‘Trans’ doesn’t mean ‘Transition’

I’ve recently seen quite a few people use the argument that ‘trans is short for transitioning’, which is used to deny the existence of non-transitioning trans people, and to argue for the legitimacy of sex as a binary — as if etymology of words has the power to alter the reality of what they describe. Still, it’s sufficiently pernicious and irritating that I’ve decided to write this blog post.

Trans as a word is derived from transgender and transexual, which themselves were derived from the German word Transsexualismus (meaning transexual), coined by German psychiatrist Magnus Hirschfeld in 1923. The trans- part of this word is the Latin prefix meaning ‘on the other side’.

Further, the claim ignores the fact that the meaning of trans in its current usage has absolutely nothing to do with the verb ‘to transition’, it’s just a spurious connexion based on vague etymological relations (transition is derived from the Latin transitio, meaning ‘to cross over’, and isn’t an example of ‘trans-‘ as a prefix).

So if you intend to argue about the nuances of sex and gender, the fact that two words look similar does not mean you are free to ignore the vast body of the scientific literature — which includes biology, psychology, and sociology — and ultimately the lived experience of people whose experience differs from your own.

‘Trans’ doesn’t mean ‘Transition’