Why the Trans Community Needs to Ban the Word “Transtrender” for Good

An androgynous person stands at a gate, refusing entry to other trans people who stand, frustrated, outside the gate.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

The other day, I was called a “transtrender” by a trans woman who refused to acknowledge my gender identity because I have, up until this point, not hormonally transitioned.

Because the only thing that determines your gender identity is, you know, hormones (sarcasm).

A “transtrender” refers to a person who identifies as transgender because they think it’s cool to do so. This particular trans reader insisted that I was not a “true” trans person, and that I claim this identity only because it’s the trendy thing to do.

This isn’t the first time my transness has been called into question, but there’s something particularly sinister about this word that made me angry.

Here’s the funny (and sad) thing about a trans person calling me a transtrender: They aren’t just hurting me. They’re hurting our community, and undermining our cause.

There’s a lot of problematic implications that go with the term “transtrender.” It implies, for example, that a person’s gender identity is for outsiders to decide. It suggests that there is only one way to transition. It marginalizes a significant number of trans folks who cannot access or do not want to medically transition. And further, it closets trans people who may feel fearful of rejection by the community.

It says to cis and trans people alike, “Your gender identity is for me to decide, not you. And if I don’t like what I see, I don’t have to acknowledge your truth.”

Hm. Sound familiar?

This is funny to me because this the exact same thing that we, as trans folks, are fighting against. We’ve had gender, incorrectly, imposed upon us from birth. Aren’t we fighting for the ability to live our truth and express our (a)gender without outsiders forcing us into roles without our consent?

“Transtrender” is a perfect example of the hypocrisy that I’ve encountered in the trans community from time to time. We don’t want others to dictate what our gender identities are, but we’ll ostracize other trans people and invalidate them because they don’t fit into our newer, shinier boxes. We don’t want to be misgendered, but we’ll misgender other trans people because their transition looks different from ours.

We don’t want to be told our identity is a phase, a trend, or a lie, but we’ll turn to our trans siblings and tell them all of those things without batting an eye.

If trans liberation is just a duplication of the oppression I was facing before – being told to express my gender on someone else’s terms, to someone else’s specifications – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is putting each other down and invalidating our identities because we don’t want hormones, we don’t need hormones, we can’t afford hormones, or we aren’t ready for hormones – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is letting outsiders tell us what our gender is, creating new restrictive boxes instead of getting rid of the boxes altogether – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is creating hierarchies in our community, measuring someone’s worth on the basis of what (often inaccessible) medical interventions they’ve accrued – I’ll pass, thanks.

If trans liberation is conforming to a certain idea of what gender should look like – yeah, I’ll pass, thank you very much.

And if trans liberation means excluding some trans people and including others, finding new ways to marginalize people who don’t fit into our idea of what transition should look like – you can take your liberation and shove it.

The trans community doesn’t need gatekeepers who get to decide who is “trans enough” and who is not. We are all trans enough, and our truths are for us to declare and decide.

If we, as a community, are asking the world to respect our identities, it is hypocritical to disrespect the identities of others in our community. And if we, as a community, are asking for the freedom to express our (a)gender in whatever way feels authentic, we must respect the journeys that our other trans siblings are on, regardless of how similar or dissimilar to our own they might look.

I don’t owe it to anyone to explain my reasons for not yet taking testosterone. I don’t owe it to anyone to justify my reasons for not pursuing surgery at this time. My transition is not a show or an exhibition that exists for the pleasure and satisfaction of other people.

My body is not public property – it’s not a public spectacle for people to objectify and misgender. It’s not a blueprint for you to impose your outdated ideas of what a transition should look like. And it’s not a lump of clay that you get to mold into something that makes you feel more comfortable.

My body is mine. And further, my legitimacy and validity as a trans person is not contingent on what my body looks like on any given day.

“Transtrender” is a word no person in this community should ever use or condone. Someone should douse it in gasoline, set it on fire, and let it burn (metaphorically, of course).

It is used, violently, to invalidate and undermine the identities of trans people. And when we invalidate the identities of our siblings, we give cis people permission to do the same to all of us.

My trans liberation looks like this: A community that welcomes, respects, validates, and uplifts everyone who finds a home there. And a world that, regardless of our bodies and regardless of our journeys, lets us reclaim ownership of our identities and our bodies.

Because if we tell our trans siblings that their identities do not belong to them, we perpetuate a culture where the naming and claiming of our identities belongs to someone else.

And I promise you, that is not liberation. That is not progress.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s where we started.

Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

17 thoughts on “Why the Trans Community Needs to Ban the Word “Transtrender” for Good

  1. Jamie Ray says:

    I agree with you that transtrender is a stupid word. But I’m going to argue on the side of empathy for the trans woman who ridiculed and tried to invalidate your identity.

    People who are uncomfortable with their own identity, and who still carry a lot of shame (so she thinks that your transness reflects on her transness), are the ones who judge. In reality, it is all about her – not about you. She is still mired in her own transphobia and self-hate.

