Monday, September 23, 2013

Does Our Language Keep Us Down?

There is a discussion on WPATH Facebook page about the use of words that we use to describe blending in to society…

Jenn _______

Starting a grassroots movement to replace the terms "passing", "passable" and "stealth" with "integrate".

It's LONG PAST time trans people and those around them stopped using words that imply that one is "fooling people" or "successfully imitating" their true gender.

Self-integration (the desire to integrate) into one's culture is both a matter of quality of life and, for many trans people, life or death, however we don't need to use words (Passing) appropriated from the post-Reconstruction era to describe African-Americans who were light skinned enough to "pass for white" in order to obtain better living conditions or employment.

And we MOST CERTAINLY don't need to use words that specifically mean "to sneak around, undetected" (Stealth) to describe our desired ability to simply live our lives as human beings rather than as "a transgender.”

Let's all try to stop using words to describe our lived experience that only serve to confirm what some people think - that we are 'pretending' to be who we are.

It is something that I never thought about, but what she said is true; our words define us. When we use language that has a negative connotation we are implying that we are doing something sneaky or sinister.

I thought about using “assimilate” instead of "integrate" but then I thought that many of us do not wanted to be assimilated we want to live our own life not someone else’s vision of life. We do not want to be the Borg, we want to be ourselves and live our own lives.

I feel that this is important not so much for us within the trans-community but more because of the way we are perceived by others. The language that we use has a profound impact on the way others look at us. Study after study has shown that language not only affects us but also how we are seen as a community. It is not just "Politically Correct" but it could be a matter of life or death. The trans-community has one of the highest suicide rates and thoughts of suicide than other marginalized communities. The use of language has a lot to do with our self-esteem, sometimes we use language without thinking. 

What do you think?


Pat Scales said...

I have never thought or acted in terms of passing. My goal when out and about has been to blend into the surroundings.
I think I like the concept of integration a lot. Thank you for sharing it.

Patrick said... interesting problem, indeed. I never would have thought about the language a transgender uses as being self-defeating.

However, I would offer this, for what it's worth: I think that all of us, even non-transgender, even the "perfect" white straight males that society has always seemed to place such an unusual amount of preference toward, attempts to "pass" one way or another.

That's why we have words like "bromance" that might be used to describe my relationship with my best friend, so that it's clear that there's nothing sexual or "unusual" going on there but that we still "love" each much as two guys are "allowed" to love each other without being whispered about when we're not looking.

I think there's a natural component with each of us to define ourselves in relation to how we compare with others, rather than to who we are ourselves. The upside of it is that it helps us identify others who may better understand where we are to build community faster with like-minded people.

The downside, though, is that it either forces all of us to pretend to be something other than who we are, or to separate us from people we could be friends with but assume wouldn't be interested.

A double-edged sword, even existing with the best of intentions, remains a double-edged sword.