Trans asterisk

I hate the term trans* because I'm not a footnote. The term transgender is an umbrella term that already encompasses those things. There's no need to have an asterisk.

—Hyden Seek,[1] comment on the Sam Killermann article on trans*[2]

This infographic, created by Sam Killermann of genderbread person fame, helped to popularize the term. Unfortunately it is completely wrong, even though it means well.[2]

Trans* (sometimes referred to as trans asterisk) is a proposed umbrella term for trans people. Within social justice, especially transgender rights activism, it is sometimes used with the intention to make the word "trans" more inclusive. It has however come under criticism because it fails to address a real problem:

Trans (without the asterisk) is best applied to trans men and trans women, while the asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all non-cisgender gender identities.[3]

This is in fact a misunderstanding of what the word trans means. Trans is defined exactly as "all non-cisgender" people. Transgender is anybody who does not identity with the gender assigned to them at birth, this by definition includes non-binary people. Trans without the asterisk has always been an umbrella term.


The asterisk represents an "inclusion theater", by making the assumption that "trans" did not already include non-binary individuals. Proponents of the trans* label argue that the asterisk functions as a wildcard character and consequently includes everyone under the "transgender umbrella".[4][5] This concept is based on the aforementioned misunderstanding that "trans" only refers to a specific subset of transgender identities. Instead of fighting for "*" to mean "includes non-binary people", social justice advocates should be fighting for greater awareness of how "trans" already includes all transgender identities, by definition:[6]

The addition of the asterisk was made by dfab trans people who felt like trans women were talking about their struggles too much and that there needed to be more room in the community for everyone else, which is an issue on it’s own. But most people using the asterisk don’t know this, and use it because they think that it makes the term more inclusive of all identities under the “trans umbrella.” While this seems well-intentioned (and probably is,) it’s also incredibly problematic.

You see, there is no “trans umbrella.” Trans (or transgender) is the umbrella term. Transgender means to identify as any gender other than the one you were assigned at birth. That’s it! Saying that the asterisk is somehow “more inclusive” is like saying that some non-cisgender people aren’t “trans enough” to be called just trans. Often these people who apparently aren’t considered trans enough are trans women, non-binary people, pre-op people, and those who do not experience dysphoria.[7]


Criticism of the asterisk has come from all the people "trans*" is said to be inclusive of, e.g., trans women and third gender people of colour.[8][9][10] It also has received criticism from those who understand that the asterisk used in this context (as a Kleene star operator and/or as a regular expression wildcard) does not actually provide a suitable umbrella:[5]

Since I assume that most people would not expect trans* to include transport, transubstantiation or even transition; its claimed connection to a multi-character wildcard seems rather forced.[11]

Instead of representing inclusion, the asterisk represents erasure of non-binary individuals and trans women as "not trans enough".[7] As transgender means anybody who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, therefore anybody who is not cis is, by definition, included under the trans umbrella. The use of a wildcard character (and a common footnote indicator) also relegates those allegedly excluded from the definition of "trans" to a being an afterthought or footnote. This has the effect of privileging some transgender people by allowing them to other and exclude the very people who are supposedly represented by and included with the asterisk. [9]

Allowing some trans people to be true trans and some to be trans* is a compromise, an act of respectability politics, to appease truscum and Harry Benjamin syndrome supporters.[9]

In addition, the asterisk has led to increased opportunities for cisplaining:

the reason the asterisk erases trans women, and non-binary trans women, and other trans maab people is because of how its used by the wider world. when cafab people use it they are almost always exclusively talking about themselves and people like them. people coercively inject the asterisk into things they say about me and its clearly some kind of weird power move and a backhanded way to degender me.[12]

See also

External links