Eliza Steinbock
Trans. Sources, Perspectives Methodologies
– Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Gender volume 1
Book Chapter 2016


The term trans is a word-forming element. The original meaning, in Latin, is “across, beyond, through, on the other side of, to go beyond,” with the prefixal meaning of crossing (trans-Atlantic), changing (transformation), or between (transracial). What are the stakes of invoking a term that both invites and confounds oppositional thinking (male–female, masculine–feminine) in the context of feminist debates on the “sex/gender system” and the “heterosexual matrix”? Trans has the power to create new sets of vocabulary that are sensitive to emergence and processual transitioning; hence, trans goes beyond sex change ways of thinking that are entrenched in binary switches. In gender studies, trans is a key term that derives from discussions on self and group identity, that revises medical nomenclature like transsexual and transvestite, and that articulates political demands for groups like Global Action for Trans* Empowerment. Shifting from a prefix to an adjective, in this chapter, trans also qualifies a person by describing, naming, or modifying their gender identity. … This chapter considers trans as it intersects with debates in feminism and queer theory by successively exploring the ways in which it functions as a linguistic modifier of gender concepts, performs as a subject of analysis, and constitutes a field of studies.