Guest Blogger

The Rise of "Transgender"

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 12, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Christine Jorgensen, history of transgender, transgender, transsexual

christan_williams.jpgEditors' Note: Cristan Williams is a post-op transsexual woman who is a member of the Houston transgender community. She is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America and is a board member of the Bee Busy Community Wellness Center, as well as serving on several area trans and HIV/AIDS committees

Recently, I've been somewhat fascinated by the various discussions and debates I've seen concerning the word "transgender".

I've noticed there are a number of assertions being made about the co-evolution of the word "transgender" and the so-called "transgender community" that seem to be rooted more in ideology than in the historical record.

Additionally, I've noticed that there are a number of distinct arguments going on. They seem to be blending together in a way that makes meaningful discussions about this topic somewhat difficult. For example, one person might raise an issue of taxonomy -- what do we call ourselves? -- only to have it attacked on the basis of identity. From what I've seen, there are no less than five debates going on concerning this word and the idea of community. (Note: when I use the term "non-cisgender," I refer to people who, in the broadest possible sense, identify as gender variant in some way, shape or form.)

1. Taxonomy debate: Should we group together people of a non-cisgender history, experience and/or expression? Would a word other than "transgender" be more useful? If so, would we still have people who are not happy with a new taxonomy?

2. Identity debate: Is it useful that transsexuals - or any constituent group member - should experience pressure to cease identifying as such, and instead only identify as being the generalized taxonomy (e.g., transgender, gender-variant)?

3. Historical Context debate: Is it historically accurate to claim that there was nothing analogous to the "transgender community" in the 1970s and 80s? Is it historically accurate to claim that, prior to the 1990s, transsexuals of the 1970s and 80s did not self-identify as transgender? Can we say that transsexuals identify as "transgender" nowadays because they were forcibly assimilated by non-transsexuals? Was working together as a community of diverse constituents seen as being useful in the 1970s and 80s?

4. Cultural Context debate: In the 1970s and 80s, what did the medical community mean when they used the word "transgender"? Did the non-medical community understand the term "transgender" in the same way? Might the use of this term by non-trans people have contributed to the way our American culture currently uses this term?

5. Usefulness debate: Is working together as a community of diverse constituents useful today?

This article will only briefly touch on two of the above five arguments currently taking place within the community: the Cultural Context and the Historical Context arguments. The first is addressed in this Part I, and the second will be addressed in a later post. My goal isn't to push any specific belief system. Rather, my goal is to simply add to the available historical record and to invite you to think about its implications.

Note: Click on the images below to enlarge.

Right: Newsday article reprinted in the Winnipeg Free Press, 1979 (Click to enlarge.)

The Cultural Context

There are three questions to consider in looking at the cultural context of the word "transgender." In what context did the medical and psychological community work with the term "transgender"? What about the non-medical and non-psych community -- how did they use this term? How did transsexuals use this term? These questions are useful when discussing this term because the answers helped shape its evolution, as well as the notion of what a "transgender community" looks like¬.

Q: In what way were some transsexual people using the word "transgender" in the 1970s and 1980s?

The article on the right reads:

As a young man, Jorgensen experienced strong emotional attachments to two male friends, but she says those feelings were never expressed. She admits now that she wasn't entirely candid in the book. She did have "a couple" of homosexual experiences before she went to Europe to seek a medical solution to her problem, but they only reinforced the feeling that she wanted to relate to men as a woman, not as another man.

2011.7.8-transgender-1979-CJ2.PNG"If you understand trans-genders," she says, (the word she prefers to transsexuals), "then you understand that gender doesn't have to do with bed partners, it has to do with identity."

2011.7.8-transgender-1979-CJ3.PNGThe article goes on:

"Many of her friends are gay, she says. She knows other trans-genders but none are within her circle of intimates."

Years later, in The Leader-Post Regina reprint of mass-media article, Wed., Dec. 18, 1985, found below, she reasserts her rejection the term "transsexual" in favor of the term "transgender". In this 1985 article Jorgensen states the following:

"I am a transgender because gender refers to who you are as a human."

It is extremely significant that the world's most famous transsexual self-identified as a transgender woman in 1979.

If you were transsexual in the 1970s and 1980s, it's probable that your first introduction to transsexualism was through Christine Jorgensen. The way Jorgensen chose to self-identify, her opinions about the word "transsexual" and her obvious feelings about the distinction between sex (having "to do with bed partners") and gender (having "to do with identity") would likely have been important to you.


Q: In what way did the entertainment industry use the term?

"[R]aquel Welch (left), moviedom's sex queen soon to be seen as the heroine/hero of Gore Vidal's transgendered "Myra Breckinridge"...

TVguide-TGa.PNGTVguide-TG.PNG-TV Guide, Sunday, April 26, 1970

Left: TV Guide page from Sunday, April 26, 1970. Right: excerpt of the relevant portion of the page. Click to enlarge.

Q: How did critics use the term to refer to the performing arts?

Johnson recently directed a "transgender Salome,' " which should give you a hint of what to expect here. Wearing a man's suit for most of the play, Bolger runs a Newbury street men's clothing store which she seems to think is successful and classy. The funniest thing about this funny production is that all the clothes look dreadfully tacky.

The morning's first customer, a "Mrs. Higgs" - Maya Silverthorne again, smashing in drag - breezes in, ostensibly to buy a present for "her" brother. Higgs and the owner exchange banal pleasantries about fashion - playwright Johnson has written some hilarious schlock-speak that includes tawdry gems like "Fashion is like a lover: In one year, out the next" - and soon they exchange clothes as well.

-- November 5, 1981 the Boston Globe

Q: How did the fashion industry use the term?

"The best of these "transgender dressing", she points out, is a man's suit beneath an oversized coat."

- Winnipeg Free Press, Thursday, Sept. 13, 1984 (see below)


Q: How did linguists use the term?

Chicago Tribune, Aug. 23, 1975

"'It,' a neuter pronoun, already exists, but contest winner Christine M. Elverson of Skokie says her words are 'transgender pronouns.'" (see below)


Q: How did the rock n' roll industry use the term?

The Sun, Apr. 26, 1975

"The gimmick that brought him fame and fortune four years ago was the trans-gender name, the mascara, the bizarre goings-on on stage" (see below)


Q: How did reporters use the term when referring to transsexual people?

