GLAAD is wrong on ‘transgender’ vs. ‘transgendered’

GLAAD is wrong on
‘transgender’ vs. ‘transgendered’

Consider this item from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Reference Guide:

PROBLEMATIC: “transgendered”
PREFERRED: “transgender”

The word transgender never needs the extraneous “ed” at the end of the word. In fact, such a construction is grammatically incorrect. Only verbs can be transformed into participles by adding “-ed” to the end of the word, and transgender is an adjective, not a verb…

I hesitate to criticize what is in general a very useful guide, but on this issue, the guide is simply incorrect: ‘transgendered’ is clearly grammatically correct and ‘transgender’ is the term whose grammatical status is in question. It is certainly true that some transgendered people use ‘transgender’ as an adjective to describe themselves or others, but a review of the above will show that this is, strictly speaking, grammatically incorrect.

There are adjectives that we use to describe people that do not end in ‘ed,’ including ‘Norwegian’ or ‘Chinese,’ ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine,’ and ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian,’ not to mention ‘bisexual.’ But to point this out is simply to point out the diversity of adjectival constructions in the English language; in itself, it does not constitute an objection to the use of ‘transgendered’ as an adjective.

I’m right-handed, not ‘right-hand.’ I can say that I am ‘fatigued’ — not to mention ‘exhausted’ by this whoe debate; I would never say, “I am fatigue” or “I am exhaust” (though of course one can refer to ‘fatigue’ and ‘exhaust’ as nouns as well as use them as verbs, depending on the context). I have been referred to as an ‘accomplished woman’ and an ‘accomplished activist,’ but I have never been described as ‘accomplish’ or as an ‘accomplish person.’ My elderly next-door neighbor is ‘aged,’ not ‘age.’ I would call someone who reads the poetry of Joseph von Eichendorff ‘cultured,’ not ‘culture,’ just as I would call Korean celadon — and those who appreciate it — ‘refined,’ not ‘refine.’ One says that a person is ‘educated,’ but I’ve never heard anyone describing someone as an ‘educate’ person. I have been honored to accept numerous invitations to speaking engagements, but on none of those occasions have I ever said, “I am honor to accept your invitation to speak here,” and if I had, my audience would almost certainly question my command of English grammar.

Adding an ‘ed’ to a verb to create an adjective is in fact a very common construction in English, and the fact that an adjective is created from a verb doesn’t mean that it isn’t an adjective. Similarly with ‘transgendered.’ When we talk about people, we ordinarily say that they are ‘gendered,’ using an adjective created by adding ‘ed’ to ‘gender.’ It would be both grammatically incorrect as well as bizarre to say that a child is ‘gender,’ while it makes perfect sense to say that a child is ‘gendered.’

Now, I do use ‘transgender’ as an adjective to describe certain entities that are abstract, such as ‘transgender law,’ ‘transgender studies,’ and ‘transgender community,’ because it is the people — not the law, the studies, or the community — that are transgendered. So it is not at all inconsistent when I refer to myself as a ‘transgendered woman’ and also as a ‘transgender activist,’ because in the latter case, it is I who am transgendered, not my activism. Similarly, NYAGRA is a transgender organization, not a ‘transgendered’ organization, because an organization itself cannot be transgendered, only its members.

When the question of ‘transgender’ vs. ‘transgendered’ comes up within community, the most frequent objection I hear to the latter is that it seems to imply that something has been ‘done to’ the ‘transgendered’ person. Well, we are all gendered at birth, entirely without our consent; in that sense, we are all gendered; gender is in fact ‘done to’ us — by our parents, our peers, and our society. But when we come out as transgendered, we do in fact engage in an act of re-gendering, as it were. Far from implying that something has been ‘done to’ someone, when an individual uses ‘transgendered’ as a self-descriptor, it represents a conscious act of self-naming and affirmation.

There is a sublter and more sophisticated argument in favor of ‘transgender,’ which is that linguistic usages are social constructions and that ultimately, whatever usage society adopts is correct. An example of this would be ‘e-mail’ used as a term not merely to designate electronic mail as a whole, but an individual message. I feel rather old-fashioned and even vaguely curmudgeonly when I say ‘e-mail message’ to refer to an individual message rather than the shorter and all-too-common ‘e-mail’ (as in, “Did you get the last e-mail I sent you…?”). But it is also true that the mere fact that adoption of a usage as conventional does not make grammatically what is demonstrably grammatically incorrect according to the rules of grammar that are still standard for that language; adoption of a grammatically incorrect usage as conventional simply complicates the status of the grammatical structure of the language and makes the language more inconsistent in that regard. In any case, we have not reached the point where ‘transgender’ as an adjective to describe people has become standard, much less universally accepted both within the transgender community and outside it, and so even this most sophisticated argument in favor of ‘transgender’ is not persuasive.

