Erratum

A sidebar was inadvertently removed from the final published manuscript. It properly belongs in Chapter 3: Learning About the Transgender Spectrum, on or about p. 64. It is reproduced below in recognition of the fact that not doing so would constitute an erasure.

What about the term 'transsexual'?

Another term you’ve likely heard is transsexual, whether on its own, paired with man or woman, or paired with M-to-F or F-to-M. In her book Sex Change, Social Change, scholar Viviane Namaste distinguishes between transsexual and transgender as follows: “The term transsexual refers to individuals who are born in one sex—male or female—but who identify as members of the ‘opposite’ sex. They take hormones and undergo surgical intervention, usually including the genitals, to live as members of their chosen sex. Transsexuals are both male-to-female and female-to-male. The term transgender is really popular in Anglo-American communities, and is used as an umbrella term to include all kinds of people who do not fit into normative relations between sex and gender.” Namaste’s definition of transsexual lines up with how many, but not all, people use transgender man or transgender woman today. Transsexual is sometimes perceived to be an older term, and less relevant to younger generations of transgender people. Rightly or wrongly, research seems to reflect this perception, including the tools researchers use to study trans peoples’ experiences. I’ll give you an example. GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”) is a major American advocacy organization on gender and sexual diversity in education. Every other year GLSEN conducts a national survey on youth experiences of homophobia and transphobia. When trans youth ages 12–18 filled out the 2009 survey, they were given these gender identity options: transgender, transgender female-to-male, transgender male-to-female, transgender and female, transgender and male, and multigender (which falls under the nonbinary transgender umbrella that I discuss in the next section). The wiggle room here is interesting: that respondents might identify separately as transgender and male or female, not only mixed together as in “transgender female-to-male.” But transsexual is missing from this youth-oriented survey. Regardless of whether the terminology changes over time, it’s important to be guided by how people use terms for themselves. If you’re not sure what term is best, today it’s a reasonably safe bet to say transgender person as long as that person is out (with more to come in the rest of the book on visibility and “out-ness”).