In Netflix’s hugely successful prison drama Orange Is the New Black, the trans actress Laverne Cox plays a prominent role as the transgender hairstylist inmate Sophia Burset — a role that has brought not just fame to Cox but also an insight for many of us into the transgender world, which until Orange hit our screens wasn’t much to be found in mainstream popular culture. Last week our horizons were broadened further when Amazon Studios gave us its new transgender comedy-drama series, Transparent, which is raking in rave reviews and ravenous binge-watchers around the world.
As we learn and understand more about the trans experience and community — thanks in part to this developing profile and popularity on our entertainment screens — let’s take a look at the language etiquette of gender transition. It’s an area of terminology that is still in a state of flux and sensitivity, and that evolving state itself both reflects and makes us examine the complicated social, psychological and biological factors that determine what defines, describes or identifies a transgender person. Has transgender replaced transexual, or is one an umbrella term that embraces the other? Does the latter refer only to those who have had gender-reassignment surgery, or is it simply an outdated term that has been superseded? Is trans acceptable as an abbreviation? Is transgender both an adjective and a noun, and should it be capitalized? Is cisgender simply the opposite of transgender? A lot of these questions don’t have simple answers. Continue reading