"Biological women, thought to account for only 6 percent of the nation's transsexual population in the early 1950s, now make up around 25 percent of the 10,000 to 25,000 trans-gender people in the United States, according to a survey of those in the field."

Anchorage Daily News reprint of LA Times, Aug. 1, 1988 (see below)



Q: How did the medical and psychological community use the term when referring to transsexual people?

"Factors which rule against transgender surgery for otherwise bona fide transsexual individual[s] include..."

- 1974 by Dr. Novello in the book, "A Practical Handbook of Psychiatry" (see below)



The Usefulness of History

When discussing how this term has come to be used today, it may be useful, in this community conversation, to consider that the cultural pressures brought to bear on the evolution of this term seem to be more complex than simply attributing its use to one group of people.

While I am not pushing any specific belief system in this article, I am pushing the demonstrable facts of the historical record. I wrote this article to invite you to think about the implications of the historical record shown here, and to inspire a discussion about the cultural context of the term "transgender" that is more rooted in the historical record than in any specific ideology.

In Part II, I will take a look at the historical context of the transgender community.

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There is nothing like scholarly research. The late Bill Safire's Lexicological Irregulars (participatory fans who helped with his On Language column in the New York Times Magazine) salute you (or at least this one does!)

I was not aware of Christine Jorgensen's usage of the term "trans-gender." I had the opportunity to hear her speak at my college in 1974, and she autographed my copy of her autobiography at that time.

Thank you! Yes, the archive has a number of her signed books and other memorabilia and I love going through it all :)

Melissa Keiper | July 12, 2011 3:38 PM

Without advocating a particular belief system as well, I am not sure the feelings of one transsexual, albeit one who was important as a matter of course, are any more significant over those of another transitioner, early or otherwise. Jorgensen's belief that a word containing gender was more significant for her than one denoting sex was her opinion, and I respect it. It may not be representative of all of her peers, or true at all, from a biological standpoint. If you think the etymological opinions of early transitioners is important(I am not sure it is, but will accept that it might; the meanings and connotations of words do change over time) Jorgensen's subsequent choice of career and lifestyle was quite different than some of her peers(by saying "peers" I do understand that she came before anyone else well known by years), such as Lynn Conway or Renee Richards, both of whom, unlike Jorgensen, already had successful practices in their respective fields. I have no idea what their opinions were/are on the subject. I'm just not sure saying Jorgensen's are "significant" in such a "case closed" way holds water.

When I meant "significant", I meant that she held a unique status in the transsexual community that no other transsexual has since attained. That unique status meant that her opinions were thought of as newsworthy; that the shear number of people (both transsexual and non-trans) who where aware of her and interested in what she had to say seems to remain unparalleled.

Melissa Keiper | July 12, 2011 3:52 PM

I meant to write, "that is fine", after the first set of parentheses. Sorry. It's hot. :-)

Your history of the word Transgender doesn't match with the history I've been able to find. What I found was the Richard Ekins is the first person to Document the word and that was in 1985. Leslie Feinberg was the first person to make it an umbrella term. The word was also not widely accepted in the gay community in 1994 either I know I'm older than the word. But just in case you don't believe me here is a link to a Seicus report written by Barbara Warren please note the word Transgender is absent but the word Transgenderist is mentioned once in it.
I simply look at the use of the word as an umbrella term or to drag all Transsexuals and crossdressers into the gay community as bad manners and is unethical. I don't see any need to beat up on crossdressers as they have been damaged just as bad by the use of the word in their own way. When you have people like Mara Kiesling stating based on a questionable if best survey that the majority of crossdressers would transition if they could it does hurt those crossdressers who identify as heterosexual and are married. Then there are those crossdressers that are to closeted to rise up and fight against being drug into the LGBT. Either way it's time for the use of the word Transgender to include everyone regardless of whether they wish to be or not to come to an end. I believe the way the word is currently being used is quite possibly illegal at the very least it is a perverse form of discrimination and an unethical power grab by those who are pushing it.

Thanks for adding your sources to this conversation. Again, this is why I felt it important to look at the context with which the term was used during the 70s and 80s since conventional wisdom seems to say one thing while the historical record another.

I'm not going to address my own opinions about the other 3 arguments you've raised in your post (identity, usefulness and taxonomy) since they are not the subject of this post, but I do hear you :)

I'm going to give you some more links because I think your history is lacking who created the word and why. First is a link to for the book the Transgender Phenomenon By Richard Ekins you can read the first five pages for free and on page 4 or five it goes into how the word is based on Marxist theory it also alludes to the ideas of breaking capitalist society because it is the cause of the discrimination.
Next is a link to info about Leslie Feinberg the person credited with expanding the umbrella and dragging us all into the LGBT. If you read through it you will find she wrote and planned a Marxist Strategy to pull it off.
There is also something else I find interesting about that link it is that Leslie Feinberg and Jamison Green both went to the Michigan music festival in 1994. I wonder what if any part those two Transmen have if at all in the discrimination faced by post-op TS women at at the music festival. The word Transgender has at best a very questionable past certainly bad enough I don't believe there is anyone that can provide a legitimate excuse for either applying it to all or even keeping it around.

One reason I was impressed with the research is that you provide copies of the original references.

Original sources for the usaage of a term, such as those you have provided, are better than anecdotal evidence.

The conventional wisdom has previously pointed to Virginia Prince as the originator of the term, but the early references are to a slightly different term, "transgenderist."

There may or may not be a link. Words may be "coined" (added to the vocabulary, the word "coin" itself may be related to the creating of words being like the minting of currency, though there may be a connection to the lingua franca of the ancient Western world, which was a form of Greek called "koine") on an independnt basis, in which a later coinage has no connection with an earlier usage. Or they may have a relationship, in which case there might be something further to discover about what connection an earlier usage might have on a later one.

From a secondary source, I have the following:

"Virginia [Prince] first used the term 'transgenderal' in print in 1969. She does not seem to have used the term in print again. In 1978 she changed the term to 'transgenderist' and this then became her preferred lexical compound of the 'trans- ' + 'gend-' type."


There are other references in that article to matters which fit the subject of this discussion, mingled with references which relate to taxonomy and identity and other subjects which are not part of this particular discussion.

Thank you for posting that info citation!

