Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Words Have Meaning, So Use the Right Ones

Erin, is this post about yourself, or is it more about the 'Transgender Military Ban"?

Both, actually. I've realized that a lot of the confusion stems from people not using the proper terminology (either due to ignorance, or confusion, or conversational shorthand) and making certain assumptions based on those terms. So I'm going to explain things as best I can so that we can all get on the same page and then have constructive discussions rather than destructive arguments about the situation.

First, I'm going to talk about me and my transgender journey, where I explain why I use a different term for myself now than I did when I first came out. Not only will it clear up some confusion, it's also a handy reminder to old readers and an important notification to new ones that when I talk about the difficulties involved in being transgender, I'm not pulling "facts" out of my nether regions but rather talking about life experiences (either mine, or those of a friend. I have more than a few transgender friends).

Then I will give some useful definitions regarding gender and sexuality. You might not think this is important, but it is; someone actually got upset at me on Facebook for telling them the word for "non-transgender", as if I'd created the term wholecloth. If we all use the same words and we all know what they mean, we won't have that level of confusion muddying the issue.

Once that's done and we're all on the same page, I will be able to talk about hat much-touted RAND report and everyone will be able to understand me. I'll have to do that in a follow-up post because this one has become too long.

Genderqueer vs. Transgender
When I first came out, I told everyone that I was genderqueer. I picked this word for a few reasons:
  1. I was under the impression that unless I was planning to get sexual reassignment surgery, I could not consider myself a proper male-to-female transgender. 
  2. Because my plumbing was one of the few body parts I was okay with, I felt that saying I was transgender was inappropriate because it gave the wrong impression.
  3. I also didn't live full-time as a female, due to living with family (for financial reasons) to whom I was not "out".
I went with genderqueer, even though it wasn't a perfect fit,  because it seemed more honest, more "I'm not as female as I'd like to be but please don't gender me as male, thank you kindly." than transgender. And there are times, -- a lot of them -- when I want to be treated as female, but for whatever reason I can't look that way. For example, it's an involved, 3-hour process to hide my stubble and look female, and I have to repeat it every morning, and by the afternoon the stubble is still growing back in and starting to texture my face, and I just feel like "FML", to use the vernacular.

So I called myself genderqueer, and I ended up explaining what it meant again, and again, and again, and I just got sick of it because it always brought conversations to a screeching halt because I had to keep explaining how it was different from being transgender. Eventually I just started calling myself transgender because at least people knew what that word meant. I figured that technical inaccuracy that served to get a conversation moving to the important teachable moments was acceptable.

Funny enough, it was only years later, when I became more active in the LGBTQ because I was outspoken about who I am,  that I discovered that I could be a transwoman without having my penis removed. My reaction was a mixture of incredulity and relief: "Wait, I can DO that? That's actually a thing I can do in this community and I won't be denounced for it? Really?"  It felt like a weight had been lifted from me, because I realized I could legitimately refer to myself as trans without feeling like a filthy liar or tourist. I still feel like a proper transwoman would do things like presenting as female 24/7, up to and including dressing in femme-but-range-appropriate-attire for MAG40 class, but I am me and I do the best I can, and no one but me gets to dictate how I live my life.

Now that you've seen how even I could get hung up on what "transgender" actually means, it's no surprise that a lot of other people do. So let's cure that.

Let's start with the ones we all think we know. 
Sex: either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their inherent biological & chromosomal characteristics and reproductive functions. 

Gender: the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with a particular sex. This is sometimes called "gender identity". 
So your biological identity is determined by your sex but your emotional and psychological identity is determined by your gender. For most people their gender matches their sex, and life is good. Other people don't have it so good, and they suffer from Gender Dysphoria.
Gender Dysphoria: the condition of having one's emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one's biological sex. As this is an actual psychological diagnosis per the DSM-5, one needs to be diagnosed as gender dysphoric by a professional before one can get assistance with transition. 
However, this doesn't mean that if you're a man who wears dresses (aka "The Klinger Argument") that you're gender dysphoric. You can be perfectly happy with your biology and still enjoy dressing as the opposite sex.
Transvestite: a person (usually a man, usually heterosexual) who derives comfort and/or sexual satisfaction from wearing the clothing of the opposite sex. Also called cross-dresser; not to be confused with drag queen (q.v.). 
Drag Queen: a man (female version: "drag king") who dresses as the opposite sex as part of a performance or public persona. Usually homosexual, but not always. 
Since how one dresses is not biologically linked to one's sex or sexual preference, we have a special term for this:
Gender Expression: the way in which a person expresses gender identity, typically through their appearance, dress, and behavior. It does not have to match a person's sex, although it usually does. 
A woman with a masculine gender expression might have short hair, wear t-shirts and jeans, and not use makeup or perfume. A man with a feminine gender expression might wear makeup or crossdress. It doesn't make them gay or straight or gender dysphoric.
"Gender Is a Social Construct"While I can't speak for everyone who uses this phrase, what most people mean by it is "Sex is a measurable biological quality whereas gender is not. You cannot determine the gender expression of a person through a medical test and therefore you cannot tell which gender (not the same thing as sex, see above) that person is. 
Since gender is not biological, it must be sociological. Our society determines what behavior is masculine and what is feminine. Example: in Western cultures, men wear trousers, and wearing clothing which does not separate the legs is seen as effeminate (unless kilts are involved. I don't understand how or why kilts get the exception, but they do and it's glorious). However, in many Eastern cultures, what we would consider a skirt is perfectly normal male attire:
From Wikipedia:
"Javanese men often wear sarongs during religious
or casual occasions. Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia."
Are these Javanese men considered effeminate for wearing skirts? In Indonesia, no. In America or other Western countries, they likely would be. 
With that said, we can now get to the actual definition of transgender and explain why it doesn't mean what some people assume it means.
Trans: across; beyond; on the other side of. From the Latin word for "across." Example: Trans-Siberian Railroad, Transatlantic. 

Transgender: denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. This term has become a blanket term to describe anyone who is not cisgender (q.v.).

Transsexual: a person who has undergone or is undergoing treatment in order to acquire the physical characteristics of the opposite sex, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and/or sexual reassignment surgery (SRS). Read this Wikipedia article for a more in-depth explanation. 

Cis: on this side. Contextually, on the side nearest to the speaker. From the Latin word for "on this side of." Example: cislunar, cisalpine

Cisgender: denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.

Cissexual: someone who is biologically male or female. 
So using me as an example, Erin Palette is technically a transgender cissexual male (or cismale) with a feminine gender expression. Clear as mud, right?

So Here's the Problem
It's quite simple, actually: when folks hear or read "transgender people in the military" they think is means "transsexual people" - possibly having SRS, almost certainly on HRT - when I have a suspicion that what most of the military means by transgender is "gender dysphoric".

Gender dysphoria used to be a disqualifying condition in the military, just as homosexuality was. But so long as someone who is gender dysphoric does not begin taking hormones, they still maintain operational readiness.

I'll go into greater detail on this in my next post, when I discuss that RAND report everyone's talking about.

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