A note on terminology
This digital exhibit was compiled by Sidney Cunningham, Caleigh Inman, and MacKenzie Stewart, who identify (respectively) as a bisexual trans man, a queer cis femme, and a queer trans man. All of us were very small children or not yet born when gendertrash was published, and so even though we are doing this work in the same city that gendertrash was published, a mere 25 years later, we feel a distinct distance from the terminology gendertrash uses around gender and sexuality. We think of this divide as interesting and productive rather than uncomfortable, but believe it is important to explicitly address the language used in gendertrash out of respect for Mirha-Soleil Ross and Xanthra Phillippa Mackay’s identities and cultural/political contributions, and to clarify for readers that are more familiar with the kind of language most often used by trans educators or service organizations today.
In gendertrash, as in Ross’s other works, there is a definite preference for the term transsexual over transgender. The parts of issues written by Ross and MacKay use transsexual almost exclusively, whereas sections written by friends and acquaintances (such as those by kiwi, Bobby Gene, and Dancing to Eagle Spirit) often use both terms and the blurbs describing community organizations and resources primarily use transgender or transgendered. Various documents in the Ross fonds suggest that she may have felt some suspicion towards the politics of the term “transgender,” yet everything genderpress published or produced makes space for the inclusion of people who identify with either term.1
While transgender or trans has come to be understood as an “umbrella” term in many communities, encompassing all people who are not cisgender, gendertrash instead proposes the unusual terms “gender described” and “genetic described.” These are explained in the first issue’s “TS Words & Phrases” section, which also appears to have been used as a handout in workshops Ross ran in Toronto in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.
The use of “genetic described” in gendertrash predates the popularization and first print use of the (now more common) term cisgender.2 While trans people seem to have frequently referred to cisgender people as “genetic,” “genuine,” or “gennies” long before the publication of gendertrash, the additional of the modifier “described” introduces a meaningful conceptual difference. The conventional idea that genetics determine truth or validity is replaced with the implication that genetics is, for example, a way (alongside gender identity) of knowing or understanding someone’s womanhood—and perhaps not an especially reliable one.
Keeping with this conceptual framework, gendertrash introduces the term “gender-oriented” for “wimmin, men, or people who are attracted to TS’s.”3 This may appear to be the equivalent of the more common term “chaser,” but again there is a key difference. “Chaser” is usually used in a negative sense, and usually only applied to cisgender people with the implication that they fetishize trans people (usually women), whereas “gender-oriented” seems to be used only in a neutral to positive sense and applied to trans people with as much or more frequency as cis people.4 While other trans writers have expressed ambivalent or less than condemnatory views of sexual attraction that differentiates between trans and cis people of the same gender5, gendertrash is fairly unique in its explicit affirmation of trans-specific attraction. While many trans writers and activists of the same era and later strove to divorce gender identity from sexuality, Ross and MacKay’s zine instead coined the terms “gender queer” and “gender outlaw”6 and claimed “we’re just as queer as dykes and fags maybe even more so.” This gesture, which might be understood as somewhat akin to the early nineties move from homosexual to queer, locates the trans community (i.e. gender queers) less in terms of concrete identities than in terms of opposition to the oppressive and exclusionary social norms that always already entwine sexuality and gender. For this reason, we encounter gendertrash’s unusual terminology not merely as an historical artifact, but as a radical challenge to the way we understand identity, community, and attraction that remains just as relevant and necessary today.
1. See, for example, the “100% TransGendered” button or the submission guidelines in the table of contents of issues 3 and 4, which “welcome transsexual (both mtf’s and ftm’s), transgender, and intersexed people” as well as “gender-positive genetics” to submit contributions.↩
3. I.e. transsexuals. ↩
4. It is worth mentioning in relation to this that in their film gendertroublemakers, produced slightly before gendertrash #1, both Ross and MacKay self-identify as gender-oriented.↩
5. Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw (1994) is a good example of a text that is somewhat sympathetic to trans-specific or trans-excluding attraction.↩
6. Materials in the fonds suggest that Ross was the first person to use these terms, but such a claim would be difficult to verify.↩