This is exactly why I wanted to ensure that these actual historical records were made available. I'm really grateful to the Transgender Archive for securing and preserving these records :)

How were crossdressers dragged into the gay community? Sure i have met a few homophobic crossdressers but Stonewall rather does illustrate that crossdressers always were part of the gay community... cause the bar was raided using an anti-crossdressing law. It's hardly the only example either.

That's a really interesting question and I have a vintage article from the Galveston Daily News that sort of touches on this issue:


Cristan, while I appreciate your research, I think it ultimately comes under the category of "shut up, I'm right." This is not an argument based on logic (although both sides try to do their damnedest to logical), it's about emotion and self-identification. As with all deeply personal arguments, the more 'facts' you bring out, the more the other side thinks you're an ass.

I don't like the term transgender applied to me but I understand the political expediency of it nor do I think it negates my womanhood. But the context of how it's applied is important.

While I am sure that there are those on both sides who are so dogmatic about their belief system that anything they choose to perceive as a possible threat to their current narrative would be met with a number ad hom attacks.

The target audience I had in mind when I wrote this article weren't the extremists of either side. The folks I wrote this for are the majority of level-headed people who find the community debates interesting, but don't spaz out when the world presents them with an opinion that is different from their own.

correction: although both sides try to do their damnedest to sound logical

You wrote:

"I've noticed there are a number of assertions being made about the co-evolution of the word "transgender" and the so-called "transgender community" that seem to be rooted more in ideology than in the historical record."

Perhaps, but is the historic intent always the best measure? Originalism certainly has its faults, as well.

Don't get me wrong, the history is fascinating. But the concern I have is that as the language evolves and the potential for harm starts to overshadow the political expedience of single-terming, it's worth asking why we would keep cleaving to something just because of historic context.

And when I say "potential for harm," I don't just mean to certain types of transsexual women, either -- although it was less obvious how gender diverse people stand to lose, until the Connecticut law wording happened.

Ah, I think you may be misunderstanding the purpose of my article.

As I said, I'm only focusing on 2 of the 5 arguments in this 2-part article and right now in Part I, I am only focusing on 1 of the 5 arguments. I'm not addressing the usefulness of the term, the taxonomy of the term, or how people choose or choose not to identify with this term. I am only addressing the cultural context the term was used according to the historical record of the 1970s and 80s - and that's all.

Certainly I've not presented the entirety of the historical record as it pertains to the historical cultural context of the word; in fact, one could write an entire book exploring this one single issue.

This article only seeks to inspire a more historically grounded discussion on the cultural context in which this word was used back in the 1970s and 80s and nothing more.

I'm not commenting on if the term "transgender" is useful. I'm not commenting on the taxonomy of the term and neither am I commenting on the way people might personally identify with this term. I am only reviewing the historical record as it pertains to the historical cultural context.


I'm not going to put words in your mouth, but your post does have the context of a LOT of other very strongly worded pieces you've written about transgender v. transsexual. So I think to say it doesn't have an agenda of some sort is kind of disingenuous (and I'm not trying to label agenda with a creepy meaning... most blog pieces have an agenda). Maybe that was the purpose of this article, but anyone who's read most of anything you've written in the past year is very clear about your feelings on the topic and I think it's impossible to separate this article from that history.

Personally, I think Mercedes' comments made a lot of sense and very much got where this article is coming from.

Sure, I absolutely have my own opinions (as, I am sure, we all do) and I've posted my personal opinions on my personal blog - where they belong.

However, this isn't my personal blog and this post isn't about pushing a personal agenda or even making a value judgments about the worth of this historical record. I am only addressing one thing and one thing only in this post: the cultural context the term was used according to the historical record of the 1970s and 80s - and that's all.

For the most part, I'm not even commenting on the context - I am merely presenting it as it was written. The only item I felt obliged to make a comment about was Christine - and that was to merely note the unique position she held in the trans and non-trans community.

In this article, I took pains to only invite you to review the record and to draw whatever conclusions about it you choose to to make.

I personally think that from what I've seen, the record indicates that the current narrative concerning how the term was popularized is perhaps not 100% accurate and absolute. I'm guessing that most of you have never before had the opportunity to review these records. If anything, my hope is that this record adds to what we know about how the term evolved.

She most certainly has an agenda.

Would you be so kind as to copy and paste into a reply the part of this article wherein I push an agenda?

Cristan - thanks for doing this research. You've corrected a lot of misconceptions I had about the etiology of the term.

No doubt you'll be criticised for your supposed motives in doing this research. But as one who tries to have her opinions shaped by the evidence, the facts, and tries not to coerce the facts to conform to her opinions (no matter how cherished and dear to her heart), thank you.

What the significance is of these facts is another issue, but not one I'm interested in at the moment. I need to get my data right first. You've been of immense help there.

Thank you! When Bilerico invited me to write this piece, I told them that I wanted to make a more academic presentation of the historical record instead of trying to post something that would just stir up a bunch of drama that would overshadow what the historical record has to say.

I agree that the significance of this historical record is debatable. In this post, I only wanted to provide folks the opportunity to consider records they've never before seen and to invite them to consider that the current narrative concerning the evolution of the term hasn't been 100% accurate.

Trying this a second time somehow my last post vanished into thin air. Cristan I'm going to provide you with a couple links that I think are more important than what you've posted because they draw a better picture of the motive behind the word. First Link is to and the book the Transgender Phenomenon by Richard Ekins.You can read the first five pages for free and it will give you the history behind the early use of the word and what type of people were behind it. Notice on page four or five it starts to mention Capitalist Society and that the word comes from Marxist Theory.
This next link is to a piece about Leslie Feinberg who is credited with opening the Umbrella and dragging us all into the LGBT. Notice that she first wrote out a Marxist strategy on how to pull all the groups into the Transgender Umbrella and into the LGBT then executed it. Also note that her and Jamison Green went to the Michigan Music Festival in 1994 you might want to ask yourself why are supposedly Transmen going to what is supposed to be an all Lesbian event and how has that effected the Treatment of your Lesbian TS sisters?
If your truthful with yourself and others you will find the more you explore the word Transgender and it's history the more it becomes obvious it's unethical to use.

It's because the system automatically holds all comments with more than one link in it to be checked to see if it's spam. Nothing personal.

Thanks for clarifying that Bil.

I absolutely agree that the term has various evolutionary branches that applied cultural pressures which shaped the destiny of the term. I would agree that some historical evolutionary branches were more significant than others; however, I would not agree that only one historical evolutionary branch - and one alone - shaped the entire destiny of the term.

