November 06, 2007

SOFFA (significant other, friends, family, and ally) linguistics

Over at TransGroupBlog, Helen Boyd traces the communities in which various terms are used to describe the partners or potential partners of trans folks. She also touches on words for friends, family, and allies.

She addresses terms like SO, SOFFA, partner, chaser, admirer, trans-amorous, transsensual, and NQAL. Some of these terms, she says are more often used by partners of FTMs, others of MTFs, some of heterosexual-identified partners, and others of queer-identified partners.

I think it is interesting because some of the terms that she labels as "partner of ftm" terms, I would call "used more among younger communities of trans folks and allies." A couple of the "partner of mtf" terms, I would identify with partners of mtfs over 40. What do you think?

And more broadly, do you see gender differences in trans communities lumped with age differences? Who does that leave out? Personally, I think that it sucks when trans gatherings intended to be limited to my age group, perhaps in order to discuss unique issues or to focus on a particular gender-specific brands of feminism/politics leave out trans women in the process. As someone who fits into this expected gender/age group, I try to advocate for inclusion when I can but I wish I had ideas about how to do more, particularly as someone who feels like they fit into only the edge of the trans community.

And for the linguists among you, what do you see as the uses of these SOFFA terms (for lack of a better word)?


helen_boyd said...

hey! someone cares! thanks.

one of the reasons i use "partner" is that it seems to be the only term that crosses the boundaries. having been both between generations (30+) and between orientations (het/queer), i've been sensitive to non-inclusive language.

Anonymous said...

I really do like "partner" for that reason. The only problem is if you are around businesspeople or lawyers who assume "partner" means business relationship.

It's important to think about how we can have more conversations across boundaries and what language to use to best have those conversations.


maudite entendante said...

Heh; I can't believe it's taken me this long to reply to a post which seems essentially geared to me. (thanks, WTTO!)

For what it's worth, I use "partner" to refer to our specific relationship, but when I'm talking about my relationship to the trans community in general, it doesn't seem very accurate. I mean, I'm not the community's partner ... my social calendar simply doesn't have enough slots!

In those circumstances, I use SOFFA - hello! 20-something partner of a transmasculine person, right here! However, I started using the term when I was dating a transwoman, living with another transwoman, and preliminarily crushing on a third transwoman. I was still a 20-something, true, but not at all engaged with the FTM scene.

It's odd, though - if I were a friend, family member, or ally, but not a significant other, I'd probably just call myself an ally. It seems like SOFFA is almost a cover term for SO's who don't want to out their partners, since it gives a certain plausible deniability ("ohhh, I could be any of the letters in the acronym"). In reality, though, it does seem to be reserved for partners. (Also, I pronounce it like the furniture, mostly because it then can devolve into jokes about "your little loveseat.")

I have to say ... I hadn't heard NQAL before, but it really puts a run in my stockings. Or rather, the description of people who qualify as NQALs as "lesbians with FTM partners who are stealth." As far as I'm concerned, whether or not your partner is stealth, calling yourself a lesbian while you're dating a man is flat-out disrespectful. And calling yourself "not quite a lesbian" implies that you could be a lesbian if only it weren't for the inconvenient maleness of your partner. (Which, incidentally, is an attitude that I definitely hear from a lot of dyke-identified partners of FTMs.)

I'm sorry, you don't get it both ways. You can't respect and acknowledge your partner's gender identity and retain an identity label which necessarily contradicts it.

(more thoughts later, when I'm not supposed to be doing homework...)

Anonymous said...

M.E., I was interested in your opinion although I wasn't trying to single you out because I know their are lots of other folks who read this who know about the topic.

I often hear quenchistas who do not happen to currently be dating a trans person say "ally" rather than "soffa," too. Interesting.

I think the specific relationship vs community distinction is an important and interesting one. I guess I hadn't thought of it from that perspective but it makes sense.

I agree with what you said about NQAL. Although on the other hand, it would be hard for me to ask someone to drop an identity label they have held for a long time. But you have to choose respect and then talk it over with your so and decide how to do it. It's hard for me to imagine NQAL being the outcome of that.

So to you, M.E., SOFFA = partner of a trans person (at least when it's used) and ally = everyone else. Have others experienced this?


Anonymous said...

In response to maudite e:

So, what's a lesbian to do? I *am* a lesbian in that I am sexually attracted to women. I also happen to be sexually attracted to transmen.

It's just that there's no word for that.

Dating a transman doesn't make me not a lesbian. It just doesn't. But I understand that omitting my attraction to transguys when I announce my orientation could be hurtful. It's also unclear.

So, then. I am not 'bi'; I am not attracted to cis men. I am not 'pansexual'; I am not attracted to someone "regardless of their sexuality." I'm actually specifically attracted to people's sexuality.

Can I say I'm a 'soffa lesbian'? My definition of this would be: The nebulous group of people I find myself sexually attracted to -so far- only seems to include some women and some transguys.

Maybe, yes?