The ideas and language of gender and identity

By , September 4, 2009 12:35 am

(Brace yourself, this is going to be a long post.)

An Introduction

As usual, Daisy had an interesting post over at Dear Diaspora. (Although I think I found it more interesting than she may have originally intended!) She set the post up as intending to clarify some terms surrounding gender and identity (cissexual, transsexual, cisgender, transgender, etc) so that she could use the terms in later posts. She assumed that her readers were generally familiar with cissexual and transsexual, but used the following to define cisgender:

- cisgender: not transgender, not genderqueer; having a sex that aligns with one’s social gender (i.e. female/feminine/woman or male/masculine/man)

I had to read that definition a few times to make sure I understood, because it’s not the definition I’m familiar with. That definition would look something more like:

- cisgender: not transgender, not genderqueer; having a gender identity that aligns with one’s assigned sex

That is, the definition of cis/transgender I’m familiar with – and what I think is the more commonly accepted definition – is concerned with how one’s gender identity relates to assigned sex. Conversely,  Daisy’s definition is concerned with how one’s gender presentation (“social gender”) relates to one’s gender identity (as I think we determined in the comments that she meant by “sex”).

Interesting.

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Right off the bat, her definition has an advantage in that…

…the categories “cissexual” and “cisgender” overlap and interact with each other and with “transsexual” and “transgender” is every possible way.

1. TS & TG: transsexual and genderqueer (a butch MAAB woman)
2. CS & TG: cissexual and genderqueer (a butch FAAB woman)
3. TS & CG: transsexual and cisgender (a feminine MAAB woman)
4. CS & CG: cissexual and cisgender (a feminine FAAB woman)

The parentheticals are just examles; they’re supposed to be illustrative, not limiting.

Whereas with the common definitions, cissexual/gender don’t overlap and interact with transsexual/gender in every possible way. Using Daisy’s chart, and the “classic” definitions of transgender and cisgender:

  1. TS & TG: transsexual and transgender (anyone transgender individual who transitions or desires to do so)
  2. CS & TG: cissexual and transgender (someone who doesn’t desire to modify their body away from their assigned sex but also does not identify purely or simply as that gender)
  3. TS & CG: transsexual and cisgender (this is where the overlapping sort of falls apart. someone whose subconscious sex does not align with their assigned sex and/or someone who desires to modify their body away from their assigned sex but still identifies as their assigned gender.)
  4. CS & CG: cissexual and cisgender (someone who identifies as their assigned gender and does not find a disconnect with their assigned sex

Number three is the problem child, and it’s an issue I’ve had before. I’ve actually had a half-written post about a chart similar to Daisy’s sitting in my queue for months, simply because I couldn’t figure out what to do with that third box. I went back and forth:

“Trans/cissexual should be able to correspond to trans/cisgender in all permutations, self.”

“I agree. But self, box three smacks of idiocy. The chart is only useful if it describes actual ways people self-identify.”

“Good point, self. But it’s a chart! How can you argue with a chart?”

And so on.

In our discussion in the comments of Daisy’s post, she summed up some of my semantic/linguistic frustrations with the standard definitions by saying…

If transsexual is a subset of transgender, musn’t cissexual be a subset of cisgender…?

But that’s not true with the standard definitions of the terms, while her definitions removes transsexual as being a subset of transgender.

Charts and Graphs and Things

At this point in the discussion with Daisy, I started to get cross-eyed, trying to keep track of all the various definitions we were using. So lets throw out transgender and cisgender for a bit and just talk about concepts and, more importantly, self-identification. Let’s consider the following three spectra, each with various statements of self-identification made by hypothetical individuals. (Disclaimers: I am going to use trans/cissexual, as that seems to be the most clearly-defined concept, or the least contested. I’m also going to say things like “the opposite sex,” even though I know that’s a really problematic phrase.)

Spectrum 1
Gender Identity as it relates to Self Presentation

<– Aligns                            Neither Aligns nor Opposes                   Opposes –>

|—-A—–|———-|———-|———-|—–B—-|———-|———-|———-|—–C—-|

1A says, “My preferred self-presentation of gender completely aligns with social expectations of my gender identity.” That is, someone who identifies as a woman and presents themselves in a femme/feminine manner.

