Don't Say Trans
if you can't find a different word, then shut up.
An opinion piece from Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times today hits on a question we have been considering for some time: “what does it mean for a 12-year-old to be transgender?”
But although there is a debate about whether and how young people should undergo transition-related health care therapies — as my colleague and friend Emily Bazelon covered with care and insight recently in the Times Magazine — most transitions of young people involve no medical intervention at all.
“For the overwhelming majority of trans youth, what transitioning means is really social transition,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told me. “It usually means changing the name that they go by, changing the pronoun, styling their hair differently and changing how they dress.”
What is “trans” supposed to mean? Is it:
transgressive - troublemaking children who enjoy violating social norms
transvestite - people who wear clothes generally coded as part of the other gender
transsexual - chemical and surgical changes to primary and secondary sexual characteristics
There is no point in trying to find “the real meaning”. Every argument on the topic is filled with bait-and-switch tactics. In one paragraph, “trans” means one of the definitions, in the next paragraph it means completely different.
The only solution: don’t say trans.
I can hear the objections from the agents of Carthage now — that this type of “language policing” is bad, violent, and probably harmful to racial minorities.
Considering the people who would make such arguments tend to enthusiastically engage in “language policing” themselves, I reject both them and their concerns.
Don’t say trans1.
What about the 13-year-old transgender athlete who can’t play field hockey (note the Washington Post coverage).
In what sense is this person trans? Presumably, it is a privacy violation to even ask the question. But is not difficult to read between the lines:
The association had set extraordinarily high hurdles for transgender athletes to play on teams that matched their gender identity. It required that transgender athletes undergo “sex reassignment” before puberty — though it was unclear what that meant.
According to the liberal2 media, actually transitioning gender is “an extraordinarily high hurdle”.
If the “trans movement” stands for “all a boy has to do to become a woman is put on a dress and say he is a woman”, I am against it. I struggle to believe that is what the movement stands for these days; it more-or-less had the opposite position a decade ago.
And we must mention the recent drama involving Boston Children’s Hospital. Unfortunately, even the most basic facts are under dispute. We note liberal magazine VICE’s take as well as the conservative Daily Caller's take.
Our take: there is no good reason for an 18-year-old age minimum for gender-transition surgery, but it doesn’t make you a terrorist3 to support such a rule.
What should I say instead?
This is a Newslettr, not a dictionary. But we will try to give an answer anyhow. We expect somebody else will have better answers in the near future.
A lot of the time, saying nothing will work. There is gender-neutral language for a reason, why not use it?
Of course, in certain contexts, one actually does need to discuss gender.
For MTF, the Newslettr recommends kathoey. Other historical terms, such as eunuch or castrati, are likely to have undesired implications. Neologisms or re-appropriations, such as angel or tgirl, are also likely to have undesired implications.
For FTM, the Newslettr recommends freemartin. In some cases, “non-binary” language may be appropriate.
For transvestism, just say “cross-dressing”.
the Newslettr is also strongly opposed to the “trans women are women” meme. The correct approach is “third-gender”.
the Newslettr plans to have a piece on bias in the media eventually. But when the author of a piece doesn’t pretend to be “neutral”, we won’t pretend they are neutral either.
After many years, it is clear the “trans movement” is full of professional victims. We expect some of the bomb threats are “false flags” or are deliberately blown out of proportion.