I loathe this usage. In fact, if it hadn’t been deprecated, I’d have put a “blink” tag on “loathe”, because red-bold-italic-underline doesn’t feel like enough to express my loathing.
Here’s the thing. I transitioned – was reborn, I like to think of it – in 1992. I went into a catatonic depression, was hospitalized for it, and after a few weeks came back as me, the me you “know”(1). When I did so, the only way to get one’s gender marker changed on driver’s licence, let alone anything important like a birth certificate, government health insurance card, or passport, was to have genital surgery. And you needed to come back with a signed affidavit from TWO MDs saying that they had found you to be physically $NEWGENDER. I won’t try and speak to how difficult that was for trans men, because I’m not one, but do take a moment and consider that standard; remember, too, that in order to get paid-for surgery on the government health insurance, you had to be in a Benjamin-standards program for transition, which at the time meant that you were flying the first year without even starting hormones, which was no picnic for any trans person who wanted paid-for surgery.
Because the Benjamin standards, as applied in my jurisdiction, were so rigidly applied, the “Real Life Test” only counted if you did it in the panel-approved way: for trans women, that meant (no exaggerations here, I promise) ALWAYS wearing makeup and visibly feminine clothes; legally changing your name to something unambiguously feminine, even if your existing name was sufficiently androgynous and commonly used by any people gendered as men or women; being hetero (interested in men sexually); working full-time or studenting full-time or volunteering at least 25 hours a week, meaning my “raising my damn kids” didn’t count for shit; and working hard to “pass”, meaning “if you tell people you’re trans, that makes you ineligible for being considered trans”.
Place alongside those standards, me: 25, a former two-sport varsity athlete, “tomboy femme” in appearance(3), and my long-term goal, which upset my counsellor some, was this: “Some day, I want to wake up in the morning and realize I’ve got no milk for my tea. I want to grab the nearest two articles of clothing that fit the local ordinances, put on whatever pair of shoes is easiest and nearest the door, and go to the store, buy my milk, come back, and have my tea, without anyone I meet ever thinking anything more unusual about me than ‘oh, that woman’s not wearing a bra!’. I didn’t carry a purse, but a backpack; I still wanted to play soccer, only now with women and not men (later I played co-ed too), and it would be several more years before I self-defined as bisexual, let alone hetero.
It took me twelve years after I transitioned before I was able to afford the surgery I wanted. Twelve years in which I lived every day with a driver’s licence and health card that said I was male; twelve years in which I feared, every single time I left my home, that this would be the day I met the mean cop, who’d put me in the boys’ jail until my lawyer showed up. If my lawyer showed up. Twelve years in which I didn’t dare do anything to interact with my governments any more than I absolutely had to, because every time I did so, i got treated like shit by clerks who saw my ID.
Once, while trying to set up a bank account, I had the bank manager calling the police, because she said I was trying to commit fraud by not telling her that I “wasn’t a woman”, as indicated by my ID.
Twelve years. In that time, the state of my genitals was everyone’s fucking business, and they treated it as the single most important fact about my existence.
So pardon me if I have a tough time accepting a society dismissing the importance of genitalia as “junk”, given how very deeply I have felt the pain of society’s disapproval of my (presumed) genitalia for many years.
Am I saying you shouldn’t use it? Well, around here, yes, if you’ve got any consideration/empathy. But elsewhere? We are all responsible for our own actions, you’ll have to make that decision on your own.
But believe me when I say that after being societally defined by my genitals for twelve years, hearing that difference now described as “junk” is a cognitive dissonance and emotional minefield for me. Make of it what you will.
1) There are more and more trans* folk who are happy to keep using their old names, or to have anyone know their old names; for me, given how much I truly hated my old name even aside from its verygendered-ness – it rhymed with a lot of very bad things to be called, and i knew a lot of very creative bullies in my gifted program, as in “let’s go to the library and get foreign language dictionaries to find new names to abuse Hagafemu(2) with” creative. The point is, I don’t tell people my old name. Outside my family of origin, only five people in the city I live in know my old name, and three of them are ex-partners of mine. And honestly, I generally don’t want to know other trans* folks’ old names, either; I want to know who they are now, not who they used to be. Not every trans* person feels this way, though; Zinnia Jones, for example, is quite public about her transition, and I completely respect her choice to be so, as I’m quite sure she’d respect mine.
2) A short version of the Japanese name of my site, “haga” from “hagane”, and “femu” being a Japanese-phonetic way of shortening “feminisuto”; a case could be made for “femi” rather, but “femu” was the default/obvious, so that’s what I picked.
3) “Tomboy femme” is how one of my besties described me shortly after I transitioned. I lucked into finding a small group of women friends after transition who didn’t subscribe to the then-fairly-common separatist/radfem/trans-exclusionary feminism; one of them said that this was the best descriptor, as I kept my hair in a short curly bob, wore only what makeup I felt I needed to “pass”, and most often wore jeans and a t-shirt to going out.