Transgender(ed)

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[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.

BRIDGET SMITH
San Francisco

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.



67 Comments

  1. empty said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 12:10 am

    Of course in one sense "transgendered" is no more wrong than "blue-eyed" or "long-limbed". On the other hand, that doesn't mean that the transgender community's insistence on the one word rather than the other is baseless or that anyone is right to trying to argue with it. I am guessing that part of what offends about the -ed form is the knowledge that many who don't know much about transgender matters do not distinguish between "identifies self as opposite gender" and "gets a 'sex-change' operation".

    By the way, I have it on good authority that in the "gender-queer" community the opposite of "transgender" is "cisgender"?

  2. empty said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 12:11 am

    That question mark should be a period.

  3. Qov said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 12:29 am

    Empty, but if they are fully saturated they can be neither trans- nor cis-?

  4. áine ní dhonnchadha said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:19 am

    The objection is that people use the term in the following way: "a transgendered woman". While we may have difficulty (or FAIL) explicating the reason why, the term "transgendered X" grates on our ears.

    Also yes, like so many linguists I'm genderqueer, specifically a transgender woman. (Also I'm gay…)

  5. Mark Liberman said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:27 am

    The OED has two -ed suffix entries. The first one is the familiar preterite and past-participle ending for verbs. The entry for the second one says

    The suffix is now added without restriction to any n. from which it is desired to form an adj. with the sense 'possessing, provided with, characterized by' (something); e.g. in toothed, booted, wooded, moneyed, cultured, diseased, jaundiced, etc., and in parasynthetic derivatives, as dark-eyed, seven-hilled, leather-aproned, etc. In bigoted, crabbed, dogged, the suffix has a vaguer meaning. (Groundless objections have been made to the use of such words by writers ignorant of the history of the language: see quot.)

    Those "groundless objections" include some pretty prominent peevers:

    1779 JOHNSON Gray Wks. IV. 302 There has of late arisen a practice of giving to adjectives derived from substantives, the termination of participles: such as the 'cultured' plain..but I was sorry to see in the lines of a scholar like Gray, the 'honied' spring. 1832 COLERIDGE Table-T. (1836) 171, I regret to see that vile and barbarous vocable talented..The formation of a participle passive from a noun is a licence that nothing but a very peculiar felicity can excuse.

    For some similar issues with -ing see here.

  6. William Young said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 3:14 am

    If I were to really worry about it and choose my words carefully, I'd probably use 'transgender' to apply to a person with the inclination (n.b. I could probably come up with a better word than 'inclination', but I'll go with that for now), and 'transgendered,' to apply to someone who has undergone medical procedures to bring them closer to their inclination.

  7. Jayarava said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 3:20 am

    This has obvious engendered some thought on your part.

    This form of adjective in Sanskrit is called bahuvrīhi and these are often translated as adjective in -ed: the name itself is an example meaning 'much riced', ie someone who has a lot of rice. Another classic is nīlakantha 'blue throated' a name for both the Hindu Śiva and the Buddhist Avalokiteśvara.

  8. Nathan Myers said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 3:57 am

    Please, please forgive me for this one, but who in modern life might be said to be best equipped with a "peculiar felicity"?

  9. Xmun said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 4:11 am

    The peculiar felicity mentioned in the 1832 Coleridge quotation is a felicity of phrasing, not of a person.

    Isn't it polar bears who uninhabit Antarctica, not penguins?

  10. Lauren said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 4:38 am

    @ William Young,
    That really makes no sense, even on your terms: if someone is born with the "inclination," then why would some bodily modification turn that inclination into an action that has been performed upon them?? Consider, do butch lesbians become "lesbianed" once they cut their hair to match their inner inclinations (or after their first date)? Do flat chested women get "femaled" if they get implants (and what then for mastectomy patients)?
    The weird fixation on medical procedures, specifically genital surgery (SRS), is exactly the sort of pathologizing prism that transgender people struggle against, in an effort to be seen AS PEOPLE.
    So, why the need for a distinction based on what you imagine must be the altered states of others' genitals? You don't use such criteria for gender in any other context do you? I mean, a man involved in a mutilating accident is still simply a "man", right — no need to check between the legs?
    As for calling it an "inclination", I assume you mean to say in the same way that being female or male is "an inclination"? If so, an inclination to be/do what exactly?
    The 'trans' in transgender is sometimes interpreted as denoting a transition in outward identification and presentation of gender, in order to achieve a greater continuity with inner psychological gender. This may or may not have anything to do with particular medical procedures. Suppose Caster Semenya looked at scans of her inner biology and said, "Wow, that explains it — time to start living 'as a guy'." — then on this usage she'd be a transgender man, otherwise her gender remains simply female.
    More recently the term "transgender" has been used simply to identify any discontinuity between public perception of gender and inner psychological self-identification. So, I suppose on this interpretation, if enough people began to 'see' her as a 'him', then perhaps the term would apply to Caster simply because she continues to identify as female.
    The term is not static in its semantics, nor is a single interpretation universally assented to. But what IS agreed, broadly, is that its proper application has only an accidental relation to what may or may not reside between the legs. And frankly, defining people by their genitalia is pretty much rude regardless of the crowd you're talking about (e.g. "Look, here comes the 'little man' and his sister 'Loosey'.")
    You get the idea.

  11. Aaron Toivo said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:02 am

    The second meaning for -ed is interesting in that despite its not attaching to verbs, it nevertheless imparts a sense of something having happened or changed (or not having happened, when combined with un- or similar). This is evidenced by Ms. Smith's first sentence.