1B says, “My preferred self-presentation of gender neither completely aligns with social expectations of my gender identity, nor directly opposes them.” That is, Someone who identifies as a man, but prefers self-presentation with equally balanced masculine/butch and feminine/femme aspects.

1C says, “My preferred self-presentation of gender directly opposes social expectations of my gender identity.” That is, someone who identifies as a woman but prefers male gender expression or identifies as a man but prefers female gender expression.

Spectrum 2
Gender Identity as it relates to Assigned Sex

<– Aligns                            Neither Aligns nor Opposes                   Opposes –>

|—-A—–|———-|———-|———-|—–B—-|———-|———-|———-|—–C—-|

2A says, “My gender identity has always been aligned with my assigned sex.” That is, a woman-born-woman (to borrow a very loaded phrase).

2B says, “My gender identity does not align – or did not at some point in the past – with my assigned sex or with the opposite sex.” That is, someone whose gender identity is neither male nor female.

2C says, “My gender identity is the opposite of my assigned sex.” That is, someone who identifies as a woman but was assigned ‘male’ at birth (regardless of whether she desires to transition).

Spectrum 3
Subconscious Sex as it relates to Assigned Sex

<– Aligns                            Neither Aligns nor Opposes                   Opposes –>

|—-A—–|———-|———-|———-|—–B—-|———-|———-|———-|—–C—-|

3A says, “My subconscious sex has always been aligned with my assigned sex.” That is, cissexual.

3B says, “My subconscious sex does not align – or did not at some point in the past – with my assigned sex or with the opposite sex.” That is, someone whose subconscious sex is neither male nor female.

3C says, “My subconscious sex is the opposite of my assigned sex.” That is, a classically defined transsexual.

If you didn’t guess already, Spectrum 1 aligns with Daisy’s definition of cisgender/transgender, Spectrum 2 aligns with the classic/standard definition of cisgender/transgender, and Spectrum 3 aligns with cissexual/transsexual.

Why should I care? (Or, who gets to decide on the yardstick?)

As fun as it is to make ASCII charts, how is that really helpful? Think for a moment about what cis___ and trans___ imply, as prefixes. What is being “cis”ed (that is, staying the same, or matching) and what is being “trans”ed (that is, opposing or crossing)?

In cis/transsexual (or Spectrum 3) the use of cis___ and trans___ relate to whether one’s subconscious sex matches their assigned sex. I’m “trans”ing sex – transgressing, transversing, transsexual – because my subconscious sex is out of whack with my assigned sex. My roommates are “cis”ing sex – matching, staying the same, cissexual – because their subconscious sexes match their assigned sexes.

Meanwhile, in the standard use of cis/transgender (or Spectrum 2) cis___ and trans___ are also being used to relate whether a component of oneself – in this case gender identity – matches their assigned sex. I’m “trans”ing gender because my gender identity is out of what with my assigned sex. My roommates are “cis”ing gender because their gender identities match their assigned sexes.

Phrased that way, cis/transsexual and cis/transgender seem somewhat redundant or overlapping. As  Their both using assigned sex as a yardstick, even if their measuring different things (gender identity and subconscious sex). And, as Daisy noted, they run into problems because “transsexual” is a subset of “transgender” (all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares) while “cissexual” is not a subset of “cisgender.” Someone can have their subconscious sex match their assigned sex – that is, not desire to alter their body – while still not experiencing a ‘match’ between their gender identity and their assigned sex.

But with Spectrum 1, a modification of Daisy’s definition of cis/transgender, gender identity becomes the yardstick against which behavior/presentation is measures. Doesn’t this seem like a more powerful concept? Suddenly, instead of having three somewhat fuzzy categories -

  1. Transsexual and transgender: Gender identity and subconscious sex don’t match expectations of their assigned sex. You know something about their identity, but doesn’t tell you anything about their self-presentation or how they see their gender identity interacting with the world. (Do they seem themselves as butch? Femme? Genderqueer? Androgynous? Something else?)
  2. Cissexual and transgender: Gender identity doesn’t match expectations of assigned sex,  but subconscious and assigned sexes do match. This tells you a little more about how they see their gender identity interacting with the world, but still not a ton of information.
  3. Cissexual and cisgender: Both gender identity and subconscious sex match expectations of assigned sex. This is probably the most informative or well-defined of the three, simply because it’s the most common.

