After I posted my take on the “transgender/transgendered” debate on Facebook, a friend-of-a-friend who’s a gay man with some inside knowledge mentioned that in deciding to endorse “transgender,” his organization talked to representatives of several national transgender organizations. While that’s way better than nothing, it’s not enough information for them to be able to say “this is what the trans community wants.” These “leaders” don’t actually represent any of us. There is no way to find out what “the trans community” wants, because we don’t have a collective decision-making process.
Whether it’s the “-ed” suffix, the space in “trans woman,” the use of the “cis-” prefix, the declaration of “transvestite” as taboo, the freakout over “princex,” generally the proclamation du jour of this term or that as being preferred, dispreferred, offensive, indispensable, etc. – it’s all one single person’s opinion, more or less well informed. If it gets picked up by two people, then it’s three people’s opinion. It never gets to be what “the trans community” wants.
None of these people asked me if, as a linguist, I approved of the term “cis.” Nobody asked me if, as a sociolinguist, I agreed that it would be good for trans rights to declare “transvestite” taboo. Nobody asked me if, as a trans person, I wanted people to use the space in “trans woman” to browbeat potential allies. I never got a ballot for the referendum, and I never got to vote for a rep to the Trans Grand Council.
More importantly, nobody sends magical owls to make sure that all the closeted transvestites and stealth transsexuals get their ballots. Nobody badgers the trans people who might be kind of busy with work, or raising kids, or next week’s model railroad exhibition, to make sure they take the time to register their opinions on the matter.
No, what we get are the voices of people who are thinking about this stuff all the time. Those who spend their hours on Tumblr and Facebook puzzling out the optimal arrangement of acronyms, affixes and punctuation to finally bring down the patriarchy. Those who collect dues with the promise of lobbying our elected officials to pass laws protecting us, and can’t stop thinking about it on their downtime. And of course, those who are in mid-transition and living with the trans nonstop and completely unable to think of anything else. Not exactly representative of all trans people.
So if you’re not trans, please do me a favor: the next time you read about the Words Not to Say on Buzzfeed, or get your ear bent by your buddy Kyle about how appropriative some punctuation mark is, or hear from the Legislative Director of the National Council on Trans Women-Gender/Rights that “trans” is exclusionary, please take it with a grain of salt. And if you are trans, the next time you get that great idea about How the Ampersand Oppresses the People, please use I statements. Don’t claim that you, or anyone, knows what “the trans community” thinks or wants or believes. We don’t hold elections, and we definitely didn’t elect you.