    Empty: I am guessing that part of what offends about the -ed form is the knowledge that many who don't know much about transgender matters do not distinguish between "identifies self as opposite gender" and "gets a 'sex-change' operation".

    But surely it is nobody else's business whether a person's change in gender has involved surgery or not? I cannot for the life of me imagine how inclusiveness, tolerance, or politeness would be improved by our having different terms depending on if there's been surgery.

  12. Boris Blagojević said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:33 am

    Just to continue on Lauren's comment,
    @William Young: you don't have to search for the appropriate word, you already have one – gender ;) What distinguishes transgender people is not inclination towards some gender, it's that they *are* of a gender which doesn't coincide with their biological sex.
    So to use transgendered to mean what you imagine it could would also seem factually wrong to me: sex-change operation changes sex. In a way it actually makes one "less transgender", if you think of transgenderness as state of one's gender not matching one's sex.

    Of course, the distinction between gender and sex is not upheld often colloquially, but it's obviously important here.

  13. Tim said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:44 am

    I want to disagree with Arnold

    [(amz) Can't you read, Tim? I said, right at the top, that this was a guest posting, by Larry Horn, and told people, "If you comment on it, remember that these are his words, not mine." You don't want to disagree with me; I haven't said a thing on the topic. You want to disagree with Larry. Get your attributions straight.]

    on the use of "gendered". When I hear the term "gendered space" I most certainly think that there is an agent for this action who is obscured at the moment. To "gender" something is to make it suitable for one gender only. I did a quick google search and found instances for gendered like parents worrying about 'making sure that kids get "gendered correctly," '

    And there is a related usage in Kashrut: if you gender a knife, cutting board, plate, oven, etc., you used meat or dairy on it, thus making it suitable for either meat or dairy uses in the future.

    On the subject of modifier-eyed or -legged or -breasted, I just noticed that all of these have a precise translation into Arabic with the so-called false 2iDaafa: 2azraq al-3ayneen etc. Each language has a very special construction to talk about the qualities of body parts.

  14. James said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:47 am

    Xmun: no, polar bears are arctic, penguins antarctic (and elsewhere south of the equator).

    Okay, so the word 'transgendered' grates, but not because it has the implication that "something has happened to us." Maybe for no articulable reason. Maybe this is just a case of word aversion?

  15. Edith said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 8:20 am

    "Transgendered" does not fit the category of blue-eyed, one-armed, legged, haired, breasted, even verandahed.

    Blue-eyed means having blue eyes.
    One-eyed means having one arm.
    Legged/haired/breasted means having legs, hair, breast(s).
    Verandah means having a veranda.

    Transgendered, meanwhile, does not mean having a transgender, but rather something like "being of the transgender type," "having transgender characteristics."

    I had never thought about this before, but I am starting to believe that transgendered makes just as little sense as blacked, jewed, italianed.

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    The objection seems to be that "transgendered" falsely implies that the person in question has, as it were, "transitioned" or "transferred' from gender A to gender B. Given that "trans-" itself has in English a typical connotation of movement, I wonder if a different Latinate prefix might have been chosen had the self-understanding giving rise to the objection been the dominant one in the relevant group at the relevant time. In other words, does omitting the suffix really avoid the underlying metaphor of movement from the prefix? However, "transgender[ed]" is perhaps a more recent coinage than "transvestite" and "transsexual" and might have been formed by analogy without sufficient attention to the desirability vel non of carrying over the metaphor of movement/change-of-state.

  17. empty said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    Aaron Toivo: But surely it is nobody else's business whether a person's change in gender has involved surgery or not? I cannot for the life of me imagine how inclusiveness, tolerance, or politeness would be improved by our having different terms depending on if there's been surgery.

    I did not mean to suggest that we would be better off with two terms, or that it would be a good thing to mentally pigeonhole a person according to whether they have chosen/undergone that surgery. (Of course in one sense it is a good thing to have two terms. I would guess that among transgender people and their friends there is some preferred polite and brief way to express the fact that a person has had such surgery.)

    What I did mean, I suppose, was that people in general who may not have paid much attention to such things, upon hearing a statement such as "I have a friend who is transgender", may wrongly interpret this to mean that your friend has had the operation; and that it seems to me that the use of "transgendered" would encourage that misunderstanding.

    Of course, whatever words you do use you're not going to be using them every time you mention or introduce your friend to someone: Apart from privacy issues, this kind of information is only one part of who your friend is.

    Part of what's tricky about this whole area, of course, is that members of this particular category are not only saying "I get to pick the words for naming this category", but also saying "I get to tell you who I am; you don't get to categorize me". And at times saying it's none of your business. And all with perfect justification, in my opinion.

  18. Will said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    Quite clearly, the "peculiar felicity" refers to Felicity Huffman, who played a trans woman in Transamerica.

  19. Mr Fnortner said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:20 am

    @James, re Xmun: Polar bears at the S Pole = uninhabited. And Xmun's observation is nicely funny, btw.

  20. Tom Saylor said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    Well, I guess I'm one of those people who've been linguistically misled in exactly the way Bridget Smith fears. I'd always assumed that "transgendered" had participial force and applied only to those who had undergone some sort of sex-change operation (performed, I imagined, by a "transgendering" surgeon). Can someone tell me what other sorts of people the transgender(ed) class includes?

  21. Randall said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:31 am

    @Edith

    I think what you've done there is just state things differently that could have been stated the same.

    "Blue-eyed means having blue eyes." Sure. But it could also mean "being of the blue-eyed type". That sounds stilted to me, I will admit.

    However, there is no distinction between "having a transgender association" and "being of the transgender[ed] type" for me. Both sound as correct.