I'm not arguing that any one branch was the "magic bullet". I am only pointing out that the historical record seems to indicate that the evolution of the words was shaped by more than just one single source.

Alice Cooper? "gender neutral pronouns"? "biological women"? Tacky movies and novels by Gore Vidal? O K, Christine Jorgensen. Did she really understand what she was saying? Even if she did, so what? How many other things did Christine Jorgensen say that were offensive or downright homophobic?

Jorgensen would claim that her being transgender was based on “a mistake of nature,” while also claiming that being homosexual was “a much more horrible illness of the mind

Yes, I know Stephanie Stevens uses the word "transgender". Sorry, I still have problems with it. Just last week , the review for Hedwig referring to the male actor, who heads up a rock band when he's not playing Hedwig, as transgender, in the local newspaper. He's down at Trinity. It's a first rate theatre, not community fluff. Sorry, no! The personal adds last week, "looking for a transgender person with a little something extra under the skirt." Fine for them but no, it' ain't me babe.

Alice Cooper? This is way out of control. What next? A discussion about how useful a term "gg" is? Objecting to the misuse of the word transgender isn't about being "a transsexual", either. Why is so much effort being put into keeping people's legal sex changes from being recognized, to the extent of the way that Section 8(a)(3) has being written into the proposed ENDA?

If this reply doesn't pass muster because of my strident tone, so be it.

Hrm... I think you misunderstood this article. You seem to be talking about taxonomy and this article has nothing to do with taxonomy debate.

This article is only a review of the cultural context in which the term was used in the 1970s and 80s - nothing more.

There is an unspoken context here. How can you deny that? I am not going to do a web search and find quotes from everything you've written on the subject, dictionary definitions, etc. It is very well known how the GLAAD media reference guide defines "transgender" and dismisses "transsexual". And this comes on the heels of Tobi Hill-Meyer's post and a lot of controversy over terminology at Bilerico.

Actually, I think the "transgender umbrella" should extend far and wide which, as you point out, it does. So, in what way is it useful to put people who change sex, shove them under that umbrella and insist it is the word that best describes them unless you are trying to make the point that people remain the sex they're assigned at birth? Actually, one can only infer that this is what you are driving at with your liberal use of pseudoscientific terms such as "biological woman" and "gender variant". These kinds of expressions are loaded with implications that go totally unexamined by activists like you, who seem to dominate the discourse.

Of course, the wider the umbrella, the larger the constituency. One can be from a transsexual background and still have political ambitions just as one can be a minority on the Supreme Court who works against minority interests of all kinds. Life is funny like that. I'm not laughing about it, though. In the name of equality there seems, more and more clearly to me, to be an effort to make post transsexual equal to those of their sex assignment at birth, an assignment that has been totally rejected because it was so wrong and caused them so much pain. In other words, after avoiding the treacherous obstacles gate keepers, bureaucrats and others would throw into our path it seems the biggest obstacle facing transsexual people would be activists who would downplay the fact that the right to legally transition completely from one legal sex to another should be compromised in the name of a false "equality". We offer no political capital, however. The huge question is what does the word "transgender" imply? Who does the expression make a person who has legally transitioned from transsexual to female equal to? Alice Cooper?

What this really comes down to is that you've traced the history of a word laden with meanings so vague that it can be twisted to suit anyone's purposes. The fact that you traced a history where it has been used in various contexts having completely different meanings only points to the treacherous implications the word presents, unless it is emphatically stated that it is only a very general, very malleable term with no specific meaning or real utility in describing anyone that is in any way specific.

Hrm... I think you may be choosing to read a bit too much into this. Again, this article has nothing to do with questions you raise of taxonomy, the usefulness of the word and/or if people should even self-identify with the word. You seem to be arguing against points that are not germane to this article.

If you will be taking the time to enjoy some historical research, then I feel good about that. As I said in my article, "I wrote this article to invite you to think about the implications of the historical record shown here, and to inspire a discussion about the cultural context of the term "transgender" that is more rooted in the historical record than in any specific ideology."

Well, I think your reply is disingenuous to say the least. A quick search turned up this:

That is the context I read your "scholarly research" in. It is full of red herrings and straw men arguments. To argue with you point for point would take too much time. There are some very serious issues to consider along with many serious distortions to confront. I am overburdened as it is. This is a terrible distraction. I wish others would speak up about every thing that is wrong with many of your assertions.

@Edith, I just read the article to which you allude. It is not related to the etymological discussion. I'm willing to limit the discussion to the lexicological question in this. There are 28 responses over at Dallas Voice to the other - perhaps discussing it there might be a good idea rather than cluttering this discussion.

I am sure that at some point in this series, there will be a place to discuss identity issues and classification issues. I realize that in most of my discussions on the "umbrella" I have been discussing classification, while many of those with whom I am exchanging thoughts are discussing identity. This has resulted in many, many situations in which the discussions don't make sense because the discussants are rooted in different assumptions. So maybe Cristan's approach here, to try to compartmentalize the various aspects of the discussion, could result in discussion that does not amount to semantic noise.

My usual approach is to explain how I am using a term in context - and to try to respect how the others use the terms, but this has not resulted in a mutual respect.

So, as I understand it, this thread is not about identities or classifications, it's about etymology.

The etymology does not come to life until and unless the definitional aspects are explored, so the changing usage can be examined.

The evolution of meaning is as important as finding the earliest published citation of a word coinage. So I would expect the next thing might be to talk about the evolution of the meaning, and the various meanings being advanced for the definitions of the term. I suspect that there is a babel situation that may never be resolved, but this is not the point for that discussion.

Sorry for the "clutter" Joann. I hadn't realized how much of what GinaSF wrote I actually reiterated. What this constant bombardment of transgendering really represents is simply an attempt to determine who is not "biologically female" and maybe, just maybe, who is not "biologically male" but that's a completely different issue. I hope you all realize just how you all are working to define sex culturally and legally, particularly in Section 8(a)(3) of the proposed ENDA. Probably the conceptualization of "cis" and "trans" will do more injustice to transsexual people than anything else. This piece by Christan is riddled with the pre-discursive use of expressions like "biological woman", "gender variant", "trans" and "cis". No, these concepts are not universally considered to be valid. I can't believe we're going to have to muddle through another one of these pieces. I am sure we will have to do so without even confronting a lot of propositions that will be assumed as settled so we can divert our attention away from whether post operative transsexual people can be allowed to legally change sex.

