This isn’t a pleasant post to write, but it’s one that I really do need to. I often talk about the struggles of being trans – the internal dialogues and conflicts, the difficult decisions, the hoops that need to be jumped through. There’s a lot of soul-searching, and introspection that accompanies the process of transition. And interpersonal relationships can also be quite tricky.
But it doesn’t end there. It’s not just our relationships with ourselves and with those around us that change when we come out as trans. It’s our relationship with the entire world.
And the truth is that the world is still, very often, not a friendly place for those who are trans.
Some of you might have seen the video address I made a few months ago, for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Already, 2016 has seen multiple trans people murdered across the globe, as well as a number of suicides. Trans women of colour are still those in the greatest danger, but trans men and non-binary people are also at risk of suicide and hate crime.
Our human rights have either yet to be established, or are in danger of being attacked by new legislation, depending on where in the world we find ourselves. Just last week, North Carolina passed new legislation that outlaws non-discrimination laws.
There are many battles still to be fought for those of us who are trans. And the evidence is incontrovertible – there are large swathes of people who simply hate us. Never having met us, never having interacted with us, never having considered for a moment that we too are human, they simply hate us. Our very existence is intolerable.
Many of us have had bad experiences. Many of us still will. And we live in a world where those who are less readily identifiable as trans are safer than those of us who aren’t.
As you know, if you’re reading this blog, I don’t hide the fact that I’m trans. I do radio shows and magazine interviews and all kinds of public appearances. I even have a book coming out soon. I’m certainly not hiding.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not fearful. That I don’t wonder if there might be some horrible consequences or repercussions for what I do. That spreading awareness and telling my story, though I wholeheartedly believe it to be the right thing to do, may in fact jeopardise my safety.
It’s jarring, having to come to terms with the idea that other people find me to be threatening, or repulsive, or immoral, because of the simple fact of my identity. But it’s the truth. I’ve had pleasant interactions with people, where we’ve met, and chatted, and joked around and got along just fine, absolutely no problem. But then, after the fact, when they discover I’m trans? Shut out, shunned, rejected, cursed at, threatened – you name it. All of my worth as a human, all of the interpersonal interactions shared rendered meaningless because of one detail of my history.
Nothing else has changed – it’s just that the other party has the knowledge now that I’m trans. I’m still just as warm, friendly, compassionate, charming, witty, attractive as before. But suddenly, because I am trans, I’m no longer acceptable.
I’ve lost out on a lot of things in life, because of that little detail. Property deals, job opportunities, friendships, relationships. And I know, the textbook response to this is that “You’re better off without those kinds of people in your life anyway”, and of course this is the truth. They are bigots – of course. And it’s their problem, not mine. But it saddens me that my transness and my transition, the very things that have allowed me the freedom to be the best me that I can be, also limit so many of my opportunities. That they potentially even put my safety at risk. And for what?
Well, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. Thinking about what it is about me that is so offensive, so repugnant, so horrifying. Why certain people receive me with fear and hatred and revulsion and disgust.
Why do people hate us so much that they beat us, rape us, murder us, or drive us to suicide?
It’s not simple dislike. Dislike does not have consequences so drastic. Dislike does not lead people to kill.
The answer? We are seen as a threat.
It’s the only possibility that makes sense. You might not like who I am, or what I do, or the freedoms I have. But unless you feel that on some level that they – or that I – am a threat to you, you’re not likely to act with such extreme malice.
Now, it’s hard for me to understand this concept fully. Sure, I come across as an ice queen sometimes. I have a bit of a reputation for it, even. Maybe that’s because I’m outspoken, and feminist, and confident. My friends call me a “fearless, badass bitch”. But while that might be true of me as an individual, it isn’t universal to all trans people. And even on a personal level, although there is some fearlessness and badassery, I’m also quite tender, empathic, soft, and vulnerable. If you know me personally, you already know this. And if you read my blog, you’ve probably got a sense of it by now.
So it can’t be the personal factors. It can’t be who I am as a person that is perceived as threatening, but rather it must be what I am. What I am… well, there’s a lot to it. But some of the bigger defining attributes are these:
- I’m a woman
- I’m trans
- I’m lesbian
Let’s try to pull apart what it is about these things that people find so threatening (fair warning – I’m about to get pretty feminist about all this).
You’ve heard of my “friend”, The Patriarchy?
It’s that institution that, among other things, espouses the idea that femininity is inferior to masculinity, and that women are inferior to men, and that trans people are inferior to cis people.
