Articles / Verbal Hygiene

What is transphobia?

You’ve all heard the Trans 101 definition: “irrational or persistent fears or non-acceptance towards people whose gender identity or expression differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. Transphobia can lead to direct or indirect discrimination or harassment in a variety of forms; the common theme is a misunderstanding of, or failure to respect, gender diversity.”

Are you ready for something more advanced – say, Trans 201? It’s all very well to declare that someone’s fears are irrational, and many of them sure are, but that doesn’t really tell us much about where they come from, so it doesn’t help us to stop it. We can only get true understanding through empathy and compassion. I count at least eight distinct reasons for someone to feel afraid of or hostile towards a transgender person. They all have different sources, and they all call for different responses. Lump them together at your peril.

  • Entitlement policing: the fear that someone is getting away with something they don’t deserve. This is behind bathroom anxiety and so much more. It’s even more intense if the self-appointed border guard believes that the transgender person in question needs to be made an example of, or else “they’ll all want one.”
  • Moral condemnation: the belief that transgender behavior is immoral and must be punished. Usually there is no reason given for this condemnation, it’s just written in a book somewhere.
  • Sissy discipline: the belief that “men” (particularly young ones) who refuse to accept male roles must be punished for shirking their duties.
  • Deception rage: anger based on a belief that someone has deceived you to gain something valuable from you, including but not limited to sexual gratification. This is a factor in many murders of transgender people.
  • Fear of unintended consequences: fear based on the belief that someone may be unintentionally putting themselves in danger, or making a choice they may regret.
  • Fear of shaming or retribution by association: the fear of being attacked for having loved, cared for or been intimate with a transgender person. This is a legitimate fear based on events such as the murder of Barry Winchell, Calpernia Addams’s boyfriend, in 1999. It is also a factor in murders of transgender people.
  • Fear of self-hatred: some people who are intimate with transgender people criticize themselves for it, especially if they believe that it means they are “gay.” They may further believe that killing their lover will somehow absolve them of “gayness” or demonstrate their rejection of it.
  • Fear of shaming or shunning of a transgender loved one, by others or even by oneself. Yes, some people attack their loved ones because they don’t want to feel obligated to attack them in the future. How messed up is that?

Do these make sense to you? Am I missing anything?

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