I will thank you, though, for the Dallas Voice citation. Edith. It led me to Cristan's own blog, which I find fascinating.

The following citation to an essay on her blog indicates that it may be it may be a foretaste of part of what we see in the essay at Bilerico:

If you will note carefully, the Bilerico essay is pretty much limited to the etymological roots of the term. It may establish an independent usage, or one that is connected to earlier or later usages. Given the fact that the term is likely to have been coined or used in more than one context, and usage in subcultural areas is not necessarily indicative of mainstream usage, we still have many unanswered etymological questions. A citation to Christine Jorgensen, given the access to the mainstream that followed the 1953 Daily News headline, is likely more indicative of mainstream usages than to subcultural usages.

Just a thought.

Thank you for adding to the conversation!

Yes, I personally 100% agree that there are a number of historic evolutionary branches that added some amount (whether it was a significant amount is, of course, debatable) of pressure as the term was shaped into what it has become for the various trans communities as well as the general population. If anything, I think that the historical record shows that various groups used the term in their own way. It is my belief that I continue to see this very same pattern play out today.

I can see why folks want to get into a discussion of the current taxonomy since this article is basically a brief review of the various historic ways the term was used in our culture. However, as you point out, our current taxonomy isn't the topic of this article.

I really appreciate your perspective!

One slight correction -- Stephanie Stevens actually attributes the text link to to "California Medicine Woman" from a publication called "Standing Watch":–-the-causes/

I am sure many of Ca Medicine Woman's assertions would not go unchallenged. I only link to the text to provide documentation of my assertions regarding the unreliability of Chrisine Jorgensen as a source. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not reflect
the views and opinions of my own.

Yes, regardless of what she thought of other things that are not germane to the topic of this post (that being the cultural context with which this term was used), the fact still stands that at the time, she enjoyed a unique position and her opinions on the context of the word "transgender" was obviously viewed as newsworthy as evidenced by those very opinions reaching international newsprint time and again.

Britney Austin | July 13, 2011 1:41 AM

While it is interesting to know about Ms. Jorgensen's early use of the term "trans-gender," this main example does not portray the full story of the word's evolution. The way in which the word is used today (without the hyphenation) is quite different. It is my opinion that the word has been routinely used incorrectly and inappropriately both today and during the time period of this article. "Trans" generally means "across, through, change" and thus the obvious meaning to someone not familiar with the word would be "change gender" or "across gender" meaning gender variance or crossing gender lines. Regardless of transsexuals (as well as the psych and medical communities) using the term now and before there is a difference between "gender change" and "sex change." Gender and sex are not the same. The problem is that these words are so often used interchangably and of course "transsexual" and "transgender" are also used interchangably that few people even understand the difference. Perhaps my comment is a bit outside of the scope of the article but I am more concerned about the usage of these words today than in the 1970s and don't really see the relevancy of this article unless you plan on linking its history to what is going on in present times.

Yes, certainly the term has an evolution and this article merely traces part of that evolution by reviewing the way in which certain segments of our American culture used the term in the 1970s and 80s.

If you note, Jorgensen first used "trans-gender" in 1979 and then "transgender" in in 1985 while keeping the context with which she conferred upon the term.

Rachel Bellum | July 13, 2011 4:17 PM

For what it's worth, I had some problems with the prefix "trans" similar to what you describe until "cis" also became popular enough for me to become aware of it. Cis and trans together remind me of organic chemistry where it basically describes whether everything is lined up the same (cis) or not (trans) [admittedly not the description of a chemist :)]. Personally I find the "modern" usage of these two terms together a reasonable attempt at documentation as long as neither is used when unnecessary.

I agree that gender and sex are not the same. And that transgender includes more people than transsexual.

To deviate in discussion to topics not brought up by the article, most people have some labels that are very important to them (the discussions of racial/ethnic labels on the last census comes to mind). If someone feels that the word transsexual is the only available word that properly honors their life, I have NO interest in taking that away from them. Even if there weren't potentially valid differences (in at least some cases), I don't want to dishonor someone's effort to define their own life. I believe most people in the transsexual/gender community (and even in the larger LGBT community in my opinion) want to find solutions that honor everyone. However, I also don't want to police who gets to describe themselves in what manner as I feel it guarantees at least some abuse and is unworkable.

I also feel that it's in the interest of all transsexual/transgender/gender-variant/genderqueer/gendernull/intersexed/etc people to work together politically as much as possible despite whatever differences in experience (and even needs) they may have. And that it's in the best interest of everyone involved for the entire LGBT community to also work together.

And to reference Tobi's article, I also find discussions about who's real and who's not (on whichever "side") pretty ugly. I don't have any individuals in mind when I say this.

There are plenty of brilliant and experienced people in the community under discussion. I remain confident that solutions can be found. It does seem like a good place to start is to try to remind everyone of the complex history (Cristan) and to try to sweep some of the insults off the table (Tobi). I think articles like Cristan's (and Tobi's too of course) which seem to be trying to get a fresh start on the discussion should be quite helpful in this important process.

elizabethorliz | July 13, 2011 2:57 AM

Transgender was first coined by Virginia Prince in the late 60's and was for crossdressers that were positively NOT transsexual and Prince was vehement about that. In Prince's own archives and in the magazine he published for transvestites (heterosexually only supposedly) it was used quite often. It was stolen or taken over by others later on by others that did not fit under the transsexual banner. Those are the irrefutable facts. Read his own writings because he was pissed when it was stolen as he claimed and he was furious when transsexuals were forced under it.

I actually knew Jorgensen. I met her in 1959 in Harry's office in NYC when i was 14. She was very kind to me and she was actually the first person I ever heard use the term tranny which was what all of us in NYC called each other affectionately. I actually did not know who she was.She was an astute business women and made her living off show business and then speaking. I am quite sure she thought transgender was replacing transsexual like most people do.

Transsexuals do not have a gender issue. We had a sex characteristics issue. We change our sex characteristics as in a sex change and do not change gender. Gender is fluid and one can represent as female one day or male the next and are thus crossing genders.

The issues about trans rights have become very blurred by the term transgender. Pulling transsexual under transgender was a very smart political move because if you asked 100 people what transgender means 90% would say somebody that wants to change their sex.

