Our vernacular is evolving — especially when it comes to discussing LGBTQ lives — but not fast enough for some impatient folks.
By Riki Wilchins
June 07 2017
I was giving my Gender 101 presentation to an important corporate client in the Bay Area recently when I got to terms and definitions. It was then I learned I am no longer a transsexual. I tried to define the difference between “transgender” and “transsexual” but was stopped by three young people — two of whom identified themselves as nonbinary — who took strong exception to the word “transsexual.”
“We don’t use that anymore,” they said. This was backed up by a young cisgender man, a UCLA queer studies major, who declared that the term was objectionable because it “medicalizes” trans people and inappropriately ties recognition of someone’s genital status — which is private — to their gender identity. So it was not only archaic but offensive.
I’d long known I was offensive — often intentionally so, more often unconsciously. But it was the first time I learned I was also archaic. You could hear the room stirring and everyone’s attention swiveling toward me, smiles gone, tense with that awful feeling when conflict breaks out over the politically incorrect.
“Politically incorrect” used to mean something like “We now have a better and more sensitive way to say that,” which is actually a very helpful and useful correction to unconsciously offensive modes of communication that are deeply embedded in our language. And there are many. Yet it often comes with a hint of moral superiority, which has since grown to be as important as the subject that occasions it.
Now “politically incorrect” is closer to saying something like “I denounce you for having said something which we no longer say in polite company. You are therefore a bad person and should be publicly shamed, not to mention silenced.”
Sometimes this is right on target (Mr. President, call your answering service). However, just as often, this kind of brickbat is aimed at friends and allies who are simply one step behind the discourse, which, of course, is constantly changing, so that you often don’t realize you’ve transgressed until you do it. This generates ever new opportunities to be pronounced “politically incorrect.” It happens in every language. Even among the deaf — as The New York Times has noted — signs evolve in order to respond to new awareness and new sensibilities.
So no, we don’t say “gay and lesbian” anymore; we say “lesbian and gay.” Nor do we say “lesbian, gay, and bisexual.” What we now say is “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.” But actually, it’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and … oh, screw it.
I don’t mind having my language corrected. God knows sometimes it is in need of correcting. Like everyone, I get things wrong, and I sometimes find myself on the wrong side of the gender discourse. But who has the right to certain terms is not just about PC but also deeply intertwined with body and identity. It’s not just what is said, but who does the saying.
Continue reading at: http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2017/6/07/i-was-recently-informed-im-not-transsexual