What does the asterisk in Trans* stand for? And why should I use it?

This is one of several posts that I found really helpful in understanding Trans* issues at It’s Pronounced Metrosexual – a one man show Sam the blogger describes as kickstarting LGB equality. It’s well worth exploring.

What does the asterisk in “Trans*” stand for? A few people have asked why I write “trans*” (with the asterisk) instead of just “trans” when referring to trans* folks on my site. Well, I’m happy to answer that!

Trans* is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum. There’s a ton of diversity there, but we often group them all together (e.g., when we say “trans* issues).

Trans (without the asterisk) is best applied to trans men and trans women, while the asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all non-cisgender gender identities, including transgender, transsexual, transvestite, genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, genderfuck, genderless, agender, non-gendered, third gender, two-spirit, bigender, and trans man and trans woman.

The origin behind the asterisk, as I understand it, is a bit computer geeky. When you add an asterisk to the end of a [Google etc] search term, you’re telling your computer to search for whatever you typed, plus any characters after (e.g., [search term*][extra letters], or trans*[-gender, -queer, -sexual, etc.]). The idea was to include trans and other identities related to trans, in the most technically awesome way. I <3 Geekdom.

I created the graphic below to help raise awareness of this so folks can be more inclusive in their writing when referring to trans* people. Share the original post on Facebook if you pledge to write “trans*” from now on.

trans* posterfull size image

via What does the asterisk in trans* stand for? And why should I use it?

This is one of several posts that I found really helpful in understanding Trans* issues at It’s Pronounced Metrosexual . I like the inclusiveness of Trans* and plan to remember to use this from now on.

Other  helpful posts explaining aspects of Trans* are:


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9 comments for “What does the asterisk in Trans* stand for? And why should I use it?

  1. Ben
    June 3, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Personally I dislike umbrella terms such as trans* or transgender; a label which covers the spectrum from a straight man who gets off on wearing women’s clothing, to drag queens, to someone who is considering self mutilation or suicide because they cannot live with the body they were born in is so general as to be almost worthless. Because of this there is a tendency with some LGB people to be inclusive to trans* people as long as they are willing to stay in the ‘T’ box, but for every genderqueer who happily describes hirself as a ‘tranny’ there is a lonely gay man who constantly feels othered (in the friendliest possible way) because of his medical history, or a woman who isn’t welcome in lesbian clubs because at one point in her life she was known as ‘Steve’.

    • Chris Morley
      June 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

      I see that what you are saying would be true of using Trans without an asterisk.

      The explanation for adding the asterisk is to signal awareness of that rich inherent diversity. That seemed to me to have merit.
      What are you suggesting instead? That we should always list all the possible permutations?

      I’m struggling because there doesn’t seem to be a definitive consensus list, if that is what you favour, with opinions ranging from
      http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/ which says there can be no simple explanation and has 400 comments

      to the overview and guidance at

      • Ben
        June 4, 2012 at 4:41 pm

        I think as a start a distinction should be made between the social/ political identity and the medical condition, since these groups have diverging needs in terms of advocacy and representation. Conflating the two leads to misconceptions such as ‘you aren’t eligible for medical treatment if you aren’t aroused by cross dressing’ or ‘drag queens must secretly all want oestrogen’, both of which can be incredibly damaging, both to individuals and to perceptions of the ‘trans community’ (such as it exists).

        This (and the associated ‘what makes someone trans’) questions are ones which are still very much under discussion – hence the lack of definitive consensus. There is a good comment on this issue at the Bilerico project: http://www.bilerico.com/2011/06/the_death_of_transgender.php, plus a follow up article: http://www.bilerico.com/2011/06/why_the_umbrella_failed.php

        • Chris Morley
          June 4, 2012 at 9:18 pm

          Thanks for your suggested distinction but Mercedes at Bilerico is saying there isn’t a social / political identity, but multiple identities, hence the need for umbrellas / alliances between the identities. But there’s no common label encompassing the range of identities, and a resistance by many to subsuming yourself into some commonality when there is so much diversity.

          And Asher at Transarchism makes the point that many people do not experience body dysphoria and would reject the idea of having a ‘medical condition’. Asher would, I think, see that as part of the problem trans* people have with living in a cis-society that defines sex and gender as binaries, when both are wide open multi-dimensional spaces.
          “Many of us do seek hormones, surgery, and other body modifications. But
          the point is that, while such modifications may be necessary for our
          peace of mind, they are not necessary to make us “real men” or “real
          women” or “real” whatevers. We’re plenty real right now, thank you.”

          • Ben
            June 4, 2012 at 10:28 pm

            The fact that many people who identify as ‘trans’ do not experience dysphoria is one of the reasons that I suggested the distinction between medical and non medical – it is unfair to say that someone who is fine with their body but chooses to present in a non binary way has a mental condition, but at the same time there are people whose gender dysphoria is so acute it can only be treated through hormones and surgery – both of which carry risks and should therefore be recommended by qualified medical professionals, so it makes sense to consider it as a medical issue.

            The concept of a social/ political identity wasn’t taken from Mercedes’ articles, but from personal experience; I would describe it as the idea that to be trans* is to be a gender non-conformist, that trans* people are essentially ‘queer’, and (in some cases) that they are pioneers exploring and pushing back the boundaries of gender and sexuality. Some people with gender dysphoria subscribe to this identity (such as Asher), but others find they fit comfortably within the gender binary, just not the side they were assigned at birth. It is therefore understandable that they might not feel comfortable being categorised with people who reject the binary entirely, or people who cross the binary on a part time basis for sexual or financial purposes.

            In short, the social/ political identity and the medical condition are not mutually exclusive, but neither are they one and the same.

  2. June 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Hey Chris, 

    Thanks for sharing the graphic and providing a link back to my site.  I’m happy to see that you’ve found some things of use!  Keep up the good work!

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