Transsexuals need protection at work as they transition. Should transvestite's, crossdressers, and others be protected "at" work so they can dress in the gender they want for the day? If transsexuals were openly removed from the transgender umbrella in a very public way there is no methodology that could get "transgender" rights if people realized it was only crossdressers and others. I think what people do in their private lives is just their business and no business should be able to fire someone for being a crossdresser etc. but that is where it ends but that is not the aim is it. It is just common decency but it does not extend to the workplace which is the aim of ENDA.

It has become a very complicated problem and quite bluntly the public has received an obfuscated view of what transgender means. Basically the words crossdresser, transvestite, etc. are never mentioned and when transsexual is mentioned as meaning transgender I have yet to hear or read of a single person in a public political forum mention they want the same rights for those not transsexual such as crossdressers.

What rights and protections varied trans people deserve is a very difficult issue. Safety is one everyone has a right to. After that it gets seriously complicated.

Jay Kallio | July 13, 2011 7:05 AM

Thanks very much for your work. The useful point I take from your post is that the word transgender has a very long history of use.

I call myself transgender because we need a term with political utility for the purpose of obtaining equal rights legislation, and to have some readily identifiable nomenclature for both the general public, who are not interested in the individual nuances of identity, and for cultural competency training for service providers, who may be more interested in the nuances. We need a term to give our organizations names, and when trying to publicize events and programs. It's simple practical necessity, and no single term will be perfect, so I no longer engage in arguments about it.

There are too many really important practical things to fight for, like equal rights, health care access, appropriate identity documents, etc., instead of wasting time on this.

Thanks for the research, I enjoyed reading your piece.

Thank you!

Yes, it would seem that the word was indeed used in various contexts long before the 1990s.

While I agree that there there are better things we could be doing than arguing about semantics, this process seems to take place when there is any community of people consisting of constituent groupings. Are all who are part of the Republican community Tea Baggers? Do all who are part of the Christian community believe that women caused the downfall of man? Are all Texans like George Bush?

I think these discussions/debates/dramas are fairly commonplace when constituent groups try to work for common cause. Any community can be painted with a wide brush in order to strawman their purpose. Republicans and Democrats do it to each other every single day. I tend to think that regardless of how we move forward, there will always be those who will paint us with a wide brush in order to strawman our purpose.

Cristan, thank you for an erudite and data based review of The Cultural Context of the use of "transgender". I agree with the esteemed Zoe about the importance of data in giving us a foundation for belief and opinion and(although I am not conversant with your other work) it would appear that you too share this a priori question "What are the data." I do look forward to the next segment and would be quite pleased should all of the abovementioned segments be published here. You Rock Woman.

Slightly aside, there are solid historical data pointing to a strong homophobic strain in cross-dresser thought. In the early days of my journey,1961, I was introduced to Tri-Ess and what I encountered was pure vitriolic homophobia. Was this purely these two chapters of the organization? No data but the impression I received would suggest no.
Thanks again,


Yes, I've had the opportunity to interview people who worked with VP and they have all said that she took a quite elitist stance with the various constituent members of the GLBT community. I think she, like some who construct some separatist arguments, view the other group - and not the oppressive system - as being the source of their problems. VP was, IMHO, an extreme separatist that represents the flip-side position of the extreme TS separatists.

My belief is that even though there are extremists on either side, the moderate-minded people far outnumber the extremists. As it was with the Christian community, the feminist community and the like, extremists will at some point attempt to truly break from the moderates and when they do, they will then have to deal with the extremists within their own ranks... who with eventually split off again - and so on, and so forth. I personally think all of that is fairly normal and a fairly massive waste of time and energy. I sometimes think that some forget that unity has never meant uniformity.

...slight correction here -- that Raquel Welch "Myra Breckenridge" item wasn't from an issue of TV Guide, it appears to have come from the Sunday TV listings of an issue of the Des Moines Register...

Ah, THANK YOU! This is why doing research online is so great!

Yes, I was looking at the logo which seemed to be a TV Guide logo.

Paula Sophia | July 13, 2011 3:51 PM

Thank you, Cristan.
I appreciate your research, and I find it interesting that Christine Jorgensen used the term trans-gender.
The first time I heard the word transgender was in 1994 when Virginia Prince visited Oklahoma. She spoke at a local cross dresser support group (that's what they called themselves at the time).

She told us she coined the term transgender as a way to distinguish herself from transsexual. She told us transsexuals were people who desired surgical intervention, and she shared that she had never desired sex-reassignment surgery, choosing, instead, to see gender as being about someone's state of mind and not about a person's genitalia.

I myself have used the word transgender to describe myself from the beginning of my transition to present day, mostly, at first, because there seemed to be a lurid assumption about the word transsexual. Back in the mid 90's when I tried to find information about transsexuals I didn't know where to start. Libraries here in Oklahoma had next to nothing outside the Diagnostic Statistics Manual and other psychological studies that terrified me. When I discovered the Internet, the keyword search for transsexual produced dozens of links to pornographic websites, but when I searched the term transgendered, I found several helpful websites.
Plus, in my experience, the term transgender invited a conversation whereas the term transsexual seemed full of stigma (at least here in Oklahoma), shutting down communication.
I continue to describe myself as transgender because I do realize I'm stuck in the middle, not by choice but circumstance, and I think we need a unified identity, sort of like a Creed is a statement of belief for a community as a whole, though it may not reflect the actual diversity of beliefs among individuals.

Wow! Thank you for sharing your personal experience with this term :)

I think my personal, subjective experience with this term closely mirrors your own.

I've noticed that we all seem to have a personal subjective experience with this term. I was hoping to inspire a discussion about this term that is rooted more in the historical record instead of any one person's subjective experience.

Ms. Hunter | July 13, 2011 3:55 PM

I thought this article was interesting. It is very interesting how history is recounted. Historically, people of color have been some how written out/not included in historical accounts/recounts. Here is another example of how people of color are not even included in the discussion. Do you think we just fell out the sky somewhere around 1995 or so. Indeed, this account of history is inaccurate and unrelfective of the diversity that is this "transgender melting pot". I grew up in the 70's and my aunt identified as transgender and even though she was not as famous or in the media spotlight like Christine (whom I never heard of until after 2000) she made it clear to me that we did exist and we deserve fair treatment under the law (not for sure what Christine's, Virginia's or Leslie's platform (or any other visable non person of color who consider themselves or is considered an"icon"/"historian"/"activist" mentioned in the subsequent comments) was in terms of recognizing all shades our community.

