stalemated any and every other discussion.  And ultimately, I realize that nothing some writer and blogger from Southern Alberta says is going to change that, but I can make my own declaration on the matter.  And in that, I speak for myself.

Because our language for trans issues is changing.

Some Background

Years ago, as I found community in the developing Internet (it took much longer to find any local community), I watched the language we used to communicate our experience change as we fumbled from flawed term to flawed term trying to figure out which word was a better fit.  From Usenet newsgroups to UBB forums, contact sites to support message boards, the language metamorphosized.  Back then, sometimes the banner was “transvestite” or the abbreviation TV (which I never liked, but it seemed to sometimes be the only option on trans-friendly discussion forums or contact sites), until the medical definition’s emphasis on clothing fetish became the predominant cultural meaning and consequently the word was no longer appropriate.  Other times, the word was “transsexual,” but many felt that even though it was technically correct (that is, about physical sex), it too generated a public perception that gender identity was about sex (as an act or orientation) rather than about who we are.  Some women even used the porn industry’s “shemale” for awhile, until it became obvious that the “she’s really male” undertone of that term was inappropriate.  It was clumsy and it’s more than a little weird to look back on now, with people having once gathered at places called “Trannyweb” and the like, since those terms were often the only words we had.  Terms like “GG” (which meant alternately “genetic girl” or “genuine girl”) weren’t any better in what they insinuated than the word “normal,” so they’ve gradually disappeared (although they regrettably pop up from time to time from people who’ve never heard of an alternative).  Even in moments of our history that are looked back on as being classic — like in the songs “Lola” or “Walk On The Wild Side” — you’ll find things that were well-intentioned or fun at the time, but would be button-pushing now.  Consequently, many of us gravitated to “transgender.”  It seemed to have far less baggage — although we would later learn otherwise, since the person who coined it — Virginia Prince — had meant for the term to to be exclusionary too, applying only to non-transsexual crossdressers who were attracted to women.

In the past couple years, the “don’t call me transgender” rallying cry has gained in volume.  It seems as if there’s always allegations of misrepresentation, annexation and invalidation at the mere suggestion of having anything at all in common with anyone who willingly wears the label “transgender.”  The language is changing.

Looking Past Assumptions of Bias

I still (and probably will always) see some of this coming from bias.  There are folks who believe that if transsexuals could divorce themselves from a “transgender” umbrella term and make the public at large see a black and white difference between them and other trans people, then finally we would be able to obtain human rights, respect, dignity, access to medical care and legal name changes, and more.  Homophobia is sometimes in the mix too, with heterosexual-identified trans men and women resentful of being characterized as anything but straight.  These are distinctions that a person certainly has a right to clarify, but when it’s accompanied by disavowal and outright disparagement of others, it becomes exclusionism, it’s throwing people under the bus, and it’s bigotry.  And it’s clouded even more by the fact that many of the folks with this prejudice are entirely blind to it.

But separatism is not the only reason that the term “transgender” has become no longer viable, and it’s also not the motive of everyone who takes this position.

Some of the division has formed because of fears of being associated with radical ideas.  Those who embrace a gender binary don’t always understand those who see various shades of gender. A March 2011 move by the Australian Human Rights Commission catalogued over 23 different genders, including “transgender, trans, transsexual, intersex, androgynous, agender, cross dresser, drag king, drag queen, genderfluid, genderqueer, intergender, neutrois, pansexual, pan-gendered, third gender, third sex, sistergirl and brotherboy.”  I’m not even sure what a couple of those mean, myself (although I’m prepared to listen and respect).  But not everyone is comfortable with ideas more radical than their own.

There is also some backlash coming from the literalist perspective, in the same way that other terms used to describe trans experience have evolved and changed. “Trans” means across, or indicates a transition of some sort.  Technically, if someone transitions and obtains surgery, it is their sex that changes — not only have they not changed gender, but they’ve aligned everything else to it.  There is also a difference in emphasis that we as individuals put on the terms “sex” and “gender” — driven by seeing our issue as a question of biology versus social construct, physical versus mental.  But although sex and gender characteristically differ and can be in opposition — as happens with transsexuals — I doubt the two concepts can ever be completely decoupled.

Post-Transsexual

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe that a transsexual man or woman who reaches a point of relative “completion” (often seen as when surgery happens, but as far as I’m concerned not always requiring that) and slips into the gender binary is entitled to call themselves a man or woman, and should no longer be “required” to identify as trans in any way.  Indeed, my own experience is that trans issues and memories fade as time passes, so it wouldn’t make sense to force anyone to continue to identify as transsexual, although that does rob us of role models and pioneers.  Personally, I have no issue with those who do wish to leave “trans” anything behind, as long as (again), it’s not done so in a way that invalidates.  Transsexual, transgender, trans… there is a serious problem if we start viewing these as rigid boxes that have no escape clauses — indeed, the whole concept of trans-anything is (at its core) about thinking outside the boxes.

Erasure and Crossed Purposes

As said, the characterizations above aren’t the only reasons that a case is being made that a “transgender” umbrella is no longer viable.  We are remiss if we fail to look at some of them, because there are some reasonable issues to consider.  Ironically, because of the level of anger and volume, the “don’t call me transgender” conflict unintentionally erases some of the very issues it attempts to raise.

One of these is the subject of erasure, and the idea that by including transsexuals under a “transgender” umbrella, transsexual-specific issues such as medical care, identification issues, legal status and surgery disappear into a fog of gender theory.  And depending on where one lives, this may in fact be true.  In my experiences in Alberta, Canada, though, if you say “transgender,” the general public thinks first of transsexuals (and usually specifically transsexual women), so from where I stand, it would seem more like we’re in danger of erasing everyone else.