    As Mark Liberman posted from the OED, one of the things -ed can signify is:

    "The suffix is now added without restriction to any n. from which it is desired to form an adj. with the sense 'possessing, provided with, characterized by'".

    I would say that transgender folk are absolutely characterized by that association; cisgender people are as well, but they're the norm and so do not point it out.

  22. empty said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 11:15 am

    Tom Saylor: Imagine a person who was born a girl, and who from a young age felt like a boy. Strongly. And who at some point, with encouragement from others who had been through the same sort of thing, comes to say "I am a man". Says it not just to himself, but eventually to others, too. He might "pass" for male with strangers and new acquaintances. The part that he probably won't tell everyone is that in addition to being of the male gender he is (or his body is) of the female sex. He might or might not at some point get hormone treatment and/or surgery to bring his body more nearly in line with his gender identity. That person, for example, would be called transgender.

  23. Rolig said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 11:19 am

    What is the history of the word "transgender(ed)"? My recollection is that it began being used in the early-to-mid-1990s. At the time, I don't recall there being any debate over which term was to be preferred, both "transgender" and "transgendered" appeared in the GLB (not yet GLBT) press fairly interchangeably, but I do not know if transgender publications preferred one or the other.

    One thing seemed clear to me at the time (I was the editor of an American gay newspaper from 1992-99): "transgendered" could be used only for people ("a transgendered teacher"); one could speak of "transgender" organizations, publications, movements, activism, etc., but "a transgendered newspaper" sounded strange. My sense was that the word was adopted as a substitute for "transexual", for similar reasons that one started using the word "gender" instead of "sex" in academic and human-rights contexts. I would guess that "transgendered" arose because it felt more adjectival than "transgender" and thus a better parallel to "transexual".

    It still sounds strange to me to say that someone is a "transgender" or even "a transgender person", though of course if that is how they describe themselves I have no objection. Expressions such as "transman", "transwoman", "FTM transexual", "MTF transexual", or indeed "FTM transgendered", "MTF transgendered" seem clearer to me.

    To my ear, the "-ed" doesn't suggest that something has happened to a person who is transgendered, only that a person possesses a certain kind of gender, a gender that involves a transition of some sort.

    As an addendum, a minor debate I encountered at the time concerned the spelling "transexual" vs. "transsexual". I think the single "s" version was considered more politically correct, but I don't remember why.

  24. James said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    Mr Fnortner:
    D'oh!

  25. Kapitano said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    If Smith's main issue relating to people's attitude towards their transsexualism…is a preference for adjectives over participles, then they're very fortunate.

    But I wonder if they object to a door being "closed".

    More than me writing two sentences studiously avoiding any gendered pronouns because I'm not quite sure which pronouns are appropriate? Or is it 'genderful' pronouns?

  26. Mr Punch said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

    This seems to me to be precisely the same issue (in reverse) as the use of "enslaved person" in place of "slave." It's widely considered, well, politically incorrect to use "slave," at least in an American context, even for someone who was born into and lived his/her whole life under slavery. The idea is that no one is inherently a slave — slavery is something that has been done to them.

  27. George said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    I think any group is entitled to any self-description they wish. However, I don't think that any meaningful distinctions would be made by most speakers between 'transgendered' and 'transgender people.' It would be hard, in my opinion, to make a case that by changing 'transgendered ' to 'transgender person' would mitigate any negative feelings by those with negative attitudes.

  28. Tim said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    "'Transgendered' does not fit the category of blue-eyed, one-armed, legged, haired, breasted, even verandahed."

    I think you have to go back a step to get to the point where the parallel applies. If you think of the word as transgender + -ed, then it's true that it doesn't work in the same way as those other words. However, if you think of it as trans- + gendered, then gendered fits the pattern, as it means "having a gender".

    (Note : I'm not the same Tim who commented earlier on this post.)

  29. iris said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

    One wrinkle in this story is that "transgender" actually does get used as a verb, albeit rarely, awkwardly, and sometimes to a chorus of complaint. A google search for "transgendering" (with the quotes) yields quite a few examples (among a total of 34,300 hits).

    At its least controversial, it is used transitively, to mean, for example, adapting a service to fit the needs of transgender/ed people, introducing a transgender perspective into an area of scholarship or localising an imported cultural practice by introducing gender-crossing activities into it.

    It is also used to mean symbolically or literally changing someone's gender in a representation (whether an insult, a picture, a story, a theory or a series of casting decisions):

    'And one derogates another male by transgendering him through modifiers like "pussy-ass." '
    "…the joke being that to cinematically/demographically "domesticate" Schwarzenegger, who had turned his whole body into a veiny boner, was to emasculate him to the point of transgendering him."
    " Poe turns the tables, transgendering himself and playing both gender roles. He can desire and be desired at the same time. "
    "I don't know; given Bixie's talent with transgendering him [in photoshop], perhaps this is a job for her"

    More rarely, though, and more contentiously, there have been recurrent attempts to make "transgender" work as an intransitive verb – sometimes meaning to transition, sometimes to engage in gender-crossing/blurring practices, and occasionally something deliberately less precise. It crops up in academic writing, where there is usually a specific motivation behind the word choice (but it still often strikes me as an awkward misappropriation). In popular and personal writing/talk, the choice often seems less consciously motivated and more heavily freighted with unwarranted assumptions. It's also very likely to begreeted as a straightforward error.

    The familiar adjective "transgendered" certainly isn't derived from this later, still contentious – even mocked – usage. But I think it may still play a role in Ms Smith's concerns.

