So Let’s Talk About The Fucking Asterisk

anotherlgbttumblr:

unquietpirate:

nataliereed84:

This one: “Trans *”

Personally, my problems with the asterisk aren’t of a nature of “this excludes trans women!” or whatever. It doesn’t. Nor are they based in an ignorance of the issues of non-binary semantic inclusion.

My criticisms are principally of…

a) the relative worth or value of the term, and the degree to which it represents “inclusion theatre” rather than meaningful inclusion.

b) how this term exists in contrast to others, and thereby suggests some exceptional requirement for acknowledgement… a problematic pattern one can also note in things like people insisting “pansexual” is more inclusive than “bisexual” (and thereby that trans men, and trans women and non-binary-identified individuals require some special and exceptional acknowledgment and consideration in people’s sexuality), or how “always ask pronoun preference” translates, in practice, to “always ask people who look like they might be trans their pronoun preference, regardless of how clear their identification is through their presentation. But go ahead and make the usual assumptions about people who look cis.” (thus treating trans men and trans women’s genders are exceptionally questionable, no matter how clearly we’re already communicating them).

We don’t append an asterisk onto the end of “gay” to indicate that it also includes gay trans men and other gay men who don’t fit the normative, privileged gay identity, or indicate that not every man who exclusively fucks men identifies as gay. We don’t append an asterisk onto “lesbian” or “bisexual”, either. We don’t put an asterisk on “white” to acknowledge that definitions of race are fluid and immaterial and that there are people with white privilege and white identities who may have bits and pieces of interracial geneology. We don’t put an asterisk on “People With Disabilities” to provide an extra reminder that not all disabilities are visible, or physical. Etc.

With such terms we generally acknowledge that the real battle is in combatting the problematic assumptions that less-obvious iterations of that identity AREN’T included. We don’t CEDE that battle by admitting no one’s ever going to interpret the term broadly enough, and deciding to hold the hands of the naive or non-intersectional and provide them very special extra reminders that there’s other identities in the term.

Language is fluid, shifting and mercurial anyway. “Trans”-without-an-asterisk only fails to include non-binary trans identities if that’s how we choose to treat and interpret it. Just like “bisexual” only means “has the dangerous connotation of “only into cis men and cis women and nothing else”, and the “bi” in “bisexual” only refers to a “male/female” binary rather than a “same gender/other gender” duality, BECAUSE WE TREATED IT THAT WAY AND BEGAN ENCOURAGING EVERY TRANS/GQ-FRIENDLY PERSON TO USE PANSEXUAL INSTEAD. We *created* the meanings and definitions we opposed, by opposing them.

This is what could easily happen with “trans*” as well. But why are we assuming “trans” didn’t already include non-binary iterations, and didn’t already mean more than just transsexual? And why are we fighting for the asterisk instead of fighting for the original term to simply mean what it should have meant? Especially since it’s still the same word.

And to elaborate on issue a, the inclusion theater aspect…

“Inclusion Theater” is a term I use to refer to any instance where exceptional energy is being put into presenting an outward PERFORMANCE or APPEARANCE of inclusion or “progressiveness”, while neglecting (or at the expense of), actual meaningful ACTIONS and MANIFESTATIONS of inclusivity or intersectionality.

For instance, organizations like HRT billing themselves as fighting for “LGBT” rights despite having a history of not caring at all about anything trans or bi related. Or a pharmacy sticking a rainbow flag on its front door and then being suspicious, interrogative, and asking invasive questions, when someone goes in to pick up medicine for her wife. Or a labour rights meeting insisting on accessibility, but interpreting this in such a way that they choose an office room with no elevator access (only stairs) because it’s in a scent-free building. Or a Comic-Con talking up how they’re interested in diversity, but hiring no female or PoC panelists except the ones they put on their “diversity in comics” panel. Or a queer women’s one-day punk festival putting “trans-welcome!” on the flyers, but trans women end up treated decisively and clearly UNwelcome when they arrive. Etc.

Putting an asterisk on the end of “trans” is INCREDIBLY EASY. A lot easier than actually working towards making spaces, events, projects, organizations or instutions GENUINELY trans / genderqueer inclusive.

That terrible anonymous ask is a perfect example of how easy it is, and how using it doesn’t actually indicate any trans awareness, or effort towards sensitivity and understanding, whatsoever.

An even more telling example is from RadFemRiseUp!, the conference in Toronto over the summer that had a no-trans-women policy. They used “trans*” CONSISTENTLY throughout the actual statement of their policy about trans women not being permitted to attend. Yeah… “inclusive”. Sure.

If the term can actually be co-opted in service of the actual statements of policy used to exclude us, there’s clearly nothing particularly radical or inclusive about it, and nothing that demands anyone rethink their conceptualizations of what it is they’re naming. It’s as easy for our oppressors to use as the non-asterisk version, and will make NO difference in their thoughts about us… or anyone’s thinking on the matter, really (I, for one, was already only using “trans” and “transgender” as broadly inclusive umbrella terms).

Other terms, though, aren’t as easy. Other terms. DO seem to be controversial to, and resist co-option by, oppressors. The word “cis”, for instance, was nowhere to be found in RadFemRiseUp!’s statement, and I believe this is not coincidence, but indicative of the fact that the term has real substance in equalizing the conceptual playing field.

And we’ve ALL seen cis people “offended” by it. Much like other oppressors are offended or bothered by, or significantly resistant to, terms like “privilege”, “people of colour”, “white feminist”, “rape culture”, etc. Again, this resistance because there’s enough potency there for them to feel it’s WORTH resisting.

What is there in the asterisk that would ever make our oppressors flinch, or rethink, or redefine?

Unless these kinds of questions are answered, I don’t see any particular point to the asterisk… not any more than I’d add it to ANY broad, variable, subjective or negotiable noun (which is almost all of them).

Hm. This makes a lot of sense.

I tend to use the asterisk because the genderqueer person in my life who I’m closest to uses it to delineate a community in which they feel included, and using language in a way that feel most respectful to their needs, personally, is my priority. But I will definitely share this with them, because I’d be curious about their thoughts on it. (They also identify as “pansexual” while I identify as “bisexual” and we’ve had a lot of arguments about it.) 

Anyway, point is, I’m not sharing this because I’m necessarily endorsing a rejection of the asterisk. Obviously, as a cis person, it’s not my place to weigh in on what words best describe non-binary folks. But I’m signalboosting it ‘cause it’s a piece of a conversation I’d like to share with other people in my life. <3

There’s a long reply to the above piece here that’s also quite interesting. My favourite bit:

Since ‘trans*’ has spread and been adopted outside of the groups who coined and popularised it, I’ve seen way too many posts and discussions using ‘trans*’ in a way that excludes the people it was meant to be including (like the people who actually use the label) by, for example, talking in terms of transition or in terms of dysphoria or in terms of gender identity, using words that imply that these are universal experiences for all ‘trans* people’.
If we put an asterisk on the end of ‘trans’ and don’t change anything else, this could genuinely be worse than nothing. It really is ‘inclusion theatre’ as Reed suggests, no better than people who use ‘LGBT’ interchangeably with ‘gay’.

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