Category Archives: Language

Rant: "Female-Identified"

I realize the term "female-identified" was created to be an umbrella term for cis women and people in various parts of the trans* spectrum; as perhaps the broadest-possible category of people who aren't men or agender. I also kind of hate it, and the more I hear it, the more it grates on me.

This is not even a request for people to stop saying/writing it. It's just a chance for me to try to express why it bugs me.
female-symbol
So... "female-identified" - let's unpack that. First we have "female". Which is biological sex, not gender. I mean, I'm a woman. Am I "female"? What does that even mean? Sex is a constellation of biological features - it's chromosomes, hormones, primary and secondary sex characteristics. I am decidedly androgyne right now. I'm moving towards female as hard as I can, and if we're going by the preponderance of the evidence, I should be there shortly if I'm not already. But "female-identified"? That's just weird.

It seems that the phrase "female-identified" is reaching for something else. It really wants to be about the identification; to be an umbrella term for those who see themselves on the female side of the gender spectrum regardless of the accident of their birth. We're searching for something that covers all people - cis, trans, nonbinary, bigender, whatever - who see themselves in and want to occupy some or all of those roles; who are othered and excluded by the patriarchy; who are members of some kind of greater Sisterhood.

Fortunately we already have a word for that group: "women"

If you want to be very inclusive, you could say, "women and nonbinary people", "women, nonbinary, and AFAB people", etc. (The choice of whether to include trans men in women's spaces and activities is an interesting one and far too complex for me to deal with here.) Or you could just say, "not men", which is also perfectly fine.

Adding "-identified", IMO, unnecessarily separates cis and trans in a way I'm just not comfortable with. It calls out being inclusive in a situation where inclusivity should sort of be implied. It's icky.

Wordplay

I geek out about linguistics. I love when people remix language to do creative things. They get bonus points if use more than one language (two of my favorite Christmas carols are "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Nowell Sing We"). I saw another example today that really amused me.

Monet from One Piece, a woman with the wings and legs of a bird, wearing a green tank top that reads "happy".
Monet, who is several puns.

The writer of the Japanese comic/cartoon One Piece, Eiichiro Oda, loves to put random English words on his characters' clothing.  In the most recent storyline, there is a woman named Monet who has the wings and legs of a bird.  She also wears a tank top with the word "HAPPY" on it.

Oda is fond of wordplay and puns, and this is a great example.  The obvious joke is that HAPPY is only one stroke away from HARPY, the half-woman-half-bird creature from Greek myth. In Japanese, there's a second bit: the transliteration of English "happy" is ハッピ (literally "happi"), while "harpy" is rendered ハーピ (literally "haapi"). The pronunciations are nearly identical; the only distinction is whether the vowel or the subsequent consonant is long.

But here's the thing: the wordplay doesn't work at all for Oda's monolingual Japanese fans.  Harpies aren't native to Japanese folklore.  Japanese doesn't borrow its official word for the mythological creature from English either.  In Japanese, it's ハルピュイア ("harupyuia"), from the Ancient Greek ἅρπυια, so you have to be familiar with the English spelling and pronunciation to be in on the joke.