    Much of her argument – that "transgender" is an adjective, not a verb, and that the illegitimate verbal usage focuses too much on the process or event of gender-crossing, too little on the abiding characteristics of the transgender person – is quite familiar as a response to this actual attempt at a verb. And of course, "transgendered" is also its past participle.

    As you say, she is wrong to think that the form of "transgendered" implies a non-existant verb – it has long been a straightforward synonym for the adjective transgender.

    But she's right to see a common tendency to treat the process/event of gender-crossing as the heart of what it is to be transgender/ed, and she's right to associate that with an effort to make the term a verb. She's even right, I think, to suggest that without the -ed, the adjective "transgender" is less prone to misreading or appropriation to this process-focussed notion.

  30. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

    @not-the-same-Tim: your comment presents another angle on the question I'd raised before about whether the trans- prefix really fits well with the current ideology or self-understanding reflected in the objection that was the point of departure for Larry Horn's original post. On further reflection, there are various trans- words in English where there's not necessarily so much of a sense of movement or transition or change of state as much as the trans- connoting "beyond" or "on the other side of" or perhaps even "having transcended." Consider, e.g., transfinite, Trans-Carpathian, and trans-national. But I take it that for many of the people who would describe themselves as transgender, the point is not that gender identity is irrelevant to them because they're in some sense "beyond" being gendered, it's instead that their sense of gender identity is highly relevant to them, but (unlike the case with the majority/default "cisgender" sort) is not the gender identity one might have otherwise expected them to have based on genetic/physiological data. (That was a rather turgid and ungainly sentence, an unfortunate side effect of self-consciously trying not to give offense to anyone with a personal stake in these sorts of identity issues.) I will admit I'm not sure what Latinate prefix would be the optimal one to add to gender[ed] to convey that sense, if one were starting afresh on a blank lexical slate, but I doubt it would be trans-.

  31. Sili said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 5:10 pm

    specifically a transgender woman

    It may well be that I'm just not fully aware of the conventions for using "transgender", but I can never figure out whether the "woman" in "a transgender woman" is the 'starting point' (Female-to-Male) or the 'endpoint' (Male-to-Female). Is it the 'self-identity' or the 'imposed identy'?

    Hence why I usually try to work my sentences into a form that allows singular they when the subject comes up.

  32. Tim Martin said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    @Edith

    And being bigoted means having a bi-

    …oh, well there goes that idea.

  33. wren ng thornton said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I would say that the use of "trans" in "transgender/ed" has more to do with the state of being-across-of some boundary, as opposed to the action of crossing-over that boundary. This can be seen by the use of "cisgender" where the trans/cis distinction is also applied in chemistry. Noone thinks that transfats are somehow being active in crossing something, they are merely of a chiastic arrangement, whereas cisfats are of a parallel arrangement. Thus, transgender folk have a chiastic or antitone alignment between their sex and gender, whereas cisgender folk have a parallel or monotone alignment.

    This notion of "trans" meaning the state of being-across-of is often used in mathematics as well. While some mathematicians use "transfinite" to mean only those which are not finite, it is more common IME for "transfinite" to include the finite as well— with the "trans" meaning that the class in question spans across the finite/nonfinite boundary, rather than being entirely on the nonfinite side.

  34. Bread & roses said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

    sili:

    It may well be that I'm just not fully aware of the conventions for using "transgender", but I can never figure out whether the "woman" in "a transgender woman" is the 'starting point' (Female-to-Male) or the 'endpoint' (Male-to-Female). Is it the 'self-identity' or the 'imposed identy'?

    Me too, though I've settled on the conclusion that the gender named is the endpoint. I am not especially concerned really with whether male or female is the start or endpoint- (it seems, like whether certain surgeries have been performed, to be the sort of detailed and personal medical discussion that is only the business of the trans-person and their doctors and lovers)- but rather that I want to be polite, and I would like to know which gender the transgender person wants to be addressed as. I wish we had more nongendered language, but until we don't, I'd like to know whether each transgender person I know would like to be referred to as "he" or "she", "ma'am" or "sir".

    I don't buy the argument in the post about transgender vs transgendered for the reasons everyone else has given; but I have a notion that transgender might feel better to transgender people because its form encourages use of "person". I don't know the grammatical terms to describe this, but I think "transgendered" can be used more easily as a label, dropping the "person", "he's transgendered"- seems more plausible than "he's transgender". Many (most?) slurs are labels and are used without "person" rather than an adjective modifiying "person".

    But the more I think about it the murkier it seems. If transgender people don't like that "ed", for whatever reason, I'll try to avoid it.

  35. Bread & roses said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    er, "until we don't" should have been either "until we do" or "since we don't", but not both.

  36. wren ng thornton said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    @Sili: "trans(gender(ed)) man" always means male gender, ditto "trans(gender(ed)) woman" == female gender. How that relates to sex or anything else depends on the individual.

  37. Steve Harris said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

    I have a fairly long history of writing in the trans community (admin for the first popular trans email list, Transgen; one of the admins for the Trans-Theory list; both of these are now all but moribund but were the focus of a great deal of activity throughout the 90s), writing sometimes in this name, sometimes under "Stacey Harris".

    There is a very good reason I use "trans" as my adjective of choice above: There has been a great deal of controversy with this community over proper word-choice, with different conventions in different parts of the English-speaking world (and within the US), within different political subdivisions, and in different decades. The perspective I am most familiar with is America in the 90s.

    The first bone of contention is with choice between "transsexual" (sometimes spelled with "transexual") and "transgender(ed)"–both in stark contrast to "transvestite". Although in the British public, there has been some trepidation with "transsexual" due to fear of connotations with sex ("they do it for perverse sexual reasons"), in the US that has not been as much in evidence. None the less, "transsexual" has been losing ground to "transgender(ed)" for the past decade, for reasons which are not entirely clear.

