Question Sixteen: Is there a generational divide in the trans community?

April 16, 2013 § 6 Comments

Onwards with the end in sight! Panel bios here.


Question Sixteen

Is there much of a generational divide in the trans community? Is there much crossover or not between people who identify as ‘transsexual’ and those who identify as ‘transgender’ or do people use these more as descriptive terms than anything?
 I ask partly out of curiosity, and partly because in a work context it helps me to know what are the most appropriate words to use. Most of the trans people I’m acquainted with are young as well as politically active and I’m interested to know whether older and/or less politically engaged trans people tend to have different perspectives and prefer different terminology



Natacha: Difficult to say at this stage, and more research is needed, but it is likely that more older transsexuals have been living in “stealth”; that is without anyone around them knowing that they are trans, because that was the normal advice to transsexuals in the 1960, 70s and 80s. Whether this has changed, is difficult to say. What has changed is that, with the introduction of the internet, trans people have been able to work together, help each other, coalesce and take political, cultural and social action to change the world. This is probably why more younger trans people appear to be politically active.



Roz: I am the wrong person to ask – I get on better with trans people a generation younger than I do with my original peer group. I regard transgender or trans* as occasionally useful umbrellas – though transsexual is my own sense of who I am, with transgender being the broader team I am in solidarity with.



Naith: There is to an extent – you’ll often find that older trans people tend to be more binary-identified, somewhat more stereotypical in their gender presentation perhaps, and more likely to have transitioned when older. That’s not always the case of course, but it is something I’ve noticed. I think it may have something to do with the fact, in the past, trans people often had to be as binary-identified and stereotypical acting as possible in order to access treatment, and also to do with the fact that non-binary identity was perhaps not as talked about in the past. Non-binary identified trans people will find it easier to come out these days, and to come out younger.



CN: I think there’s about as much of a generational divide as you would expect to find in any group of people – and, as usual, plenty of people who pay no attention to it/are not affected by it. Certainly, as someone in my late twenties, I’ve seen a gap between my experience and that of people in their late teens/early twenties in terms of information and support networks available online and in real life. However, I do think that a lot of the articles on the depth of the supposed divide (I’m thinking of Riki Wilchins’ piece on ‘Transgender Dinosaurs’) ignore diversity among people of all ages, and the bonds of friendship and solidarity between us. With the proviso that my  knowledge only comes from research and listening, I’m not convinced by the idea that younger people are more likely to look more obviously genderqueer or gender non-normative   than older people, or understand themselves in a less ‘binary’ fashion. Even if we only look at the last 100 years, there’s a wealth of evidence for a whole range of ways of being trans in its broadest sense. Majorie Garber and Leslie Feinberg’s works are a great introduction. Also worth bearing in mind is the sad fact that we don’t have as many older trans people in our community as we should do because of the higher rates of violence against trans people, high rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse – and the AIDS epidemic.

     When it comes to terminology I’d say use ‘trans’ as default and then ask politely for any further clarification? I do think that there’s a tendency for online debate about labels and descriptives to spiral into a black hole of despair – that being said, it’s often a job that needs doing. I would certainly say that parts of my life could be described in the crossover between ‘transsexual’ and ‘transgender’ (see post here).


§ 6 Responses to Question Sixteen: Is there a generational divide in the trans community?

  • misswonderly says:

    I think quite clearly trans individuals tend to reflect the social expectations pertaining in their given environment and during the course of their lives. I strongly suspect there are a lot of older people who have not come out of the closet, large or small, or not transitioned for this reason. I was one of them for far too long. There may be others who have embraced and crossed a perceived binary with more enthusiasm than they might otherwise. I think many older people generally, beyond the trans community, may regret that one side of a strict binary seemed to be the only avenue open to them.

    When it comes to transsexual v transgender v gender variant, there is an issue around how androgynous it is possible to remain as one grows older without medical intervention. There have always been people who played with androgyny in their youth but settled into a binary role as they got older … although of course that may just be merely a subjective perception on my part.

    Speaking personally, I understand very little of what is meant by gender identity as an active thing. The dad of a trans kid recently remarked “Reality is bigger than any pop psychology” which I rather like. All I know is that my reality is only feeling comfortable in experiencing my body as physically female and perceived as such. I don’t know about others.

    Where I think I relate to younger trans people is in the realisation that my life and transition would have been hugely less complicated if gender roles had not been enforced so strictly in the past.

  • To some extent – I’ve been attacked by many older trans women for being “an activist”, often using horrifically misogynistic terms that I struggle to differentiate from transphobic radical feminists and “men’s rights activists”.

    To place all older trans women into a box would be a false dichotomy, though – it might be better in my case to ask if there is a generational divide in approach to lifestyle, activism, and beliefs regarding rights.

  • knightofwolf says:

    For me I have to explain to people what the differences is between Transgender and Trans sexual. For my family will just make trans sexual jokes and I tell them to look up the term on the internet and they just look it up in old dust books that are 60 to 80 years old and not updated at all. Sighs. I also have to explain to my coworkers and friends the difference and after some laboring time I just had to make a sign that explains the difference and give it to them to understand the differences. For everyone thinks trans sexual when you tell them you are transgender and educating others can get labor intensive at times.

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