LGBTQ* Vocabulary That Might Surprise You
We at KNOWhomo have recently found ourselves participating in a few interesting dialogues about whether or not “womyn” is an empowering term, mostly due to concerns that the term can sometimes hold transphobic connotations due to the controversy regarding the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival of 2002 and its unfortunate dismissal of the validity of identities dwelling under the trans* umbrella in their use of the definition “womyn-born womyn” to distinguish those welcome at their festival.
We understand that the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s definition of a womyn as a “womyn-born womyn” is problematic on multiple levels, including but not limited to the obvious lack of recognition for the difference between sex and gender identity. That doesn’t even begin to cover gender performativity or a whole host of other things. (The festival has since removed the definition from their web page, though I’m disappointed to hear that the policy still applies. )
Let’s enter an alternate universe where the world is binary for a second, okay? Use your imagination. The word woman is an offshoot of the word man, and stems from a patriarchal (read: male-centric) view that the male body is “normal” and the female body is a deviation from the norm. Thus, a wo-man is considered to be inferior to her male counterpart, and the word used to name her identity reflects this supposed inferiority. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of any one group of people claiming superiority over any other group of people.
Simply put, changing “woman” to “womyn” establishes a unique term in which the female identity stands on its own as a valuable person and identity without needing to be directly associated with a man to be valid. For many female-identified persons, seeing the word “man” in “woman” is a constant reminder that womyn are considered to be of lesser value than men in our society, and altering the spelling is a relatively simple way to begin to draw attention to this issue.
Do we at KNOWhomo believe in a binary? Nope. And for the record, I’d rather chew off my own arm and feed it to a platypus before I try to define someone’s sex or gender identity according to binary terms—or try to define someone else’s identity for them at all.
However: the English language is hopelessly devoted to preserving patriarchal values that directly contradict with the ideals of equality for all people that we promote. “Womyn” is a reclaiming of power for many people, regardless of the sex or gender they were assigned at birth. It’s just one more of those pesky little definitions we can use to define our identity in an effort to communicate how we feel on the inside to other people.
For me, as a cisgender female, “womyn” is an inherently political identity first and foremost. The word says, “Hey! I will not be oppressed by the language I speak just for identifying as female in the misguided binary system I am expected to uphold. Don’t put my identity in a box—and if you insist I define it, I get to choose the spelling that most empowers me.”
We’re curious about what connotation this word has for you. Is it empowering? Limiting? Feel free to let us know on KNOWhomo’s Question page, the More We Know!