Here’s how my situation interacts with these ideas:
I was assigned male at birth. And “logic” dictates that male > female. So by transitioning, and living openly and honestly as the woman that I am, I call that kind of logic into question. Because, transitioning is hard, and being male is better, and here I am defying all common sense and throwing away my male privilege, and going through literally-hell in order to “live as a woman”. The implication there is that perhaps the assumption that maleness is intrinsically better is perhaps less indisputable than originally thought… and, by extension, this threatens the security of anyone who finds safety in their own masculinity.
It works in reverse, too. If someone assigned female at birth is transitioning and claiming a more masculine identity, this is interpreted as an attempt to grasp some of that male superiority. By someone for whom it isn’t their birth right. And people can find that pretty darn threatening.
But, back to my case.
So being a woman is already pretty bad in the eyes of the world at large, but being a trans woman is especially worse. And it doesn’t end there, either. According to reports, I’m regarded generally as being fairly attractive. Now, from my point of view, it’s all pretty simple. If you’re a straight dude, and you’re attracted to me, you’re still straight, because I’m a woman. If you’re a lesbian woman, and you’re attracted to me, you’re still lesbian, because I’m a woman. It’s quite straight-forward (heh), right?
But some people don’t quite get that. Being attracted to me threatens their understanding of their own sexuality. Now, this is all tied in to the toxic ideas that society has about trans people – the idea that we “used to be a <man/woman>”, or that we’re trying to fool or deceive people, that we’re really something other than what we are. It’s these ideas – the same ones that invalidate and diminish our own self-worth and identities – that also damage cis people who find themselves threatened by us. If you fundamentally doubt the legitimacy of trans people and their identities (SPOILER ALERT: that’s a shitty thing to do anyway), then you might find yourself very uncomfortable if you’re attracted to me.
And then, there’s my own sexual orientation. Because I’m a woman, and because I’m trans, I’m subject to a lot of objectification. People are encouraged to think that they have some sort of right to our bodies. Sometimes this is expressed by way of invasive and inappropriate questioning (“Have you had The Surgery?“), but sometimes it takes a much more tangible form. People think they have a right to touch or feel or interact physically with our bodies, simply because we are trans.
In fact, some will go so far as to think that we have an obligation to be interested in them sexually. And this is something that both cis and trans women have experienced. The cat-calling, or that creepy guy in the bar who won’t stop hitting on you, no matter how much you refuse, or the date that thinks you owe them something? And, in a lot of these situations, it’s a cisgender man on the other end of the interaction.
Well, I’m never interested in that guy. In fact, I’m never interested in any guy. Because I’m lesbian. And if that’s not enough, I’m also demisexual. Sexual attraction is a rarity for me, and when it does happen (once in a blue moon), the object of it is never a man.
But men are unequivocally supposed to be better, right?
So my preference for being with women, and my preference (it’s not a preference, of course – it’s just who I am, though people don’t always understand that) for being a woman both cast doubt on that supposed truth.
It doesn’t end there, either. A significant amount of violence against trans people, and against trans women in particular, is perpetrated by women, sometimes even under the guise of feminism. People who reduce the identities of others to the biologically essentialist matter of what lies between their legs, and who perceive the existence of trans people as a threat to their own “biological birthright”. The idea that “woman” and “vagina” are synonymous is, ironically, one of the fundamental tenets that the patriarchy uses to enforce its oppression, and the violence that these groups perpetrate against trans folk (men, women and non-binary) is ultimately rooted in the same cisnormative misogyny that underpins most transphobia in this world.
After a lot of thinking (and I really do mean a lot), these are the best explanations I can come up with as to why my transness is seen as such a threat. It’s hard for me to reconcile this – right now, I am in the best place I have ever been in my entire life. I’m more comfortable with who I am, and I’m a better person on every level. I am allowed, at last, to be generous, and warm, and giving, and kind, and open. I love who I am, and there are so many amazing people in my life who love me. The honest truth is that my gender identity is harmless.
But more comfortable I become, and the better I get, and the more love I give and receive, the more hatred I am exposed to. The more hatred I become the subject of.
Because there are people out there who would prefer the depressed, resentful, limited, self-loathing (and potentially even suicidal) shell of a person that I was before transition, to the warm-hearted, affable, self-assured woman that I am today.
And that, whichever way you slice it, is pure and unbridled prejudice, bigotry and malice. It’s hatred – undiluted, unfounded, and unrepentant.
That is transphobia. And it’s what kills people like me.