There are also, at times, some very real conflicts between what transsexuals who are fully-identified as men or as women need and what people who identify as a third gender or third sex need.  We’re seeing this especially in gendered spaces, where transsexuals simply need to be accommodated as the men and women they are and live as, while genderqueer, third-gender and/or third sex people might require independent acknowledgment.  In 2010, for example, Australia’s norrie mAy-welby became the first person (possibly in the world) to be officially designated “gender not specified” — a designation that was sought at norrie’s initiative, but probably wouldn’t sit well with many other trans folk.  In India, this also became clear with their 2011 Census, which was hailed as the first to have an option for trans-identified people:

“But while some like Sarita succumbed to family pressures, many others deliberately chose the `female’ option on the Census sheet, claiming that it was their real identity. They said, “For the last 15-20 years, we have been living like women and that is what we want to be known as and not `hijras’”.

Sometimes, these conflicts result in even larger groups of people having someone else’s will imposed upon them, such as in Unidos da Tujuca, a famous samba school in Brazil which went a step further:

“Moves by Brazilian samba schools to provide separate toilets for gay, lesbian and transgender people have divided the GLBT community in the country.

“… However the head of the Brazilian Government Program to End Homophobia has compared the move to racial segregation.”

It’s not hard to imagine what that kind of sudden “othering” feels like to people who’d already settled into everyday life without always having to be singled out.

There are also concerns at the medical level.  Some fear that any alliance with non-operative trans people creates the impression that transition is optional, when the reality is that for those who require surgery, it is often an absolute need.  The cost of surgery and the barriers that we encounter during medical transition are incredible, and obtaining insurance coverage similar to that available for any other legal medical procedure (short of abortion) is becoming almost impossible.

But that has a flip side: when there is emphasis on surgical intervention, this can also work to invalidate genderqueer people by implying they “just need to be fixed” somehow, as well as to push intersex people toward a surgical “correction” that they might not need.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and that’s what makes any sort of alliance daunting.

Speaking For Myself

In the end, though, I can only provide part of the picture as to why it’s now largely felt that “transgender” is no longer viable.  I don’t represent that position.  I also can’t claim to represent a genderqueer side of the debate.  I can speak only for myself.

My first major blog article was about transmisogyny within the community (although we didn’t really have a name for it at that time).  Since then, I’ve listened to the reasoning, even if I’m still not inclined toward division.  Regardless of the rhetoric, we do have a responsibility to consider any valid points that might be behind the fight, if we’re to grow as a community or communities.

Should There Be An Umbrella?

Like the language, I guess my thinking has changed on this somewhat.  I still have no personal dislike for the term “transgender” and have said before that I don’t really care what the term is, just as long as there is some point where varying trans communities can meet on any shared issues, and shared healing during shared tragedies.  And when it comes to human rights, I still strongly believe that if we work for the inclusion of gender identity / transsexuality in legislation and leave behind gender expression / transgender (or whatever term one prefers), then we have only accomplished half of what is needed, and have perpetuated exactly the same kind of abandonment that we once experienced — it is not a responsible or socially-conscious action.  And I don’t believe the naysayers who claim that binary-identified transsexuals don’t need explicit human rights and already have adequate rights as men and women, since I’ve seen it happen time and again where we are redefined according to other peoples’ standards, regardless of how “complete” our transition and documentation may be.  With every day’s newsfeeds come some new incident where any revelation of trans history has sparked discrimination.

Is there an umbrella?  Well, if transsexuals are separate from “transgender,” then who does the latter term include?  Crossdressers, genderqueer people, non-gender or dual-gender expressions, maybe a few people involved with drag (although many drag performers are otherwise cisgender / cissexual, and wouldn’t characterize themselves as trans)… if “transgender” today covers such a widely diverse range of people, then it can only possibly be an umbrella term.  Whether there is an umbrella is not the issue, but rather whether or not transsexuals belong and/or are willing to stand under it.

But in the current argument, though, there is a tendency to see “transgender” as a depository for everyone who is trans in some way but non-transsexual.  That doesn’t really work, either.  If concerns about erasure and misrepresentation justify designating transsexuals as distinct and separate, then we have to consider whether an umbrella for “everyone else” does the same for anyone else trans.  Given the number of times I’ve seen “genderqueer” conflated with “fetishist,” the “gay agenda” and more as though these are elements of some singular whole — even by trans people — I’d have to conclude that that’s indeed the case.  At that point, “transgender” as an umbrella becomes an outmoded concept, and an alliance-based approach or total division are the only possible outcomes.

And in the end, where there are conflicts between what binary-identified people need and what third-sex or third-gender people need, if we can’t broach them as a “community” of trans people of every stripe and find some kind of equitable resolution, then how can we expect cisgender and cissexual legislators to figure it out?  More likely, if we can’t devise something that makes sense within the social order and if we do get past society’s insistence on cisnormativity, then we’ll probably have one perspective thrust upon the other.  And at that point, someone has become further disenfranchised, and we have failed them as a community or communities.  Or betrayed them.

We Are Different, With A Few Sames Between Us.

The trans community is emerging, self-defining and shaping itself, and making the same mistakes that most disenfranchised groups do, including the creation of divisions.  What is happening right now in trans culture is really nothing new to any emergent social movement.  The need to self-define as a community causes us to self-define as people, and discover that while we sometimes have similar needs and aspects, we are not all the same.  Inevitably, some are going to feel threatened by that, or react negatively to those perceived differences as we struggle to emerge from the margins.

And we are emerging from the margins.  It’s just not always easy, not always perfect, and when we look back in hindsight, there will have been errors — and probably some of them will have been hurtful.  It’s not always easy to see them when we’re standing in the middle of change.  But we have to try to be diligent to avoid what we can foresee.

So “transgender” seems to have become the latest casualty in trans self-definition.  At this point, I don’t see how I can proceed under the assumption of a single community, considering the division and rhetoric.  At the same time, I’m still not prepared to leave anyone behind, let alone villainize them to make myself look better.  If I have to jettison the terminology in order to keep involved with issues surrounding both gender identity and gender expression, then that’s fine. Because the language is obviously changing.

