More and more, when the word “trans*” is written, folks who are hoping to use the term in its most inclusive sense are throwing an asterisk on the end. Why this is the case has become one of the more common questions that I get when I am out in the community (at various schools, organizations and businesses) conducting Bridge 13 trainings (and when I’m wearing my Legalize Trans* shirt out and about). In light of these questions, I thought I would take a moment to break down what exactly the asterisk is doing to the term trans, and why it is doing it.
Let’s start with why the asterisk is being used. If you aren’t an expert google searcher, you may not know about the availability of the “wildcard” feature for when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for or when you’re looking for a whole heck of a lot. The * (asterisk) is used as a wildcard in web searches by acting as a placeholder or a fill-in-the blank symbol. Let’s say you are looking for studies on LGBTQ youth risk behavior (which, if you’re anything like me, is how you spend your Sunday mornings), and you want your query to come back with a broad array of studies and behaviors. You could search “LGBTQ youth are * likely to *”, where the asterisks are acting as “blank”s. Go ahead, google it right now, and then come back totally getting how it works.
So, the asterisk is a blank, a placeholder, an etc., an includer. What the symbol means when it is put at the end of trans* is rooted in this same “wildcard” use. It is expanding the trans* umbrella to include folks who identify as transgender and transsexual (the terms usually understood as included when the prefix trans is used on its own) as well as other identities where a person does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. In the sense that it is a placeholder for suffixes of trans, that is, trans_____, the asterisk is standing in for *gender, *sexual,*feminine, *masculine, *folks, *person,*guy,*girl,*woman, and *man (note that not all of these are one word. For example, transgender is a single word, but trans woman is two). However, it is also inclusive of identities that do not start with the prefix “trans,” but can be understood as under the trans* umbrella. These identities include, but are not limited to, genderqueer, bigender, third gender, genderf*ck (see what I did there?), gender fluid, genderless, MtF, FtM, Two Spirit, non-binary, androgynous, and masculine of center (MOC). While all of these identities are distinct from one other, each can be understood as under the trans* umbrella because the folks who identify with them do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth and/or are “queering” (deviating from norms; blurring) gender expectations and assumptions.
When the asterisk is put on the end of trans*, it expands the boundaries of the category to be radically inclusive. It can be understood as the most inclusive umbrella term to describe various communities and individuals with nonconforming gender identities and/or expressions en masse. In addition to its use as an umbrella term, it is also used by some individuals as an identity to describe just themselves (e.g. “I identify as trans*”).
I want to end this post with a couple of cautionary suggestions. First, remember that all of the identities discussed here are self-identifying terms. It is quite possible that someone holds an identity that can be understood as under the trans* umbrella but does not identify with the term trans*. It is not for you to say then, “Well, I read a blog post that said genderqueer people are trans*, so if you identify as genderqueer you are trans*, whether you think so or not.” Respect the words that people use to describe themselves by using those same words to describe them and not questioning their use of the terms.
If you have another perspective to add to this conversation or more questions about the term, trans*, put them in the comments!
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