Queering Language

A wide-eyed reporter recently exclaimed to me, "It's like you're reaching a critical mass!" I pointed at my chest and mouthed, "Me?" before I realized that he meant transgender people in general.

I laughed -- couldn't help it.

The idea of a "transgender critical mass" seems silly from the rural space where I live. There are only two other transgender people whom I know of (one of whom lives in my house) within several hundred miles. But that didn't matter to my friendly, fellow reporter.

What he meant was that we -- an already hyper-visible population -- are appearing in mainstream media more and more often.

As a result, sensitive and objective journalism regarding gender-variant people has become increasingly imperative. Truly, we are now living the adage "the bigger the spotlight, the bigger the shadow."

For me, this increase in attention has meant frequent encounters with sometimes well-meaning, sometimes not, confused, gender-civilians wondering if the over-sensationalized narrative they're fed is real.

Similarly, I see discomfort on the faces non-trans reporters easing themselves into our gender-fabulous muck, sticking one toe in -- pronouns? -- and feeling around for familiarity.

With the hopes of making this process a little more bearable for both of us, GLAAD provides reporters with a "media reference guide" when dealing with transgender (and other LGBTQI) populations.

As grateful as I am for this service, I find it interesting that the organization used to determine the media speak for trans people is the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation -- note, no "T" in the acronym.

So, who is defining the language of transgender people if not trans people themselves?

It's tricky.

Most language used to define and discuss gender seems ill-fitting and poorly defined -- not just for trans people, but for everybody. I use words like "genderqueer" and "cisgender" and address friends with pronouns like "ze" and "per" as part of a vocabulary I've adopted to help articulate the complexity of gender.

Obviously, trans people (all people?) are in a process of teasing apart these types of linguistics to find themselves. With regard to gender-variance, mainstream media has caught on; it's vocabulary that just hasn't caught up.

My hope is that our language will someday be as fluid as gender identity itself, and, eventually, words will serve as accurate ambassadors of our vibrant and varied gender identities. But we're not there yet.

Gender-Variant Vocab 101:

  • Genderqueer (adj.): describes a gender identification that is outside the gender binary of simply "male" and "female." It could be both or neither.

  • Cisgender (adj.): describes a gender identification that mirrors or matches the gender a person was assigned at birth. It is the transgender community's preferred alternative to terms like "biological man" or "biological woman."
  • Fabdrogyny (n.): a conscious celebration of an androgynous gender presentation. Adjective form: fabdrogynous. Related noun: fabdrogyne.
  • Commonly used, out-of-the-binary pronouns: ze, per, sie, hir, v, they, them, one, e, eir.
  • The word "transgender" is an adjective and does not have an "ed" at the end.
  • Using terms like "female-bodied" or "male-bodied" to refer to transgender people who've not had surgery or used hormones is often considered offensive.
  • In the comments section below, please add your own words to the gender-fabulous primer.