- you get to have a more nuanced way of describing people’s identities and histories:

  1. Transsexual and transgender: Subconscious sex doesn’t match their assigned sex, and self-presentation doesn’t match expectations of their gender identity. You know this person sees their gender expression as somehow at odds with the cultural understandings and expectations of their gender identity and their subconscious sex at odds with their assigned sex.
  2. Transsexual and cisgender: Subconscious sex doesn’t match assigned sex, but self-presentation does match expectations of their gender identity. This is someone who sees their gender expression as matching the cultural understandings of their gender identity.
  3. Cissexual and transgender: Subconscious sex does match their assigned sex, but self-presentation doesn’t match expectations of their gender identity.
  4. Cissexual and cisgender: Both self-presentation and subconscious sex match expectations of assigned sex.

It seems like none of the information from the first set of definitions are lost with the second set, but much information is gained.

The End of the Beginning

I’m sort of creating more problems than I’m solving, though, because I’m ignoring the huge history and momentum behind the accepted/understood definitions of cis/transsexual and cis/transgender. (Or, to give credit where credit is due, Daisy is creating more problems than she’s solving. Thanks a lot, Daisy!) Likewise, this post ignores the ramifications of redefining language – one of the first commenters at Dear Diaspora mistook Daisy’s definitions to mean that she was equating the privileges and oppressions of having one identity with those of another. Their are legal/medical/social implications of all of these words, and I’m not trying to pretend those implications don’t exist.

Rather, I’d like to continue the discussion that Daisy began, of how language should label these concepts. Lets table the discussion on what the specific words are, and agree that these are useful and important and powerful concepts that shift the perspective of discussing gender identity and subconscious sex in what I would say are pretty significant ways.

I would love to hear thoughts from the peanut gallery. Please, poke and prod – tell me where I’m overlooking something, where I used an awkward phrase, where something I said doesn’t match your lived experience.

But lets not be satisfied with how these words are defined – and how they define us – simply because that’s what their “understood” to mean.

Lets have the discussion of how we want to think about these ideas, and about ourselves.

18 Responses to “The ideas and language of gender and identity”

  1. Mattie says:

    That’s a really interesting difference. My initial question then is: does that mean that if (cisgender = physical sex +social gender match) then is a physically + socially transitioned trans woman a transsexual, cisgendered woman (physical sex + social gender = female) but if you only partially physically transition + socially transition you stay a transsexual, transgendered woman (phsical sex != binary female, social gender = female)?

    Personally, I find that problematic since if you are considering binary gendered trans people it sets up those who do not fully physically transition to be pushed into a third gender or genderqueer category whether they wish it or not and based entirely on their body. While only those conforming to “classic” transsexualism get a full pass into their binary gender. Not having full physical transition != genderqueer. My body might not be binary sexed but my identity is binary gendered. I don’t want my gender messing with by my body at all in any way… or else why are we all here at all?

    • Mattie says:

      Wait… maybe it isn’t saying that… is it that? Confusion! If your gender performance != social expectations you = trangendered?

      I think yes?

      Ok then, on that basis:
      Well where is the benchmark since gender performance standards are relative? Are you transgendered if your social performance is queer in the US? Or in Belgium? or Indonesia? Because they vary widely just between those three. Are you then sometimes transgendered and sometimes not, depending on where you happen to be? If so, why and what’s the point of it as a category?

      Why equate gender identity and gender performance? Why do I have to pin my colours to the mast of genderqueer behaviour to be transgendered. This does two things, it means I sometimes am and sometimes am not depending on both how I am and crucial also on whether I am passing or not. If I pass sometimes am I only slightly transgendered? Why do other people get to decide for me?

