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What’s in a Name?

| Nov 3, 2008
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good22.jpgThere has long been discussion of what to call our kind. Magnus Hirschfeld described what we do as transvestism which is simply Latin for the practice of crossdressing. That fell out of vogue for the English noun version of the practitioner (i.e. crossdresser) which in turn has been superseded by transgendered. There are of course other lesser known terms including Eonism (after the Chevalier d’Eon an 18th Century crossdresser) and the short lived femmiphile (or femmiphilia) for “lover of the feminine.” I kind of like the latter but it never caught on. Then, there are more clinical terms (e.g. Gender Identity Confusion, Gender Dysphoria, etc.) as well.

Now, you may say who cares what we’re called or that you reject labels as irrelevant. Ultimately, however, language is a powerful tool and culture (i.e. attitudes, values and beliefs) is clearly reflected in symbolic words. I mean can you think of words that have the power to enrage members of a particular group? Sure, and that suggests that you agree with the point that terminology has power. To reject labels and avoid discussing what would be an accurate name for those who share our identity lets those hostile to us have, by default, the ability to shape the language used to describe us publicly. I would prefer a term—yes, a “label” if you prefer—of my own choosing, a label which is positive, descriptive and a potential source of pride.

Transgendered is a great term and I certainly don’t reject it, but I think it best describes someone who is transitioning or has transitioned to full time feminine status. The prefix “trans” implies just that—either a one way passage (as in transcontinental) or a location permanently on the other side of something (as in Transylvania). While the noun form, transgender, is a bit awkward, I do think transgendered is a good description of those seeking a permanent shift. And more and more transgendered has come, in popular culture, to mean someone who lives full time as a member of the opposite sex (thank you Felicity Huffman and Transamerica), so it seems that segment of our community has a proper name.

Yet, I’m a married, heterosexual part-time crossdresser (that’s a description not a name, crossdressers may be any of a wide variety of individuals who wear the clothing of the opposite sex for any of a multiplicity of reasons), my goal is to experience life as I would if I had been born female. But, I’m not planning on making my shift full time and can be perfectly happy living primarily in male mode, although I also desire to express the feminine side of my identity on occasion. I move back and forth across the gender boundary as desire and circumstance permit. So in thinking about that, I opted to begin referring to myself as AMBIGENDERED. As with “ambidextrous”, I think this new name is quite descriptive of persons of one gender who are able with some degree of dexterity to operate in the other; or if you please, persons who are comfortable with themselves in either gender. It also suggests (as the similar term bigendered does not) that we are not only a blend of genders, but operate alternately as feminine or masculine. I find it a very comfortable fit—like a nice pair of size 8 extra long stretch jeans—what do you think?


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Category: Transgender Opinion

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  1. says:

    Transgendered was actually a clinically used term in the 70s and 80s to describe those who were full-time or desired to be. Again, it’s not a term I reject, I just think common usage of it has gravitated towards that original clinical meaning and towards a blending of TG/TS.

  2. angela_g angela_g says:

    I’ve always felt that if bisexual was good enough for those folks bigendered was good enough for me.

  3. joann joann says:

    Hi Stephanie, JoAnn Roberts here. The use of “transgender” came about becuase we were looking for an umbrella term to describe us as a community in the late 1980s, early 1990s.

    Back then people referred to the TV-TS community. As more of us became politically active we realized that TV-TS carried too much baggage to be a useful term politically. We went thru a number of label iterations. Virginia Price wanted to use bi-gendered, like bicamaral, or bifurcated. Opponents of that label moved the hyphen and made it into big-ender, so that went by the wayside. Ambigendered was proposed by several folks back then but it didn’t stick. Sounded too much like ambiguous. Phaedra Kelly writing in the UK used Gender Transient which I kinda liked but it didn’t help describe those who were making a permanent transition.

    Kymberleigh Richards (publisher of Cross-Talk) in L.A., Phyliis Frye in Houston, TX, and myself writing in Renaissance News and LadyLike all agreed we would refer to the community as the “transgender community”. The idea was to bring together all the different aspects of gender diversity under a single label so that politicians would not be able to separate out any one group. When talking to pols you have to keep it simple. Transgender stuck and that’s why you are writing on Transgender Forum rather than the TV-TS Forum.

    You can certainly choose any label you like for yourself and we should respect your choice. I just thought you might like to know why “transgender” came about and why it has worked for the community. As for myself, I still like Gender Transient.

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