So what’s new here?

Some of this I’ve said before, and I’ve made no secret about walking away from discussions on labels and terminology over the past couple years because of the way they all inevitably turn into something like a shark feeding frenzy for everyone involved.  My own language has changed to utilize “transsexual” for those specific needs and “trans” for shared issues because I simply got tired of being clubbed over the head about words.  And I still believe that medical verification is neither some magical event that’s going to suddenly legitimize transsexuals in the eyes of transphobic people, nor is it clear whether there might also be a similar biological origin for other trans people.  Nor should the biology-or-choice question even be the basis upon which which we decide who is “worthy” to be equal in the first place.

An Alliance-Based Approach

What’s different is that something needs to be jump-started now, so we can move beyond this.  Because we desperately need to move beyond this.  And if that means divorcing transsexual from transgender, and if that means asserting that we need to forge an alliance in which each party at least tries to respect the other (even if we don’t understand each other) and work toward our mutual enfranchisement, then it’s past time to propose that that is what we need to do.

Part of this will require us to stop making assumptions about everyone else and start listening to how they define who they are, what they need and what their life experiences mean.  Which means to stop assuming that everyone who isn’t exactly like us should be dismissed as “not real.”  And means to stop assuming that third-sex or third-gender identification is any less valid than binary identification or that accommodation of both is irreconcilable.

And if the “transgender” umbrella has to die, then so be it.  But if we’re negotiating a separation of terms, then it’s important to define the borders in such a way that both can co-exist and seek solutions to the problems of legal accommodation, conflicting identification and anything else that we come into conflict on.

I fully expect that after this post I’ll have offended absolutely everyone on either side of the question, and be accused on the one hand of having spinelessly acquiesced to separatism, and on the other be told I’m still drinking the Borg kool-aid. So be it.  For me, the issue is done and past relevance.  Semantics aren’t going to help someone find a doctor, devise a workplace policy with their employer, or find a shelter.  So to me, the labels are barely a sliver of what is important in order to achieve positive change where it matters.

And in that, I suppose, I can only speak for myself.

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project)

    • Allison Taylor
    • June 2nd, 2011

    I thought the article was very informative I had no idea there was this kind of issues regarding trans anything. For me I’m a woman trapped in a males body and all I know is that I got to get out of it no matter what so the labels mean nothing to me. Being me is what matters most I AM A WOMAN and will do everything in my power to let her out. Thanks Allison

    • Gabrielle
    • June 2nd, 2011

    I’m sure you probably have offended some people, but I don’t understand such people. Everything you say makes perfect sense.

    The aim is to gain rights and dignity for all. We shouldn’t do it by throwing anyone under the bus. Irrespective of if any group thinks it can go it alone and say “I’m real, unlike these bozos” the transphobic world will still discriminate against the as much as the others. If we have to change our terminology, then that’s fuine, as long as we all move forward respecting each other’s self definitions and not throwing anyone under the bus. We must present a unified front.

  1. No compromises are possible at this point. Far too many transgenders have publicly stated that women of history are not and never will be “real” women, made comments about inverted penises and mutilated crotches and the like. No forgiveness is possible now as they actually started the religious right saying this, not the other way around.

    I am totally opposed for enshrining special rights for fetishists to indulge in their fetishes in public. Transvestite activists have waged very personal war on me for over a decade and the “the world will treat you the same” crap is just that, crap that those of us who actually live in the real world as women have been telling you for years now. I am ten time more likely to be killed by some transvestite activist than a religious nutcase. The only death threats I’ve received in the past 15 years came from transvestite activists.

    It’s too late now to suddenly ask for peace when so many of us finally have emerged to fight this transgender bull. Not when not a single transgender IDed person has ever denounced the “right” to define women of history against their expressed will.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 2nd, 2011

      Well, I for one have never made or supported comments about mutilation, and in fact one of my earliest posts challenged the “real women” argument to an extent that you’d originally linked to it in your “Not Ready For Prime Time” article as an affirmation.

      If you refuse to meet anyone partway, that’s up to you, but you’re not helping yourself by ascribing some folks’ arguments to absolutely everyone. It also doesn’t help to turn around and make the same broad-brush judgments that everyone not exactly like you is a fetishist.

      I do believe that you have probably been treated badly by folks wearing a transgender label. And have said as much on a number of occasions. I hope you heal from it, but that’s not going to happen by associating those events with everyone around you.

      I’ve experienced some seriously nasty $#!t from someone on the other side of the equation too, but I’m not about to hold that against you, either. That wasn’t automatic, and I’ve admitted before that that experience had affected some of my response to proponents of HBS and Classic Transsexual concepts. But it’s become a long ago done-and-gone event. I wish you the same sense of resolution, someday.

      • You have supported those types of comments with your silence about them when you have seen them and I know you have. That’s the bottom line. Silence is affirmation.

    • Jessica
    • June 2nd, 2011

    I think that a lot of the problem stems from Society’s treatmemnt of marginal people. In our quest to become accepted, there is an awful lot of temptation to say “But I’m not like those freaks over there”. I think that we need to turn this around and embrace the label. Just as “queer” has been empowered and reclaimed, it’s time to reclaim “freak” and make it a term of pride rather than a pejorative. It’s time to chant “We’re here, we’re freaks, deal with it!”

    Closed-minded bigots are not going to be persuaded to love us no matter how much we try to distance ourselves from th erest of the queer community. This is true for any segment of the community, something the Barney Franks of the world just don’t want to learn. Throwing anyone under the bus to get your share of the pie is not only unethical, but in the end hurts everyone.

    The road to true tolerance is through education and familiarity, not divisiveness and infighting.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 2nd, 2011

      Oh, I don’t know. It will probably be awhile before I’m prepared to try to reclaim “freak.” Although I did a series of art pieces by that name once. Other pejoratives, like “tranny” or “shemale” just bounce right off. Meh. “Freak” is a bit more button-pushing, though, and I’m not sure I’d want to reclaim it. But that’s probably just me.

