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31 October 2016

Transgender lexicons: Chris Bartlett

Transgender lexicons:
Chris Bartlett

  • Chris Bartlett. What does ‘queer’ mean anyway? The Quick and Dirty Guide to LGBTQIA+ Vocabulary. Create Space and Kindle, 2016.
Chris Bartlett is a heterosexual cis man in Colorado with a degree in business studies. He has written a series of ‘quick and dirty guides’ on a number of different subjects, mainly US elections but also BrExit, “Leaving America”, Olympic disasters – and this guide for LGBTQIA+ allies. Amazon Page

He intends this book to enable non-LGBTQIA+ persons to understand queer persons by means of simple definitions, a few case studies and a timeline. Amazon contains several 4 and 5-star reviews to the effect that he has succeeded in this endeavour. To that extent, good luck to him. This review, however, is not of the book from that perspective, but from a trans perspective.

He does not explain who his informants are, but they seem to be a group that embraces non-binary and gender queer, and are probably young in that there is little awareness of changes in usage over time. In a way, what he is attempting is probably so difficult, skating as it does on terminological fashion that is constantly changing, that to do completely successfully would be impossible.  

Chapter 1 – What is LGBTQIA+

He starts with:
“Most readers have probably heard or seen the acronym LGBT and are aware it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (although they may mistakenly believe the “T” is for “Transexual," a word that is considered offensive).”
So we already have a problem. Many of us, here, are in fact transsexuals or post-transsexuals. I certainly find it offensive for an outsider to tell me that the word is offensive.

A few pages later he tells repeats and expands:
“Some may assume that this ‘T’ stands for ‘Transsexual,’ but that term is used with decreasing frequency and is considered offensive. Still others may think that this ‘T’ has something to do with ‘Transvestitism,’ but that is incorrect — and a topic for a completely different book.”
This does not stop him from bringing in show-biz transvestites: Lily Savage, RuPaul and Freddie Mercury. There is no discussion about whether ‘drag’ and ‘tranvestism’ are the same or different.

Chapter 2 - Transgender and Intersex

Bartlett makes the standard distinction between the two, but does not mention that many of the pioneer generation of trans women such as Roberta Betty Cowell made dubious claims to be intersex. The one and only intersex person mentioned is Georgia Ziadie whom Bartlett refers to only by her marriage title, Lady Colin Campbell. This is an odd choice in that Ziadie is not involved in the movement for intersex rights, and there are those who think that her intersex status is similar to that of Betty Cowell.

A major event in the history of intersex was the abandonment of the word ‘hermaphrodite’ and its replacement by ‘intersex’. A major problem was the distinction between ‘true hermaphrodite’ and ‘pseudo-hermaphrodite’ with the implication that the latter were somehow not ‘true’. Therefore I was disappointed to see Barlett uncritically using ‘true gonadal intersex’ which brings back the old problem. This from a man who thinks that ‘transsexual’ is offensive.

Many intersex persons have objected to the term ‘disorders of sex development’ finding it offensive, and it has not been accepted by most intersex activist groups. Bartlett does not even mention this controversy, but does use the term in passing without even putting it in quotes.

He moves on to transgender. [gender dysphoria]  ”is becoming a regularly used term in medicine and popular culture."  He seem to be unaware that the term "gender dysphoria" was introduced by Norman Fisk in 1973 because 'transsexual' had lost its medical connotations, and he wished to re-pathologize the condition.  That is why many of us avoid it.

Chapter 3 - Gender Fluidity and Nonconformity

This is the chapter where Bartlett seems to be most at home.
[Gender] “is a social construct and is not determined solely by sex but rather as a how a culture has reacted to sexual differences” and “due to the socio-political imbalance between sexes, women's gender has been constructed by men, or as a man’s ideal image of women”.
He lists six gender-neutral pronouns, but not my preferred ‘ae’. He gives elementary sentences on how to use such pronouns, but again remember the specified audience.

Chapter 4 – Tackling Judgment and Prejudice

Bartlett gives quite adequate definitions of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, internalized homophobia, and discusses their social impact. He then gives a list of offensive words.
“Language plays a big part in this process. The following words and phrases have historically been used to isolate and hurt members of the LGBTQIA + community. There was some hesitation to include in this text language which has so often been used to demean members of the LGBTQIA + community. Ultimately it was deemed responsible to include this section because this book is directed towards well meaning people who have no desire to disparage others. The author encourages readers to use the below knowledge to be an advocate for the correct usage (or non-usage) of this vocabulary.”
His list of offensive words includes ‘transexual’, ‘tranny’ and ‘she-male’. The first of these was expected from the comments made in Chapter 1. As usual, ‘tranny’ but no mention of ‘transy’. Nor is there a mention that ‘tranny’ was quit acceptable until only a few years ago.

Chapter 5 – Relationships in Which Only One Person is Transgender

Bartlett discusses both married persons who transition, and a transitioned trans man who needs to tell his lover of his past. This chapter is quite well done.

Chapter 6 – Gender Identity, Sexuality and Popular Culture.

This chapter is mainly a time-line of events from 1930 to 2015.

Despite that most of the discussion above has been trans, intersex and non-binary, most items in the time–line are gay male and bi male. There are no lesbian entries, and no trans-male entries. The trans entries are Lili Elbe (with the usual misinformation), Stonewall (but without the trans persons), Holly Woodlawn in Trash, and “Walk on the Wild Side”, David Bowie in a dress, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Boy George, the group Queen, Lily Savage, RuPaul, Caitlyn Jenner, Jaden Smith.

The Australian soap opera Number 96 is mentioned for its first gay character, but that Carlotta was in it in 1973 as the first trans playing trans is not mentioned.

Showbiz transvestites Lily Savage and Rupaul are included, but showbiz transsexuals Christine Jorgensen, April Ashley, Coccinelle, Carlotta, Tula, Claudia Charriez, are not.

My Conclusion:

‘transsexual’ is not an offensive term

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