Defining Ourselves

Defining Ourselves
What’s in a word? Words can be powerful, beautiful, or simply descriptive. All successful movements started with a word; a word that defines the movement. Civil, Black, Gay, Lesbian were words used as adjectives followed by the noun that defined the objective. That noun? “Rights.” We, as transgender folk, also talk about wanting the same Rights as the mainstream community. When we tell our friends, our family, our Senators, our Congressional Representatives what we desire, we do a pretty good job of defining those desires. What we fail to do is tell them who we are. We are ‘T’. However, since we – as members of the “T’ community – cannot even agree upon what “T” means (or even the spelling of the word), how can we ever hope to gain respect and acceptance without this ability to define ourselves? Please note that none of the above mentioned movements tried to further define themselves to mainstream America by all the variations that could exist within the movement. We didn’t see, for instance, the “Butch Lesbian Rights Movement”, “The Lipstick Lesbian Movement”, or “The Lesbian with Bi-Sexual Leanings Movement.” We saw a single word: Lesbian. It only serves to confuse and dilute a move toward acceptance when the movement is broken down into sub-groups. A single, unified group has hope; a fractured movement does not. Additionally, once Rights are established, the word Pride can be substituted in the movement’s name.

Although I am not an activist in the true sense of the word, I am a rebel. I like to stir up the pot in hopes that the resulting broth will be all the better because of the agitation I cause. There are a couple of things that I would like to see changed in my lifetime and one of those is the acceptance of “T” folk by a goodly number of the mainstream population. One of the reasons I have attached myself to the Charlotte Gender Alliance (CGA) is that I feel that CGA can be at the forefront of this change by simply leading the “T” group to define itself.

Let me begin this internal movement by suggesting the definitions as I see them. With inputs from the “T” community and the input of CGA leaders/members in particular, it would be my hope that we in the “T” community can come to agreement as to who we are and celebrate our sameness. Once we agree on definitions, I suggest that the agreed-upon definitions appear on the home page of every “T” group. If we can persuade the various “T” groups to celebrate the sameness in ourselves – as opposed to our differences, then there is some hope that the movement to define ourselves will spread across the country.

With all due respect to the activist in our community, it is only after we define ourselves to those within the “T” community can we hope to gain acceptance of those without the community. It was Helen Boyd (author of “My Husband Betty” and a great spokesperson for the “T” community) that inspired me to start stirring the pot. The following is a first pass at my take on the definition of the various terms used in the “T” community. (By no means do I claim any originality on these definitions.):

“T” – First and foremost, we must agree on the definition and spelling of the “T” word. It is this word that will define us to the mainstream community. In my mind, “T” stands for not only “trans”, but for Transgender. Not transgendered, not transvestite, not transsexual and certainly not tranny.
Transgender (TG) – This is an umbrella term for all those people who identify with persons of the opposite sex. What it is not, is a description of sexual orientation. A transgender person may feel such a strong opposition to the opposite sex he or she was born into, that they would physically change their sex to match their gender if time and money allowed. A transgender person may want to emulate those of the opposite sex because he or she strongly identifies with those of the opposite sex. A transgender person may want live their lives in the clothing and mannerisms of the opposite sex. A transgender person may want to perform in public by emulating those of the opposite sex. A transgender person may simply feel a strong bond with those of the opposite sex and not do anything to overtly show that he or she is a member of the transgender community. Transgender is who we are and should be the only word to define ourselves in our struggle for acceptance.
The remaining definitions identify the subgroups that fall under the umbrella of “Transgender.”

Transsexual (TS) – There are those in the Transgender Community who have genitalia that does not match their gender. Whether or not those that identify as Transsexual change their physical appearance is of no concern. Regardless of the match between gender and sex, such persons are defined as Transsexual. I would propose that we in the “T” community drop adjectives such as “non-op”, “pre-op” and “post-op” because it is no one’s business as to what surgery has, or has not, been preformed. A Transsexual who has chosen to only have electrolysis is no less “Transsexual” than someone who has also had breast augmentation or full SRS. In my way of thinking (for instance in the case of a Male-to-Female (MTF) transsexual), that once full SRS has been performed, the term “Transsexual” be replaced with the term “Woman”.
Crossdress/Cross Dresser (CD) – To “crossdress” is to enjoy wearing the clothes of the opposite sex. The reason a person may wish to crossdress is of no consequence, nor is the frequency of crossdressing of consequence. The amount of clothing worn by a “crossdresser” is also of no consequence, nor is the setting in which he or she chooses to crossdress. Thus, a man that puts his wife’s panties once a month is no less a crossdresser than the woman or man who chooses to fully wear the clothing of the opposite sex in public. “Crossdresser” is a term that, in the 1970’s was used to replace “Transvestite” as “Transvestite” had taken on a negative context. In general, a “Crossdresser” will not have surgery to alter his or her genitalia, although electrolysis and/or facial surgery may be used to enhance his/her presentation as a woman/man. Was/is Flip Wilson a crossdresser? Well, I would certainly think so.
Transvestite (TV) – “Transvestite” is a term coined by Magnus Hirschfield in 1910. It is the original term to describe someone who enjoys dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex, usually men and usually for sexual pleasure. It has since taken on the connotation of a male hooker, dressed in women’s clothing. If we in the “T” Community wish to differentiate between someone who dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex for sexual pleasure (either always or sometimes) and those that dress in the clothing of the opposite sex for other purposes (legal, I might add), then we should keep the term “Transvestite”. It should be used to define those persons who are sexually aroused by dressing in the clothing of the opposite sex. We then would use “crossdresser” as the term used to define all others who dress in the clothing of the opposite sex. I am not a hooker, but from the initials of my name – Trish Valentine – you must know that I consider myself a “Transvestite” even though I mostly crossdress for reasons other than sexual pleasure.
Drag Queen/King (DQ?) – People who perform in clothing of the opposite sex are known as “Drag Queens” (in the case of men dressing as women) or “Drag Kings” (in the case of women dressing as men). Interestingly, Helen Boyd points out that it is “Drag Queens” that started the Gay Pride Movement. “Drag Queen/King” is not an exclusionary term; a “Drag Queen/King” can also be “Transsexual” or be a “Crossdresser” and vice versa. Supposedly the term “Drag” was used by Shakespeare to indicate an actor was to be dressed as girl. Whether “drab” was used by Shakespeare to indicate the actor was to be dressed as boy is somewhat suspect since most of the actors at that time were men. “Drab” certainly denotes the style of all men’s clothing! Is RuPaul a drag queen? Well, duh!
Well, there you have Trish’s view on what defines our community. My thanks to Helen Boyd for her wonderful book and for talking the time to define many terms that were used in 2003. It was her book that motivated me to start this (internal) movement. I feel that the definition(s) of some of these terms has changed slightly since 2003. I also thank “Betty” for having the courage to define herself as a transvestite, as opposed to a crossdresser. I certainly wish you would embrace my desire to have unity in our community (rhyme was unintentional here!) and look forward to your comments on the definitions of the various aspects of our “TG” community. They, the definitions, certainly can be improved upon and definitely can be shorten as to make them more palatable to both the “TG” and mainstream communities.

My mantra? “Let us focus on, and celebrate, our sameness and put aside our differences.”

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