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Why I prefer “transgendered”

The “transgender/transgendered” debate popped up tonight, first on a Q&A by Zinnia Jones (aka Lauren McNamara):

Point: The structure of “transgendered” suggests action, as if it were something you were subject to – that you are a person who has been “transgendered” and that is the reason why you exist in your present state. We wouldn’t say “gayed” or “lesbianed”.

Counter-point: Other words of similar construction, like “gifted” or “left-handed”, do not imply action, or that you’re only this way because you were subjected to something.

Meta-point: “Transgendered” bothers some people and use of it will lead to this coming up and distracting from whatever you were originally talking about. “Transgender” does not pose this issue. Therefore, use of “transgender” is preferred.

Ali Edwards expanded on it for her transgenderscience Tumblr:

All excellent points. To add a linguistic angle:

Adjectives with -ed endings tend to express emotions and feelings. “I am frightened,” “That is amazing,” etc. Adjectives with -ed were also almost always originally verbs (to frighten, to amaze). In fact, that’s why “gifted” has the -ed — it’s built of the old verb form of to gift.  

Transgender is not a verb. You can’t “transgender” something. A lot of transphobes believe you can, (“These durn libbruls are gonna transgender my boy if we don’t stop ‘em!”), but you can’t. 

Transgender is an adjective, though, and as Lauren pointed out it describes a “state.” Like most adjectives that describe qualities of a noun, it doesn’t take a suffix. The sky is not “blued,” it’s “blue.” The glass is not “half-fulled,” it’s “half-full”. My mom isn’t “femaled,” she’s “female.” And I am not “transgendered,” I am “transgender.”

For a real linguistic angle, let me as a linguist endorse the explanation of my friend Pauline Park (who is not a linguist):

Adding an ‘ed’ to a verb to create an adjective is in fact a very common construction in English, and the fact that an adjective is created from a verb doesn’t mean that it isn’t an adjective. Similarly with ‘transgendered.’ When we talk about people, we ordinarily say that they are ‘gendered,’ using an adjective created by adding ‘ed’ to ‘gender.’ It would be both grammatically incorrect as well as bizarre to say that a child is ‘gender,’ while it makes perfect sense to say that a child is ‘gendered.’

Now, I do use ‘transgender’ as an adjective to describe certain entities that are abstract, such as ‘transgender law,’ ‘transgender studies,’ and ‘transgender community,’ because it is the people — not the law, the studies, or the community — that are transgendered. So it is not at all inconsistent when I refer to myself as a ‘transgendered woman’ and also as a ‘transgender activist,’ because in the latter case, it is I who am transgendered, not my activism. Similarly, NYAGRA is a transgender organization, not a ‘transgendered’ organization, because an organization itself cannot be transgendered, only its members.

Trousered, not pantsed.
Trousered, not pantsed. And yes, this spot in my apartment has good lighting.

Expanding on Pauline’s perspective, and on Jones’s counter-point, there are lots of nouns that get “verbed” (Calvin and Hobbes, 1993) and then have -ed added to make them adjectives, like “armored, varicolored, half-timbered, leisured, trousered.” There’s no implication of action. You can’t transgender someone, but neither can you leisure, varicolor or trouser them. (You can pants them, but that’s something else.)

To Jones’s meta-point: Yeah, people are ignorant about language. Sometimes it’s a distraction, and you use the terms they want and move on. Sometimes (especially on Tumblr) language is the focus of discussion, and that’s the time to bring the science.

Two points: (1) Note that both Jones and Edwards use the passive (“is preferred”) and similar constructions in their prescriptions, to deflect attention away from their roles and onto the wishes of the amorphous community. (2) Note that Edwards (who is not a linguist) cites no linguistic papers for her “linguistic angle.” I don’t either, and neither does Jones, but there’s a huge contrast between this post and her heavily-linked posts on biology and psychology.

In fact, it would be nice to get the perspective of an actual trained morphologist on this. Anybody want to go there?

Finally, anyone who thinks that these “-ed” adjectives are an insult? Well, they sound like very gifted and cultured people.

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1 Comment

  1. I didn’t find the linguistic arguments against “transgendered” very convincing, but didn’t feel like sticking my oar in the waters.

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