      • As a hippy from the original counterculture, I and those like me have no problem with freak, we proudly let out freak flag fly then and now.

        The difference is I wouldn’t dream of including anyone under that title who didn’t feel the same as I do, that is basic respect, something the transvestite borg lacks.

        • Jessica
        • June 2nd, 2011

        Perhaps “freak” is still too loaded then. I know for sure that “tranny” is still way too loaded for me, which just serves to illustrate that we as a community are very diverse, far more diverse than the GL community.

        Anyway, it’s an attitude that I’d like to see rather than just one word. We need to embrace that we’re different from “the norm”, that it’s okay to be different from “the norm” and that such difference does not make us any less than “the norm”. We need to show the mainstream society that we have no less worth as persons than they do. We can’t and shouldn’t be validting phobic behaviours no matter who they’re directed against. For any of us to engage in belittling others in order to validate ourselves is just as broken as a Cis person engaging in homo- or transphobia.

    • This oft repeated crap about they all hate us is utter BS. I have been discriminated against for being Pagan, for being a woman, for being disabled but the truth is, until around ten years ago, transsexuality was acceptable even with such religious nut cases at Pat himself Robertson and the mullahs of Islam. It was the erasure of the medical condition of being born transsexed into the “gender variant” umbrellas that changed this. I watched it happen as a trained observer of social movements.

      Get this through your head, I am not a gender variant, I am a woman, a female bodies woman.

        • Jessica
        • June 2nd, 2011

        I think that you’re replying to someone else’s comment. I didn’t say anything that you’re replying to here.

        • C.L.
        • June 5th, 2011

        The protocol for years was to tell transpeople to cut off everyone they knew, start a new life somewhere else, and lie about their past so that no one would ever find out about it. It’s just now becoming common (and only recently did it start happening at all) for transsexual people to transition early enough to avoid the puberty of their birth sex. It doesn’t sound to me like transsexuality was acceptable until those transgender freaks ruined it. (Who are the “transgender borg” anyway? I’ve never met them. All the non-binary people I’ve known, myself included, support the right of everyone to live as whichever gender they identify as, including good old binary “man” and “woman.”)

        And the Iranian policy only helps straight binary transpeople, and that only incidentally — it also pushes transition on gay people (since homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran) and leaves no good option for gay transpeople.

  2. Twelve years ago I was writing about respect of identity being a first step towards creating alliances and coalitions of all asking only the use of transgender AND transsexual. That is when all out war on me was declared. I was a respected trans activist then and almost immediately was subjected to a level of abuse that went beyond your imagination.

  3. Jessica, I can and have sat down with rad fems and right wing Christians and had respectful discussions. Radfems have been guests in my home. I have personally been invited to MWMF with my medical history known by some of those radfems.

    I cannot sit down and have a discussion respectfully with transvestite activists. They are vicious, nasty and dogmatic.

    That’s reality. It isn’t “infighting” when you aren’t part of the “in”. It’s fighting for your own life.

      • Jessica
      • June 2nd, 2011

      When you make it “Us vs Them” then you’re part of the problem. When you lump people together into a definition you impose onto them based on the actions of a few, then you’re part of the problem; you make things worse, not better.

      It’s not up to “them” to change, it’s a collective responsibility. As I said above, education and familiarity are the way to success.

      • When you claim the right to define me as part of you, you are the problem. I am not you, what part of that is utterly beyond the comprehension of the ego maniacal transvestite borg?

        This has always been the real problem, by inventing and using an umbrella term that tries to force people under it against their expressed objections you show an utter lack of respect. In places this has been reposted the usual gang of idiots is still claiming the right to do exactly that. Screw that. The DSM revision will take care of all this, The AMA already recognizes transsexuality as a medical condition, not a mental one. The revision will do the same in the “cure” clause which those in the know means it ‘taint mental when a nearly 100% effective cure is out there. Transgender on the other hand, is about to be declared a mental disorder, all those who are not classic transsexuals, no weaseling on transsexual possible.

        • Jessica
        • June 2nd, 2011

        Catkisser, the software won’t let me reply directly to you so I have to parallel.

        You are engaging in the very behaviour you rant against. You have lumped the entire Cross-dressing community in with the ones who abused you. You tar them all with the same brush, and you imply that they’re mentally ill. By engaging with and supporting the deeply problematic pathologisation of crossdressing Blanchard is trying to sneak into the DSM, you use the very tactics that transphobes use against all of us. How then does that make you different from what you claim was done to you?

        You are still (and very loudly) saying “I’m not like those freaks, they’re wierd”.

        I call bullshit.

      • Jessica, the entire psychiatric community declares crossdressers to be mentally ill, I just go along with them. Given I took years of shit from crossdressers calling me crazy because of the SOC mandated therapy, I find this deliciously ironic.

        My being a woman is not being different……..my being a dyed in the wool feminist, counter culture socialist and Pagan priestess makes me different. You can have your gender variance, I pass on that crap.

        • Jessica
        • June 3rd, 2011

        Catkisser, The problem with your attitude is that despite the fact you and I can see the difference between a trans person and a corssdresser, J. Random hater cannot, will not, and does not want to.

        The other, and far worse problem is that you celebrate the pathologisation forced upon us all by the Medical/Psychiatric industry and its supporters. You continue to lump all crossdressers in with the ones who abused you. You still have not answered how this makes you any different than they are.

        • dentedbluemercedes
        • June 3rd, 2011

        Okay, before it gets too personal, if catkisser is going to take a no compromise stance, that’s up to her. I’ve been there before, and it’s better to walk away from the argument than let it escalate. Saves on energy and stress, too.

          • Jessica
          • June 3rd, 2011

          I agree. One can’t argue with someone whose mind is set. The best strategy is to put out a dissenting opinion and leave the rest to the audience. I’ve done that now.

