“T & Conversation”: Intro to the Column and Basic Vocab

by: Professor Xx

I’m a female to male transsexual.  This probably wouldn’t be my opener in most conversations, but it is something that I’m both proud of and willing to discuss.  It’s also the reason I’m writing this article.

In my experience, I’ve noticed that new friends are often hesitant to ask me the questions that they are most curious about when they find out that I’m trans.  I know that they are doing this out of respect, and I appreciate that, but I also believe in educating people.  For me, this education process has ranged from casual conversations with friends to workshops on understanding gender “issues.”  It certainly is not the responsibility of every trans or gender variant person, to be an on-demand font of information about their personal life or medical experiences; I just happen to enjoy these types of conversations, and also rarely miss an opportunity to talk about myself.

So, in this vein, I’d to share what small amount of expertise I have on this topic with our readers.

I’m offering up my life for your perusal: you can ask me anything you like. Emails can be sent to tandconversation@gmail.com.  I’m open to almost any question, as long as it isn’t abusive.  If something seems too invasive, I may not answer it, but I’ll try to at least explain why.  As a disclaimer, the experience of male to female transgender and transsexual individuals is obviously not my expertise, and I would be hesitant to answer any questions about their experiences.  I hope that sometime in the near future In Our Words will have a companion piece to this article that will give voice to their unique perspectives.

So before the questions come, I feel that it would be best if we talked about some vocabulary I will be using in future posts.  There are a lot of words for gender variance out there, and they are often confusing to people in the non-trans community.

A transvestite is a broad term that refers to those who wear clothes traditionally associated with another gender.  Originally this term was used to refer to transsexuals who were expressing their gender identity before medical intervention was an option.  More recently, this term has come to be associated with those don this clothing as part of a sexual fetish, a practice which psychologists classify as transvestic fetishism.  This term is considered by some to be archaic and insulting, for many of the reasons that medicalizing homosexuality was considered problematic.

Relatedly, a cross dresser is generally a cisgender, heterosexual person who enjoys wearing clothing traditionally associated with another gender, but who rather specifically does not do so for sexual gratification.  This term was coined by cross dressers who resented the implication that their cross dressing was sexually fetishistic.  Cross dressers also often do not consider themselves to be transgender or transsexual, although this of course cannot be universally stated.

A drag queen or king is a person who dresses up in the clothing traditionally associated with another gender for the purpose of performing.  Many in the LGBTQIA community will be familiar with this term, but it is important to distinguish a drag queen from a cross dresser.  The former is done solely for performance and/or social commentary (though that person may also identify as trans and live as the same gender they drag in their every day life), while the latter is done purely for for personal enjoyment.

A trans person is someone who was designated as one sex/gender at birth, and now identifies as another sex/gender.  Commonly, there are two more specific terms associated with this identity: transgender, which refers to anyone who lives an alternate or queer gender identity, whether or not they have had medical intervention, and transsexual, which is more often used for a person who identifies as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, and who has had some form of medical intervention as a part of their transition.  Transgender is often called an umbrella term, which means that it includes other forms of gender variation/non-conformity within it, including transsexuals.  For example, I would say that I identify as transgender commonly, but I sometimes also refer to myself as a transsexual.

An ftm is a female to male transgender or transsexual person.  They were assigned female at birth, and transitioned to male.

An mtf is a male to female transgender or transsexual person.  They were assigned male at birth, and transitioned to female.

I would also add to this vocab lesson the term genderqueer: this is a person who identifies as either a third gender or as having no gender at all. I identify in many ways with this term because I enjoy expressing the feminine and masculine aspects of my gender; however, because I pass as male and embrace more aspects of masculinity generally, I don’t claim genderqueer as my primary identity.

I would also add intersex, which is a person who is born with ambiguous genitalia.  Many of you may have heard the term “hermaphrodite” before, and this is a very offensive, out-of-date term for an intersex person.  This is an identity that deserves far more discussion, preferably by an intersex person, but in short, intersex people are basically always designated as either male or female by their doctors at birth, often without informing the parents, and many times are subjected to painful surgeries throughout their childhood, sometimes resulting in the loss of ability to achieve orgasm.

Professor Xx is a female to male (FTM) advice columnist for In Our Words, who pens the column “T and Conversation.” When he’s not training the next generation of mutants to save the world, he’s fielding your questions at tandconversation@gmail.com.  Feel free to ask him anything you like, as long as it isn’t abusive or too invasive, and he’ll get back to you.

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