Transgender Transsexual debate

by Allyson Hamblett

Over the last 6 weeks or so I’ve been involved in a debate around terminology within the transsexual community over separating ourselves from under the transgender umbrella.  The debate been intense and has opened my eyes to the importance of the issue. There’s a feeling of being marginalised for those of us under the “transgender umbrella” because we’re not transgender, we’re transsexual.

To be honest I don’t really like any of the labels that begin with trans.  I’m just me.  But as an advocate for social change I have to be aware of what’s going on.  This debate is not a new one.  There is a sense that transsexuals are being marginalised, because the umbrella term doesn’t really cover transsexuals.  One blog I read stated this very clearly, saying that  transgender people don’t have sex reassignment surgery, http://www.diffen.com/difference/Transgender_vs_Transsexual .

I tried to relate this to disability politics.  Imagine using cerebral palsy, blind, or deaf or any other impairment as the umbrella term – each term would be loaded, and one would quickly feel marginalised, isolated and totally ignored being included under the umbrella – they wouldn’t be included at all.  I believe the same sort of thing is happening for transsexuals being forced under an umbrella term that does not relate to our existence.

The transgender term started being used during the 1990’s in New Zealand.  It was used as an umbrella term in the Human Rights Transgender Inquiry – To Be Who I Am was published in 2008.  What this has done has made the transgender term widely used by government, and within government departments.  If I had known more about this issue I would have tried to have advocated for a more neutral term.

The term transgender developed in America; possibly coined by a cross dresser Virginia Prince who resisted the word transsexual because she didn’t want to change sex.  She argued against sex change surgery.

I’d like to see organisations recognising “transsexual and transgender” so that the label doesn’t keep being hidden.  Agender NZ has taken steps to do this.  And we would like government departments and parliament start using the term transsexual.

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7 thoughts on “Transgender Transsexual debate

  1. Quote: “Imagine using cerebral palsy, blind, or deaf or any other impairment as the umbrella term – each term would be loaded, and one would quickly feel marginalised, isolated and totally ignored being included under the umbrella – they wouldn’t be included at all”.

    This quote moves the whole argument into another sphere, IMHO. Whereby these terms are more of a medical nature that happened by chance or accident. Transgender and Transsexual are constructed by decision in the most part.

    I am already under the umbrella with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) – doesn’t matter whether my symptoms fall into another category; I am forever labelled as having this as my primary diagnosis. How many of my current medical issues fit is totally undecided nowadays! I live with a lot of issues…

    My disabilities are things I was born with but I don’t necessarily fall under any one umbrella term

    I know I am not helping you with your decision but I want you to be clear in your defining of the definitions you have reviewed in your article

    • Being Transgender or Transexual is not necessarily “constructed by decision”. Most Trans individuals relate a feeling of being born into the wrong body, where their gender identity does not match the gender society says they should have. The choice then to become transgendered is in reality the only choice a person can make to feel comfortable in their own skin. The argument that being trans is a choice is akin to arguing that being gay is a choice, when I think you’ll find that most will tell you they had no more choice in who they are attracted to than you had in the disabilities you were born with.
      I think Allyson’s analogy is a good one. She is arguing for more specific and accurate labelling, while others like Kelly below argue for being more united as a community, rather than divided. I think this is an important issue and one which probably does not have a solution to please everyone. But I do believe that open and honest debate and discussion about these terms can only be beneficial.

  2. I’m not sure that there is a decision being made here – but a debate and stating the facts.

    The use of example labeling under umbrella terms is just that, an example.
    Whether being trans is a choice or not, I think this is a good example of umbrella labels.

  3. “One blog I read stated this very clearly, saying that transgender people don’t have sex reassignment surgery” honey that is just someones opinion, just one blog. Most (thats right, over 50% of ) transsexuals identify as transgender. Not all transgender people have SRS but many do, and not all transsexual people have SRS either. Now, get your facts straight. Look at what the terms actually mean. http://www.cristanwilliams.com/b/tracking-transgender-the-historical-truth/

    • Thanks Cathy, I didn’t mean to make you feel like you needed to apologise! I think your comment was valid, as it was obviously your opinion coming from your unique perspective. I suppose having more transgendered or transexual friends I thought I would relate my understanding of this issue based on what I have learned from them. Like I said, it’s only through discussion and openness to learning that we can ever make any progress!

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