(…as a Twitter acquaintance said on hearing some of this stuff.)
A very quick post on some of the words that’ve been thrown around recently.
Transgender: someone whose gender assigned at birth doesn’t match the gender they feel inside. The doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’ but when she grew up she knew she was a woman.
Cisgender: not transgender. The doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’ and when he grew up he agreed. This is not a derogatory term in any way. In the same way that up needs down and gay needs straight, the opposite of transgender is cisgender. Most people are cisgender. If you see it being used in a negative light, it is probably because we cisgender peple don’t understand the abuse and discrimination lots of trans folks face, and that’s a pain in the arse. Think of it like this – if you’re a woman, do you ever get frustrated because men don’t understand some of the sexism we face (‘get back in the kitchen luv’ or ‘shouldn’t you be at home with your kids and not working?’) – see? Pain in the arse that you only really understand if you’re part of the maligned group.
Why do you need to differentiate? Aren’t we all women? Well, yes. Of course we are. But when you need to talk about specifically ‘the group of women who have changed gender in society’s eyes’ you need the term ‘trans women’. If you want to talk about the group of women who have kids, you need the word ‘mothers’. Each group is a subset of the whole, and we’re all women, but different groups of women have different experiences in life – hence the different titles.
Intersectionality: a big word for a simple concept. All women face sexism. Women of colour face sexism and racism; men of colour, only racism. Gay women face homophobia and sexism; gay men only face homophobia. Intersectionality means understanding that your gender and race and sexuality and age (etc, etc) mean you face different challenges in society. You’re better off than some people and worse off than others. Intersectional feminism means taking that into account when you write or act with regard to feminism.
Transphobia: discrimination against transgender people. It happens a lot. A lot, a lot. Most cisgender people – me included – have no idea of the blatant shit transgender people get handed by society. Doctors who think being transgender means that they can treat you like a test case and ask invasive questions, or sometimes deny treatment altogether. People who refuse to address them by their chosen name. She says she’s called Mary but she’s still John to me! People who feel they can ask a trans lady what’s under her skirt and not understand why that’s hurtful. And on and on and on.
Why do transgender people get upset when cisgender people say transphobia doesn’t exist? Isn’t that obvious? You deal with society being a complete arse every day of your life and then someone comes along and says you’re making it up. I’d be hopping mad. Would you tell a Black woman racism doesn’t exist? I’m guessing not. Same goes for transphobia – the discrimination is real and it hurts to have that be pushed to one side.
Why do people write ‘trans*’? What does the asterisk mean? If you’re familiar with search string operators, you’ll know that ‘school*’ will bring up ‘schoolhouse’ and ‘schoolbook’ and ‘schoolteacher’. The asterisk covers every word starting with ‘school’, no matter the ending. Trans* covers transgender and transsexual and other terms – and also people who identify outside the gender binary (those who don’t like either masculine or feminine labels), or those who are questioning their gender assigned at birth and seeking an identity that fits.
Gender binary: the societal system that classifies people as ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Some people don’t wish to identify as either: this is often (but not always) called being genderqueer.
Is there anything I’ve left out? Happy to clarify.
(Thank you to my friend Kirill for advice on the term trans* and its use.)