    At least in the US, "transsexual" has generally been claimed by those who undergo genital surgery, and a certain vocal segment of such folk, desiring to keep genital surgery as a bright-line division between those who "really are" and others, have insisted upon reserving "transsexual" precisely for those who either have had genital surgery or are actively in the process of aiming to get it (it takes many years, as a rule, as the standard canons for the surgery require formal recommendation from a knowledgeable mental health professional, the surgery is rather expensive, and it is almost never covered by insurance).

    In contrast, "transgender(ed)" has gained acceptance as a term applying not only to transsexual folk (as above), but also to people who, for instance, transition from one gender role to the other in a social sense, but do not seek genital surgery; or who tend to go back and forth between social gender roles; or who tread a social line which is not clearly gendered; or have feelings of dissatisfaction with either their born-to gender role or their genital organs, but are uncertain whether to do anything about it; and so on. This is the so-called "umbrella" sense of the term.

    There are a few self-described transsexual folk who object to being included within a label that includes people who uninterested in (or uncommitted to) changing genital organs. They wish to restrict "transgender(ed)" to individuals as above, excluding those getting genital surgery. But this more limited scope for "transgender(ed)" has not gained primacy.

    It is primarily for escaping the umbrella/non-umbrella controversy over "transgender(ed)" that I frequently adopt usages that short circuit the question: "trans" or "T*" (the latter suggesting "TS or TG"). The question of what to use so as not to give offense is a delicate one. As always, the one to whom a term is applied is the ultimate determiner of polite usage to that person; but that is of little help when writing to a large audience.

    Finally, getting to the -ed matter:

    I have long preferred to use "transgendered" when speaking of a person. I sometimes introduce myself bysaying, "I am moderately transgendered, meaning not transsexual; I am bigendered". What I mean by "bigendered" is "gendered both masculine and feminine", i.e., I have feelings within me that are commonly held to be characteristic of and exclusive to men and others that are commonly held to be characteristic of and exclusive to women, with neither set predominating over the other. This seems to me to be a quite proper grammatical usage of -ed. I could, I suppose, say "I am bigender", but given that "I am gendered both masculine and feminine" can be said only with the -ed form, I am more comfortable with "bigendered"–and similarly with "transgendered".

    I also use "transgender", to mean "of or about or concerning transgendered people":

    This comment is about transgender language use. I have written much about transgender topics. The transgender community is sometime overly concerned about language use.

    But this distinction between "transgender" and "transgendered" is a minority position.

  38. wren ng thornton said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

    And in case you're still confused, that gender means how they identify, and therefore would be the "endpoint" if you must be so crude.

  39. wren ng thornton said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 7:35 pm

    I also use "transgender", to mean "of or about or concerning transgendered people": […] But this distinction between "transgender" and "transgendered" is a minority position.

    I agree heartily both both of these analyses. As a trans person, I have no problems with the -ed form, and I think it sounds much more natural than the non-ed form. I interpret the non-ed form with the "of, about, or concerning" force, which is why it sounds odd when applied to people, and why it is the appropriate form for organizations etc. (whereas the -ed form would imply that the organization itself is trans). This is the first I've run into this dispute over -ed, so it definitely appears to be a minority position.

  40. Tim said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

    On the topic of the meaning of trans-, I would have thought it was not so much "beyond" (like in place names, such as the aforementioned trans-Carpathian), but more along the lines of, say, transcontinental. Basically, referring to movement between two opposite sides of something, while still being within it. When you ride on a transcontinental railroad, after all, you never move beyond the continent.

    Now, I'm not saying that this is necessarily the most common use of trans-, nor can I speak to whether or not it's appropriate in this case, but it's the meaning I've always assumed was in mind when someone invented the word transgender(ed).

  41. Mark F. said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

    Boris Blagojević said,

    @William Young: you don't have to search for the appropriate word, you already have one – gender ;) What distinguishes transgender people is not inclination towards some gender, it's that they *are* of a gender which doesn't coincide with their biological sex.

    and later in the same comment

    Of course, the distinction between gender and sex is not upheld often colloquially, but it's obviously important here.

    Adopting this meaning of "gender" is not just a matter of formal versus colloquial language. This is a technical usage that has been developed in the social sciences and is not universally recognized. Saying that "gender" properly refers to a socially constructed phenomenon is like saying that "sorting" properly refers only to putting things in sequential order (rather than, say, sorting socks), because that's the sense used in computer science. In fact, there are plenty of people who insist that "gender" properly refers only to grammatical gender. (I don't think they're right either.)

  42. Joyce Melton said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

    The -ed suffix for creating an adjective from a noun implies a separability of the attribute. It also does not seem to be generally used to turn an adjective into a class noun. The objection against the use of transgendered over transgender appears to be an objection to both of these things.

    Transgender persons seem not to think of their condition as separable in the way that having blue eyes or a bigot's opinions are; they believe that being transgender is essential to one's self in the way that being male, black or gay is.

    Also, many seem to object to the creation of a class label that implies separability or an agent outside of themselves.

  43. Vickie said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    One can be "transgendered" the same way one can be "blessed" or "damned" (or "bigendered," if the active agent hedges its bets). It's a state done unto someone, presumably at birth by evolutionary "chance variegation" (as Darwin described such anomalies), possibly by social influences acting on some inborn proclivity. But one doesn't choose or accomplish it one's self. Rather, that's what one discovers is an inclination or state of mind despite any possible desires to the contrary. It can be costly in many ways, but it can also be advantageous — a bigendered M.D. of my acquaintance once called us (I'm now abandoning the impersonal, ungendered pronoun "one") "GEMs," that is, gender enhanced males. I'm myself "enhanced," not an "enhance," and partially transgendered, not a partial transgender. That others may be "transsexuals," not "transsexualed," can be their own choice. After SRS — sex reassignment surgery — they have certainly been trans-sexed.

