(Humourous subtitle: Rowling in the Deep)
Everything I write is my own opinion, my experience of the world and the observations I have made, and I seek not to represent (or misrepresent) others. This post intends to open a dialogue between you and the trans people in your life. Talk to them. Hear their experiences and opinions, not just mine.
Recent political events have been very distressing. I’m referring to a few things here; the protests against police brutality and system racism (which my heart goes out towards, but perhaps I will speak more about this in a future post), and the rise in transphobic rhetoric spearheaded by comments made by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
There have been improvements, but trans people are still largely vilified in media.
“Media” being popular culture, the media, and social media alike. This is evident with how much support Rowling’s comments get. As the ‘LGB’ of the acronym becomes more accepted (which is fantastic), it leaves behind the ‘T’ as the more acceptable option for queerphobia.
Especially surrounding the trans discourse, bigotry, misinformation and simple lack of empathy abound.
In response, I feel I must say something. This is not an attack on Rowling specifically, nor a critique of her comments, merely that now feels appropriate a time to share.
A Trans Experience
As most in my circles will know, I am transgender. Some people choose not to disclose being trans to the people in their lives, or only amongst the closest, leaving it a guarded secret. This is often a choice made from necessity as the trans person in question needs to feel safe.
I wish I felt like it wasn’t necessary, but it does feel like a requirement for me to disclose and talk about myself as trans, but I don’t often explain why I think this.
I don’t always ‘pass’. Every so often, I get ‘clocked’ as being trans, whether it be on the phone with just my voice, or when I am out and about in my regular way of being. While this is a painful experience, I find having some openness about being trans helps lower my fears of it happening. Taking the “gotcha” aspect out of the arsenal at least.
Additionally, I want to use whatever platform I may ever obtain for myself to campaign for queer people in general, which is hard to do while not being completely out.
But here’s the kicker. Being trans is also a powerful weapon – to be used against you. Whether it is TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), religious conservatives, or regular ol’ arseholes, there are people out there waiting to use your identity against you. Being trans means being judged, being at risk of being outed against your will, and worse. It is used as an excuse for people to relegate you to the worst of humanity.
I have the privilege of whiteness, a roof over my head in a safe suburb, and a supportive family. My lifestyle is mostly that of a homebody, not going out much at night or to places like clubs and bars. Many others are a lot worse off than I am in terms of personal safety.
I’ve also had the privilege of a relatively easy transition process, with reasonable access to medical options and a relatively safe social transition. I won’t go into detail here about the specifics of it all, particularly the harder aspects. Suffice it to say that easier roads can have their bumps, and the experience I’m grateful for is still one that’s far from perfect.
Despite these privileges, I have been the target of online vitriol. I have been the recipient of death glares and insulting asides in public. There is no avoiding it.
As a trans person, I have to live with the fear of being more likely to be raped or murdered because of who I am.
This is something I doubt many who dismiss our lives think of. It doesn’t come across as a concern for faux-progressive billionaire Rowling. It never seems to affect public policy for providing services for people in need.
Even amongst more ‘supportive’ people, the expectations that others place can be overwhelming. I’m sure many people are aware of the cool girl trope: that of a woman who tries incredibly hard to fit in (especially with “the guys”). In a similar vein, I tend to speak of the cool trans person trope, and here it is.
The ‘Cool Trans Person‘
The cool trans person is not supposed to care what labels are used for them. For example, reading discourse surrounding Saff, who appeared on the popular Netflix docuseries Tiger King, you will often find comments correcting pronouns as *he/him rather than she/her, because… he’s a trans man. Instead of accepting that and moving on, the response is often so defensive, pointing to interviews where Saff says that he doesn’t mind which pronouns people use for him. This is used as justification to keep using she/her pronouns for this guy who identifies as male, and to congratulate him for just not giving a fuck! what people call him.
While people are fully entitled to use whichever pronouns and labels they prefer, in this case what is clearly a coping mechanism for this trans person living in the incredibly bigoted world of rural America, is used to congratulate him for being cool about pronouns. This is an incredibly public example of such discourse, but it applies on a personal level all the time.
