Editors' Note: Shayna Schwach practiced accounting as a CPA for 22 years, and later transitioned at work as a paramedic. She has held public office, and lobbied in D.C. and Albany, NY for six years on education issues.
Before being terminated at work for being transgendered, my partner nicknamed me "Tree", stating I was as old as ... !
Born in 1950, I clearly remember when gays and blacks were commonly referred to using words that were pejorative, always used to demean and demoralize. I believe I am on firm ground if I state none of us would consider the use of such words proper today.
With a degree concentrating in biology/genetics and then medical training, I read through volumes attempting to learn all I could about this condition that plagued me throughout my life and with which I had finally been diagnosed. More and more, I was astounded as renowned researchers, medical doctors, WPATH [formerly HBIGDA], and even others with GID (Gender Identity Disorder) used terminology which made me cringe. Surely I thought, learned individuals should understand that the terminology they use can convey negative connotations.
I suggest it is society's schizophrenic attitude about "sex" and the vestiges of puritanical attitudes that drive much of the discrimination we face. Accordingly, any reference to "sex" becomes an impediment to changing societal attitudes.
To preface, let me put forth that "sex" and "gender" are not synonyms. Perhaps in the vernacular we do use them interchangeably at times, but can you imagine a group of early 20s young men sitting in their favorite bar with one exclaiming, "I had great gender with a girl I met last week"? If we define "sex" as an act of recreation and procreation," then it's really your gender, not sex, they're inquiring about on that application where you check the box for "male" or "female". Additionally, given I knew instinctively at age 4 that I was a girl, I've neither had a "sex change" nor "sex reassignment surgery" - I haven't even changed my gender!
For the record, I'm not one of those who ever felt "trapped in a man's body" but instead, as time progressed, simply began to feel discordant and deformed.
It also follows that I'm not "MtF" regardless of the convenience of the term, never mind what such conveys to the rest of society to reinforce it's visceral reaction to us. While I clearly understand that with XY chromosomes my brain should have differentiated to have a male physiology, it did not and the bottom line is that effectively I was born a female with a genital deformity.
And yet, even the WPATH Standards Of Care refer to GID patients undergoing a "change of sex". I have met few individuals who, even though somewhat compassionate, don't exhibit a slight "cringe" upon hearing such terms. As for "tranny", "shemale" and worse, aren't those the terms I hear from hostile males who seek to taunt me? Truly, I'm tired of hearing some with GID use those same terms as if they're a badge of honor.
And now, various television programs and documentaries have begun to flood the airwaves with programs on those who have had a "sex change". With only one exception, every single patient I have seen refers to their situation using what I consider less than desirable terminology. Only one corrected the host exclaiming "I didn't change my sex; I've been a girl since birth." Accordingly, the following question arises:
Desirous of bringing about a less discriminatory societal climate, why would those with GID and those professionals who seek to treat and/or enlighten others as to the true congenital nature of the condition, use and thus reinforce, the very terminology which reinforces myth?
We expend so much effort in an attempt to end bigotry and the denial of rights, yet, perhaps without much thought, reinforce the emotional discomfort of others with the words we choose. Even my surgeon agreed that "uro-genital reconstructive surgery" was more medically appropriate than "sex reassignment surgery". That said, would you care to guess which term is on his web site to this day?
Certainly, plastic surgeons refer to various procedures using proper medical terminology. In one's medical records, most doctors will refer to a myocardial infarct, not a heart attack, rhinoplasty and not a nose job, and breast augmentation vs. "boob job". But you can bet every one of my medical records says "sex change"!
Proper medical terminology should be the norm when discussing GID treatments anywhere. In fact, I recently noted that Dr. Marci Bowers' web site now refers to the vaginal surgery she performs as "GRS"- genital reassignment surgery. Kudos! That said, for me "reassignment" vs. "reconstruction" is odd and her site is still peppered with other terms I consider less than desirable (e.g. MtF), given the nature of the surgery and reality of what the condition is based on my research.
If I understand correctly, GLAAD considers "sex change" pejorative. However, it was suggested to me recently that "sex reassignment" is acceptable because one's genitals are referred to by some as one's "sex".
However, wouldn't we then in effect be saying one had their "sex changed"? We can't accept one term (i.e., SRS) and not the other ("sex change"); obviously, I reject both!
As for "reassigned", it generally refers to a transfer in job or duties which this is not.
Medically, it is the urinary and genital structures that are "reconstructed", i.e. rebuilt, and thus "uro-genital".
The point is, we do have alternatives which are not only more accurate but would help begin recasting current perceptions.