I am a man. When I was growing up, people thought I was a girl. My life experiences include having to disclose my gender identity, having poor vision, having my wisdom teeth removed, changing my name, taking medicine for allergies, taking medicine for gender dysphoria, having surgery on my ears, having surgery on my chest, going to high school, going to college, getting an ID with a different gender marker.
Of course, some of those experiences are given a great deal of special meaning by other people, because they are very unfamiliar to them. This puts me in the awkward position of having to label myself in a way they will understand, or else accept whatever labels they choose. I also have my own desire to explain my life history in language that makes sense to me.
So what should I call myself? I like the rather simple trans man, but I don’t like to use it outside of writing, because I’m not sure people will understand and because the space is essential. I like the inclusive new term trans*, but it only works in writing. Transsexual man has a pleasing accuracy and, to my ear, sounds pretty bad ass. I really like man of transsexual experience–that one comes the closest to describing how I feel. But few have heard it, and I want a term that requires me to explain as little as possible. In many settings, I am honestly not comfortable using the word “transsexual.” It scares people. The fact that that’s messed up doesn’t make it less true. It also retains a medicalized sting that doesn’t sit well with me.
Transgender is the word I almost always use, both for myself and generally: transgender man, transgender community, transgender issues. It’s the word that other people hear most often and seem to be the most comfortable with. It’s the word that is easiest to say in public. It seems to be the consensus term. A word we can count on, because other people know what it means. Probably the most important quality in a word.
So I embrace the word transgender. In part, I surrender to the whims of history. I am content to use whatever non-derogatory term the talking public chooses. I also truly value its function as an umbrella, a category that can shelter many people: transsexual men and women, genderqueer and androgynous people, third-gender people, etc.
“Transgender” does not describe my gender identity–it denotes my existence in a politicized social location.
What terms do you use?