Trans or Cis, What’s the Point?

Someone recently said to me, “I never liked the term trans woman. A woman is a woman, no matter what’s between their legs or how they were born.”

This sparked an interesting discussion. While the sentiment is noble, it’s also both right and wrong. They were right that a woman is a woman regardless of the circumstances of her birth or the state of her genitals. However, there’s more to the argument than just that. As I pointed out, using that same logic, then the term lesbian should also be hated, as a woman is a woman, no matter if she’s gay or straight. The words trans and cis, just like gay or straight, are terms to identify with. Labels to help others understand us, and help us find ourselves as well.

That last bit is important. There’s a Canadian GLBT rights activist (yes, actually does the whole spectrum instead of just gay rights) by the name of Ivan Coyote. I’ll be honest, I don’t know the full extent of how she identifies, just that she struggled trying to figure out which pronoun was most applicable and settling on female ones, as well as identifying as butch, but however all she identifies, she has a piece she performed once talking about that need for words to help those who are confused find their identities. I’ve linked the video below, and I encourage you to watch it’s companion piece (the femme piece) as well, as it speaks a great deal about not only the femme lesbian experience, but in many ways, can be seen as a way of discussing the differences between trans men and women (with us girls being the butch and the guys being the femme in regards to visibility/invisibility, but being femme and butch respectively in many other points).

As Ivan said, sometimes that word is needed for us to find ourselves. I personally stumbled along trying to find myself until I met another trans woman and had a word to identify with. This modern wave of rejecting labels is something I find interesting. Yes, labels can be restrictive, but they can also be useful and liberating. Sometimes those labels are the condensed form of knowledge on a subject put together by those who came before us. It’s up to us to take those labels as our own, and show that we’re not a stereotype (as Ivan herself encourages other butches). The stereotype of lesbian is still heavily butch/femme, and the stereotype of a trans woman is someone male bodied who tries, and fails, to present as female. I for one am going to show the world that I am not a stereotype, but there are many labels that do fit me.

What do you all feel about labels? Have you had similar issues in the past?

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2 responses to “Trans or Cis, What’s the Point?

  1. My problem with labels comes when they stop being used to describe and instead are used to restrict. I have gained a lot by learning new labels that I can use to describe myself, but I have learned to be careful about the unnecessary limitations other people assume about you when you use some labels. It suddenly occurred to me that the labels for oppressed groups have stronger stereotypes than for dominant groups. Makes me go “hmmm”.

    • Yeah, there’s a lot of inequality between oppressed groups and oppressor groups. Labels also sometimes fail, not just restrict. Take me for example: androgynous genderfluid pan/homoromantic asexual trans woman. I need that many labels just to give people an idea who I am when using labels, because there are no words that exist to sum it up. And there are others out there as well. And I could throw more labels on there to convolute it more, but you get the idea.

      Up until recently with the advent of terms like homoflexible or heteroflexible, there was no term, other than bisexual, to refer to someone who has a heavy preference for one gender but is open to the possibility of the other if they met the right person. Now we’re starting to have those words, but they have no counterparts in the -romantic set used by asexuals. I suppose they could still be used, saying a homoflexible asexual, for example. I dunno, I like the term a friend of mine came up with for me, lesbofluid asexual.

      But sometimes, the attempt to escape label stereotypes can be just as restrictive as embracing them, as Ivan mentioned in regards to the pride parade wanting to do away with butch women and drag queens, the stereotypical gay women and men respectively. But thanks for bringing up stereotypes, as that gives me an idea of what to write about on Friday.

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