      Why does how I choose to do female as a social performance determine the strength of my gender? Am I more female if I am femme and less if I am butch? Why and why does femme=female or butch=male = gender in this? I’m not understanding that link at all because it is such a variable thing in time and space. Compared to one hundred years ago this would make almost everyone transgendered. Compared between different countries the same thing happens. How can you deal with this and why is it needed?

      • Mattie says:

        Oooh further thought: does this mean that everyone who is not heterosexual is also therefore transgendered since they are not conforming to societal norms of gender performance? Gay/lesbian=trans?

        Sorry for the multi commenting but.. I keep having thoughts and this is interesting :)

        • Rebecca says:

          No worries about multiple comments! I’m glad this post was thought provoking.

          So first, yes, Spectrum 1 relates to whether or not one’s preferred self-presentation of gender aligns with social expectations of their gender identity. What I’m trying to do here, though, is have an individual’s place on the spectrum relate to how they see themself. This would be similar to the generally accepted definition of cissexual and transsexual, which relate to one’s subconscious sex or perception of what their own gendered body should be, rather than whether they have (or will ever) actually transitioned.

          Well where is the benchmark since gender performance standards are relative? Are you transgendered if your social performance is queer in the US? Or in Belgium? or Indonesia? Because they vary widely just between those three. Are you then sometimes transgendered and sometimes not, depending on where you happen to be? If so, why and what’s the point of it as a category?

          I agree that gender expectations vary widely from culture to culture, but I think there’s already an extent to which gender and sexual identities are subjective based on one’s perception of what gendered or sexual behavior means. I’m imagining someone placing themself on Spectrum 1 based on how they think about their own self gender presentation, rather than what they happen to be doing at any one time.

          I agree that this would make for a more subjective spectrum than, say, Spectrum 2 (based on the more classic cis/transgender definitions), but “assigned sex” is already a subjective thing to some extent.

          As to the point of the category, I think it stems from a desire (on Daisy’s part, in this case, prompting my thoughts on the subject) to define oneself based on how one’s own, personal gender identity relates to something else rather than have all gender definitions revolve around assigned sex. You may be right, that Spectrum 1 ultimately offers more problems than solutions, but I think this discussion means that at least thinking about these things is worthwhile.

          Why equate gender identity and gender performance? Why do I have to pin my colours to the mast of genderqueer behaviour to be transgendered. This does two things, it means I sometimes am and sometimes am not depending on both how I am and crucial also on whether I am passing or not. If I pass sometimes am I only slightly transgendered? Why do other people get to decide for me?

          I’m not trying to equate gender identity and gender performance, I’m trying to find a relationship between the two. One isn’t equal to the other, you’re right, but the two can and do interact within an individual and within a society or culture.

          Ideally, I’m imagining Spectrum 1 not relating to passing or how other people see a person’s presentational choices (or even the actual presentational choices being made) but relating to how one imagines themself. To use myself as an example, I’m still mostly presenting myself as semi-androgynous. I’m wearing earrings and women’s clothing, but don’t often wear dresses or tops to really accentuate the curves I do have. But I imagine myself as a person who does so, and want to more, so I’d place myself more on the left side of Spectrum 1; my gender identity (female) aligns with how I see myself presenting gender (feminine) regardless of what specific choices I make on a given day, or lifetime.

          In short, I’m hoping Spectrum 1 will give individuals more power to define their own identity around gendered concepts, whereas Spectrum 2 seems to rely on what sex society or culture has assigned an individual at birth. I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear from the outset, but it took me a while to wrap my brain around the concept so I may not be doing a great job explaining it.

          Why does how I choose to do female as a social performance determine the strength of my gender? Am I more female if I am femme and less if I am butch? Why and why does femme=female or butch=male = gender in this? I’m not understanding that link at all because it is such a variable thing in time and space. Compared to one hundred years ago this would make almost everyone transgendered. Compared between different countries the same thing happens. How can you deal with this and why is it needed?

          I wasn’t aiming for any of these ideas to be used to determine “strength” of gender, so I’m sorry if that’s how it came across. But going back to the section about deciding which yardstick to use, I’d rather think of myself as transgressing (or not) the behaviors or presentation expected of my own self-defined gender identity (what I tried to accomplish with Spectrum 1), instead of transgressing expectations of my decided-by-another assigned sex.