  44. John Cowan said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 12:10 am

    Transatlantic accent does not mean an accent spoken in the middle of the ocean, nor by people who cross the ocean; it means an accent that sounds vaguely American in Great Britain and vaguely British in America (originally, an artificial accent taught to actors; now, more often the result of a naturally acquired, but heavily overlaid, accent.

  45. Jesse Vernon said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 12:57 am

    From a style perspective, this grammatical parsing of "transgender" versus "transgendered" is utterly moot. Both Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (the dictionary preferred by CMS) and Webster's New World College Dictionary (the dictionary preferred by AP) list "transgender" (adj.) as the main entry and "transgendered" as the variant form of the word. The only reason that the word "transgendered" would appear in print (ink/pixel) in a quality publication is shoddy copyediting.

    Also, exactly what use of "transgendered" is the letter writer complaining about? The current online version of the column doesn't include the word "transgendered" anywhere.

  46. Will Steed said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 1:08 am

    Side note: I find "same-sex attracted" an acceptable phrase, despite *homosexualed and *transgendered. I hadn't considered that my primary use is transgender rather than transgendered before. I'm accidentally politically correct.

  47. Boris Blagojević said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 1:12 am

    @Mark F.
    I'm not insisting that gender must be used only in the technical sense of social construct – that would be quite prescriptivist, and that I wouldn't want.
    What I'm saying is that the distinction is useful and desirable when talking about this particular topic in the same way the distinction between grammatical gender and biological sex is useful when discussing grammars of gendered (? :)) European languages. "People whose gander doesn't mach their biological sex" sounds much more precise and correct (factually, not just politically) than "boys who want to be girls" and the like.

    Of course, you could say that it doesn't really, if nobody knows what exactly do you mean by it, but to offer a different analogy: it's similar to weight/mass distinction. Usually it's irrelevant and we're happily oblivious of it, and I'd consider it madness to correct someone if they're talking about weighing groceries (listen here sir, I don't give a damn how hard Earth attracts them, what I want to know is their mass!). But if the issue at hand are, say, moon landings, I'd expect that the words be chosen more carefully, if it's relevant. And since the transgender people are for now much more interesting and important subject for the general community (after all, they are a part of it), I think it would be fair for the educated members of that community to know the basic terminology.

  48. Rolig said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 4:44 am

    @ Steve Harris: Thank you for writing. Your comments are very helpful in clarifying both how important and how controversial such nomenclature is especially among the very people who are seeking words to describe themselves and their experiences. For those outside this group who wish not to offend, there is a desire for a clear and "correct" terminology, and often an impatience with the fact that it can take generations for such a terminology to emerge. Consider the conflicted histories of naming people of sub-Saharan ancestry or naming those who are sexually attracted to others of their gender.

    @ Jesse Vernon: While a copyeditor may find comfort in a rule that says the "main entry" in a dictionary is always to be preferred to a "variant form", this hardly means that the variant form is incorrect or its use the result of "shoddy copyediting". On the contrary, such labeling means that the dictionary finds that there is more than one correct form. There is nothing wrong (from the lexicographer's view) with a publication deciding, for example, that "transgendered" is to be used as a modifier for persons and "transgender" to mean "concerning or related to such persons".

  49. Lance said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 5:58 am

    I wrote about this myself three years ago, also right after reading a letter to a newspaper which made this same point. That letter-writer, unlike Bridget Smith, made clear that the grammatical point they were making is actually the official stance of GLAAD, as spelled out in their Media Reference Guide:

    The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous "-ed" tacked onto the end. An "-ed" suffix adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. For example, it is grammatically incorrect to turn transgender into a participle, as it is an adjective, not a verb, and only verbs can be used as participles by adding an "-ed" suffix.

    which gives, perhaps, a little context to the claim made by Smith in the letter to the NYT Magazine.

  50. [links] Link salad returns from the coast, flies to Omaha | jlake.com said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 7:23 am

    […] Transgender(ed) — Grammatical arguments about identity and labeling. […]

  51. Alexa S. said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 8:37 am

    I think the problem with the word 'transgendered' is that it mimics the construction of the words 'male-gendered' and 'female-gendered', and suggests that 'trans-' is one's gender.

    Trans isn't in itself a gender identity, it is a word describing how one's gender relates to the sex they have been assigned at birth. Most trans people find that 'male' or 'female' correctly describes their gender identity.

    'Transgender' is a better word because with gender as a noun, the prefix 'trans-' shows the relation to gender rather than describing the gender itself. (I do also think that overall, the word 'trans' is considered most favorable.)

  52. John Cowan said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 9:34 am

    See also generally Why Should I Care What Color the Bikeshed Is?

  53. Angus Grieve-Smith said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    Hoo hoo, John Cowan! That's it in a nutshell!

    As a transgender person, I just want to say that I really don't give a rat's ass about whether anyone uses the -ed or not, and I get really frustrated when people like Bridget Smith presume to speak for all transgender people. We don't even know how many TG people there are in the world; how are we supposed to know what suffixes they all prefer?

  54. Sili said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 11:06 am

    And in case you're still confused, that gender means how they identify, and therefore would be the "endpoint" if you must be so crude.

    Thanks. Was that so hard now?

