Note: I’m not placing any value judgements on anything here. I’m just observing and feeling conflicted.
At college, I have dykey friends who are all the time theorizing and discussing gender and sexuality and labels and stuff. I also read a lot of trans-aware blogs. Language is something I’ve noticed a lot of people getting hung up on. Like, the difference between transman and trans man. Using cis instead of biological or real. Avoiding saying words like female-bodied. There are all sorts of reasons for this and they all make sense. This expands into other realms as well, as language does. We are trying to be aware of ableist language, racist language, sexist language, potentially triggering language, all kinds of things! I realized that one of the reasons I was starting to be offended whenever someone said that I was biologically a woman or said I was female-bodied or whatever, was that I felt like I was supposed to be offended.
I have recently became friends with/have a fling with another trans guy (transguy?). He’s not really into the whole political side of trans stuff, he just wants to be himself. You can’t expect everyone to be up to date on this stuff, and I don’t think everyone should have to in order to be considered a good person. He says stuff like “I’m biologically a girl.” While I use what language that I have been taught to use, I’ve found that I’m actually not offended by the language he chooses to use. I think it would be annoying to stop and say, “Actually, those words could be potentially offending to trans-identified people, and you should really say X, Y, and Z.” I mean, he’s trans, and obviously he’s not offending himself. As we’ve gotten more comfy with each other, we tease each other, saying stuff like, “Yeah, well you’re not a real man.” And, since we know that we’re real men, we’re totally not offended and it’s just good, clean fun. Like, I’m glad to finally relax and not have to watch what I say all the time. However, if a cisgender person were to say that to me, even if it’s in good clean fun, I don’t know how I would feel. This sort of thing comes up with the use of the word tranny, which is a slur. I use it because I’m reclaiming it, but I don’t use it in mixed company, and I don’t think I’d be okay with a cisgender person using it, because you can’t reclaim a word for someone else. Is this like how black people are allowed to say the n-word?
So is it that trans people can say things that are potentially offensive to trans people, but cis people can’t? Can a word or phrase be offensive all on it’s own, not depending on who’s saying or to whom it’s addressed or the intent behind the word? Does every conversation have to be a lecture on what language you’re supposed to use? I mean, I hate correcting people, unless there is a whole lot of ignorance behind their use of language. For example, someone said to me that the guy I’m seeing isn’t really gay because I’m not really a boy, because I haven’t had surgery. There are so many things that, to me, sound like nails scraping against a chalkboard in that sentence. But if someone who knows that trans men are real men, and says that they’re “female-bodied” or “biologically female,” I don’t think I would stop the conversation for education. I feel really confused. How important is language in all this? Oof.