The expectation of the cool trans person is that we’re not supposed to get upset about being misgendered. It’s not fair to ever blame someone else for misgendering you, even when you rock up somewhere in a dress and long hair and don’t look them in the eye when they call you “sir” throughout the interaction. The fact is, trans people are entitled to not be comfortable when they’re misgendered. It doesn’t make them weak, or easily offended. It makes them just like everyone else, wanting to be treated normally for their identity.
Do not be controversial. Do not be political.
Even correcting someone’s gendering of you can be seen as rude, no matter how politely you put it. If you don’t want to be called “dude” you’re making such a fuss, as “I call everyone ‘dude’!” Even when a cis person would be within their rights to not be comfortable with the use of gendered terms, the cool trans person is not allowed to have such preferences.
Cool trans people are expected to conform to the binary, to attempt to pass as male or female, because androgyny in expression or identity is frowned upon (shout out to non-binary people especially). ‘Passing’ is seen by the public to be the ultimate goal for all trans people (without asking whether or not that is the case for them), and Not Passing becomes a snappy insult, a clever way to point out a trans person’s failings, and an instant shut-down of their experience of gender. The cool trans person would grin and bear those comments though, for to take offence would be to show weakness.
I mentioned earlier that I sometimes don’t ‘pass’, and while this is personally something that I dislike, I refuse to feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. It doesn’t make me any less of a woman or trans person. However, just because I am self-conscious about ‘passing’, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for others to comment upon. The obviously well-intended “I don’t think other people would see you as male!” is equivalent to “I don’t think anybody would notice how big your chin is!” An unwarranted comment is often uncomfortable, but when it pertains to gender presentation, the cool trans person has to suck it up and listen to society’s judgement of their bodies.
These expectations are overwhelming. Unlike the cool girl trope, this doesn’t just apply to individuals within social groups, this pressure is applied on a society-wide level. The message is clear: if you’re going to exist, sit down and shut up.
For any trans people reading this: as long as you aren’t unsafe, try not to succumb to the pressure. You are valid the way you are and don’t deserve to lower your self-worth to conform.
Here, space means many things. It can refer to a safe space, either online or physically, somewhere that people can interact with each other without fear of being attacked by outsiders – something we all need to some degree.
Space can be more philosophical, the space we exist in. It can be unique, your personal realm, or a space amongst your peers. Thus, the space of being a woman: an idea that, for example, Rowling and other transphobes are keen to exclude trans women from.
This gendered space of society is a touchy subject – as women are empowered by speaking about their experiences within it. The experiences of being female are varied, and don’t just boil down to menstruation and living under the patriarchy. There’s no reason that the space of ‘being a woman’ (or ‘being a man’ in the opposite case) should be limited to certain experiences. The gatekeeping is unnecessary and it harms cis and trans people alike. After all:
The only thing all women have in common is identifying as women.
Are you a woman? Y/N
There is not a single other thing that defines “womanhood”. Not age, culture or personal experience. Certainly not genetics or anatomy (otherwise goodbye intersex women, women who’ve had hysterectomies, et cetera).
The other space I refer to is the physical spaces. Let’s go to the big one: bathrooms. I could go into figures and facts about how trans people have almost never or actually never sexually assaulted people in the bathroom they feel comfortable using. I could mention how laws about bathroom use aren’t stopping sexual predators who already commit illegal, y’know – sexual crimes.
When people try to remove trans people from the bathroom they wish to use, think about what this says. This policy would put me back in the men’s bathroom: a scary prospect, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t belong there either, certainly not if you’re using a ‘biological’ lens over the whole bathroom debate.
If I’m not supposed to be a woman, I’m clearly not a man, and I don’t choose to distance myself into an extra-binary space, what’s there for me? What space is there in society for me?
The rhetoric of the transphobes say: you do not belong in any gendered space – either the physical spaces, or the philosophical space.
If we’re not allowed to align ourselves with our gender identity, there’s no spaces left to exist in. Taking trans people out of gendered spaces is saying that they do not belong in any spaces at all.
When we stand up to this and say that transphobia hurts, it’s true, because these ideas would reject us from society as a whole.
That’s not fair. Everyone deserves to belong. If you don’t have empathy for that, you’re not worth my time. But I hope you do.
Or, you know, let’s be cool trans people and shut the fuck up about it.
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