    It reminds me a lot of my parents anti-semitism (I was raised in a Reform Jewish household). They were scornful of Hasids who wore long black coats, and of people who used Yiddish expressions, and anyone who talked with their hands. Because they had a lot of anxiety that somehow they weren’t American enough and these less assimilated Jews were somehow a threat to their being. Yes, they were bigots, but it was their self hate that was the problem. They could not embrace Jews who were different from them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      Without making her the focus of the piece (the anecdote was intended to be an entry into this conversation, not the whole conversation), I think we can hold people in compassion and also hold them accountable. I don’t believe that those things are mutually exclusive. We can have empathy for her, but also challenge the viewpoint she presents when she uses that language.

      She definitely has other things going on, and I think you put it really eloquently — internalized transphobia can manifest itself in a lot of ways, and often times we see it play out in interactions between trans folks, just the way other marginalized identities do the same.

      I am not resentful of this woman at all but rather, resentful of a problem in our community at large that she is a part of. She’s not the first person to question my transness, and she certainly won’t be the last.

      In short, I totally agree with you, we should fall on the side of empathy here. But remember we can have empathy but also challenge one another to do better, especially when the stakes are this high.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. threekidsandi says:

    I relate to Jamie Ray on this. Every group of people has it’s purists who demand that you go further and further before they will stop discriminating against you. Fight them. They never give rights, rather they would take them away.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kristine says:

    I could care less about the word, TransTrender, to be honest it’s the first time I’ve heard it. what annoys me, is the insistence to utilize the term Transgender as an umbrella term that includes everyone who expresses themselves in anyway that’s considered outside of the binary – I’m technically intersexed, and transitioned for my physical and mental health –
    I was teased and by today’s definitions bullied by my peers and believed that I was being punished by god for some unknown crime while growing up. all of this was simply because I didn’t fit into a neat little box of being a boy or a girl, growing up this way wasn’t choice, I didn’t dress in anyway that was designed to make a statement or standout. But was consistently mislabeled, and questioned about my sexual identity and orientation.

    And because of the word transgender, it’s been assumed by people that I’m the same as their negative perceptions of transgender, and that I somehow magically choose to dawn clothing of the opposite sex, and that I was automatically interested in whatever kink they imagined. – I personally don’t care if you want to be indentified with a label, I prefer to be identified by who I am and by a presentation that took me the majority of my life to solidify into a unified presentation. However it does seem that there’s a lot of people, who “dabble” in different presentations, sexual orientations, religions, etc. who in return attempt to say, through words like Transgender that they are the same. – I personally do not think they are the same, and dislike being classified as the same. but I also do not think it’s my place to ridicule or down play their experiences anymore I feel it’s their right to include me or use me to justify their choices. so yes, TransTrander should be band just as much as Transgender.

    Like

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      I agree with you that folks who are intersex should not be lumped in with transgender folks by default. It’s unfortunate that so many people do not understand what it means to be intersex.

      But misunderstandings around what a word means should not be grounds for banning it. If that were the case, every letter in the LGBTQIA spectrum would be banned, because there are plenty of people who still don’t understand what ANY of these descriptors mean.

      Some people strongly identify with the word “transgender” and it has helped them understand who they are and feel valid in their experiences.

      It’s a very different word from “transtrender,” which has only been used to delegitimize and hurt people.

      Transgender is a word that people should claim for themselves, not a word that should be imposed on them.

      I’m sorry that the word has been imposed on you, but I do hope that you’ll allow others to use the language to describe themselves that best fits their experience.

      Like

  4. caelesti says:

    Completely agreed. I’ve personally been questioning my own gender identity (genderqueer, demifemme, possibly?) but am hesitant to use those labels in trans spaces because of the identity politics! I don’t claim the label of trans but will stand under the umbrella if invited 😉 But regardless of what the broader community thinks, if someone tells me “this is my gender label/pronoun” I use/respect that. I also believe people are (gasp!) allowed to change their minds about labels/identities.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pyxis says:

    This is a good article, but from what I’ve seen of truscum, their central argument isn’t that you need to transition in order to be truly trans, it’s that you need to have dysphoria. Usually what they mean by this is intense bodily dysphoria. Also, a significant portion of their platform (if it can be called that) seems to be opposing “made-up genders.” They generally reject the idea of transness as a result of exploring and abandoning gender boundaries, in fact they dismiss ideas such as the socially constructed and mutable nature of gender as “queer theory”. The main trans narrative they stick to is “I was born in the wrong body, all my life I have wanted to have different body parts, being trans is suffering and I must transition” and almost anything else is deemed “transtrender.”

    The use of transition as a requirement seems to be an older one. The new requirement is having (strong, bodily) dysphoria; as in, dysphoria as a defining characteristic of transness; and therein I think lies the real problem of their movement. The idea of being trans and fine with it, the idea of exploring one’s gender, “treating transness like a cute accessory/fashion trend,” not to mention all the genders native to cultures outside the white Western binary, are ignored. Truscum essentially want to maintain a model of transness that is several decades out of date and that was defined primarily by cis doctors, and they can be downright horrible to people who don’t fit that model. They seem themselves as the only “true trans people” in a flood of “transtrenders” that they perceive as “invading” the trans community. That is, I think, where all the gatekeeping really takes place.

    At least, that’s what I’ve seen of the truscum I’ve encountered in very specific online communities; maybe your experiences are different.

    (I am surprised you had that experience with a trans women. Gatekeepers tend to be white trans men, as those are by far the most societally accepted model of trans people, and they tend to target trans women, at least from what I’ve seen.)

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