Thursday, 14 June 2012

Queer Dictionary Revisited

Below is something I wrote at The Good Men Project after writing a three-part “queer dictionary.”

Wait just a minute, you say. There were only meant to be three parts to the queer dictionary. Well, I lied. Okay, not really. I didn’t lie; I just needed to revisit1 a few terms in Part 2. Oh, also I need to admit and apologize for screwing something up, which I’ll do in just a second. (My haters are rubbing their hands together in glee, and my lovers are...well never you mind what my lovers are doing just now).

Okay so which terms will I be looking at today? Answer: transman, transwoman, transgender, transsexual, cis-woman, cis-man and cis-gender. (If you’ve picked up on my mistake already, I award you 10 Internet Points to do with what you will). Anyway, I won’t be redefining any of these terms, as my definitions were quite accurate, particularly for an introductory article. However, I will be discussing the spelling of these terms, namely whether they should be treated as two word phrases (trans man), single words (trasman) or hyphenated words (trans-man). In case you were wondering, Microsoft Word 2010 prefers the third option; just throwing that out there.

So in my queer dictionary, I spelled transman and transwoman like I just did, as though it is a single word. There were some comments pointing out that many people in the trans* community prefer the terms to be spelled trans man and trans woman, as two separate words. I read those comments, and of course I debated it in the original article. (I’m an internet blogger; it’s what I do). And I stand by what I said, which is that there is no consensus as to how those terms should be spelled.

Then Jameseq made this comment, which I was going to reply to with something like this: “I’m still resisting it because I treated cis-gender the same…” At which point my brain clicked; I had a “eureka moment,” and I swear an energy-saving light bulb appeared over my head…Oh, crap. Actually, I hadn’t treated cis and trans the same, and I hadn’t even realized it until days after I’d written the article. For what it’s worth, I was using the spelling I’d seen most often and in my brain they were the same. الشيء نفس (Nafs as-shay; translated: same thing), I thought to myself. (Yeah, I did use the Arabic phrase in my brain and I am not apologizing for that too).

I am, however, apologizing for the inconsistencies in my spelling of cisgender, transgender, trans-man, cis-man, etc. And here’s where I get serious for a moment, because I think this is important. Part of the reason I included cisgender in my dictionary at all was to highlight that cis and trans* are two sides of the same coin. They are equally rooted in biology and/or culture; they are equally valid; they are equal and should be treated as such.

Even something as small as the grammar used when discussing these terms can challenge or perpetuate the social inequalities between cisgendered and transgendered individuals. It’s a bit like the problem with separate water fountains. One is considered normative (cisgendered) and thus any differences between the use of cisgendered and transgendered results in treating trans* individuals as somehow less than or other than cis individuals. Heteronormativity strikes again! (Guess I’m back to making stupid jokes).

If you couldn’t tell, my spelling of these terms has been all over the place even in this article. Mostly that’s because I’ve been using my old spelling of the terms until I pointed out my mistake. So, if you’re curious where I sit on this issue, I’ll tell you. Personally, I think I’m with Microsoft Word 2010 (because Bill Gates is better than Steve Jobs, or something): transgender, transsexual, cisgender, cis-man, cis-woman, trans-man, and trans-woman…though I’m still using “cis individuals” and “trans* individuals,” without a hyphen. And, of course, “man” and “woman” are terms which, when not modified, should include both cis and trans* individuals who identify as men or women. (£10 says that I use the term men or women in place of cis-men or cis-women at least once in the next day. Who wants to take that bet?)

1.  The Jeremy Irons version. There can be only one!

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