          • How freakin’ enlightened of you. Did it ever occur to you that this has the exact same appearance from where I sit? That you two are the intransigent dogmatic fools?

            I’m betting not because you have to be right about me rather than considering I might be right about me…….

    • Stephanie Stevens
    • June 2nd, 2011

    Mercedes, thanks, as always, a thoughtful and thought-provoking read, whether or not one agrees with you. And, btw, I’m not sure you’ve “offended absolutely everyone on either side,” probably just an awful lot. ;-)

    • digitaltrans2
    • June 2nd, 2011

    Love how you worded this. I so respect it, and yes it needed to be said.

    • Amberdextrix
    • June 2nd, 2011

    This is a very nice article. An alliance itself is impossible until transsexual independence, and we would have plenty of things on our plate before looking at that.

    The umbrella is sinking. Not just because of the kinds of things catkisser noted above, but because this ‘inclusion’ has stripped transsexuals of any separate identity of their own (it has done the same to cross-dressers, at that). If the condition itself is to be protected on a practical basis, such protection can only come with separation from what more than a few of us see as a hostile invader.

    • gina
    • June 2nd, 2011

    Thank you Ashley, for me and I’m sure many other Ts’s it’s been an ongoing issue with being umbrella’d as transgender. My personal experiences both at my last job and re-connecting with my biological family hold similar confusion; for instance at my last job one employee said the word around the company is that your transgender, I replied “interesting” they responded “well! I was expecting you to look more like a drag-queen or cross-dresser than a woman”. I responded to this comment”I don’t consider myself as Transgender but rather the more correct term would be Transsexual. And the funny thing is this is a very similar conversation I’ve had with my many siblings and even some nieces and nephews that have questions of curiosity. I remember many years back I sat in several meetings of whether we should be labeled as “Transgender or Transsexual” silly thing was at the time only three of Us at those meetings identified as Transsexual there a few drag-queens but most were transvestites; with which I personally felt shouldn’t have had any say in the matter for obvious reason, but, in the end the term Transgender won the day. I’m in complete agreement the terminology must be righted for Transsexual women and men to move forward.

  4. I agree, Mercedes, that TRANSGENDER is not, and in fact never was, an umbrella term…except in the minds of the media, the medical profession and others with exploitive political agendas or lack of understanding…regardless, we do need to stop the infighting on labels and get together on the twin causes of sex rights and gender rights…distinctive human rights issues with gaps and overlaps…

    If we can’t agree ourselves on the terms we use, how are we ever going to get wider audiences to understand, let alone accept and even thrive on our diversity?

    Let me share some reflections…

    While I have for several years been willing to use “trans” as an umbrella term for folks who don’t conform to society’s norms or sex and gender, and still do so when its value in promoting inclusiveness exceeds its limitations in recognizing diversity, there is no umbrella term…trying to force everyone into a “T” is convenient for advocacy groups that focus on LGBT rights, and for the media, who love to over-simplify complex issues…

    To me, there is no umbrella term because there are four different sex and gender categories when it comes to human rights issues…two relating primarily to biological SEX and its anatomical consequences and two to GENDER identity and expression…

    None of those categories relates to SEXUALITY…any of the sex or gender natures can be combined with a sexual orientation or preference that is gay, lesbian, bi or a non-binary way of being…and they are…

    First, let’s explore the primary sex-related natures…being: (1) TRANSSEXUAL…identified by others as male, female or some hybrid, but knowing oneself to be different than anatomy suggests…and usually choosing to bridge the gap by pharmaceutical and/or surgical interventions…although, regardless of the debates about how far one needs to progress surgically to be recognized as a “true transsexual”, it’s not about the surgeries, it’s about knowing, really knowing, that the anatomy doesn’t match the true self…and (2) INTERSEX…born with characteristics of both male and female and, while seeking social acceptance, usually not seeking to transition…rather seeking to ban or reverse unnecessary surgical interventions performed without their free and full consent…

    Second, are the primary gender-related natures…being (3) TRANSGENDER…a man identifying or expressing himself as a woman or a woman indentifying or expressing herself as a man…including cross-dressers, drag-queens/kings and other binary gender transitions, that’s gender (e.g. man to woman) NOT sex (e.g. male to female)…this is why the term transgender was coined back in the 1960s – specifically, to distinguish cross-dressing males from male-to-female transsexuals…and (4) a wide range of other GENDER NON-CONFORMING identities and expressions…primarily among those who see gender as a fluid spectrum rather than a binary choice of man or woman…

    In the 1990s the term GENDERQUEER emerged to cover those whose gender and sexuality do not fit society’s mould, but I prefer gender non-conforming since what we’re talking about is gender, not sexuality…

    Bottom line: if we need an umbrella term, which I don’t think we do, it would need to cover all four sex AND gender categories, and not confuse sex and gender with sexuality…while those experiencing prejudice, abuse and violence because of their sex, gender and/or sexuality partner together for social and political action, and rightly so, sexuality is a different subject…

    Let’s not forget that the Stonewall riot in 1969 that founded the modern gay rights movement was started by a marginalized transsexual…Sylvia Rivera…God bless her Soul…

    In my view, we need to recognize the differences among “transsexual, intersex, transgender and other gender non-conforming” natures not only for descriptive purposes, but to respect the rights of all…each group has distinctive and in some ways competing rights issues to address…and what I’m increasingly observing around the world is the rights of one group being infringed by rights campaigns for another…

    Indeed, I suggest that we claim our natural diversity as well as the strength of our unity in the only category that makes sense to me: HUMAN BEINGS…or, as I see it, spiritual beings living human lives…

      • Amberdextrix
      • June 2nd, 2011

      It is exactly as Shelley put it here. Not many transgender folks realize exactly how much their ‘gender gender gender’ rhetoric is burning transsexuals, and especially intersex people. We need to be separated, even if we are equal, because otherwise the sex bloc is going to continue wanting to vehemently oppose the gender bloc. What’s even worse is when the average person starts confusing conditions of physical sex with gender. It’s like more fuel for the blaze.

