[This is a guest posting by Larry [Laurence] Horn (of Yale), taken, with his permission, from a posting he made today on the American Dialect Society mailing list. If you comment on it, remember that these are his words, not mine.]
In the first paragraph of a letter to the editor in this weekend's NYT Magazine, a writer offers the following grammatical argument against the use of transgendered:
We transgender people are not "transgendered," a word that makes it sound like something has happened to us, rather than reflecting something we innately are. You wouldn't say someone was "gayed" or "homosexualed." Only verbs are transformed into participles by adding "-ed," and "transgender" is an adjective, not a verb.
The issue brought up by your questioner is a ticklish one for us: the ignorance of the general population as to what transgender people are like (hint: just like everybody else, with an important difference, much like gay people) makes us hesitant to out ourselves right off the bat (unless the object of the date is a purely sexual one), because it tends to distract others from seeing us as real people, as opposed to god-knows-what sort of stereotype. The idea that we are trying to deceive anyone is as ridiculous as it is offensive: you do not start out trying to fool someone that you have an interest in getting to know better. As you rightly point out, you don't blurt out everything on a first date.
The problem is that the claim that "only verbs are transformed into participles by adding -ed" is untenable, as decades of studies on participial formations have shown. There are, for example, "un-passives" where there is no extant corresponding verb (or no relevant one); to say that Antarctica is uninhabited is not to presuppose that someone (maybe penguins?) first managed to uninhabit that continent. There are adjectives like blue-eyed, one-armed, and such with no corresponding verbs.
Even in the case under discussion, it's true that there's no relevant verb to transgender, but then if we speak of someone as "highly sexed", there's no suggestion that someone first (highly?) sexed them; similarly for oversexed, undersexed, differently-abled,… Gendered itself is used in a lot of formations with no obvious verb source: gendered language/space/institutions/media…
I remember an old paper… let's see, yes, it's
Hirtle, W. H. (1970). -ed Adjectives Like 'Verandahed' and 'Blue-eyed'. Journal of Linguistics 6.19-36.
…that treats some of these cases. One interesting property is the need in many cases for modification: blue-eyed, one-eyed, even two-eyed (in a contrastive context) are all fine, but eyed doesn't seem to occur with the same (possessive, non-verbal) sense; similarly legged, haired, breasted,… (These are worse than Gricean pragmatics alone would predict.)
If transgendered is to be ruled out, it may be because it's blocked or pre-empted by adjectival transgender; note that "same-sexed couple" or "opposite-sexed couple" (or "mixed-sexed couple") don't work as well as "highly sexed", presumably because of blocking by adjectival same-sex, opposite-sex, mixed-sex.
The writer's comparison with *gayed and *homosexualed is also misleading because those are formed from adjectives, while transgendered, like blue-eyed or verandahed, does allow the -ed to attach to a noun, which seems to work better. In fact, while "opposite-sexed couple" sounds pretty bad, as noted, I find that "heterosexualed couple" sounds worse.
Well, OK, Ms. Smith probably isn't a linguist, and her point is otherwise well-taken; indeed, transgendered may indeed suggest that someone did something to bring that state of affairs about.
Maybe they should run letters to the Magazine by Ben first.