          As for how to deal with Spectrum 1 when talking about individuals from different countries or different times in history, I’m not sure what the answer is. You’re right – thinking about things in this way makes such comparisons more difficult. But I’d say we’ve managed to accept changing definitions of sexuality and marriage, to use two examples, and are able to handle different definitions across cultures. I don’t have any easy answers as to deal with more tricky concepts of gender, though. Would the same behavior and identity place someone at different locations on Spectrum 1 depending on how their culture viewed gender? Maybe, but I think that already happens to some extent.

          As to why I think this discussion – and Spectrum 1 in general – is important goes back to self-identification. My gender identity should be the yardstick by which I’m measured, not what’s between my legs. (Or what was at some point.) I still think Spectrum 3 is useful, because discussing how or whether assigned and subconscious sexes align is important if one wants to respectfully discuss the necessity of transitioning. But I don’t think assigned sex should be the only yardstick used for defining identity.

          -Rebecca

          PS – Throughout this comment, I’ve intentionally avoided using trans/cisgender and instead talked about “Spectrum 1″ and “Spectrum 2.” That’s because I think you’re right, the language itself is also really important. One of my big stumbling blocks while discussing things with Daisy was trying to conceive of myself as cisgender. That’s why I’m trying to overlook the words themselves, where possible, and instead focus on the concepts. Once a better idea of the concepts is in place, I think it might be possible to have a more productive conversation about how those concepts can be brought into cleaner and less awkward language.

          • Mattie says:

            Ok I need to read and digest that before I comment more but my initial response is that I don’t think there ought to be a relationship between identity and performance. In fact, ideally I think that all types of gender performance should be available to all genders without contradicting that gender identity, in other words, social stereotypes of behvaviour are limiting and relative and ought to be a matter of personal styel, of choice. While gender identity is something inate and internal. Does that make a difference?

          • Mattie says:

            OK.. so…

            I totally agree gender identity needs divorcing from physical sex. This is why I personally avoid using mtf, ftm, maab, faab and so on because they all do that. They directly reference it. I always use trans man, trans woman or genderqueer, androgyne and so on because although they do too, they do so much more obliquely.

            However, I see linking gender identity to gender performance to be equally full of minefields. It is so very relative, it leaves identity open to debate with others to a far greater degree as we all judge other people’s gender performances subjectively. That leaves open the possibility that one’s transness is open to debate. Instead of saying with confidence that I am transgendered because of a concrete relationship between my identity and my assigned gender at birth, it becomes a matter of negotiation. It can be argued and denied more easily and with much less clearly defined limits. This has some big implications for me.

            As I allude to in my reply below to Daisy, there is a serious impact on my identity and on me socially. I am transsexual and transgendered. However my choices mean that my self definition as transsexual are already up for debate and denial from both some trans and many cis people. If my transgendered self definition is also to be up for debate and denial because I am femme then what am I left with? Who am I? Not trans enough but also not cis enough. Who is to be my community and why am I to be put outside the ones I do have now because of my personal style when the one I would be put into does not see me as belonging there either?

        • Rebecca says:

          I forgot to say that Spectrum 1 does seem more fluid over an individual’s lifetime than Spectrum 2, but I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing. The concepts of heterosexual and homosexual (for example) allow someone to define themself as one at one point in their life and another at a different point of their life. What I’m trying to capture is the generally feeling a person has about themself at a particular point in time. But if someone has wildly or constantly shifting views of themself, maybe Spectrum 1 won’t be useful to them.

  2. Daisy says:

    Awesome post! You really took the discourse to the next level here, for which I’m very appreciative. Looking forward to the ensuing discussion!

    Mattie, I second everything Rebecca said, especially about locations on the spectra being based on how individuals see themselves. I think that largely accounts for differences across time, space, and culture. Other locations definitely have different standards than ours, but presumably the local standards, whatever they may be, are what individuals will use to measure themselves.