    • dentedbluemercedes
    • June 2nd, 2011

    @catkisser (I guess there’s still a limit of 3 replies in a thread), re: “You have supported those types of comments with your silence about them…”

    I have not read every article nor every comment that has been said. Far from it. Online time is a luxury that varies for me.

    I have voiced disagreement in clear, unambiguous ways, and where it was most likely to be seen by those who made the comments.

    • allyneeds
    • June 2nd, 2011

    There is a movement in Australia where we are using the umbrella term ISGD, which stands for Intersex, Sex and/or Gender Diverse. It is a relatively new term which i prefer to transgender, because it describes the differences within the ‘T’ umbrella. This is important as it includes and describes the gender politics of those without cis-privileges while at the same time, respecting individual gender and biological identity – that a person can be non-cis, without having to be limited to ‘third gender morality’.

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 3rd, 2011

      It’s an interesting term, but if it’s used with an umbrella mindset, then I think there’s still going to be issues. If, on the other hand, people are approaching it with a sense of alliance, then that’s potentially more workable. It seems like a semantic difference, but it’s actually fairly profound. I’ll be exploring that more soon.

    • The use of “ISGD” in Australia is the because the Intersex (IS) movement is leading the charge against efforts to gain rights for TS and TG that are infringing the rights of IS…and rightly so…

      Regardless, I kind of like the “SGD” concept…

      It gets beyond the the “T” – as in ‘transition’ – which is usually not an IS rights concern, except to reverse unwanted surgeries…and I don’t see a reason to suggest that IS needs an additional “I” initial…

      SGD clearly covers IS, TS and TG…

      • allyneeds
      • June 3rd, 2011

      It’s more of a representative term, rather than a classification, as is LGBT – you can’t identify as ‘LGBT’ but it represents an alliance of political common ground, similarly I don’t think you can identify as ISGD, but can somehow support those represented in the alliance to find common ground which would prove mutually beneficial for what we hope will be equal futures. I think this a critical advance in the way we think about ‘trans’ issues, taking on diversity, but maintaining unity. The letters may change, but the principal is proven by the success of the LGBT example. So would you choose other letters?

      DSG (Diverse Sex and/or Gender)is another one used more often these days.

    • Angela Erde
    • June 3rd, 2011

    Enthusiasts for yet another “umbrella term” – ISGD – may wish to read these:

    http://oiiaustralia.com/13750/oii-australia-isgd-response-debate/

    http://oiiaustralia.com/13651/isgd-and-the-appropriation-of-intersex/

    http://oiiaustralia.com/13524/sex-files-good-trans-not-good-intersex/

    BTW intersex is most certainly not somehow “under the T umbrella” nor is it somehow transgender nor is it somehow a subset of transgender.

    • I agree that we really should be saying something along the lines of “intersex, transsexual, transgender and other sex and/or gender non-conforming” or something like that…but it’s a mouthful..andit WILL be abbreviated, likeit or not…the only question being whether there a way we’d prefer it be abbreviated…

      Moreover, I am familiar with the great work of Oii and I agree, Angela, that only the intersex are qualified to articulate their identities…however, the tine your posting suggest separatism, not solidarity…

      Transsexual is an matter of biological sex and anatomy…intersex is a matter of biological sex and anatomy…one usually wants surgery and the other usually doesn’t…otherwise there are many overlaps…indeed, I, a transsexual, was born with some intersex features…

      In short, I see a lot of common ground for political and social action…don’t you?

  5. Mercedes,

    I had this sent to me, your recent article… I don’t get much of a chance to follow this stuff, saying that – well done! – :)

    /Kristen

  6. Not everyone fits into little boxes. Cross dressers are not sick, and TS women are not all nice women who have no sexual kinks. Everyone has a few things they like that are not mainstream.
    As I have said a dozen times before in a dozen places, can we please stop fighting.
    If Cd’ers are sick, the n so are TS women.
    If pure CDing just for the thrill is an illness then so is eating chocolate.
    How many TS women started their gender journey be CDing ? can you transition without wearing woman’s clothing before surgery ? Nope, so everyone who transitions is on some level a CD’er.
    hating and bad mouthing each other solves nothing, help no one.

    Just how I see this,
    Granny Lizzy

    • Actually Lizzy, I was crossdressing when I was forced to wear male clothes since I always saw myself a female from the time I was around three years old. So, I’ll cop to crossdressing you just got the clothes wrong.

  7. I see the TG response to this…

    http://www.southsoundgender.com/voices.html

    Is it just me or does this just reek of Transsexual erasure and essentialist dismissal of those of us with Transsexual history?

      • dentedbluemercedes
      • June 4th, 2011

      There’s no link for comments there. :(

      That’s a pretty broad brush they’re using. But at the same time, I think it’s premature to see that as every non-binary person’s response.

      • This link and Jessica’s statement is nothing more than a more polite way of saying “you will never be ‘real’ so you must remain a third gender deviant.

        Pardon me, but screw that. There is no essential difference between that statement and the religious right saying the same damn thing a tad more bluntly.

        This is the line. And in my case, I was born intersexed and did have ovaries and a uterus which were removed without consent when my appendix was taken out.

        Kindergarten genetics have no place in this discussion. Anyone who says I will never be “real” is my enemy regardless of if they are trans of otherwise. That’s the bottom line, total disrespect of one’s lived womanhood and female body is beyond contemptible and unforgivable.

      • Mercedes, no they didn’t see fit to allow comments on their blog, but there is a facebook comment thread where this is under discussion.

      • Jessica
      • June 4th, 2011

      That’s so very broken that it’s difficult to pick a point to begin deconstructing it. However, there is a small kernel of truth burried in with all the confusion and condescension: We cannot change our actual biological sex; that remains in wish-fulfilment fantasies. : (

      Perhaps we might need to stop using “transsexual”. It would certainly stop confusing Cis people who hear the word “sex” and immediatly leap to the conclusion that sexuality is our driving impulse. But then again, why? Why should we spoonfeed Cis people and order our lives around their comfort? If a Cis person is disturbed by the necessities of my life, it’s their problem, not mine.

