Why I use ‘trans’ and not ‘trans*’

June 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

Not a long post, nor a particularly deep one. But something that I feel needs to be said.

It worries me, the investment so many people make in language. As if it were a concrete system, a fixed reality, an external truth.

Some people feel that the word ‘trans’ always and forever implies the continuation of ‘man’ or ‘woman’ to make it complete. And that ‘trans*’ is preferable, so as to include non-binary people.

My gender is far from binary. I dispute the idea of ‘gender’ completely, at a philosophical level at least ( practically, it has its uses). Adding an asterisk makes no difference to me. I love the word ‘trans’ – as a challenge, a partiality, a prompt, an action. Asterisk or no, whatever works, whatever is easiest, is fine.

What bothers me is the idea that people would consider language to be so static, so immutable that ‘trans’, itself a challenging and disruptive term, would need to be changed to accomodate part of the trans community. And that there are people who feel that they don’t have the right to challenge a word to accept the complexity of their identities. To feel the ownership of it, the flexibility of its margins, the paltry reflexion it provides of reality.

We have better things to fight for, for our community. We should keep language in service to ourselves, and not the other way around. Which is not to deny the importance of thought, of linguistic debate, of challenging the dominant threads of discourse. But it is to say that, whenever we might feel excluded, we have the right to insert ourselves into the mix, rather than splitting away and dividing against each other.

§ 4 Responses to Why I use ‘trans’ and not ‘trans*’

  • Phoebe Queen says:

    I agree!

    I sometimes use trans* to make a particular point of communicating the existance of a world beyond the “-men” and “-women” who are also part of the world of trans people (usually when people have been behaving as if they’re not), but generally, “trans” is more comfortable, elegant, and perfectly sufficient without bringing computer wildcard expressions into common speech.

  • Moof says:

    Social definition of gender, and the language that society uses, are two aspects of the mental categorisation that human beings use to make sense of the world. English is hardly gendered at all. Most romance languages (French, Spanish, etc) are binary gendered, in the general case (e.g. The Spanish impersonal gender is hardly thought of). Germanic languages have a neuter gender. Some tribes in the amazon have up to seventeen genders, including one for Women, fire, and dangerous animals.

    This linguistic categorisation, which also serves to have differing concepts of being, or of time, is a very large part of how people see the world, and something polyglots tend to have fun with. But even so, trying to force linguistic changes helps people to conceive that there is a gender issue there, and that it may require some deep thought, as it clashes with the common “sound” that language has, and that feels wrong to most native speakers.

    That being said, language is a fickle thing, that changes constantly. In my lifetime, gay

  • […] me (because I’m one of those aforementioned people), which is why I don’t use trans* (old post here, which I would probably write differently now). As a ballast to all that negativity, here’s a […]

  • […] Lester, “Why I Use ‘Trans’ and Not ‘Trans*,’” A Gentleman and a Scholar, June 30, 2011, https://cnlester.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/why-i-use-trans-and-not-trans/ (accessed October 30, 2015); CN Lester, “Question Twelve: Is Trans* the Preferred Term?,” A […]

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