    • Mattie says:

      I am in part playing devils advocate, but also I want to try to understand this idea better.. and also I do see problems with it :) Please bear with me.

      Where I live in Belgium, the social standard for straight female gender performance for women of my age would be judged moderately butch in the UK and, from what I know from people in the US, fairly strongly butch there. Because I am from the UK, I measure my own performance by UK standards. However I don’t live there now, so how other people measure me is at odds to my perception. To me I am in the middle, to the people where I live I am very definitely femme. So, who is right? To them I am conforming pretty strongly to a femme idea. To me, only slightly. Women from here who moved to the UK or US might easily be seen as transgressive, but here they are not at all. Do you see my point? Gender performance is a lot more relative than one realises without spending a significant amount of time living abroad. And in places like Europe where countries are smaller and not at all homogenous, the standard can change very rapidly in a short distance and you can have people from multiple nations measuring themselves one way and being measured in another way by the local culture. If the answer is that the local culture decides, then what of my freedom to identify myself? In this model am I more cisgendered when I am in Belgium and less so when I go to visit family in the UK? If I get to decide, how do I make the locals accept that when we are operating on different standards? I already have to navigate that and avoid being too femme for their tastes in order assimilate. If it becomes an issue of my gender identity, of my trans identity, then that becomes even more problematical for me.

      I think I have an issue with the idea of making my transness a function of my gender performance. Does that mean that my acceptability in queer spaces is measured on that? The more I conform to cis binary roles the less trans I am? That might be ok except that I fundamentally am not accepted as cis by cis society except on the surface. If I am to be ruled not trans enough to be queer because of my gender performance, where do I go? Do I have to butch up to be acceptable?

      Because I have decided to not have surgery in my transition I already meet trans and cis people who decree that I am not trans enough, who deny my transness and so my gender identity. It’s not pleasant. This to me seems like it is open to being used against femme trans women in the same way (not that you are saying this.. but this would end up happening). For women like me that would be a double whammy of exclusion from trans and queer identities.

      • Daisy says:

        The more I conform to cis binary roles the less trans I am?

        Not at all. Your identity as transsexual (if you do identify that way — I apologize if I’ve misinterpreted!) is one thing; Rebecca’s spectrum 1 is about how gender-conforming/genderqueer you are within your gender identity. It’s about how, though my girlfriend and I are both cissexual women, we have different genders and different experiences of gender because I’m butch and she’s femme. It’s about the differences in experience between a feminine trans woman and a trans woman with an androgynous womanhood. Does that make sense?

        The issue of varying standards across countries in a really interesting one; I’m curious about what Rebecca has to say about it.

        Because I have decided to not have surgery in my transition I already meet trans and cis people who decree that I am not trans enough, who deny my transness and so my gender identity. It’s not pleasant. This to me seems like it is open to being used against femme trans women in the same way (not that you are saying this.. but this would end up happening). For women like me that would be a double whammy of exclusion from trans and queer identities.

        I totally hear that concern and that is absolutely the last thing I would want. I would never say that trans women of any gender presentation or femmes of any variety aren’t queer. It’s just about different axes of queerness.

        • Mattie says:

          I do understand that is not your intention at all :)

          Then lets have an axis of queerness of gender performance, but lets not make it conflate gender identity and gender performance. What is imprecise about me saying I am a femme, lesbian, binary gendered, trans woman that it needs femme and transgendered removed and turned into cisgendered? I’d be a lesbian, binary gendered, cisgendered, trans woman if I am reading right? I am not sure how that helps me.

  3. Daisy says:

    Mattie,

    Ok I need to read and digest that before I comment more but my initial response is that I don’t think there ought to be a relationship between identity and performance.

    Why not? As a butch my experience of womanhood is totally different from that of femmes and feminine straight women. (I do identify as butch, but it’s a modifier to my gender identity as a woman.)

    In fact, ideally I think that all types of gender performance should be available to all genders without contradicting that gender identity, in other words, social stereotypes of behvaviour are limiting and relative and ought to be a matter of personal styel, of choice. While gender identity is something inate and internal. Does that make a difference?

