What does "Trans" mean?
Ask around to people outside the Rainbow Community
that don't put much thought into it, and you'll get a common understanding: "an individual that plans, desires, or takes actionable progress, whether past or present, towards changing one's gender." Ask anyone who flies the trans flag about it and you get an entirely different answer: "anyone whose gender doesn't match their sex assigned at birth", which states damn near explicitly that being non-binary but wholly against transition is still also trans. What's going on? How can we have such seemingly polar opposites at play? First, a bit of history.
writes "'Transsexual' was not coined until 1949, 'transgender' not until 1971, and 'trans' (a very British term) not until 1996," however it unfortunately does not elaborate on these defintions. The earliest known definition that I could find comes from The News Minute
, who states that the definition for "transgenderism" — "urge for gender ('sex') change" — dates back to 1965.
, published in 1980, was the first medical text that touched on the subject, and described Gender Identity Disorder (a precursor to what we now know as being transgender) in more explicit terms, writing "The essential features of this disorder are a persistent discomfort and sense of inappropriateness about one's assigned sex in a person who has reached puberty. In addition, there is persistent preoccupation, for at least two years, with getting rid of one's primary and secondary sex characteristics and acquiring the sex characteristics of the other sex
. Therefore, the diagnosis is not made if the disturbance is limited to brief periods of stress. Invariably there is the wish to live as a member of the other sex." It is important to note that later revisions of the DSM no longer include the two-year requirement.
In March 2003, the Oxford English Dictionary
defined it much in the same way as those who fly the trans flag do. However, it is critical
to note that not only does Oxford define "gender" as "males or females viewed as a group,"
but that the term "non-binary" didn't start gaining traction until at least
February 2014, eleven years after
this dictionary entry was made at all. Although cited often, this seems a bit dated and possibly irrelevant, does it not?
Even in more modern times, as recently as three years ago, headlines from Insider
read "The staggering costs of being transgender in the US, where even patients with health insurance can face six-figure bills", which seems to outright state that being transgender automatically includes transition. Read just below the cover pic and you'll see it specifies that this is "Many transgender people".
As recently as last month
, the Ohio Capital Journal wrote of a "transgender sports bill, which requires any female athlete 'accused' of being transgender to have a full external and internal genital inspection." The Cincinnati Enquirer specifically highlighted
that there is exactly one transgender female athlete in the whole state of Ohio, and she plays a sport not seen on the professional level: softball. This puts it bluntly, that transitioning is a necessary requirement of being transgender, right? Or else, why bother going through the ordeal to make sure?
Somehow, though, places that offer medical care like Planned Parenthood state the exact opposite — that it's a different gender than they were assigned at birth. Even transgender acvocay groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality say the same
. However, the National Center for Transgender Equality in the very next sentence after saying this gives a clue to the disparity, albiet an extremely easy-to-miss one: "'Trans' is often used as shorthand for transgender." Trans is a prefix meaning "to cross to the other side of". If gender is not the right suffix to indicate a medical transition of some sort, what is?
Sexual. The word you are looking for is transsexual, meaning the changing of sex organs. One of the most important distinctions in the transgender community is the disinction of sex vs. gender. Ironically, it is this very same conversation that even those within the community seem to forget when it's most relevant. Overwhemingly, however, those that seek to medically transition do not call themselves transsexual. So while it is linguistically correct to say that they are transsexual, it is improper to do so. After all, you cannot be transsexual without also being transgender, and most everyone who is transsexual calls themselves simply "trans." Why fight a term that — in their use case — means both?