Pet Nomenclature

On the local list, the moderator defined someone as a “genetic woman.”

That baffled me.

I might know what a “genetic female” is, assuming they meant “chromosomal female,” someone with XX chromosomes.  Of course, there are some women out there who have lived their lives as women and are not XX, but that’s a small number.

To me, though, woman is a gender term and female a biological term, describing reproductive biology or sex.  A woman is someone who lives as a woman who makes the choices of a woman, a female is someone who is (or was) an egg carrier, even if they are infertile.

I was knocked back, though.

“Everyone has their own pet nomenclature,” I was told, my own understandings knocked back into some kind of accessory.  “It’s just semantics.”

I responded that I thought words are important, and the only tool we, as humans, have to create a shared understanding.

I must think that, with the number of them I have gone through in the past twenty years trying to understand, explain, and get feedback on my own understanding of myself and the world.

It’s not the words that are important, of course.  Words are just symbols.

It’s the meaning that is important, and more than that, the worldview that the meaning lives in.

“I am the shadows my words cast,” as Octavio Paz said.   Not the words, but the shadows behind them.

It has always made me crazy that people talk about gender but can’t then define that word.  What is gender?  To me, gender is a system of communication around reproductive biology  that defines and enforce roles around reproduction and child rearing.  Race and Class are other systems of communication that define and enforce social roles, too, but they are rules about wealth, power and status.

Sure, people talk about “my gender,”  but that is a discussion of where they see themselves in that communication, their limits and challenges in that system.

If we don’t have meaning for the terms we use, and if we dismiss the terms others use as just semantics, does that mean we don’t have a clear worldview?

I suspect that it does.

And I suspect that for all transpeople complain about people not understanding them, about how we can’t come together, work together and create community, in the dark background, there is a reason we resist a clear worldview that might let us explain and connect.

Fuzzy, you see, lets us rationalize and float in the moment.

For example, if we are clear about who we are, well, how can we be who our wife needs us to be too?

We are used to using words not as a clear statement but rather as a flexible identity, allowing us to shift, sway and manipulate in the moment.

As long as nothing has meaning, as long as it’s only semantics, as long as everyone has a pet nomenclature and one has no more credibility than another, then whatever we say in the moment is fine, true, real.

Normal people, those in the mainstream, never have to work to test and understand their worldview.  It is only challenges that test us, that require us to figure out what is truly important to us, what is at the base and bedrock of who we are.   Illness, failure, whatever; the result is the same.  We have to get clear and make choices, choices that “normal” people take for granted.

Joseph Campbell talks about the most powerful rituals always being around this theme.  It is when people have to let go of things they like or desire in order to hold onto what they value that they really have to struggle with themselves.

For transpeople who want to hold on, and not fall into the fire that burns away what is not really us, a fuzzy and flexible approach to language allows wiggle room, enough room to not have to be clear, present and profound.

Dismissing words that challenge us as just semantics, a kind of pet nomenclature, is dismissing challenges to our own worldview, dismissing the call to be clear and specific about what we believe, especially the contradictions and ambiguity we hold close to us.

Every hero’s journey is about finding truth, truth hidden behind the fuzzyness of social creation.

And that’s why it is always terrifying.