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.
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).