Is ‘T-Girl’ Offensive?

At the end of last year, I shared my report back on my first ever pedicure. As you may know the title of the piece was ‘TGirl Bucket Listing’. I chose the title as I wanted to convey a light and fun tone. It was also chosen as I wanted to convey the fact that this was a first-hand account of my experiences. I was also (slightly) embarrassed that at my ripe old age, I had never been for a pedicure and I was being a little self-deprecating.

It may also be worth noting that when I first developed a public persona, a few years ago I looked long and hard at all the various descriptors that were out there. I did some research and found that ‘tranny‘ was somewhat divisive, to say the least. At the time I felt that describing myself as a ‘transgender woman’ was a little too earnest and could have been confusing as I am not on hormones, I am certainly not full time and at the time I wasn’t even sure that that is what I was. I also felt that ‘crossdresser’ on its own was perhaps a little too limiting and could give people the wrong idea. I discovered the term ‘t-girl’ and decided that it was light enough without being flippant or offensive. I looked it up on a number of different resources and found that on Wikipedia -t-girl’ is considered to be synonymous with the umbrella term ‘transgender woman’ (in its broadest sense) and that according to the Urban Dictionary, t-girl is a ‘generally accepted “polite” way of referring to transgender’ people. It was thus a term that I believed accurately described me and that I was comfortable using in relation to myself.

The article was generally well received by those who read it and it was shared on many different groups and quite widely read. One group I shared it with was a group for transgender women and their cisgender allies. As my blog post was a light-hearted post about going for a pedicure, with some advice on what to expect at the pedicure, I thought it would be of interest to the group.  Unfortunately, two members of the group took exception to my use of the term ‘t-girl’. I was told that I should refrain from using the word in a public forum. When I queried this, I was told that the word was offensive and made some people feel uncomfortable. I was also told that using the word in the title of the post either excluded everyone who did not use the term as an identifier or misgendered those same people. Given the lengths I went to in finding a word that I was comfortable with in the first place, I was genuinely surprised by this reaction. I was also finding it hard to follow the logic of the arguments, so contrary to my usual practice, I engaged in some debate.

I pointed out that by this logic, if I used the word ‘transwoman’ in a group for trans and cisgender woman, I would be excluding everyone who did not use that term for themselves or I would be guilty of misgendering them. Given that this was a group for cisgender, transgender, gender fluid and allied women, using the word ‘transgender’ would presumably exclude and or misgender as much as two thirds of the people in the group. I then pointed out that in our community it is quite common for words and definitions to change.

I was then told that ‘T-Girl’ is a commonly used word in transwoman pornography. In the interests of research (and as directed by the person making this assertion) I then went to a number of sites to see what words were being used. I was a little surprised to see that ‘T-Girl’ was indeed a common descriptor for the various videos on offer. I am far more familiar with words like ‘shemale’ and ‘tranny’ being used in this context. I therefore widened my search term sample and saw that in addition to ‘T-Girl’, ‘tranny’, and ‘shemale’ were also being used widely. I then searched ‘transgender’, ‘transwomen’ and ‘transsexual’. I got a lot of hits for all these words. Indeed, it seems that the pornography industry use all of these terms almost interchangeably. I am not sure what my critic was saying by pointing out that ‘T-Girl’ is used by pornographers, but if her assertion was that being used by a pornographer invalidates a word or makes it offensive, then I am afraid we will all be looking for a whole new range of words very soon. Wherever the usage is, the pornographer follows. However, I simply cannot agree that a word being used by a pornographer invalidates other uses of that word. It is simply a nonsensical argument. Using obscenities in polite society does not raise their register. Using high register words to describe obscenity does not destroy the meaning of the word.

I found this exchange more than a little confusing, but it did give me some pause for thought. Clearly these people did not appreciate my use of the word and I started to think about how we react to language. I try to be as sensitive to others as I can, and I would never deliberately seek to upset people. For this reason, I do not use the word ‘tranny’ unless absolutely necessary (for example in the context of this essay). At the same time, we must be aware that words can have radically different meanings depending on where and when they are used. A few years ago, ‘tranny’ was an acceptable word. Many people of an older generation are happy to use the word to describe themselves and it is also an acceptable word in some parts of the world. However, a twenty-something transgender person in the USA (for example) will find this word deeply offensive.

Our community must be vigilant. We have won many freedoms, we still have many prejudices to overcome and there are those who would seek to destroy what we have already achieved. However, we are also a community that is often considered to be ‘easily offended’. There are certainly instances where people seek to harm us, and we absolutely need to challenge those who would do so. However, when we challenge the imagined or perceived insult we simply alienate those who could be allies and damage our cause and hinder us in achieving our collective goals. For this reason, I believe we should all be careful to take context and intent into account when assessing the language people use as well as their actions.

