Trans means across. But the category “trans” as a gender identity means much more than crossing from female to male or vice versa. Trans refers to identities, expressions and behaviors that challenge the dichotomies of masculine/feminine and man/woman. It refers to people who do not identify, in varying level or degree, with the sex/gender assigned to them at the time of birth. It refers to people whose gender identity is incongruent with their body morphology. This identity/body incongruence causes many people to transition to make gender identity and social role into greater alignment. For some, transition may include Hormones Replacement Therapy [HRT] or Gender Confirmation Surgeries to make the body more closely match the identity.
I have been out as transgender for 25 years. I have seen the term morph and shift significantly over that time period. I identify as non-binary. This means that although I was assigned male at birth I do not identify as a male or female, but as something in between or outside of binary gender system altogether. When transgender came into common parlance, it was used as an umbrella term to connote a big tent approach to all gender minorities and gender-diverse people. This included cross-dressers, transgenderists, drag kings and queens, transsexuals and what came to be known as genderqueer, gender-fluid and non-binary people. Almost every time the term transgender was defined, you would hear the words “umbrella term.” I see this as a good thing. It stressed the diversity within the category itself. But at the same time, it also helped to promote unity between these diverse gender constituencies.
Now, transgender is almost always defined as someone who does not identify with the sex/gender assigned at birth. People take this to mean that someone completely dis-identities with their birth sex/gender and wishes to live exclusively and totally as a member of the “opposite” sex/gender. This has never described my reality nor the reality of the majority of trans people. Put bluntly, trans/transgender has come to mean trans men and trans women. This development is conservative and based in the cultural obsession with the gender binary.
Cissexism holds that people who are cisgender are superior. Most societies don’t even want to acknowledge the existence of transgender people. If they acknowledge us at all, it is the moving from one discrete category to another. In this way, folks stay within the binary gender system and are therefore more intelligible than those of us who are non-binary. Society has opened up a tiny bit of cultural space for transgender men and women. But they have not done so for non-binary people. This is enraging, made even more so by the fact that some trans men/trans women actively support the erasure of non-binary people and espouse bigoted views against us.
Am I trans? Yes. I am non-binary. Yes. I see no conflict between the two. I will still identify as trans but it is hard given the fact that some people no longer see trans as the umbrella term that it was intended to be. By connotation at least, us non-binary folks are being kicked to the curb. I am angry at the cis people who have done this to us and the transgender men and women who have colluded with them. Because of this I no longer have the same sense of “transgender pride” that I once had. I am not crossing from male to female and in fact want nothing whatsoever to do with either of those categories. I always knew I was exiled from the categories of male and female; I never thought I would be exiled from transgender, a category that I helped to nourish for a quarter of a century. CIs people and binary trans people have a unique opportunity at this cultural moment to push for gender plurality and multiplicity. Many are actively doing so and this gives me a lot of hope for change.