When attmepting to portray what you consider accurate accounts of history. Please include who's history you are referring to. Its ok to say that you could not find any historical accounts of people of color or that you chose to omit them. It quantifies your findings and shows integrity and respect for those who are reading your "accounts of history" and are not represented in your so called historical accounts because im sure there were plenty of sit ins, protests, direct actions and rallies, not to mention all the balls and drag shows with black folk in attendance happening back in the 70's because I watched my aunt and her friends get ready for them on many a night. From the balls at Johnnies on Capital Hill and Uptown Lounge sponsored monthly drag contests in nyc in the early 60's and Black Pearl sponsored the gala Black Pearl International Awards at the Washington Hilton in 1968 . Ms. Crystal LaBeija was sponsoring balls for disenfranchised tranny youth in 1977.

Now granted, you may not see or recognize this part of transgender history as noteworthy but others may beg to differ.

Lisa, dear. The evidence that trans-gender was in use before the 80's is undeniable. So the argument that it has always meant one thing and not another is not valid.

Once, when i changed schools i was teased for being asian. I'm not in fact asian but for some reason some of the kids thought i was. At first i was upset at being teased for being asian when i wasn't, but then i thought to myself and realised that what was wrong was the teasing of someone for being asian. If i was just upset for being wrongly teased for being asian because i wasnt asian then i was pretty much saying that i was unfairly suffering what asians should be suffering when in reality the real wrong was the racism and the real source of my harm was not the misidentification but the racism.

And all the debate i sometimes call the nomenclature nonsense seems to smack of people just being upset that prejudice against another is placed on them too, when the prejudice is the real source of the problem.

The erasure of the overlaping of groups, needs, rights that comes along with attacks against their being an umbrella term along with the stereotyping, the myths (i've lost count of the amount of times i have had to point out that FtM crossdressers like my partner exist for example) all smacks of this, people trying to pass the buck of prejudice rather than addressing the wrongness of the prejudice, often to the point of using or even defending the prejudice itself in the process.

Arguments against the history of the word, significantly undone by this article, don't seem to be calls for renaming the umbrella (otherwise they might be arguing for the SGD term) but seem to just be attempts to pass the prejudice buck.

Folks, I just today uncovered a really interesting bit of history that is germane to this post. You can view this historical record yourself at:

Angela Brightfeather | July 14, 2011 12:51 AM

I knew VP and she was someone I called a friend. That does not mean that we agreed on everything, in fact, we did not agree on a lot of things, but Virginia, being the "wordsmith" that she was, was always interesting and challenging to debate with, especially about the word Transgender.

By 1985 Virginia had accepted the fact that the word had become a rallying point for any number of "gender diverse" and coming out ways of expressing gender. Yes, she knew that Transsexuals had been dragged in to the term and I had a few arguments with her about how the term transgender needed to continue to be inclusive because the community that was forming due to things like the formation of groups like IFGE and Rennaisance who both put out publications, including a list of groups across the country that were formed to support people locally, started to actively interact. That interaction caused a need to find some common way to express itself and Transgender was the best word that could do what was needed.

The quest was for the word to become the fact. While GLB were saying, "we are queer, we are here and we aren't going away", specifically and intentionally leaving out the `T', there became and urgent need to be identified and I, Holly Boswell, Yvonne Cook Riley, Phyllis Randolph Frye and hundreds of "Transgender Activists" including Leslie Fienberg worked feverishly to accomplish that. The first time I ever remember the word Transgender used openly, proudly and loudly in the context of being a part of the LGBT movement was at the first March on DC, when HRC refused to include the T in their name for the march. That was in 1992, it was very disliked and as we heard that word echo across the DC Mall, many of us broke down and cried because it really meant something to everyone there at that time. It was Phil Donahue who first got up on the stage and made a point of saying "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual aaaannnnnddd Transgender." Many of those who were standing there with tears in their eyes had been referring to themselves as TS's for years and were post op. Many of those standing there are now post op, but all of us realized how important it was to hear that word echoing across the Mall.
That word marked the end of HRC trying to drop the T from their work. Two or three years later they became inclusive.

The word Transgender over the years has changed because it had to. It was never meant to insult anyone, even if it did start out as a way for Virginia Price to separate oem from others. It was to powerful a word, like Gay or Lesbian. It suited the community that was coming out and looking for recognition and acceptance and it did the job very well and still does.
Virginia was wrong in trying to make it a word that divided and she accepted that in the late 80's and admitted it to me. Equally wrong are those that want to separate it now and break it down as anything other that what it should be...unifying and politically necessary.

Anyone can point to a word like "Republican" and say that it is many things and anyone can see what is hppening to that group now that they are also "Tea Party" people. When people look past the word to who actually falls under it or identifies it, it usually does exactly what you are seeing with the Republican Party today. It fractures and becomes less affective and that is what is happening when we all fight about the word Transgender, we become less affective and like the Tea Party people, TS's become farther right wing and conservative.

Has our community become so professional and accepted that it can afford to fracture now over a word? Have we progressed and matured as a community so far that we can afford to lose the most active and out 10%+ of that community? Transgender serves the needs of the many right now and it is the few who need to understand that this is not the time to fractionaize a word because it doesn't exactly fit their personal idea of who they are. That is unless they are willing to back their own organizations to get what they want and start to lobby groups like NCTE or PFLAG to change their names and/or mission statements to reflect only the needs of those who don't want to be considered Transgender. Good luck with that.

"less effective and like the Tea Party people" Really?! I sure hope we'll be "less effective" like the Tea Party. The Tea Party Republicans swept up Congress and will most likely do the same with the senate and White House. Splinter groups are true to their convictions and don't wish to be so open-minded that their brains fall out and convictions become so blurred. Which is exactly what is happening here. Most of the older TS women abhor being lumped into the Transgender variant show. I know I do. I'll be happy being a minority outside the LGBtg. The TG only confuses the message when talking to elected officials. Even states' 'Gender Identity' laws require medical or psychological proof which I wholly support. You TG activists can try to decide my fate and those who identify as TS/IS all you want, but most of us will publicly & politically disavow any association. Good luck with your deciding our fate.

