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Monday, 2 May 2016

What is a transgender? A linguistic answer

Chances are you are arriving at this blog as the result of an internet search. This isn't surprising, as the concept of transgender has exploded upon the public consciousness of the western world rather recently, and many people are confused as to just what transgender means or is. As a scholar who has been following this topic for several decades, it is incumbent upon me to make things as plain as possible--as I did for my series of posts on albinism, which continue to enlighten thousands every year.

Let's start with a contemporary definition, taken from the first hit on a Google search:

Transgender: denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender.

So, right off we see that transgender is unconventional. From the same source, that word is defined:

Unconventional: not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed.

So, transgender is something unusual, not ordinary. In fact, it doesn't even fit into a conventional belief system. To sum it up, transgender is a new way of looking at the world that conflicts with what has previously been done and believed. Let's go back a bit and see how earlier dictionaries defined it:

According to Google Ngram, the word was first coined at the dawn of the 20th century. But one will look in vain for even a mention of the word in any dictionary before the close of that century. It isn't found in my Funk & Wagnell's Unabridged Dictionary of 1929 (updated 1959), nor my Websters Collegiate Dictionary of 1983 (updated 1991; published citations of the word doubled in the following year). Popular usage of the word itself is younger than the majority of people claiming that it describes them. Instead, one will have to look elsewhere for a word that describes the actions and beliefs now codified in the word transgender: transvestite.

It first appears in Google Ingram in 1897, but the word, and the behaviour it connotes, were so new in 1929 that Funk & Wagnells didn't include it. It remained so obscure that even thirty years of updates failed to add it to the lexicon. By 1983, however, Websters includes the word, dating its origin to ca. 1922, and defines it as:

Transvestite: A person . . . who adopts the dress and often the behavior typical of the opposite sex esp. for purposes of emotional or sexual gratification.

This is exactly the definition of a transgender. Only the label has changed, and this transfer was not complete until the dawn of this century.

Why the change in label? It certainly isn't because 'transvestite' is no longer a useful word. Look through photos of those claiming to be trangender women (often abbreviated as 'trans woman') and you will see that virtually 100% have long hair. Why? Because although there is no longer any cultural expectation that a woman not shear her locks, long hair is still culturally associated with the female sex, and those desperate to present themselves as women universally subvert this cultural norm to their own purposes.

Likewise, dresses. "Trans women" are much more likely to appear in public wearing a dress then are women themselves. Again, it is all part of a desperate ploy to appear feminine using any cultural device available to them.

So far, we are only speaking of transvestites--a word composed of elements that refer to regulating one's public appearance to match that of the opposite sex. But transgender goes beyond that; it claims to have effected an actual transference from one sex to the other. In this, it co-ops another word that adequately describes what happens in nature when certain species make the transition from a phenotypical female to phenotypical male, or vice versa: transsexual, the usage of which, along with 'transvestite', began its decline at the dawn of this century. 'Transgender' has replaced them both, and thus suffers from an inbuilt ambiguity: is a transgender someone who has actually taken steps to transition from one sexual identity to another, or merely one who wishes to?

This inbuilt ambiguity is at the very heart of the controversy currently raging over whether or not transgenders should be able to use the public restroom of their choosing. The definition with which I began this post indicates that the wordsmiths desire it to be both: A person need nothing more than an inner desire to gain access to the toilets, locker rooms, and showers of either designation. Remember that: this is not about transsexuals, or even transvestites. Bathroom Bills which give transgenders access give access to anyone based on nothing more than his or her claim to be transgender. By definition, nothing more can be required of them.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! If a man enters a women's restroom you can't even accuse him of not being a transgender. He will realize you think he is not a trangender because he doesn't ~look~ so. But a so-called transgender doesn't need to be taking hormones or to be operated (to have had "sex reassignment" surgery) to be a transgender, they say, and of course you generally can't even say if they have had surgery or not. Transgenders also don't need to have had any feminization surgery (like reshaping facial bones, having breast implants etc) to be considered a transgender (even children can be considered transgender). Because they say transgender is a person who sees themself as being the opposite sex. Nowadays you can't say the man entering the women's restroom isn't a woman (a trans women) just because not only he doesn't look like he's taking hormones and he didn't have any surgery but he also doesn't have long hair and/ or dress like a woman tends to dress, because one have the hair lenght and wears the clothes they want. Transgenders don't need to be taking hormones, don't need to have had any surgery, don't need to have long hair, don't need to dress like a woman tends to dress, don't need to use makeup, don't need to act like a woman tends to act. They just need to say they're transgender- if you have the guts to ask so, because if you don't ask, they not even need to say they're transgender. They'll just have the right to use the opposite sex's restroom and that's it. The solution would be unisex restrooms (men and women could use the same restroom, be them "cis" or "trans", heterosexual or not), but I think this is dangerous in our society. (Sorry my english and thank you for the space to comment.)


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