        • dentedbluemercedes
        • June 4th, 2011

        I would not be on board with eliminating “transsexual.” Erasure was one of the major sources of conflict to begin with.

        You wrote:

        We cannot change our actual biological sex; that remains in wish-fulfilment fantasies.

        This is a position that does seek to define everybody, and it’s a trap. We can at the very least change our sex enough to function in a binary world if we feel we belong there. Which is more than enough. If you want to be a purist, remember that not everyone gets genetically tested and we can’t yet assume that part.

          • Jessica
          • June 4th, 2011

          Ture. I definitely do not want to be supportive of erasure. Nor do I want to define everybody. When I said we can’t change our biological sex, I was referring to the chromosomes (whichever they might be) and our sexual biology in our own individual bodies. I can’t speak for anybody else, nor do I wish to. No matter how much I desire them, I can’t have ovaries and a uterus. Perhaps in the future it may be possible, but not at the state of the art as it stands today. I don’t intend to be a purist, nor do I want to imply that purism is the Way to Be.

          We’re dealing with clumsy language, loaded with all sorts of assumptions and value juedgements, trying to use it to define something we know intuitively yet the majority of Society cannot concieve of. It’s no wonder there are arguments and confusion.

          • There is nothing clumsy about the language only your use of it.

            Woman, what part of that is not clear? A term of medical history, clear and distinct. It’s your socio-political bullshit terms that confuse people, not this simple concept. When I first had contact with trans people the thing that shocked me to the core was my own womanhood was questioned, not supported. I had thought that a community such as trans would at the very minimum support the womanhood of those with corrected and now female bodies living a woman’s life. Instead I found those with male bodies claiming womanhood and at the same time denying it to those female bodied. In my educated opinion, this is insanity and why you failed to educate the general public, which at the time had no real problem with the concept of someone born transsexed fixing their body and getting on with their life.

            • I realized that even in clear terms I would need to expound further.

              Woman, a word for someone with a female body and gender identity.
              Transsexed, a medical condition where the somatic body does not match the neurological gender (hard wiring of the central nervous system.

              At birth, the doctor or midwife looks between the legs to determine sex, they do not administer a genetic test to determine sex unless there is something different between the legs and even that is very very recent.

              99+% of people are never genetically tested for sex chromosomes, that is a plain fact. Use of imagined genetic makeup as a point of argument thus simply is ignorant considering that these arguments are always brought up when someone is already demonstratively “different” in sex or gender.

              • Jessica
              • June 5th, 2011

              You are putting words in my mouth and projecting your agenda onto what I’m saying. But I should expect that; you’ve been doing that throughout your comments here.

              Go back and READ what I wrote. See it for what it is, not through your biases.

    • OMG…what an obscenity!…I’m shocked that that this “Annie R.” would claim a biological basis for an emotional rant…then again, any idiot can say anything on the web…and he, she or it (I don’t know which pronoun to use) does…

      As I read the actual facts, as stated, TRANSSEXUAL is a valid term as I’ve described it above…just because medical technology is not yet fully up to the transition task, doesn’t invalidate the medical diagnosis of one whose ‘brain sex’ is different from his/her ‘birth sex’…

      It’s not a question of behavioral gender…it’s a question of biological sex…whether you like the word or not…

      * * *

      You know, I worry about the game of blogging…it’s a double-edged sword…the good news is that we can engage and educate mass audiences regarding the truth…the bad news is that anyone can get online and spread mis-information, innuendo and lies…

  8. For more than a decade I have been unable to communicate to transgenders the simple concept that when I define myself, I am not defining you. That when you define me, you crossed the line. Calling me transgender is defining me and doing so in what I consider the most offensive possible manner.

    I don’t care what someone else’s gender identity is. It is when they tell me what I am I have a problem. The inability to understand this simple concept is a demonstration of the inability to see the world through the eyes of another, only their own point of view is relevant. This is why I came to the conclusion that most of the vocal transgenders online are in fact sociopaths, an idea that is also gaining acceptance in the psychiatric community by the way.

    This war is never going to end because the most vocal of the transgender borg have answered this essay with the same old “we have the right to define everyone” framing. Again, coming from a group demanding the right of self definition from the general public, this is almost the definition of insanity.

    • Catkisser, this is something I too have observed during my time moving through the trans community. It is almost as if everything has to be about them, including anything we say about ourselves. It seems to me that it is almost like a narcissistic rage response to a narcissistic injury. Possibly caused by them somehow feeling inferior to a post-op woman and hence experiencing the need to erase the differences between them.

      Maybe if we could somehow get rid of this idea of the trans hierarchy so that all groups felt valued, recognized and accepted, then maybe we could join in an alliance that celebrates our differences, not try to erase them.

      This is probably a pipe dream, but maybe one day…

      • shaed
      • June 6th, 2011

      When you call trangender people “fetishists” and “the transgender borg,” and call people sociopaths you are defining others in exactly the way you say you despise. Hello pot, meet kettle. I’m sure you’ll get along like a house on fire.

      And I could turn the tables and point out that the psychiatrists that have power over how GID is defined and seen by the mainstream (Kenneth Zucker comes to mind) *do* consider transexuality a mental illness. But do I laugh and say transexual people are crazy? No, I fight tooth and nail against that bullshit, just like I fight against the pathologizing of crossdressing and the cutting up of intersex babies’ junk. Because of the particular stripe of trans I am, I don’t have a horse in any of those races, but I simply don’t get off on people being fucked over by the medical industrial complex.

      It saddens me that you do.

      • Just checked in and saw this bit of insanity as a reply.