    I completely agree that all modes of gender performance should be available to all people, and I don’t think either Rebecca or I is saying that one kind of gender presentation contradicts a gender identity. What it does contradict is the omnipresent social norm for that identity — a contradiction that greatly affects how a person is treated and perceived.

    Also, I very much disagree that gender presentation and performance is a conscious choice and merely a matter of personal style. Of course it’s partly dependent on culture, but then so it gender identity (i.e., the number of genders available in a give culture presumably has an impact on how people identify). I’m not choosing to be butch — I’m expressing my deepest truth. I could not choose to be a feminine woman and make it out alive.

    • Mattie says:

      Yes fair point about performance being deeper than style or choice. I should have worded that better :) At the same time I do have to make choices about mine. I do so because I need to fit in in a culture where femme is much less femme than the one I am from and I want to assimilate as an immigrant and I also end up limiting it because I have to walk a line between personal choice and a stereotype of hyper femme transsexuality that if I stray into will affect how people understand me in very detrimental ways. So I limit my expression in a variety of ways because to do otherwise would make me too transgressively femme.

      I am all for a sliding scale of queerness for gender performance, what I have issue with is making that determine whether I am trans or not. Yes I am transsexual, however that is not stable for me, it is something I have to fight to have accepted because of how I deal with my dysphoria. Transgendered I can claim and have accepted because, in the current definition, I am clearly transgressive. However, if transgender becomes a facet of queerness of gender performance then I no longer have this as a stable accepted identity by others. I become outside transgender but cisgender is not actually available to me, since cisgendered society is not going to accept me as non transgressive in my gender.

      • Daisy says:

        I understand — that’s why I’ve backed off from using the word transgender for that purpose and am currently trying to figure out what words to use.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Wow! Lots to reply to.

    From Mattie:

    As I allude to in my reply below to Daisy, there is a serious impact on my identity and on me socially. I am transsexual and transgendered. However my choices mean that my self definition as transsexual are already up for debate and denial from both some trans and many cis people. If my transgendered self definition is also to be up for debate and denial because I am femme then what am I left with?

    I think that completely makes sense. Repurposing “transgender” was never really realistic and I agree with Daisy that it’s too loaded a term to try and use. I’ll be continuing to discuss things in these comments in terms of the numbered spectra from the original post, and I guess we can try to brainstorm on what specific language might work moving forward.

    From Mattie:

    Because I am from the UK, I measure my own performance by UK standards. However I don’t live there now, so how other people measure me is at odds to my perception. To me I am in the middle, to the people where I live I am very definitely femme. So, who is right?

    I’d say you are – I’m talking about concepts of personal identity, not of perception. Someone who never plans to transition and lives their entire life as their assigned sex can still identify as transsexual. Similarly – and this may be just incredibly naive and starry-eyed f me – I think two people can place themselves at the same spot on Spectrum 1 even though an outside observer might see them as being at very different spots on the spectrum. I don’t think I’m as concerned as you are about what problems might arise.

    However…it’s really easy for me to say that, from a theoretical or hypothetical standpoint. Lived experience, to some extent, gets to trump my high-falutin ideas of how things “should” be. Likewise, I’m not really having to deal with different culture’s ideas of femininity, or even really “transness.” As you said…

    I already meet trans and cis people who decree that I am not trans enough, who deny my transness and so my gender identity. It’s not pleasant. This to me seems like it is open to being used against femme trans women in the same way (not that you are saying this.. but this would end up happening). For women like me that would be a double whammy of exclusion from trans and queer identities.

    That’s part of the reason that I agree trying to repurpose “transgender” isn’t as great an idea s I initially thought. (I always get real excited about bucking the system and proving how one thing is really something else.)

    But moving away from the specific language of what Spectrum 1 is called, you’re still right that it could easily be used to say someone is “more queer” (or more of whatever word is used to describe Spectrum 1). I’m not sure what to do about that, or if there’s anything to be done other than keep repeating that being of one identity isn’t better than another. Thoughts?

    Mattie also said

    Then lets have an axis of queerness of gender performance, but lets not make it conflate gender identity and gender performance.

