QUEERSTIONS: What Does it Mean When There is an Asterisk After the Word “Trans?”

Local experts answer the LGBT community-centric questions you’ve always wondered about, but never got around to asking. Today, trans advocate, educator and star of web series A Man Who Takes the Place Of AJ Young explains why you sometimes see an asterisk after the word “trans.”

why is there an asterisk after the word trans?

Short answer: When there is an asterisk after the word trans* it indicates that the author is using the word as an umbrella term for the wider community of people who don’t fit neatly into the gender binary of man and woman. By adding the * they are also including people who identity as Two-spirit,  cross-dressers, genderqueer, non-binary/gender non-conforming, agender, gender fluid, to name just a few possibilities.

Background: In the context of Boolean operators (those words such as AND, OR, NEAR that we used to search the Internet before Google got so dang smart), an asterisk functioned as a truncation. Placing an asterisk after a prefix would retrieve results containing any words that began with that prefix. So by typing in “trans*” one might receive results including transgender and transsexual, but also transportation, transparency, and transpose. The transgender community adopted this truncation symbol as a shorthand so people would know when trans was being used as an umbrella term for the larger gender non-conforming community—rather than the more specific transsexual or transgender when used to denote a particular identity (someone who identifies as a gender different than what is assumed based on their assigned sex at birth)—without having to list out all the identities they wanted to include or discuss.

It’s important to note, though, that not everyone who uses trans* as an umbrella term includes all the same identities under the umbrella. There are debates both within and outside of the trans* community about who gets included. For example, feminine cisgender men and masculine cisgender women are sometimes included because their gender expression of masculinity and femininity does not fit with the normative expectations of their gender identity (masculine men and feminine women), but because their gender identity and their biological sex assigned at birth “match” they are sometimes excluded.

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