The Missing Gender Nouns

Posted Wed 12 October 2016 Author The Gazeboist  | Category : Society

Tags : english / gender /


The English language is missing a bunch of gender-related nouns, I think. Or at least my English is. Consider, for example, "atheism" and "atheist". Obviously we have nouns like these for other religious descriptions, but we also have them for everything from political philosophies (eg "liberalism", "liberal") to sexualities ("heterosexuality", "heterosexual"). Note that the second word is both a noun and an adjective.

The gender situation is different, though. On the simple gender axis, we've got words like "male" or "female" (and other near synonyms), but "maleness" and "femaleness" are obvious constructions, rather than natural words. "Masculinity" and "femininity" would be what I'm looking for, and probably were at one point, but suffer in that they don't quite name the categories I'm trying to talk about. Consider: you can talk about a "masculine man" or a "feminine woman" without anyone being confused, or thinking you're being needlessly redundant. For that matter, if you call a Catholic man a "feminine man", he'd[1] probably be less offended than he would be if you called him an "atheist Catholic".

But wait! It gets worse. Intersex people are stuck with two-word terms to describe themselves and their state. You can say someone is intersex, but you can't say that they are an intersex, or anything similar. The best you've got is "an intersex person". And there's no single word for the state (quality?) of being intersex, the way we have one for the state of being atheist. You can sort of talk about "a nonbinary", but it's a little sketchy and of course there's still no term for the quality.

And now the real problem I've been slowly meandering towards: is this person trans or not?[2] I can talk about trans men, or trans women, but I can't talk about the quality they share without either sounding vaguely transphobic or using an awkward circumlocution like in this sentence. "Trans people" works well enough when I'm just talking about the people in question, but what if I want to talk about the quality-of-being-trans? I've seen some people just use "transgender" as a noun in this case, but that's always sounded a little off to me, like talking about "the Democrat Party" in US politics. You could maybe use "transgenderism", but that parallels religious/philosophical terms, which makes it sound like the people in question are expressing some opinion about reality, rather than a preference with respect to the same.[3] "Transexuality" also sort of works, except it's a little close to describing the whole thing as a sexual fetish, which is plainly untrue, and it frames everything in terms of sex and the specific act of transitioning, which is also probably wrong.

I don't know what the actual solution to this problem is, if it exists. Maybe we actually can just use "transexuality"? "Baptism" is totally fine as a term for the religion, despite the fact that Baptizing people isn't the sole thing that Baptists have in common or even something that separates them from the rest of Christianity. I dunno. I'm not trans, so I don't feel like I have any sort of authority to pick a solution. Not that I'd have much authority if I was trans, but I'd have more than none, at least.

[1]This example was originally nonspecific: it referred to "somebody" rather than "a Catholic man". The pronoun referring to our exemplar was "they", agreeing with "somebody" in the grammatical category "nonspecific singular". I don't actually know if a large number of other people have this grammatical category, but I do, and it trips me up when talking about people whose preferred pronoun is "they". In any case, I thought people might object to me using "they" to refer to a known-male subject, so I changed it. Gender! How does it work.
[2]I'm sticking to "trans" in the rest of this paragraph, but the problem applies just as well to "cis". The negative generally parallels the positive, though, so if you solve one problem you probably solve the other.
[3]There is Much Fighting on this point, which is something that annoys me as someone who believes that preferences should be respected so long as they don't substantially harm others. Trans people reading this: it is my position that the feelings associated with being trans (this fucking language problem again...) are best described as a preference about body type and/or social role, and therefore trans people should obviously be free to do whatever they please with their bodies and call themselves whatever they like.