There are certain medical and legal contexts where it is useful for a transgender woman to indicate that she is a ‘transgender’ woman.
By doing so, she informs the listener about aspects of her biology and past life that are different from the majority of women – which is important for a doctor or an employer researching her professional history. In these cases, the marker ‘transgender’ serves a necessary function the same way ‘diabetic’ does.
I completely fail to see, however, why it is necessary to indicate my unusual biology in general conversation. And I especially don’t see why it is necessary to take on the wider, general identity of a ‘transgender woman’ or so called ‘trans-woman.’
I am a woman.
The increasing use of the term transwoman is deceptive: it has the appearance of a groovy, liberal term that says…
“Hey…being trans is not only something you shouldn’t be ashamed of, but something to be proud of!”
But when you analyse the term in its general use, you can see that it’s neither a medical or legal or liberal term but a marker which denotes the transwoman as a different species of woman: a transwoman. In other words, the term makes clear that she is not a real woman.
The question of whether or not a transgender woman is a woman is a disputed question in our society – not just between liberals and conservatives, but between transgender women and feminists, and transgender women and regular women. And what’s happening is that we are arriving at some kind of compromise where the rest of society is basically saying…
“Okay….Fine…We’ll allow you to be a woman…but it will be this new category of woman called a transwoman.”
In this case, the linguistic prefix ‘trans’ is like Private Smith, Junior Doctor, Master Jones, Acting Attorney General, Deputy/ trainee etc. It’s an indication of rank, reminding listeners that a transwoman has a different biology and is therefore a sub-woman.
When the suffragettes fought for the vote and the civil rights movement fought segregation, both groups sought full citizenship and all the rights that come with it. If the establishment had agreed to grant them citizenship but insist they retain a marker such as ‘black citizen’ or ‘female citizen’ the establishment would be creating a subcategory of citizen without the same status as a citizen. And that’s what’s happening with ‘transwoman’ as a subcategory of ‘woman.’
This mention of civil rights reminds me of a commonly used marker that is not derogatory: African American. And no doubt some readers will say that ‘transwoman’ is the same. But it’s not!
‘African American’ is an ethno-social term about ancestry and cultural identity. ‘Transgender’ is a multifaceted term, but all it reminds me of is a medical condition called gender dysphoria that made my life a nightmare. I’m not ashamed to be transgender, but why the fu*k should I be proud of a condition that led to hardcore surgeries and medications and counselling?
To be transgender is to suffer a pathology of the body. The disease is an imprisonment of our female sensibility within the flesh and blood of a man. We then correct this wrongness through surgery and other medical means. Why do we want to remind ourselves and others of these medical issues by naming ourselves ‘transwomen’?
Therefore, I fundamentally disagree with the widespread user of the term ‘transwoman.’ Yes, it’s useful when talking to doctors or in conversations about transgender issues, but it should never be an outward facing identity or a label the rest of society puts on us.
Nobody would refer to a woman who’s had a hysterectomy as a ‘sterile-woman’ so there’s no need to communicate our biological uniqueness / medical history by defining ourselves as ‘transgender women.’
If you had a DNA test, what would it say? That’s what you are. The other is what you wish to be.
I fucking LOVE this article! I’m a cis male who is dating a woman That’s trans. I don’t think of her as “trans” at all, for exactly the reasons you named. Too often its used as an identifier for the “movement”. You’re exactly right in your assessment of the term and when it should be used, in my opinion. I wish more felt as you did.