THE BLOG

Transgender or Transgendered?

05/11/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I've increasingly been seeing and hearing the word "transgendered," and I have cringed every time. What's wrong with the seemingly subtle difference between saying "transgendered" and "transgender?" Actually, a lot.

Readers of my age and older will remember a sad time when this country labeled African-Americans as "colored people." One problem with this label was that it implied something happened to make the person "of color," which denied the person's dignity of being born that way. Today, we are somewhat more enlightened and say "people of color" instead.

Most transgender people I know have felt a gender incongruity for as long as they remember, and evolving science says we were probably born feeling like this. The only thing that changed along the way has been our awareness that there are others like us. We didn't "decide" to be transgender.

If hearing "transgendered people" is a problem for me, you can imagine how I felt when two different non-transgender friends recently told me independently that they knew a "person who had transgendered." These friends were assuming that all transgender people transition from living in one gender to living in another, just as I did. In reality, only part of the transgender population does this.

Other transgender people feel that their gender is part male and part female, or perhaps they feel gender-less. For them, a transition from one gender to another would be pointless.

I have found that whenever "transgendered" is being used, it is usually by a person who is not transgender, or by an organization wanting to be inclusive of transgender people, but not yet having a transgender person involved. I'm guessing one or both were true in the case of the Des Moines Register article that I cited in my prior post "Can One be Transgender and Catholic"?

Note to journalists: In the Associated Press Stylebook, transgender is listed but "transgendered" is not.

I find that the Media Reference Guide of GLAAD, the nonprofit organization that watches over how lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people (LGBT) are portrayed in the media, says it best.

"The word transgender never needs the extraneous "ed" at the end of the word. In fact, such a construction is grammatically incorrect. Only verbs can be transformed into participles by adding "-ed" to the end of the word, and transgender is an adjective, not a verb."

Another problematic extension of the word occurs when people refer to transgender individuals as "transgenders." Here the Media Guide advises:

"Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, 'Tony is a transgender,' or 'The parade included many transgenders.' Instead say, 'Tony is a transgender person,' or 'The parade included many transgender people.'"

Of course, terminology does evolve in everyday usage, in spite of what any media guide, dictionary, or blogger says. Perhaps "transgendered" and "transgenders" will become accepted usage one day. I hope not.

That said, I wrote this post out of a strongly held belief that people should be able to call themselves whatever they want. So while I think the Media Guide's position reflects the desire of most in the transgender population, if a particular transgender person chooses to refer to themselves as "transgendered," I have to accept that.

Yet if that person is using "transgendered" because of a reluctant belief that they must accept whatever box society wants to put them in, feeling fortunate to have any recognition at all, I have to object. We are humans; we can and should be able to speak for ourselves.