It's great that more LGBT+ terms are being added to the dictionary — but the definitions aren't perfect yet
The Oxford English Dictionary recently added definitions for 17 transgender and non-binary terms to its online site. This is big news for the LGBT+ community, since it means more recognition. It’s great that the Oxford English Dictionary wants to include these important words and help them become a part of our larger vocabulary, but it’s also important to note that crafting accurate representations of these communities within such limited definitions is a difficult feat, and one that the OED hasn’t gotten 100% right.
“Transwoman” and “transman” are just two of the identities that have been added to the prominent online dictionary, but already, Oxford’s definitions of these words hold fuzzy and slightly narrow descriptors for the transfolk of the world. Defining a transwoman, for example, as a “male-to-female transsexual” might not resonate with many of today’s transwomen. The thought that a man becomes female at all is a potentially touchy subject since many transwomen feel that they were always female.
Likewise, using “transsexual” at all is problematic. “Transsexual” is an outdated and insensitive term, since it infers that the individual identifying as it is undergoing some sort of change to be happy with their gender identity. This, of course, is not the case for all since some transpeople are happy as they are and do not feel the need to change their appearance or sex as a result of their gender identity. GLAAD put it best when they wrote, “Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term an individual prefers.” This is excellent advice because using the term an individual is comfortable and identifies with is always best.
Other definitions, such as those for genderqueer and gender-fluid, might also fit poorly for some of the identifying individuals, so even though this is an incredible step in the right direction, accurate representations of the trans and non-binary communities are still a work-in-progress. Of course, the fact that these words are being added to the dictionary at all is an achievement and hopefully this will only lead to more progress and understanding.
It’s great that the world as a whole is finally starting to recognize the large variety of gender identities and sexualities that exist. And while the people and organizations who strive to be more inclusive and sensitive in these areas might not always hit the nail on the head, an attempt to understand, accurately portray, and educate others about the the LGBT+ community is itself a cause for celebration. The addition of non-binary and trans terms in an official dictionary (especially one as prestigious as the OED) is pretty darn cool, but it’s important for us to keep striving for accurate portrayal and respect when discussing these communities. I love that the Oxford English Dictionary was open enough to change to add these terms to their online dictionary, but I’m hoping that they keep adapting and updating the definitions to make them as accurate and sensitive as possible. That’s the only way we’ll ever truly foster understanding of the LGBT+ community.
Here’s a complete list of the added terminology:
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