There are several words and phrases that you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear if you hang out with trans folks (or cis folks who talk about trans people or issues) often enough. The trans community, like any community, has its own language and ways to discuss certain topics, and much of that language is fantastic and makes it easier to talk about myself, my friends, and the kind of things I think about all day. However, some of this language is extremely frustrating to me, and I’m going to address a couple of examples over the next few posts.
The first one, which I’ve heard quite a bit recently, is using “bio-” as a prefix for a cisgender person. My instant impulse, upon hearing that, is to ask what the hell I am, if I am not a bio-me. Did being trans turn me into a cyborg, or perhaps a Muppet? Either of those things would be interesting to experience, actually, but I am pretty sure they didn’t happen. If I wake up one morning with Frank Oz’s arm inside of me, I’ll let y’all know.
I realize that it can be useful to distinguish between the various types people who share the same pronouns, but can’t we use more tactful and accurate methods? I’d say “bio” ranks above “real” or “normal” as a descriptive word for a person who isn’t in the trans wonderland, but that isn’t saying much. Personally, I am a fan of the word cisgender or cissexual, depending on context; it’s a way to say “not trans” that’s less othering and alienating, and unlike saying “bio-male” there’s not that nasty side effect of making me feel like Frankenstein’s monster as I lumber about in my constructed, unnatural, chemical-assisted maleness.
I feel awkward when language like this comes up. If there’s a larger conversation happening, it doesn’t always feel appropriate to interrupt and say “hey, this word you’re using seems kind of disrespectful to all of us here, can you use this other one I like much better instead?” But at the same time, I think it’s good to be able to voice those thoughts, and I appreciate when other people point out the things I say that they don’t like. I certainly think this is much more minor than many of the other language problems trans folks have – the other posts I want to write in this series discuss some less minor examples, and then there’s the huge issue of the wider world often disrespecting our names and pronouns and coming up with all sorts of degrading slurs for us – but it’s still frustrating to hear.