Words, wright and rong

I have been taken to task lately – the same poster in both cases – about my use of words. On the one hand, questioning my inclusiveness: on t’other, sensationalist use of “rape”. We’ll get to the second in a moment.

I’m not sure if this is to become a regular habit..or just a quick fly-by. Not sure also how helpful some of this linguistic policing is. But it raises some quite important issues which I’d like to toss out into the ether.

First up is my use of the phrase “trans men and women”. That, my poster opined, is not inclusive of those who don’t abide by the gender binary. True. They had a point and, initially, I was inclined to agree.

Until second thoughts set in.

Expecting most from our own

First off is the old chesnut about how the community tends to pick on its own. Why me? Ah. Because broadly, I’m way out on a limb with what I write. I’m not so radical that I please all of the radicals all of the time: but compared to the average mainstream cis writer, I’m not bad.

Unless someone wishes to come along now with some argument about how as representative of blah group I need to be better than good.

Otherwise, I doubt that this individual would be penning outraged letters to the Times, Grauniad et al every time some mainstream writer uses what for 99.9% of the population is a fairly innocuous, believedly inclusive, phrase.

Yes: I have some definite and possibly controversial views (within the community) on the noun-adjective thing. But otherwise, I do try. I’ll identify gender according to know wishes where an individual is concerned (with one egregiously stupid instance of forgetting to do so in the last week…): and I’ll go for the neutral or inclusive where I don’t know precise wishes.

The prob is, the more the community pins this down, the harder it is to find acceptable circumlocutions. “Trans folk” is a personal favourite, though it risks making us out as perhaps some distant relation of Steeleye Span (that’s showing my age!), as opposed to gender variant. Individuals? People? I use all those. But still, “men and women” adds one more possible.

But true. Its not inclusive. So just ditch it? No, actually. Which was my second thought, for two reasons. First, because its actually a political erasure.

A lot of trans men and women are PROUD to be their identified gender. So just as some feminists took the route that gender should be excluded from mention, others took the line that erasing gender altogether was a retrograde step. That the key was to INCLUDE it.

I am a trans woman/woman of trans history…so I’m not altogether happy to be asked to lose that gender identity.

There is, perhaps unthinkingly, a political agenda here: which is the erasure of gender binary, which is a fair objective, quite sensible within a gender queer framework – but NOT what many in the trans community are about.

I don’t mind that: I think that both positions can co-exist. That it is silly, harmful to our joint cause to fall out, when we have so many bigger enemies – and fish – to fry. Still, its worth being aware that there is a danger of a zero-sum game being played here.

Being nice to the gender queer risks offending the non-gq. So what’s the solution. One, I’ll now add, is not using the “men and women” class when talking about those who do identify as gq. That’s obviously wrong.

But otherwise, I’m genuinely asking: true inclusivity here is NOT about discarding a particular phrase, but adding an alternative. And I don’t know the answer.

Anyone care to suggest?

jane xx


16 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    misswonderly said,

    Perhaps it’s more helpful to see a desirable goal not as ‘the erasure of the gender binary’ … when many, as you rightly point out, find personal comfort and ease in a binary … but rather as the erasure of the gender expectation we impose on others.

  2. 2

    Rebecca Ashling said,

    No good answer to this question. The term “transling” was floated on your blog a while back. I did like that word but on further consideration, it did make me wonder what the D&D splat for the character race would be. Plus, it is kinda twee. Trans folk does sound like a musical genre as you said above. Eclectic Chicken has likened trans people to changelings. It’s very apt, and I’d often thought that about myself in the past. And the bonus? Changelings are NOT cute.

  3. 3

    cnlester said,

    Second Sarah.

    And I think it’s a matter a context – if you’re talking about something that only affects trans men and women then ‘trans men and women’ is clearly the correct term. If it affects all trans people then ‘trans people/trans community/trans folk’ is the correct term. I wouldn’t phrase it so much as being ‘nice’ to genderqueer/bigender/androgynous/other people – it’s about factual accuracy. As many people have pointed out, we’re often not a coalition built upon identity, but a coalition based upon shared oppression – and some bigot who hates all thought of free gender/sex expression probably won’t make a distinction between a trans man or an androgyne – we’re all freaks to him.

    I like trans folk, for what it’s worth!

    • 4

      janefae said,

      Mostly agreed, too. I think, for me, its the motivation and the alternative that is important. I’d certainly do what i can to come up with usage that is appropriate to the individuals involved.

      However – though i may have misunderstood the OP – the sense i got was that where possible i should NOT use “men and women”.

      That’s an interesting point as far as i am concerned. Interesting also, since it opens up the question of what we would like the media more widely to use.

