Thoughts on the Word Transgender
Jennifer Angelina Petro
The word “transgender” is beginning to bug me. “Trans” comes from the Latin, and means, “to cross over,” or “to go through to the other side,” (think transportation, translate, transplant, transatlantic). The more I think about it, the more I realize that isn’t an accurate description of who I am. It may seem that way to you (and even to me), and to other people who feel comfortable in the traditional gender binary, but the truth is I haven’t crossed over into anything. I have not gone over or through to the other side of anything. I am a woman. Always have been. Always will be. I know, I know, we all thought I was male for all those years. I get it. That doesn’t change the truth of who I am—no matter what the labels say.
I am beginning to feel the same way about the word “transitioning” for similar reasons even though I use the word all the time myself. “Transitioning” also means “a going over or across.” Of course, it’s the word that’s out there to describe what society thinks is happening to me. However, I am not crossing over from being male to being female. I have always BEEN female. Just because we didn’t know it until last year doesn’t make it any less true. The more I believe I am crossing over from being male to being female, the more opportunities I open myself up to for misunderstanding or even violence.
It’s true I am adjusting to the realization of being a woman. I am making attempts at living more comfortably in my own skin with the body I was born in (which also isn’t accurate—I was born “into” a woman’s body (from outside where, by the way?)—a woman’s body that just happens to have parts traditionally indentified as “male.”). So I will say instead—I am making attempts at living more comfortably in this body that is mine—this body that doesn’t match the typical societal expectations of what a woman’s body is supposed to look like. I am making changes in my appearance to better reflect who I finally realize I am—not to better reflect who I am outwardly with who I am inwardly. No. I am making changes because now that I see the truth of who I am I want and need to shed the scales of the conditioning I received growing up. I want to honor who I really am. I am not “presenting” either—I am simply living.
My parents tried to “masculinize” me and I do not fault them for that. They did what they thought was best with extremely limited information from doctors who also did not understand, and who actively tried to hide the truth, as well as little societal or religious enlightenment. However, the trappings put around me effectively clouded my inner and outer perception of myself as female. As the windows of my spirit cleared however, the trappings began to fall away. And while this may still sound like I was a woman trapped in a male body, it was really more that I simply appeared to be male.
Now, should we say I have a medical condition (a birth-defect?) in which the body I have doesn’t fit the gender I really am? A few weeks ago I would have said yes—it’s something like that. Now I want to say—no. The body I have fits the gender I am. What it doesn’t fit is societies expectations (or my own) of what male and female mean and should look/sound/act like. Just because day and night seem like they are on opposite ends of a spectrum doesn’t mean genders are. Mornings and evenings are when the skies are mixed—blended, woven—making them exqusitiely beautiful. I am a weaving of body-understandings that still, no matter what—end and begin with me being a woman. To say I have a birth defect suggests the only normal is the traditional conceptions of “male” and “female.”
Using the word “transgender” somehow creates a screen—some sort of ultimate safety barrier from allowing myself—or society–to accept the reality of the situation. To call me transgender puts a little distance between myself as a woman and society’s (and my own) paradigms of what that means. To just call myself a woman—or for you to call me a woman—shatters everything we understand as “normal.” People like me become viewed as abnormal, dangerous, and perverted. To be called “transgender” implies a sort of cosmic mix up—one that oddly both santizes and misrepresents the truth. It may make it easier for people to understand and wrap their minds around what I look like, act like, and speak like—and have for decades, but it really does not describe who I am as a person.
How did the term “transgender” come about? According to the TransMediaWatch Site the terms first became popular in the 60’s:
“1965, USA: The word ‘transgenderism’ is first used in a medical text by Dr John F. Oliven, where he uses it is to mean transsexualism. It is given quite a different meaning and popularized by Virginia Prince (1913-2009) in the 1970s. Prince claims to have invented the word herself, and uses it to define people who live full time in their chosen gender, without necessarily having had, or even wanting to have, gender confirming surgery. The difference in meaning between Oliven’s and Prince’s use of this word creates discontent and divisions in some sections of the trans community to this day.”
So I think we need a new word to describe people like me. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest the tiresome binary-constricted: “male,” and “female,” or better yet, “human,” without any prefixes or any qualifiers.
Whatever word I choose the main thing is I continue to grow in love for myself as a citizen of the world deserving of all freedom and joy. In the words of Jon Anderson from Yes:
“There’s a word……and the word is love.”