Linguistic troubles with cis/transgender

By , September 6, 2009 5:11 pm

Daisy 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 cis/transsexual, and a few other related concepts. Following some discussion at Daisy’s blog, Dear Diaspora, I came up with three spectra:

  1. Gender Identity as it relates to Self Presentation
  2. Gender Identity as it relates to Assigned Sex
  3. Subconscious Sex as it relates to Assigned Sex

Spectrum 1 was coming from Daisy’s use of cis/transgender at her above-linked post, Spectrum 2 is the commonly-used definition of cis/transgender, and Spectrum 3 is the commonly used definition of cis/transsexual. (If that doesn’t make sense, please take a look at my previous post for a more in-depth explanation of these concepts.)

Basically, Daisy got me thinking about how the commonly-used definition of cis/transgender and cis/transsexual are based off of a a person’s identity as it related to their assigned sex, whereas the definition she was using for cis/transgender was based off a person’s perception of itself as it related to their gender identity. That’s the long-story-short of where the three spectra came from.

With that background out of the way, I have a few more things I’d like to clarify before moving on with this post:

  • After hearing Mattie’s thoughts, and thinking things over more myself, I agree that trying to change the definition of cis/transgender is ultimately tilting at windmills
  • Perhaps more importantly, it would force people who do identify as transgender to have to massively rethink their own self-identification in a way I’m not comfortable with
  • As such, I’ll continue to use the Spectrum 2 (commonly-used) definition of cis/transgender rather than caveating it all the time with phrases like “commonly-used.” Starting….now!

But I still do think there are two big issues which came up in this discussion that are worth examination by anyone at all interested in gender politics and identity issues, and the transgender and transsexual populations in particular:

  1. The value of having something along the lines of Spectrum 1 as a more widely-understood concept.
  2. The sloppy and problematic nature of the standing definitions of cis/transgender and cis/transsexual

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