1991: Virginia Prince on the use of Transgender
What follows is an exchange between Virginia Prince and Tere Fredrickson, co-organizer (along with the primary organizer, Phyllis Frye, VP of GCTC) of the ICTLEP Conference.
Dear Linda and Tere: Sept 1, 1991
Thanks for sending me the issues of Gender Euphoria. I feel something of a proprietary interest in it because of its title. It was named such after I made a point about euphoria and against dysphoria in my keynote speech at a Be All in Detroit several years ago or the keynote at the first IFGE convention in Chicago. I don’t know who it was now, maybe it was you Linda, but somebody told me later that they were so taken by the term that they were going to use it as the title of the newsletter. [Ed: Jan Rupard gets the credit for “borrowing” the name.] So it’s thanks in one direction and you’re welcome in the other.
Now to cases in point. I hope neither of you will take offense if grandma raises some points about your “transgender behavior” article in the Sept issue of Euphoria. To begin with, I coined the term “transgenderist” as a name for the specific behavior of living full time but without SRS. It is a noun not an adjective. “Transgender behavior” could properly only refer to behavior of a transgenderist not to the general behavior of people who express both genders at different times.(1) You are doing what is always done, perverting a specific term by non-specific use. It’s no wonder there is so much confusion and argument about terms—so many people will not use them as intended and thus contribute a whole lot of different meanings with consequent confusion.
Moreover, since the prefix “trans-” refers to crossing over and implies, as I meant it when I coined the word, a permanent or possibly semi-permanent crossing of the gender line. Yet using the adjective to apply to people who not only dress for parties or on weekends or whatever, is NOT a transgenderist and does not manifest transgender behavior. Alternate gender behavior would be closer to what you mean since you are talking about behavior patterns, WHEN the person is cross dressed and not during other times. In other words he alternates between the two genders. You have used the term “transgender behavior or roles” repeatedly throughout the article.
But the next line in the subtitle really gets to me and discourages me quite a bit. Both of you have heard me speak and read my writings and even if you hadn’t you are both intelligent enough to know that sex and gender are two different things. Both are nouns and not adjectives. )o you can no more speak of “female gender role” than you could of gender females. The fact that a lot of people both lay and unfortunately professionals too misuse the words is not a justification for the two of you doing it too. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FEMALE GENDER (or of male gender for that matter). If you are going to be officers of a respected organization and editors of its newsletters it is incumbent upon you not to further the confusion that already exists in the field but rather to use your positions and reputations to help reeducate newer and less knowledgeable persons.
In the 4th long paragraph you speak of “female clothing”. Again, female is a noun not an adjective. If there were female and male clothing like there are female and male dogs you could breed them and get “baby clothes”. “The transgendered individual will typically explore all aspects of sexuality, both male and female.” How can a male explore f°m ,le sexuality or vice versa? The fact that males can receive the penises of other males orally or anally which are orifices like the vagina, that is NOT female sexuality. Again, “dressed as a female”. Clothing and dressing are genderal behaviors so you CANNOT be dressed as a female. You can and would be “dressed as a woman“.”Female sexual exploration”—no way!
“In older transgendered males we see the effects of `change of life’ which can be quite convincing.” Can they indeed? Since the expression refers to the readjustment of the physiology of females when their ovaries cease making estrogen, progesterone and other less well known hormones, and since males do not make appreciable estrogen to begin with how can they show the results of a cessation of its production?? True males may cease making as much testosterone, become impotent and somewhat more feminine in appearance and it is sometimes called the male climacteric, but it is NOT a change of life in the same sense. Being impotent, they cease their attempts to “make it” with women which may be a change of life in the same sense as in females. Don’t let your wishful thinking get out of hand.
In the last paragraph—”a complete female identity”; a “female name”. One more time, please, female is not an adjective. Moreover, a male could not. possibly achieve a
“complete female identity”. Even TSs don’t completely accomplish that because they are not complete females, did not grow up and become socialized as females. There are feminine names and there are names of females, but there are no female names. Male and female imply anatomical differences. Clothing, names and behavior do not have any sex organs and therefore cannot properly be called female. Learn to use the right words in the right way. Feminine is an adjective and can properly be used to modify a noun such as clothing or a name. Or you can use the possessive form, i.e., “women’s (girl’s or men’s) clothing, eyeglasses, names or whatever.” In the last little section of the article, top of page 8, 2nd column, you are back to “full time female gender role”. As you know I have lived full time as a woman not as a female for the last 21 years.