        NewsFlash!! This just in….Ken Zucker does not consider transsexuality a mental disorder and in fact the DSM V will contain the “cure” clause for post corrected women of history affirming the medical nature of transsexuality as opposed to transgender.

        Oh, and I am not any “brand” of trans anything dearie, I am a woman who had a medical problem and had it corrected so take your trans solidarity and shove it where the sun don’t shine,

    • shaed
    • June 6th, 2011

    Great article.

    The people who will be pissed off by it are people with their heads too far… people who aren’t ready to be reached out to.

  9. Late to the party here … but having had a hand in making this conversation possible in the first place, I’m going to dive in. Opinions expressed my own, etc.

    We wouldn’t be having this conversation had the gender clinic system not been stripped of its monopoly on approving surgery for those who want it. Stanford University’s clinic gave up when it found the (MTF) clients who did best after surgery were feminists at the very least, and a general population-like proportion bisexual or lesbian at the most. Some of you may have read of how I had to stay in the closet as a lesbian at Stanford while getting the crap kicked out of me by dyke separatists in the community (in Mirrors – Portrait of a Lesbian Transsexual, and yes, I’ve just published a new edition and it’s on Amazon.com).

    When brought back at SRS +3 yrs to give a pep talk to the new recruits, I went on a total feminist consciousness raising tear. This was but one scrap of handwriting on the wall that led to surgeons taking two psychologists’ approval instead of their in-house approval, and psychologists like Millie Brown setting a standard of basic sanity and proof you knew what you were doing. That effectively meant people could come up with very individual lives that worked in terms of whatever gender stuff they had going on, and that led to what we have today.

    As SRS was considered experimental (and perhaps slightly disreputable) in the 1970s, the justification given was that the clearly likely candidates, with hormone therapy and cross-living, were proving they were women in everything but genitals, so correcting the genitals was a simple bow to reality. This was also the rationale for California’s birth certificate amendment law. The revival of Virginia Prince’s old term transgenderist, in a variation, really took off, as far as I could see, with some people pushing the idea that if someone was a woman in everything but genitals, then surgery didn’t matter and shouldn’t matter to anyone, even a potential date.

    To my mind this begs the question of what woman would choose to forego swapping out genitals for a reasonably female set, given the chance. And, to my mind, this underscores a pretty unbridgeable gap between transsexuals and transgendered people, at least as far as taxonomy goes. Moreover, if we’re going to define as transgendered anyone whose current gender presentation is at odds with their apparent or assigned physical sex at birth, then I’m back fighting what I fought during transition in my early 20s (and beyond, given continued hassle from deranged dyke separatists): the notion that I am and always will be defined by that assignment at birth.

    And I’m just not down with that in any way, shape or form.

    There are rights struggles that the two (sub)groups have in common, and certainly room for collaboration. The two also have individual issues that aren’t shared. And, sometimes, things transgender women want are simply clueless, things acculturated transsexual women can’t support. One example was an attempted application of “I identify as a woman, so I’m a woman” to a San Francisco Japanese-style public bath for women, a public nudity situation. (Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed all around).

    It’s also a fact that life experience, enough of it, can take transsexual women into fairly simple womanhood, persistence of historical fact notwithstanding. I couldn’t assert a transgender identity and have done the daughter track thing for my mother during the last six years of her life – something I wouldn’t trade for anything. I can’t assert a transgender identity, as opposed to acknowledging my transsexual history, and be one of the women of my family.

    To paraphrase John Lennon, life is what happens while you’re busy making other theory.

    I can’t see an umbrella term, because I look at self-identified transgender and alternately gendered people and don’t see myself.

    • amber anne powell
    • August 20th, 2011

    This all just makes my head hurt. I identify as transexual although I prefer the term trans woman as it seems less controversial. I am on hormomes, nearly a year now. If you had asked me a year ago would I consider SRS I would have said no. Now, I would have to say maybe. I live as a woman full time and I am well accepted as such. So what am I? It seems I am less than nothing, with transitioned transexuals not accepting me and transgenderists not accepting me because I do not want to be compared to cross dressers and sexual fetishists. My equipment is a shrivelled up version of its old self and sex holds no interest for me. I dont need chemical castration as my natural testosterone is very low, not any higher than what is normal for a female. SO I guess I remain a freak with no home at all.

    • Sarah Lambert
    • September 17th, 2011

    I go back a very long way, perhaps further than most of you. As a very young woman I remember sitting in a meeting at someone’s flat. Looking around the room there were very large, very hairy men in dresses sitting with their legs wide apart so you could see everything, talking in loud booming male voices about how feminine they felt, and then there were the three of us in jeans and teeshirts, younger but on hormones and heading for full correction.
    Now I’m told that those men and us are pretty much the same thing.
    I don’t get it.

    • Lee
    • January 7th, 2013

    My only opinion is that if trans people don’t stop clawing at each other’s eyeballs, we will NEVER be taken seriously by the rest of the world.

      • Allison Taylor
      • January 7th, 2013

      I am transexual and I dont fall into this umbrella I am not Transgender , I am a woman post -op with transexual history and I also am not part of the GLBT as far as I am concerned the T should be removed we have no rights in this group so i say see ya later I dont support them anymore the GLB’s

  10. Yes. There should be an Umbrella…
    but, there should also be an understanding.
    Whether you identify yourself as Transsexual, Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, or Queer …
    ALL have a common thread…
    their brains and wiring are not neurotypical “NT”…
    NT brains follow the rules,
    NT brains don’t feel like they are “in the wrong body”…
    I know you didn’t ask for my opinion, but, it was a mistake for Transgendered people to lobby to be removed from the DSM.
    Why? Because it is a disability, which makes it difficult to maintain employment and use public restroom facilities.
    All Transgendered people should be protected under the ADA or the umbrella of “sexual orientation”.
    It’s sad to see the level of hatred some Trassexuals seem to exhibit when being labeled as “gay”. But, are you not attracted to members of your birth sex?
    That’s not neurotypical behavior any way you slice it.

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