      The issue arose in the Catholic Church’s recent formulation of the communion prayer and the creed, which have both for a long time included reference to “All Men”. I’ve lost track now of where they have gone, though i think one of these now uses “All Men” and the other the slightly awkward (rhythmically) “All”.

      Prob, of course, lies in the fact that it translates the Latin “Omnes” which IS gender neutral, in every sense.

      I think what i am mostly saying is that there are places where “trans men and women” is appropriate, places where it ain’t. But asking people to erase it as phrase is itself an erasure. What is needed is either an english equivalent of “omnes”…or a third, useable option.

      So i should be able to write “trans men and women and…X”…and i guess part of this is about asking if anyone has any sensible suggestions for the X.

      jane xx

      • 5

        CN said,

        I suppose then it would be a case of ‘trans men, women and other trans people’ – a little clunky, but there is no one word to contain all the infinite variety of our community. And when writing about community issues I think it’s important to be ‘all in’ and not to suggest a hierarchical ordering.

        ‘omnes’ would be perfect. Damn English!

      • 6

        Paula TransPanther said,

        “omnes” .. yeah.. that old conceit, including by force without concent those who would object. Not in my name!!.. rant rant etc 😉

        Like the idea for something for the X .. lets see.. “omnihumanis” .. “gorilla sapiens” (as opposed to gorilla gorilla.. I was thinking of my friends Bears Aloud with a smile then btw) or how about the standard collective for any random assorted blob of humanity.. people. (of unspecified ingredients.. WARNING!! may contain trans-fats and traces of nuts)

      • 7

        janefae said,

        Paula…i am utterly bemused by this post and can’t really tell whether you are being funny or having a go. If the latter, perhaps you could own up and i’ll moderate it off the board. 🙂

        Basic rule: don’t take the piss out of other groups for being other groups… though i can’t quite tell if you are being self-deprecatory or something else in this instance.

        jane xx

  4. 8

    Rebecca Ashling said,

    Trans folk, trans people, trans community, trans nation, trans kin, trans kith, transkind, trans humanity. Hmmm, best stick with trans folk.

  5. 9

    Jane, did you consider that the person who asked you about your choice of words, far from ‘picking on’ you, was simply asking that THEY be included? The person who asked is a person who is of non-binary gender. It’s not a thought exercise, it’s a real instance of a real person being excluded by the words chosen.

    • 10

      janefae said,

      yes. It absolutely DID occur to me, which is why i have gone to the trouble of sticking some of my thinking out here on it, as opposed to just ignoring or paying lip service. I think they raise an important point which nonetheless doesn’t have an easy answer.

      In some circs, there is a good answer. In others there isn’t.

      My ask, seriously, is what folk would propose in those instances where there isn’t an easy answer. The fact that this question is giving pause to someone who is both thoughtful and constructive on gender-neutral issues suggests its worth debating. That’s all.

      jane x

  6. 11

    cnlester said,

    Oh, one other point that I wanted to make earlier:

    “I am a trans woman/woman of trans history…so I’m not altogether happy to be asked to lose that gender identity.”

    “A lot of trans men and women are PROUD to be their identified gender.”

    All the trans people I know who don’t fit into the categories of male or female are also proud to be their identified genders. And if saying ‘trans people’ erases trans men and women because it doesn’t specify them by name, then surely it’s logical to conclude that it also erases all the other genders it doesn’t mention by name. I’m proud to be androgynous – others are proud to be two-spirit, to be femme bois, or butch grrls etc. If we tried to name everyone’s gender we’d have a sentence as long as an article and still not fit everyone in.

    The point about saying trans people is not that it’s a sop to people who aren’t men or women, or that it favours them at the expense of others – it’s that it’s hopefully the most neutral term we can come up with to include all the people who shelter/have sheltered under the trans umbrella. Here’s a bunch of people – and, in some way or at some point, they’ve transgressed the current dictates of what defines “normal” sex and/or gender.

    • 12

      janefae said,

      ugh! and there’s me thinking, courtesy of a very long twitter exchange, that i had reached a useful compromise in “men, women and non-binary people”.

      Are you saying no to that?

      jane x

      • 13

        cnlester said,

        I genuinely do think that trans people is more inclusive and less hierarchical, but “men, women and non-binary people” works for me practically, if not logically 😉 x

  7. 14

    eclectic chicken said,

    I’m going with ‘gender spectrum dwellers all’ not that it counts for anything cos i is cis and as such know fuck all about anything.

  8. 15

    Liz Church said,

    Peotogi (Persons/people each of their own gender identity), ergo peotogus by back-formation.

  9. 16

    herr brockman said,

    I think the comments section of this post sums up your difficulty somewhat succinctly, considering the source, your LBG allies(?).


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