I hope that neither of you will try to justify the above examples of incorrect usage by just saying as many have, “Oh Virginia is on her hobby horse again and just playing semantic games.” People who do say such things generally don’t even understand what semantics is. Also just so you won’t feel that I am picking on you I enclose a reprint of an article I had in the Journal of Sex Research back in 1985. I hope you will both take the time to read it and note that it became necessary to gently call the professionals to task on these matters also. So you are in good company.
Well as usual my letters are overly long but I hope this will prove of use to you. The reason I make such an issue of the sex/gender confusion•is that if more members of our community REALLY understood the difference and used the right words in the right way there would be fewer TSs and probably fewer suicides, divorces and heartaches in our community. Those of us, which includes you two as well as me, who do understand the field have
duty to set a good example, to educate, and to explain to those that do not.
I will look forward to a commentary from you about the above. And allow me to express the hope that your next Part IV will be carefully proof read to avoid the improper usages some of which I have pointed out above. I wish its title would be, “Sexuality of Crossdressing Persons,” and not “transgendered”. After all, I am a truly transgendered person and what do you know about my sexuality—except that it is still going strong at 79!!
Love to you both,
Special to Tere: “Toolbox” article. There is absolutely no way anybody except a true physical hermaphrodite can “bridge the gap between male and female”. Between man and woman or between masculinity and femininity (gender), yes, but not d and 4 (sex)!!
Ed: It isn’t often that someone of the stature of Virginia Prince takes the time to write to us little gals down here in the middle of the Lone Star State, but we did get a two-stage letter from her! We do take her critique seriously and believe she has valid points to make. We provided our commentary on her observations as follows:
Differentiation between sex (anatomical/ chromosomal male and female physiological/ morphological structure) and gender traits and behaviors (man/woman, masculine/feminine, etc.). It is important to note however, that gender role and behavior is independent of anatomical/chromosomal sex. Gender roles and identities • are adopted through both innate comfort of behavior and socialization. In our lectures to college classes, we make the differentiation between sex and gender very clear.
Classification of male/female as nouns only and not adjectives. Common English usage as reflected in virtually any contemporary English dictionary lists “male” and “female” as adjectives as well as nouns. The terms when used as an adjective denote traits and characteristics typically ascribed to that genetic sex, i.e., synonymous with terms “masculine”, “feminine”, “masculinity”, “femininity”, “men’s”, “women’s”, etc.
The “change of life” statement was taken out of the context of identification with female physiological occurrences. The male will identify so strongly in some cases that a psychosymptomatic response will result, paralleling the symptomatic female occurrence.
The term and usage of “transgender” as an adjective to denote “cross-gender” behavior. Our application is a single encompassing term which can be used to describe any and all forms of cross-gender behavior manifestation, and it is etymologically correct. It has been our experience when using this term with the lay public to describe our behavior that the term does not elicit the negative response typical of “transvestite”, “transsexual”, or even “cross-dresser”. It is therefore a simple, and accurate term to use with the general population in education programs—”Oh yeah, some of my best friends are transgendered..”
We do however recognize the term “transgenderist” as specifically coined and to be applied in the vernacular of our community as referring to one who is cross-living full-time in the gender role typically ascribed or assigned to the opposite genetic sex (three of our B&P informational pamphlets define “transgenderist” in the manner for which it was coined). “Cross-liver” would probably be a more appropriate term for “transgenderist” but someone would probably confuse it with a doubly irate organ of bile or “chopped liver”.
“Bridging the gap between male and female.” True, as written, use of “man and woman” would be clearer and more appropriate. Contextually, however, it can easily be taken (as intended) to refer to “male and female gender roles and identities – we, as transgendered persons having dome degree of understanding of gender roles typically assigned to both sexes (uh oh, we used “male”, “female” and “transgendered” as adjectives again – we’re incorrigible aren’t we!).
THANKS FOR WRITING VIRGINIA!
We do love ya! …and keep writing!
1.) Prince asserts, “To begin with, I coined the term “transgenderist” as a name for the specific behavior of living full time but without SRS. It is a noun not an adjective. “Transgender behavior” could properly only refer to behavior of a transgenderist not to the general behavior of people who express both genders at different times.” This is factually wrong. Prince first used the term in print in 1978 (Prince later claims to have coined the term in 1988). Phyllis Frye was using the term prior to Prince and in early 1975, FI News went into a detailed explanation of what the trans community means when we use the term “transgenderist”.