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Expanding on Gender Variance: The Trans* Umbrella

trans* umbrella

While I think the chapter on “Learning Gender” in our text does a decent job at introducing the concept of transgenderism through the chapter itself as well as the accompanying readings, I can’t help but feel that it leaves much to be desired. While the term “transgender” is presented as an umbrella term, not much time in spent discussing what exactly is under that metaphorical umbrella. This ultimately leaves the discussion of gender variance incomplete, which I find unfortunate since most people are not very familiar with this topic.

First, I’d like to mention something in the title of this post that some of you may have questioned: why is there an asterisk after the term “trans”? Trans* (with the asterisk) is a way to refer directly to the transgender umbrella and everything that it encompasses—think of the asterisk as standing in for all the identities connected to the umbrella in the image above.

You may be familiar with a couple of the identities appearing within the category of trans*, but it is my assumption that several of these are new terms for most people. It is, therefore, my goal to provide some basic information to supplement what was already presented in the class text. It is important to note that everything I mention here is how I’ve experienced these terms; not everyone categorizes identities in the same way, and each individual ultimately determines their identity for themselves regardless of how someone else may define that identity.

Genderqueer (or gender queer):
As I’ve come across the term, genderqueer represents those who find themselves outside of the gender binary: either between male and female (or masculine and feminine) or outside the two altogether. In this sense, it can either be its own separate identity or as a sort of sub-umbrella under the larger trans* umbrella. The following are often placed under the genderqueer umbrella (individual identities in parentheses):

1. Both male and female (bigender, intergender, pangender, two spirit)
2. Neither male nor female (agender, nongendered)
3. Moving between genders (genderfluid)
4. A gender other than male or female (third gender)

In the above identities, as well as in the case of transsexuals (male to female and female to male), gender identity is a matter of how someone sees themselves versus what their biological sex is. The best way I’ve heard of to describe the difference between sex and gender is “sex is what’s between your legs; gender is what’s between your ears.” In other words, gender is strictly how one feels and how they think of themselves. However, certain other identities listed under the trans* umbrella image above strictly have to do with how gender expression, not with how they identify their gender: drag kings and queens, masculine women, androgynous persons, etc.

Obviously I’ve just began to touch on a lot of these identities, but I hope that I’ve given you a better understanding of the wide range of gender identities. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in a comment. If you’d like more information on the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation, this blog presents it in a very comprehensive way: Breaking through the binary

[image found on the blog TransAustin]


1 Comment

  1. jsegrist says:

    I applaud you for this post. There are too many people unaware of how many identities or terms there are in the trans* umbrella. I think a lot of people get confused because gender expression doesn’t necessarily have to match that person’s gender identity. A lot of times if a biological female identifies as a female but their gender expression is that of a male, people assume, majority of the time, this individual is transgender or wanting to be perceived as a male. I think it would be respectful of people to at least be familiar with these terms because it can become offensive to some when the wrong pronouns or identifiers are used. While the term trans* and all it encompasses is important to LGBT members and allies, I think that many people overlook it because their views on gender are very strict, or don’t see all the terms or identities that are involved with the trans* umbrella you presented.

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