Sunday, 20 March 2011

Will the Real Girl please stand up?

    Since I began following the world of gender variance I have found myself tuning into the language we use to describe ourselves as a community. Subtle nuances such as where the disctinction exists between a transvestite and a crossdresser, or explosive battlegrounds such as who or what is defined as trangender. My job involves the manipulation of large amounts of language so I find these matters of great interest even when I don't take sides in them.
    One in particular that has caught my eye recently is this: how, when making the distinction among ourselves, do we describe a natural-born woman as opposed to a transwoman? Someone like my wife: born female-bodied and perfectly content with her female gender identity. It all used to be so simple, I remember reading a well written article on the work of the Beaumont Society a few years ago that introduced me to the term "real girl". My wife is a real girl, I'm a fake girl. I have no problems with that, job done, you'd think
    But then it seems there are those among us who dislike the implication that their womanhood might be less than real. I can see that, for someone who has fought very hard to achieve it to have their assumed gender denied could be very galling. So out of nowhere came the two terms FaB, for "Female at birth" and "Genetic girl". No problems with those if they don't wind anyone up, you'll have found me using both of them here on this blog from time to time.
    All very well then. Harmony in the world of transgender language for once. Well, until someone realised that transmen are also FaB and genetic female, just as we're MaB and genetic male. Oops, nobody wants to inadvertently deny anyone their gender so it's back to the drawing board.
    I am concerned that something has been lost along the way here. When you are describing a group do not make up terms for them, ask them how they wish to be described. It's not rocket science, after all that's why we refer to the indigenous people of the northern polar regions as Inuit rather than Eskimo, for example.  As someone whose outings in the trans sphere have all been accompanied by my wife I am guessing I have met more spouses and partners of trans people both male and female than most people as the partners tend to gravitate towards each other. It has been my observation that to a woman they all refer to themselves in this context as real girls. Deny them their self-identity? Heavens no!


  1. It has been my experience that spouses and partners of trans women refer to themselves that way as part of expressing their denial of their partners' gender identity. "He can't be a real woman, because I am!"

    You would have to look to women outside the trans community to find the answer, and therein lies the problem - the age-old dilemma of the experiment where the act of measurement affects the phenomenon being observed. As soon as you pose the question to a woman who has not been exposed to trans issues, you are altering her way of thinking, and probably putting her on the defensive.

    Personally, I'm fine with being referred to as a cis woman, but that isn't going to make any sense to the greater population! Until such time as labels carry no implied sense of superiority, or inferiority, I don't think there will be an answer that makes everyone happy. And so, the endless debates rage.

  2. Just call me a woman because that's what I am. Who's to say different?

    Shirley Anne xxx

  3. You got me thinking. Who came up with cis/female-born/genetic etc?
    I am a woman and so is everybody else that present themselves as such to me. I don't care what they look like nor what they sound like.
    Why complicate life?
    By the way Jenny, I expected to see an elephant-sized person but your photo shows a beautifull TALL Blooming flower.

  4. The problem with 'real girl' or 'RG' is that it denies the authenticity of a trans female identity. 'Cisgendered female' works for me. And for the women I know to whom it could be applied, on the rare occasions that it is needful to differentiate.

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  6. Very interesting post Jenny...

    I think that Sonora summed it best with:

    lies the problem - the age-old dilemma of the experiment where the act of measurement affects the phenomenon being observed

    A difficult one indeed...


    PS I must admit that I do have an issue with fake though - and issue I have spent many hours in therapy dealing with :)

  7. Evening all, and thanks for your comments. I feel I should emphasise the tongue-in-cheek nature of the post, as evidenced I hope by the "Laugh damnit" tag. It was prompted by the perfectly valid point that trans blokes are also FaB, thus potentially invalidating the safe term I'd been happily using. So don't worry, I hope I will not slip into the sin of linguistic prescriptivism! :)

    For want of an easier to trip from the tongue alternative I'll probably keep using "genetic girl". However I would never ever disabuse a wife or partner from calling herself a real girl, in return for coming that extra mile and involving herself she has in my view every right to use that to assert herself.

    @Ellena: Thank you very much! I will unfold my trunk now the camera has departed.

  8. Being somewhat old fashioned and quite late to these "tranny wars", I find the term natal female sufficiently descriptive and understood in general convrsation.

    Cis is some "neo-sophist" construction, much like transgender, although TG at least has a basis in the ENGLISH language

  9. gustibus non est disputandum.... :-)

  10. Jenny, really...

    There are perfectly good words, already: "Woman," and "Transsexual."

    I know garbage men like to be called "Sanitation Engineers," and tree-cutters like to be called "Tree Surgeons," but that's sophistry.

    "lies the problem - the age-old dilemma of the experiment where the act of measurement affects the phenomenon being observed"

    That's the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and it only applies in quantum mechanics, not general physics.

    Just like these feel-good definitions only apply in trans society, not society at large.

  11. You're free to self-identify as 'a transsexual', Jay. If someone described me that way I'd think them a fool or a troll.

  12. @Anne: yes, that's a more respectable way to say it.

    It's dangerous to denigrate words on their linguistic origin. The language is an evolving beast, words arrive in it because people use them. Congratulations, for by using it you've advanced its cause just a little bit.

    @Dru: :)

    @Jamie: I once got into significant trouble for trying to point out that those two words are not mutually exclusive. We have to present a credible story because the man in the street cares not for sensibilities.

  13. As Dru said the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Or as Sir Arthur Wellesly (Wellington) reputedly said "Jesus was born in a stable but it doesn't make him a horse!". So I'm entirely with Ellena on this. I don't care what the cover on the book says because it doesn't alter what the book actually is.

  14. Language like that can be a very delicate operation make a wrong move and you've stood on a mine. I try to avoid distinguishing but if its absolutely required my usual one is natal