So as a transgender activist, but even more as a transgendered woman, I would encourage GLAAD to correct this reference on-line and in its publications. For me, it is ultimately the conceptual and political implications of this debate over usage that weigh most heavily. When I say, “I’m transgendered,” I am saying, in effect, “I have transgendered myself.” I have re-envisioned myself as an openly transgendered woman in the face of a society that is generally hostile to the very idea. I have embraced the usage ‘transgendered’ because it represents a conscious act of self-naming and affirmation, an act that is central to the process of empowerment that is at the heart of the transgender movement.

This blog post originally appeared as “‘Transgender’ vs. ‘transgendered’ — the great nomenclature debate engaged” on BigQueer.com on 8 April 2007.

12 comments

  1. Transgender and transgendered are blanket terms that cover ; transvestites cross dressers of both primary genders,drag queens,drag kings,inter sexed,female and male impersonators and true transsexuals MTF and FTM, some of the previous are used in a fetish or sexual way.
    I am a transsexual and if asked I identify as a transwoman.
    CC

  2. I completely agree with this article and within it’s scope, I feel it’s a very cogent explanation of correct usage for these terms.

    I’d like to point out an additional common but incorrect usage for these terms that the article did not take into account, which may well have been a larger part of the context in which GLAAD made it’s definition.

    I frequently hear people incorrectly use both transgender and transgendered as nouns, and in this respect the GLAAD definition was well meaning and correct in affirming transgender as an adjective. Just as we would never call a black person "a black", or a gay person "a gay"; we vitally need this clarification to avoid our objectification and dehumanization. Furthermore, I feel this would help avert the tendency to homologize the wide spectrum of transgender people that causes so many of us to dislike the term.

  3. I disagree with you 100%. When I hear the term “transgendered”, I get this feeling like I have been inflicted with some kind of a dangerous disease or that someone did this to me against my will. I see too many applications of the word “transgendered” being used by the haters to put us in some kind of a lower form of human life.

    As someone who grew up through life with a hormone imbalance and the inability to function as a male, I consider myself more intersex than transsexual. I did not “transgender” myself. I was already this way, I only made some changes to make things more correct. It was either that or a gun to my head.

    I find the word “transgendered” in reference to the intersex/transsexual community to be insulting and a complete improper usage. I even question the use of “transgender” for those who like me are medically diagnosed with GID or something else and are transitioning or transitioned medically and psychologically.

    If you want to call the crossdressers and drag-queens who are dressed “en-femme” as “transgendered”.. fine. But please do not put me in that category.

    With the APA, AMA, WPATH and others speaking on the issues that affect transsexuals and intersex, I think it’s time we need to separate ourselves from those who just want to dress up. The “gender expression” community continues to take down the “gender identity” community by demanding to be added to certain rights such as sex-segregated public accommodations when downstairs, they are still “fully functional”. The hate groups will still continue to scream “bathroom rape”, but if medical experts speak up that those who use the faciltiies are medically diagnosed and for all intents and purposes are considered their congruent gender of appearance. We need to attack this a different way and that’s through adding an identity aspect to the definition of “sex” at the state and federal levels. If you are a true intersex or transsexual, you will have identification (either a state driver’s license or US Passport/Passport Card) that shows your identified gender. That is how the government should recognize you. The weekend crossdressers can’t provide this.

    My point is that within the T segment of the rainbow, there are two very distinct sub-groups that have different needs and as a member of the intersex/transsexual (medically diagnosed) sub-group, I highly oppose being called “transgendered” (with the “ed”).

  4. Frankly, I think you are wrong on every point here and will continue to vigorously object to the use of “transgendered” to refer to either trans people or politics.

  5. Sorry, but this sort of debate wastes valuable brain cells in both production, assimilation and argument. When you have passed on, will people say you have died or that you are dead? About as useful a question!

    Get a life, I say.

  6. I am one of the few (it seems) transsexual women who is capable of accepting that I was once a man.
    I am also one of the few T women who understands that accepting that we are part of the TG umbrela in no way invalidates my womanhood.

    Thank you for a well spoke and argued counterpoint to the madness.

  7. I agree with you, Pauline, as you know. And as you also know, I gave up. It still makes me crazy, but my frustration wasn’t worth it. I also think that the incorrect use of “transgender” leads the media and others to use it as a noun rather than an adjective when referring to people (“a transgender”) because it does not come across to them as an adjective, where “transgendered” naturally comes across as an adjective – because it is.

    I am a gendered person and, therefore, a transgendered person (although I don’t consider myself transgendered now – I consider myself a transsexual person). My chosen descriptor is trans man, short for transsexual man. Longtime readers of my blog know my preferences and my reasoning, but for me, keeping up the fight was too stressful. Now I just want the world to stop using an apostrophe to make a plural noun!

  8. Let folks use whatever words they want to refer to themselves! I don’t want anyone telling me what word(s) I choose to identify with are/are not correct. Only I know how I identify and only I can say what is right or wrong for me!

  9. As a fellow grammar nazi, I applaud this article! And as a transgendered person, it is doubly relevant to my life. As few people can out-grammar me, I shower you with abundant kudos–very well earned.

  10. I am very much on the “transgendered” side of this. I utterly reject the ludicrous claim that “transgendered” is a grammatical error; it’s no more wrong than “red-haired” is.

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