Why not be cliché and begin this article with one simple definition?
What’s ‘transgender’? It’s someone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned with at birth. Simple, right? You’d think so… I ask, why is it then that we’re still seeing the word ‘transgender’ shortened to ‘trans*’, rather than just ‘trans’?
Apparently the idea is to be inclusive. Certain people believe that ‘trans’ without the asterisk applies best to binary trans people – that is, trans men and trans women (assigned the female and male gender respectively at birth). The rest of us don’t fit. We need an umbrella term to adequately represent the full range of possible gender identities, and ‘trans*’ is our hero.
I call bullshit.
The full collection of identities that ‘trans*’ supposedly encompasses is often referred to as “non-cisgender identities.” It’s time for our second definition; a person who is ‘cisgender’ does identify with the gender they were assigned with at birth. I’ll leave you now to scroll back up to the first definition and decide whether we actually need a third word or whether we can logically conclude that between ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ we’re doing just fine.
I am a non-binary person. I do not identify with the gender I was assigned at birth, and I do not identify with any binary gender (in other words, I am not what some tend to misguidedly term “the opposite gender” to the one I was assigned). I am not cisgender. By definition, I am transgender. But it took a while for me to claim that term. The reason for that is fairly simple; I felt like a fraud. I knew that I didn’t identify as female, but as a person who is mostly coded as “appearing female” I felt that to identify, as trans – rather than genderqueer or questioning – was an invasion of “real” trans spaces.
Encouragement from a whole host of trans people, binary and non-binary alike, managed to convince me that this idea was of course ridiculous. I am not cis, therefore I cannot possibly “invade” trans spaces; they are my spaces. But the reasons for my hesitation to identify with the word ‘transgender’ are clear. Non-binary trans people are treated differently. All too often, we are forgotten or erased, both by the world at large and within the queer community itself. When we are acknowledged, we are often treated as “fake”. It’s almost impossible not to doubt yourself and your identity when you are consistently labelled “less trans” than binary trans people.
Plenty of non-binary trans people present as androgynous, as a mix of genders, or as a gender significantly different in presentation to the one they were assigned at birth. There are also plenty of us who don’t. None of us are in any way “less trans” – not for how we identify, or for how we present. To assume so is to reinforce the very binary that engenders our oppression.
‘Trans*’ implies two categories: ‘trans’, and ‘*’. The trans people who identify with the binary and ‘others.’ Its very attempt to be inclusive in itself makes it divisive. I know that certain non-binary individuals choose not to identify themselves as trans, and I would never want to push an identity onto someone who did not want it. Personally, though, I will not consent to being “included” under an umbrella term that fits me neatly into a single punctuation mark. Being non-binary does not make me “less trans” – however, the asterisk tries to make me believe otherwise.
Em Travis studies Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge and is our Comment Co-Editor at, “Get Real.”