What Does it Mean to be Trans?

Trans is an interesting term. It means different things to different people and can encompass different groups. I’m sure most people hear “trans” and think “transgender,” meaning assigned one gender at birth, but identifies with the opposite gender. But if I add an * to the word (trans*), then it means something completely different. Trans* means anyone who is gender non-conforming.

My own gender issues have had me thinking about this terminology a lot in the last few months. I used to just say that I was gender non-conforming because none of the labels seemed to fit how I felt, but lately I’ve been feeling more comfortable saying that I’m gender queer. Either way, I’m trans*, but I’d never call myself that if asked. It’s not that I have a problem with people who use the label, but I’m not completely comfortable with it my self.

To me, saying you’re either cis or you’re trans creates another binary. I’m not okay with that. It has problematic implications. For example, many people assume that being trans means that you want to take hormones and have surgeries so that your body matches that of the gender you identify with. But that’s not true of all people who are transgender let alone every one who’s trans*. Many of us either identify as somewhere in between the two genders or as neither gender, so surgeries aren’t exactly helpful. If people assume that we either have to want the surgeries or we can’t be trans*, then they are just creating more problems for us. The problem is, I can’t see any better way to create a label, and we need the label to create an accepting society because, for some reason, people are more accepting of groups that are different when labels are applied. If there’s just men and women, then it’s easy to say that the gender non-conforming child needs to be fixed, but if that child belongs to a group, then people start to be willing to accept that child.

But I would like to see a better way of labeling because I fear that we might get to a point where it’s okay to be trans* if you want to physically change your sex, but not if you don’t. This isn’t really a problem right now: I’m far better off than most trans women and even trans men. We still live in a culture where it is better to be masculine than feminine, so I’ve experienced only minor discrimination in the past. And it helps that I don’t actually want to transition. That’s still very much taboo. But I’d prefer that all trans* people are brought up to be equals with cis people at the same time. I feel like right now the focus is on the most extreme end: the people who want the surgeries. Maybe that’s necessary. They’re the ones with the least privileged right now. But, while I see trans women in the media fairly regularly, and trans men focused on every once in a while, I never see people like myself in the media. I never see people who aren’t either going through the surgeries or done them. I don’t see people who don’t “pass.” That makes me afraid that I’m going to get forgotten in the fight for equal rights. That makes me feel like I don’t belong in the label of trans*.

What are other people’s thoughts on this issue? Are these problems? If so, how do we solve them? If not, why aren’t they?


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