    As a chemist I'm too mired in the Gallia transalpina/cisalpina mindset, so for me "trans man" mentally translates to "on the other side of man" – hence my tendency to confusion.

  55. Lauren said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 11:35 am

    For a bit of info, no person with a disability with a shred of dignity uses "differently-abled" – bad examples to justify a bad (not grammatically but socially) formulation of a word, brilliant.

  56. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

    I too am grateful for the comments from people who know what they're talking about, and not just because a young transgender(ed) man is signed up for one of my classes this fall.

    On a linguistic point, unmodified eyed exists in the names of insects, such as the eyed click beetle and the eyed brown (which is not brown-eyed). Unmodified legged also exists; the first page of hits on "a legged" was mostly about robots, but there are also references to "legged invertebrates". I can't see applying either of them to people (in the "provided with" sense), though.

  57. K Murri said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    I read the LL entry "Boroditsky on Whorfian navigation and blame" (on whether language affects thought) before reading this discussion, which leads me to ask:

    What if a language had no words for gender or words tied to gender?

    But I ran out of steam as soon as I tried to articulate this imaginary culture without using any gender terms. Maybe someone with a better imagination than mine can manage it.

  58. chris said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    What if a language had no words for gender or words tied to gender?

    ISTM that we would have to conclude that the subject was either utterly outside their experience (seems impossible for a culture of biologically human beings) or so uninteresting that they had never bothered trying to talk about it (this is the imagination-breaking-down part, or another impossibility, depending on your philosophy of human psychology), because otherwise it surely couldn't have been that hard to have invented some, even if it's only by adding secondary meanings to existing words or borrowing words from other languages the speakers have come in contact with. (Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but the phrase "person with a cigar" might acquire a secondary meaning if there is nothing else to convey that same meaning… if anyone bothers to discuss the distinction, that is.)

    …But then, I'm interpreting the word in its vague ordinary language meaning. A language can easily have no words for grammatical gender by not having any, and I suppose it's possible that it could have no words for the sociological constructs of gender by existing solely in a culture that doesn't have them. The latter is kind of hard to imagine too, given the human penchant for essentialism and the fact that most human beings actually can be grouped into two groups of people with some characteristics more or less in common — then the essentialism takes over and declares rigid categories and starts shoehorning in the edge cases with as much Procrusteanism as necessary.

    P.S. It seems to me that because thought affects language so strongly, any effect in the reverse direction would be rather hard to detect, if it does exist. So I've long been skeptical of some of the stronger forms of Sapir-Whorf — but I also suspect that some of the really strong forms are strawmen.

  59. Bloix said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

    "What distinguishes transgender people is not inclination towards some gender, it's that they *are* of a gender which doesn't coincide with their biological sex."

    So we have a fundamental, perfect, spiritual, Platonic, binary category – gender – which is imperfectly expressed in the imperfect material world of actual human biology – sex. I'm not aware that there is scientific evidence for this proposition and I don't see any reason to conform my speech as if I believed it.

  60. Angus Grieve-Smith said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

    Yes, Bloix, it's certainly not true of all transgender people that we *are* of one gender and that it's different from our biological sex. But there are some who want to define everyone else out of the category.

  61. Jen said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

    The reason people started using "transgender(ed)" instead of "transsexual" is because the "-sexual" par tof the word has a negative connotation. Just do an uncensored google image search for "transsexual" and you will see what I mean. Trannsexuals are not sexual objects or pornographic objects as many people tend to think they are.

    This is why it is disappointing English uses the same word, "sex", for both the gender of a person and the act of intercourse.

    BTW, what does "unlockable" mean? It's ambiguous with one meaning the direct opposite of the other. Saw the word used in a newspaper recently regarding a new law and pool drains and could not figure out which sense they intended for the life of me. Same goes for "inflammable".

  62. Kellie said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

    Some people employ "trans"/"transgender"/"transsexual" as identity labels, while others reject this usage; this reflects diversity and variability in identity construction and orientation to dominant social categories of gender. One person on a male-to-female trajectory may identify only as female and feel that being transgender is more a matter of circumstance than identity ("I am not transitioning to become a trans woman but simply a woman"). Another person on a similar (or different) life trajectory may not identify with a specific gender but a blend of genders and thus find "transgender" an appropriate identity label. And the use of "transgender" as an umbrella term adds further ambiguity to the connotations of "transgender" as a label.

    The use of the -ed adjectival form may be informed in part by a concern over whether transgender constitutes an identity per se, whether it signifies an attribute or whether it defines one's membership in a social category. The suffixed form is clearly adjectival in a way that "transgender" is not whereas "transgender" is nominal and frequently used as a catch-all category (the "T" tacked on to LGBT).

    I also have noticed the use of this suffix in discourse pertaining to intersex; instead of the label "intersexual", "intersexed person/man/woman/etc" is becoming more common. This avoids the implication that intersex is necessarily an identity per se, and it also prevents misrecognition of intersex as a sexual orientation (on morphological analogy with bisexual/heterosexual/pansexual/homosexual/etc.). I have wondered why we don't hear of "transsexed people" as opposed to "transsexuals" (where the spectre of sexualization is even more profound); perhaps the availability of less sexualizing options in "transgender" and "transgendered" is one reason.

  63. bloix said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

    My apologies, Angus Grieve-Smith, for being testy (my normal emotional state, as it happens). To make my point more reasonably, I expect that there is considerable and probably fairly heated debate about the biological/developmental/social/cultural/historical origin and nature of transgender personalities and I would like to be able to talk about such things without having being forced, simply by a choice among the only available words, to take a position in debates that I'm barely aware exist and have no competence to have a position on.