Only by first seeking to understand the other can we take the conversation forward productively. If the person’s intent was benign, there is no need to take offense. If their intent was to aid and assist perhaps we should seek to understand why we are reacting negatively, before voicing our displeasure.  We should absolutely consider that we do not all share the same histories, nor do we share the same cultures. Our experiences are very different and therefore the manner in which we express ourselves will be different. If we understand each other better, we can save our energy for those that truly deserve our ire and we will have a far better reception in the wider world than we may have right now. If we come across as rational and reasonable cisgender society is more likely to take note of our legitimate concerns than they are if they believe us to be looking to take offense at the slightest provocation. Words matter, language matters and we must use this to fight for rights, defeat bigotry and improve our lives. So, let’s all do that!

 

 

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Post Script:
I am still bemused at the negative reaction to the term ‘T-Girl’. Have I missed something? Has it indeed slipped away from being a ‘positive’ word to being offensive? Have you ever found someone using the word in a derogatory fashion? Much like my research into the word ‘tranny’, I suspect that if it has been used offensively, the number of times it has been used offensively is inversely proportionate to the hurt it has caused. But apart from this isolated case, I honestly have never come across someone who has reacted badly to the term. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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7 Comments

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  1. Personally I think that people are way to sensitive to language and often make a big issue about something that is not worth the effort!!
    If the same effort went into positive work which progresses our cause and brings about awareness then we would be more readily accepted but the way some people respond and debate nonsense often leads to negative perceptions that we are all a lot of emotionally confused individuals that don’t know what we actually want!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have discovered that with a world at your fingertips to offend, you will always offend someone with any type of label you choose unless it is the most “vanilla” flavor of vanilla – and even then… I am in my 50’s and to me, “T-Girl” is an inoffensive and familiar term. The term “Shemale” has sexual overtones (or undertones…) but hey – either that or “Transvestite” are all that I can recall hearing or reading when I was discovering myself in the 1970’s. Both are descriptive enough in themselves but not all-encompassing enough today.

    My gut feeling about those who object to it is that perhaps the term is too casual and that they feel that it isn’t “professional” or inclusive enough for a label that appears in print. I get that. Perhaps the best choices if you are looking for a generic label are “Trans” or “Transgender” – and I agree.However with that being said, I believe that you are who you are and if any term you choose is used with no malice, I am happy to read what you write!

    Hugs,

    Tanit

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never seen/heard “t girl” used derogatorily. My personal feelings on labels generally is: never tell someone they can’t identify a particular way, and conversely, never tell someone they must identify a certain way.
    Basically call yourself whatever you want and call me what I want to be called.
    For example, I use “queer” for myself; I know some people are uncomfortable with that word and I wouldn’t use it to describe someone else without knowing how they feel about it. But no one has the right to say I can’t use that word for myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As a cisgender person, I wouldn’t probably use it because I would be afraid of being flippant. However, I don’t think the way you used it was disrespectful or offensive. It fit the tone of your piece. I think you made an attempt to understand the other person’s point of view. It is hard sometimes because language can get exclusive or down right ridiculous. I had to look up cisgender when I started trying to find ways to help my child. I thought it was deragatory until I did some research. There is a therapist in the US that is supposed to be an expert that uses the term “gender smoothie”.. which I personally think is awful and dismissive. So, you aren’t going to be able to please all the people all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A good post Daniella, so thanks for laying down your points. Unfortunately, we are living in an increasingly more overtly sexualised society, where standards and decorum are decreasing, pop stars flaunting anything and everything and young impressionable people then seek to emulate them, thus becoming older, younger, if you know what I mean. They say that ‘sex sells’ and that seems ever more so these days.

    I do find some descriptors useless these days. I don’t like ‘tranny’ or ‘transvestite’ for example because they have been allowed to become overly sexualised and somehow unfairly stereotypical of something or other that only society can use to the detriment of others. Others you refer to such as ‘shemale’ and ‘T-Girl’ have also, it seems, been hijacked for reasons of pigeonholing and, it seems, more unsavoury levels of typecasting.

    I think you’re right – we’re starting to need a whole new set of descriptors, but I fear that these too (if and when we manage to come up with any!) will also be smothered by those same elements of society and used unfairly. Having said that, there is some progress, I feel.

    I noticed on TV this week, a series called ‘Transformation Street’ which appears to fairly explain the change of transgender people and their path to being who they want to be and it does, very slowly perhaps, appear to becoming more acceptable than it ever was.

    There you are, a bit of a negative, but ending on a positive!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. being a trans woman, I never really liked labels, but as far as terminology g
    oes, ive heard it said it was a put down, personally labels don’t ever define who I am and words like shemale, tgirl or tranny don’t bother me at all. words can never define my life the way I have on my own without the labels. but good post. thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This was an excellent essay and I can commiserate with your concern with trying to get terminology correct. My view is that the sensitivity class…the class of people who look for any excuse to be offended…those who seek to divide and segregate…those snowflakes who cherish being put upon and put down are hardly healthy. I say “Get over it”. Not every thing one says or hears is offensive and if you are offended by who I am and what I say that is most likely your problem not mine. Call me a Tranny, T-girl, transvestite, cross-dresser, transgender, etc. and I am fine. the only term that rubs me a bit is T-gurl or simply gurl. I see no reason for intentional spelling deviations.
    Pat

    Liked by 2 people

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