I’m about to do something very inappropriate, which might get my get-out-of-jail-free-for-having-hairy-
I’m pretty much as out about being transgendered as it’s possible to get. I write about it publicly here on my own blog and, with more of a slant toward its intersection with paganism, over on Patheos. Consequently, transphobia comes up fairly often. But what is transphobia?
As a word, it derives from the more commonly used homophobia, the fear of homosexuality. However, though it came later to our language, I suspect that it is actually the more general term. Yes, I’m appropriating homosexuality as being a subset of transphobia. Why, you might ask?
Literally, transphobia is usually read to mean fear of, or prejudice toward, transgendered people. I’d argue that what it really means is fear of, or prejudice toward any individual that doesn’t fit the well-established societal norms for someone of their perceived gender. Though this initially seems like a nearly identical definition, it is actually far wider and is implicitly inclusive of many other kinds of prejudice.
Example #1: A cisgendered woman who happens to be very tall, with naturally masculine bone structure, receives hatred from people who mistake her for a transgendered woman. I’ve known a number of women who fall into this category. The hate they receive isn’t qualitatively different from the hate I receive, yet our personal etiologies are completely different. It is not unheard of for cisgendered women with masculine facial features to electively undergo the same facial feminization surgery as many transgendered women, with similar results.
Example #2: A naturally effeminate cisgendered, straight man, is mistaken for a gay man and subject to homophobic violence. I’ve also known quite a few men who have experienced this. I have a strong suspicion that the motivation for such attacks is actually because people see someone who does not follow the masculine male script, and therefore react violently. Is this homophobia? Yes. Is this transphobia? I’d argue yes, also, because of the motivation – seeing someone not follow the gender script is the trigger, not the assumption of homosexuality. People in this category are gay bashed because they look or seem gay, not because they necessarily are gay.
In both of these examples, the people concerned aren’t (necessarily) homosexual or transgendered. Their attackers don’t (necessarily) have any idea what their relationship status might be – they may be in any kind of relationship, but attackers never usually bother to stop and ask first.
A third, important, example are intersex people. This is actually way more common than most people realize – statistically, at least an order of magnitude more likely in any individual than the (somewhat outdated) diagnosis of transsexuality. Intersex people aren’t necessarily transgendered – the two groups have issues that do not overlap entirely. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite common for people who were originally thought to be transgendered to later discover that they are intersex. Some intersex people resent being lumped in with transgendered people and get quite upset about this, but it’s pretty clear that both groups are on the receiving end of transphobia.
Let’s take this a bit further:
Example #3: A childless cisgendered woman is appointed as a higher-up manager at a large company. If she follows her gender script, she is regarded as weak, meaning that she is ignored, passed over for promotion and possibly pushed out. If she doesn’t follow the script, she’s regarded as aggressive, a bitch, acting above her station. In this case, if she follows the script, she sees good old-fashioned misogyny. If she doesn’t follow the script, if she’s seen as behaving like a man, people react very negatively, aggressively, even violently. This actually also fits the definition of transphobia.
Example #4: A cisgendered man chooses to become a stay-at-home parent while his partner works. Though this is increasingly common, it’s still regarded as weird, non-normative. Support networks for stay-at-home mothers often shun stay-at-home fathers.
So, to sum up, none of these examples actually involve people who would normally be described as transgendered, yet all of them experience transphobia. I would argue that homophobia is actually a special case of transphobia – a proper subset, defined only by the sexual preference of the individuals, a characteristic often actually unknown and just assumed by the attacker. Much of what we see as misogyny, and indeed misandry, can also be seen as special cases, proper subsets, of transphobia.
The history of the struggle for civil rights for queer people is also the history of the struggle against transphobia. Transgendered people are the most visible of all of the groups that fall inside the queer alphabet soup, so they have always been in the front line. Stonewall was all about the drag queens and the transgendered people hitting their limit regarding the abuse they had received, drawing a line in the sand and fighting back, yet their story was coopted, retold and effectively erased in a heavily lesbian- and gay-dominated history.
The real enemy here is transphobia itself – fighting this requires everyone affected by it to work together, rather than be subjected to the divide-and-conquer consequences of more traditional queer politics.
Right now, in the news, we’re hearing about Facebook’s complicity with people who are reporting anyone publicly identifiable as transgendered, forcibly outing them on pain of digital exile. Make no bones about it, this is transphobia. The people reporting the drag queens are transphobic. Facebook’s complicity shows the company’s policies to be transphobic, and consequently the attitudes of their upper management to be transphobic.
Someone reposted my previous essay on the Facebook real names/real gender policy issue, suggesting that I was a whacko, and that this issue didn’t really matter, presumably because he couldn’t see any way that it affected him.
Maybe I am a whacko, in the sense that being a whacko, i.e., easily written off as crazy and consequently having opinions not worthy of consideration, because I don’t follow the script. I could go on about how being described as crazy is ableist, and non-script-following is really orthogonal to actual mental illness, but really, yes, this is yet another example of transphobia. If the person who called me a whacko is still listening, yes, you’re a transphobe. Think about it. Do you really want to be that guy?
And while we’re at it – to Facebook management — seriously, you people are committing a PR disaster. Your policies give being that guy a bad name. You are already seeing an exodus of queer people, but do you really want to be the next Chick-fil-A, where your brand has become synonymous with ‘I am a douchebag’?
Please note: this was cross-posted from my main blog at http://www.mageofmachines.com/main/
#MoMBlog, #Musings, #TransgenderActivism