I recently received the following email:
I noticed you often use ‘transwoamn’ as one word as opposed to trans woman.
Hate to be nit-picky but it’s cissexist
“Trans” should be used as an adjective to describe “woman.” When the two are linked together, it becomes a noun all its own, distinctly separating it from other groups of women, acting as a qualifier instead of a mere description. Conjoining the words together denotes that the two ideas can’t be separated, that being trans is somehow fundamentally different from any other characteristic a woman can have, like (using your examples) being gay or black.
This is a predominantly West Coast assertion that erases the longstanding culture and rich lexical histories of other trans communities by casting such terminology as lexical tools of our oppressors. It’s a red herring. We say congresswoman, superwoman, etc. and none of these English terms erode the woman’s personhood.
I sometimes feel that the language polemics we so enjoy are created in part to support an environment which chases the ghost of empowerment through the reactionary policing of highly nuanced lexical epistemologies that inevitably privilege certain segments of the trans community over others.
For example, it’s currently correct to say transsexed (or gendered) but not transgenderd. It’s okay to refer to crossdressers, but not transsexuals. Referring to a someone as a transwoman is problematic but noting that she’s a businesswoman perfectly fine. We don’t speak it as trans-pause-woman, instead, we pronounce it as transwoman; however, if we utilize it as spoken, we supposedly cause offense.
The West Coast asserts transwoman is bad. The Gulf Coast has used that lexical configuration since the mid-1970s. Why must the Gulf Coast trans community surrender its lexical identities to West Coast policing?
Conjoining the words together denotes that the two ideas can’t be separated
This is an assertion that’s not tolerated in any other arena of discourse. If I refer to a male who’s woodsman, do English speakers not understand that the man has agency and a greater existence outside the context of his woodsy acumen? Strangely, we are expected to believe that this is precisely what happens when one writes transwoman. In fact, the same unsupported assertions I hear about “transwoman” (it’s an offensive lexical conspiracy by ciswomen to strip away our identity as women, etc. ) are made by RadFems concerning “ciswoman.” Everyone is pointing to each other claiming that the term is a function of oppression. Just stop. It’s not. Retronyms are a function of the language we speak.
When cyberspace came into use, the retronym meatspace came into popular use. Trans/cis is taking the exact some lexical trajectory that mail, email and smail is taking. To assert that woman, transwoman and ciswoman is anything other than the English language doing what it does is unreasoned.
For me, policing the way others write transwoman/transman to support a false history – to willfully erase trans history in favor of a false conspiracy theory – is simply wrong. I will not do it. So please, don’t ask me to do it and if you take offense because I won’t join with you in erasing our history, then so be it.
I use transwoman because claims made about its meaning are not taken seriously in any other context. But, mostly I use transwoman because it honors a silenced community and an erased history.