Cristan, you are as intelligent as you are beautiful! I am amazed at your deftness in bringing the discussion back on topic! History is indeed critically important, if only to "set the record straight".

I was listening to a radio station (740 AM) here in Los Angeles and it brought everything into perspective. Today, in 2011, sadly the following is still the common belief that crossdresser=transvestite=transgender=transsexual.

All are considered synonymous. The radio station sums them up in one word: WEIRD. I agree that being Tom today and Tomasa tomorrow is "weird" to most and that crossdresser=transvestite. I also agree that, legally speaking, transgender=transsexual in many places, despite the distinct differences between the two that produce the need for separate terms. It has become obvious to me that most of the "public" is paying attention to the prefix and not the suffix after "trans".

While the gender/sex "iron curtain" has already been torn down legally speaking in many places, some in our community (write name here) are hastily trying to rebuild it. Unification doesn't equal dissolution, but it does call for clarification as has been taking place within our community. This is a good thing---alas a very good thing,although time is 'a passing and we must quickly reach a compromise. If the U.S. had broken off into two separate nations after the Civil War, we would not be the world power we are today. Likewise for our community. Merely participating in all of these discussions self-reveals that despite differences, we are all part of a "community".

My hope is that soon, and rather soon, we pick up speed in resolving the following:

  • Our efforts, no matter how intense, have not succeeded to an acceptable level, in educating the "public" in the distinct difference between the act of playing dress-up and a life-changing full-time gender transition that intersects with the medical and legal professions. Until this benchmark is achieved, our sailboat will continue to sit in open water, motionless. Mutual combat amongst us only serves to provide drag (no pun intended) as we attempt to move forward.

  • We must immediately cease our focus in seeking our differences and identify our common thread that binds us into a community. Until we do, our efforts will be diluted and serve to create casualties within our own all the while the real adversaries continue their assault seemingly unopposed.
  • We must get out of our trenches and take the offense. While our adversaries take to the airways and attack our efforts toward equality by telling the masses that we seek "special" rights and portray us as restroom voyeurs seeking to "lie in wait" for children, we remain in a defensive posture awaiting the next assault. Until we take the offensive and place our adversaries on the defensive, not much will change. We must do much more than reply-in-kind. We must spare nothing and pull out all the stops and do much more than localized education...every outlet must be utilized...print, audio, visual, internet. We know who we are, but mainstream America has no remote understand of who we really are---post-gender transition males and females that our IDs now say we are.
  • We must, must, must replace the image in the "public's" mind that we are trans(vestites) with the medical and legal reality that we seek physical gender change CONCURRENT with gender expression and that we are not the "she-males" that the internet screams that we are.
  • Accomplishing all of the above takes resources plain and in $$ resources, something our GLB allies have in abundance. Until we find a way to increase our $$, we will continue to claw our way a snail's pace. Since the cost for many of us, self included, includes loss of gainful employment, this is a handicap that our GLB allies for the most part do not have.
  • Clearly, participation reveals that many of us, despite full and complete transition, have decided not to disappear into our target gender but remain active in our community. Those of you who do, please know that your presence indicates that you are not ashamed of your history as none of us should ever be. It shows, despite delivery, that you continue to embrace the rest of us undergoing transition. You, as us seek acceptance and not mere tolerance. We seek to be identified for who we are, not for who we are not. This is our common thread. Not we must agree on our name..and soon. Trans*whatever doesn't seem to be working well. In the end a word only holds as much value as what it truly represents.


    My blog:

    Thank you Cristin for this article and am excitedly awaiting the rest. Yes, we all have biases which others will point out, but all these responses serve to validate and reward your good work!

    Luv all,

    Delphi Lomeli

    If you are under the influence of testosterone - as most who identify as TG - lawmakers and women should be frightened. I would be frightened for my 8 year old daughter and would accompany her anytime she absolutely needed to use the bathroom if such an ill informed measure was passed. Furthermore, I doubt many TG's are seeking such privileges and post-ops already enjoy the same rights in most cases as women.

    TS/IS issues are not entirely co-joined with TG's.

    Accepting the Transgenderists into the TS/IS fold would be akin to forcing GenderQueer into each respective G & L. I mean they are "queer" right? Think on that for a moment...

    The GLBQ organizations could do much to alleviate the discord and confusion by using 2 T's or using TSTG and encourage education of the difference. There is a G, L and Q for a reason - diverse needs and education. The same should be respected for TS/IS & TG. Individuals could chose which T activism to be involved in or neither. Without this simple modification this war of 'identity' will never end and will most likely infect the unity of the GLBQ et al. Yes SEPARATE our 'states' of being! However, work together for equal human rights to form a more perfect union.


    Yeah, it's longer lol... but one of these would end the ridiculous debate on how to fit a square peg into a circle. The problem is the 'deciders' are neither TG nor TS/I.

    How about this for shorter? GSSD Gender Sex and Sexuality Diversity. It covers all of GLBTGQ/TSI and it's way shorter. It also doesn't tend to list in order of descending privilege and resources the way most of the acronym variations do as i wrote it alphabetically.

    The problem is it is already too short. We all have diverse needs and educational efforts. As a transsexual women I don't wish my condition to be considered a "Sexual Diversity" nor Transgender as my gender was fixed from birth. My sex is what I transition, not my gender identity.

    GLBTQ/TSI works for all separate entities united for the common goal of human rights. Transsexual's and/or Intersexed could be any one or none of the aforementioned GLB orientations or straight.

    It seems that you're talking about issues not raised in my article. I'm only reviewing the historical record of this term. Do you have anything to add to the conversation about the historical record?

    How is it too short? What's missing out of it? It includes diversity of Sex, that logically covers those who transition their sex but not their gender as well as those who are anatomically and/or neurologically intersex. Wheras your long acronym leaves out panssexuals and asexuals in the sexualities and the crossdressers and other gender diverse who don't identify with the term Transgender either. Either the acronym is extended further till it's exhaustive and exhausting or it's pared back away from a listing of identities in descending privilege and replaced by something fairer and simpler and easier that lists the points of commonality (and it un-erases the large overlap of experience and human rights issues) which in itself surely assists in the education effort.. especially as it has diversity acknowledged right there in the name.

    In Australia there has been a lot of debate about the term Transgender, with the Australian Human Rights Comission having recently used SGD, though i think the alpahabetic set-up is more fair.