    Still testy, I suppose, but perhaps more clear.

  64. Steve Harris said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 2:03 am

    Bloix, I think it's a commonplace that one cannot engage in conversation in a controversial topic without, perforce, making comments that are going to engage one side or another of the controversy. It helps to know what the points of controversy are, so that one can avoid appearing insensitive simply through ignorance—or, alternatively, so that one may deliberately express insensitivity to some particular viewpoint.

    The issue with respect to trans people is one of groupings, often as indicated through language. The biggest issue is with the most ordinary words: "man" and "woman" (equivalently, "male" and "female"). Those trans people who assert an identity as (say) women, in spite of not having been born with female-appearing bodies, are generally interested in having only the word "woman" applied to them (at least in general contexts). This is both a social issue and a linguistic one: Shall society construe the word "woman" to apply to those born with putatively male bodies but currently having bodies cursorily indistinguishable from that of women generally? Shall society extend the word also to include those who appear, behave, and interact normatively as women, but (say) have female-typical breasts, have had testicles removed, but have not undergone vaginoplasty? Being grouped within the proper sex is of paramount interest to these trans folk—grouped by both social interaction and by labeling of word. And controversy exists because others resist these specific groupings—typically fought over restroom usage and right to marriage.

    The controversy over transexual/transgender(ed) is much smaller, inside-baseball, really. But again it's a matter of grouping: Shall one word–transgender(ed)–cover both those intent upon genital surgery and those not so committed, or shall the former be transsexual and *only* the latter be transgender(ed)? The linguistic question is taken as a token for a philosophical one: Is it proper to make a categorical and socially meaningful distinction between trans people getting and not getting their genitals to match their gender? In other words, ought a person's placement within man/woman be determined solely by the person's (possibly reconstructed) genitals? Thus, this harks back to the second question above—but it is so seen only by those within the trans community, alive to the issue.

    The controversy over the -ed in transgender(ed) is a tempest in a teaspoon. No one not within the trans community is even aware of this as being a question (till this appeared), and it is a question that can be safely ignored by everyone else.

    Calling someone a man when they claim to be a woman is clearly a Big Deal. Using "transgendered" or "transsexual" might get you a mild lecture from someone who feels you've transgressed, but it's a much smaller point. "Transgender" vs. "transgendered"? Anyone who takes offense at either is someone to be avoided at all costs.

  65. Dr. Rachel McKinnon said,

    December 7, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

    This is an old post, I know, but perhaps this comment will receive at least some attention.

    Here's the thing: "transgendered" *ought* to be blocked by the adjectival form "transgender," even if it's not yet. The argument Arnold offers against the "gayed" analogy is poor.

    "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."

    This is *not* a good argument. It sounds fine to your ear, I suspect, because you don't know any better. You're of the (oppressor) class who coined the term and imposed it on trans* people. We're trying to block "transgendered" by the adjectival form "transgender," so appealing to *YOUR* intuitions is really the wrong way to go. How about you put down the cis privilege and cis intuitions, and just listen?

    I don't like going into discourses like "oppressor" and "cissexist," but sometimes it's apt.

  66. RG said,

    January 17, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

    Linguists use the term "intuition" in a particular sense different from the one you're using. When linguists talk about intuitions what they mean is intuitions regarding the grammaticality of a given word or utterance– not how palatable the content expressed by that word/utterance is. So when Horn (and it is he who wrote the above post, not Zwicky) says a particular phrase sounds fine to his ear, he means on a purely grammatical level. So if, for instance, a linguist said the sentence "All left-handed people should be poisoned" sounds fine, what they mean is it sounds grammatical; of course the content is deplorable. (And of course I could have picked a far more deplorable example, but for the sake of decency I'll stick to nonexistent prejudices not rooted in power imbalances.)

    To say that grammatical intuitions aren't shared between cis and trans people would be a bold and probably problematic claim. While there are probably interesting sociolinguistic generalizations that can be made re: cis and trans speakers (LeAnn Brown's done interesting work on this), to say that trans speakers categorically reject utterances (for grammatical reasons) that cis speakers accept suggests that gender identity determines a speaker's grammar, and, well, I probably don't have to explain why that's troublesome…

    Finally, note that Horn's post isn't an argument that people shouldn't use the term "transgender". He's just saying that, whatever the merits of the term are, they don't seem to follow from the particular grammatical explanation given by Smith. (So there are possibly other reasons—some grammatical, some extra-grammatical—for preferring "transgender". Key among them, I think, are those that you mentioned: trans people using their own terms, rather than those imposed on them by cis people.)

  67. Dr. Rachel McKinnon said,

    March 17, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

    RG: I know exactly how it's being used: I deal with linguistics and linguists a fair bit in my research. My point is that linguists often have differing intuitions on the grammality of a word or phrase. It matters whose intuitions we use here, though: should we give precedence to the intuitions of those who aren't potentially harmed by particular linguistic choices, or should we defer to the intuitions of those who are so affected. Given that Arnold is, I assume, cisgender, his intuitions don't matter too much here. Should "transgender" function analogously to "gay" or "left-handed"? That's the question here: transgender people are saying that it ought to behave like "gay" and *not* like "left-handed."

    That's an intuition based on grammality, partly because we can't (or at least, ought not) completely separate grammality from semantics (thanks to feminist critiques of language, here).

    The argument is about how "transgender" ought to behave grammatically: my criticism is that he's using *his* intuitions, and that makes who he is relevant: a cisgender male. Who we are affects our intuitions (if that weren't the case, we'd expect every grammar style book to be identical: they aren't, because the authors have different grammatical intuitions).

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