You’ve probably seen “trans*” floating around as a “more inclusive” version of trans/transgender. Lately there’s been a lot of talk on Tumblr about the issues with the asterisk as a “more inclusive” term, and I thought I’d try to address everything I can think of in one post.
Here’s the big issues that I’m aware of:
Binary centricity: This one might sound counter-intuitive, because one of the main reasons for wildfire adoption of trans* is it “includes nonbinary people”. But here’s the thing… trans/transgender includes nonbinary people too! The entire idea that nonbinary people maybe don’t belong in trans comes from nonbinary erasure and delegitimization of nonbinary identities. Creating a new term and going “here, use this”, rather than disputing with those who refuse to see nonbinary people as trans, legitimises the idea that nonbinary people aren’t really transgender or aren’t really valid.
Inclusion theatre: What does this mean? It means using trans* is how people show they’re Inclusive and Hip and In The Know, without necessarily actually helping trans people at all. The term does not help the trans community, and people/organizations are not coupling their adoption of “inclusive language” with any meaningful introspection, consultation, or action. Additionally, lots of people use trans* in ways that are not inclusive - like “is that person a trans* man, or a trans* woman?”.
Degendering: If you’ve been paying much attention to the talk on this issue, you’ll probably have heard transmisogyny mentioned in conjunction with trans*. This only applies to certain misuses of trans*, and it’s a long one, so I’ll do it in steps. I’d first like to point out that the general interpretation of trans* is that it represents “all” transgender identities - transsexual, genderqueer, trans woman, trans man, agender, etc. (It’s often compared to wildcard-matching, even though many of the identities don’t start with trans). The idea tends to be that when you say trans* you mean a list of 20+ identities. (As opposed to trans/transgender in which you refer to people who fit a description).
Got that? Okay. So, when referring to an individual of known identity as trans*, you are referring to their gender in an overly broad manner. Why is that an issue? Degendering: othering or not acknowledging a trans person’s gender via omission. For example, my family, like many families of trans people, really likes using gender-neutral words when referring to me, like “child” or “sibling”, or my name instead of pronouns. It’s not in any way referring to me as male. But do you see the implication? That is degendering.
Okay, so saying something like “trans* man” is degendering (passively erases the individual gender in question). But why is it specifically transmisogynistic to say trans* woman? Because trans woman are the biggest targets of degendering, and even within the trans community there is much reluctance to recognize that trans woman are women.
Now, back to that list of identities thing: Most lists of who trans* refers to includes drag queens and crossdressers. While there are trans people who formerly or actively refer to themselves as being one of those, most drag queens and crossdressers are not trans. To say they are is to misunderstand the difference between identity and presentation, which is extremely damaging.