A lot of times on social justice-oriented websites you’ll the word “trans” written with an asterisk, like “trans*”. It is thought that the addition of the asterisk was made by dfab trans people who felt like trans women were talking about their struggles too much and that there needed to be more room in the community for everyone else, which is an issue on it’s own. But most people using the asterisk don’t know this, and use it because they think that it makes the term more inclusive of all identities under the “trans umbrella.” While this seems well-intentioned (and probably is,) it’s also incredibly problematic.
You see, there is no “trans umbrella.” Trans (or transgender) is the umbrella term. Transgender means to identify as any gender other than–or in addition to–the one you were assigned at birth (this includes identifying as multiple genders or no gender at all). That’s it! Saying that the asterisk is somehow “more inclusive” is like saying that some non-cisgender people aren’t “trans enough” to be called just trans. Often these people who apparently aren’t considered trans enough are trans women, non-binary people, non-op people, and those who do not experience dysphoria.
People who insist that there is a trans umbrella often include cisgender crossdressers and drag performers under the umbrella, and would like to include them in conversations about the issues and experiences of transgender people. The issue with this is that it’s an example of cis people claiming ownership of a discussion on issues that they don’t experience. Now don’t get me wrong, cis crossdressers and drag performers (especially dmab ones) do experience a lot of societal pressure for dressing in a way that is not acceptable for their sex. However, if they identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth, regardless of the clothing they wear, they are not transgender. Cisgender people don’t experience the same oppression that transgender people face every day, they don’t deal with a general population not believing in or accepting their identity. It isn’t right for a cis crossdresser or drag performer to say they share the same exact struggle as trans people, especially in a time when so few trans people’s voices are heard or taken seriously.
Often times, the asterisk after the word trans can also be used to invalidate certain trans identities and call them “not trans enough.” Like sexuality, gender is a gradient, and there are many identities in between “man” and “woman.” Just because someone doesn’t fit into one of the binaries doesn’t make them not trans. Being transgender just means identifying as any gender other than the one a person was assigned at birth. And if someone–for whatever reason–does not want surgery, that in no way makes their gender identity less valid. Some transgender people want surgery, and that’s perfectly fine for them. But the ones who don’t are just as trans as the ones who do.
There are transgender people in all shapes, sizes, identities, and presentations. I understand that most people using the trans asterisk don’t know the meaning behind it and are trying to be inclusive. The fact is, however, that it needlessly excludes and invalidates so many people. We need to do away with the asterisk, whose creation was a backlash against trans women, and whose existence tells so many people that they aren’t “trans enough.” The word transgender on its own means to identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth, and I don’t know why we’d need some asterisk to make it any more inclusive.
Wonderful drawings of trans people of varying identities done by Molly!!