Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Asterisk and its Fables

As a former user of the asterisk, and then a passionate non-user, I have been somewhat bewildered by the twists and turns in this story of the trans asterisk. I am satisfied, after a lot of consultation in  lot of groups, that the asterisk is on its way out and probably needs to go. Certainly more people from all positions under the trans umbrella loathe it than love it.

I personally would prefer people not to use it, but I also believe that there is very nearly a consensus on this, with just a few folks holding onto its usefulness.

But today, I want to share some words that are not mine, because I think they tell an important piece of history, from a trans feminine perspective, and I don’t want that to be lost. Shared with gratitude from Facebook with the writer Womandrogyne’s permission.

A long (sorry!) but interesting example of trans social history and the subjective nature of “stories” follows:

I came out as trans nearly 5 years ago now, and I joined a big online trans forum (which I ended up as a mod on for a while, until the forum infighting made me run for cover – but that’s another story). There was a nasty phenomenon going on all of the time that I was there, of (mainly) trans women who’d had, or intended to have, surgery thinking of themselves as the “True Trans” people, and making a distinction between being transsexual (which they thought of as “really trans”) and transgender (which they treated as “the lower classes”).

In response to that hierarchical nonsense, the label trans* (with an asterisk) started being used by people, who meant by it specifically “trans+whatever (-gender, -sexual) is simply trans and simply valid – nobody gets to police anyone else’s identity or labels anyway, but surgery is no yardstick of the validity of someone’s transness.” So having been a part of that movement, I associate trans* with equality as well as inclusivity.

Meanwhile, it turns out that in other trans circles and communities, trans* got coined too, but with several different and competing meanings and intents, all of which were different from the meaning/intent we were using. And now there’s been a strong backlash against using trans*, because for many people it has apparently come to represent the exact opposite of what it meant to us. To those people, it means “trans people are the TrueTrans™ people, and everyone else is merely trans*” – or/and it’s come to mean somehow that the voices of white, entitled transmasculine people are heard at the expense of everyone else (this is what I’m being told, anyway).

So I innocently used the phrase “supporting trans* young people” in a post the other day, and got strafed by someone for whom this is a slur. We sort of discussed the matter, I did some reading up, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer going to use the asterisk, even though it means something really positive to me and a load of people – because there are another load of people out there who feel very disenfranchised by it.

Actually, I’d be very content for trans to become the default term, if it meant we moved on from transgender/transsexual (and that godsawful “transgendered” that people use sometimes) altogether (and all together). Shortening of terms is a good sign of cultural assimilation, according to sociolinguistics.

I’m also fascinated by how each group of us had no idea that trans* meant anything different to other people from what we were used to it meaning, and how easy it is to assume that “my/our story” must be the “true story”.

End of ramble.

Edited to add: An interesting thought just struck me: to those of us with a computing background, the asterisk very much symbolises inclusivity, as it means “anything at all can go here” – whereas for non-computery folk and/or academics, the asterisk perhaps implies “not important enough to include in the main text, but worthy of a footnote”. I’d never even considered the possible differences in asterisk-affect.

[Padmavyuha (aka Womandrogyne), is “genderless, trans female, aspie, and Buddhist (none of these are nouns)”]