    I don’t think I’m conflating gender identity and gender performance any more than cis/transsexual conflates subconscious sex and assigned sex. I’m trying to establish a relationship between the two, yes, but I think (I hope!) that’s different than confusing or merging the two.

    But beyond that, I think an “axis of queerness of gender performance” would be fine. But that requires being queer in relationship to something, and what I’m suggesting is that “queerness” be defined in relation to one’s gender identity, not one’s assigned sex.

    What is imprecise about me saying I am a femme, lesbian, binary gendered, trans woman that it needs femme and transgendered removed and turned into cisgendered? I’d be a lesbian, binary gendered, cisgendered, trans woman if I am reading right? I am not sure how that helps me.

    It’s not imprecise, but I would like to take a step back and identify two separate issues that I’m sorry got caught up together. First, the idea of having Spectrum 1 exist in some way, shape, or form. I hadn’t really though a ton about it until Daisy brought it up, but I like the idea of some concept or component of identity which establishes a relationship between my gender identity and concept of my own self-presentation.

    Second, and unrelated to that, I’m frustrated that transsexual is a subset of transgender, but cissexual is not a subset of cisgender. I know I did conflate those two issues in my original post, and I’m sorry that caused so much confusion.

    So I don’t think the way you stated your identity or who you are is imprecise. But I do think it’s linguistically sloppy and problematic that for someone to be “transsexual and transgender” is redundant but for someone to be “cissexual and cisgender” isn’t.

    I hope this conversation continues. I obviously need to refine my ideas a little bit more, and am guessing I’ll ultimately need to write a followup post making a clear distinction between my desire to see Spectrum 1 spread as a concept and my frustration with the inability for transsexual and transgender to cleanly map to cissexual and cisgender.

  5. [...] and Mattie chimed in on the discussion of this recent post about about the best way to describe an individual’s gender, gender identity, status as [...]

  6. I wrote a similar post to this here a couple of weeks ago, more personally and more in clear reference to myself. In it, I give three examples of stories I tell about myself and my sex and gender and how that breaks down into trans/cis/gender/queer.

    Now, I’m mostly with you on your redefinition of trans/cis gender, but I do also think that it would be useful to have language to talk about our genders with respect to the expectations that were placed on us at birth. That is, while I am aligned with most of the expectations of my perceived gender (subject to the norms of my culture), I have experienced (and to a lesser degree, continue to experience) tension about the gendered expectations that were assigned to me when I was young.

    I think some of this might already be creeping in, in so much as we often use “binary-identified” or “genderqueer” to describe things along axis 1, and so might restrict that language to axis 1 and trans/cisgender to axis 2. Conversely, and possibly also my preference, would be to restrict trans/cisgender/genderqueer to axis 1 and come up with some new trans/cis word for axis 2. Perhaps trans/cissocial? That seems confusing, but you get my drift.

    Anyway, thanks for this post.

    • Rebecca says:

      Welcome! Thanks for your comment.

      As I flesh out in this post, I’ve sort of given up on pushing to simply redefine trans/cisgender.

      But yes, I want to try and find a way to communicate all three spectra laid out in this post without resorting to long, drawn-out, descriptions: “Well, I was assigned A, but live as B, and like presenting as C, and identity as D..” Being able to say something like that is also important, obviously, but the whole point of language is to be able to establish agreed-upon concepts so you don’t have do define every possible word or idea as you go along.

      I think some of this might already be creeping in, in so much as we often use “binary-identified” or “genderqueer” to describe things along axis 1, and so might restrict that language to axis 1 and trans/cisgender to axis 2. Conversely, and possibly also my preference, would be to restrict trans/cisgender/genderqueer to axis 1 and come up with some new trans/cis word for axis 2. Perhaps trans/cissocial? That seems confusing, but you get my drift.

      I actually sort of like trans/cissocial. It seems like that would fit for Spectrum 1, though, particularly since I’m shooting for more humble goals than redefining trans/cisgender to any significant degree.

      But trans/cissocial could do a good job communicating whether you’re “trans”ing or “cis”ing your own gender identity. I’ll need to keep that in mind as I continue to reflect.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy