What Are Words For?

I posted on one of my Facebook pages about identity labels the other day, specifically the ones I’m using.  I explained that I’m not going to use bi-gender any more because the definitions I’m seeing don’t really fit the way I embody male AND female.

Bigender, bi-gender, bi+gender (from Wikipedia): describes a tendency to move between feminine and masculine gender-typed behaviour depending on context… 

And though I have in the past felt a distinct shift between my female and male identities, feminine has never been a part of that, or a much lesser part.  And more recently, as my identities become more overlapped and less distinct, this definition is less and less descriptive of who I am becoming.

One friend — cis, white, female, lesbian identified person — opined that it shouldn’t matter what words I choose and I shouldn’t have to have so much angst about it because …

… outside of the fact that public restrooms should just have a toilet on the door instead of assumptive stick figures, does it matter? I get that “gender identity” is of critical importance, but at the end of the day, what matters to you most? Living life as the awesomeness of your true self, or finding a way to write down specific words on a piece of paper?

Maybe I’m just an old fart lesbian, but when I see “these kids today,” I think of how flipping far we’ve come, and thinking of how far we’ll (G-d willing) be in a mere decade’s time, all that comes to mind is a chant from some 80′s movie: “it just doesn’t matter! it just doesn’t matter!”

This was my response:

I want to gently suggest that though it may not seem like something that has critical importance at the end of the day or any other part of the day, it’s important to me for a couple of reasons, at least. One, a lot of the assumptions that are made about gender identity and the importance or lack of importance of these discussions, are made by people who have no call to question it, mainly because the gender they identify as corresponds to the expected primary and secondary sex characteristics. Two, words are not just how we communicate with others, words have magical properties inside our heads, too. Before I knew the word trans, I was limited to man or woman. Neither fit me completely, leaving me in an undefined and unspeakable (almost literally) middle space that I could not truly describe to myself, much less anyone else. Words have power, the power to destroy and create, the power to denigrate and confirm. For me, finding the right words is important, but I’m a writer and a teacher. Words are my hammer and nail, my mortar and pestle, they are the stuff of my life’s work. And it’s great to celebrate how far we’ve come, no doubt about it. It’s also necessary to recognize that there is still work to do. Transgender people face a lot of violence, a lack of adequate medical care, difficulty with employment, housing, social acceptance. So yes, it does matter. It matters in part because if I have the words to describe myself to you, I am not invisible. I exist and if I exist, I take up space, and if I take up space, I can ask to be recognized. I can ask that you and others recognize that my experience is valid and different. Sometimes that difference doesn’t really matter, not at the end or the beginning of the day. Sometimes that difference can be the line between life and death, between happiness and depression. Those are some of the reasons it does matter. Thank you.

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One Response to What Are Words For?

  1. Heather says:

    Eloquently put. Words absolutely matter because they give us agency and visibility.

    I was proud of myself for not getting angry at her for her cis-priv-blindness. K

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