24 September 2014

Transphobia - a cyber *hug*

I have wanted to blog about transphobia for a while but am aware that I most likely can't do the subject justice. But if I can at least make a handful of people think about their prejudices around gender then I will consider this to have been a worthwhile post. This is also my version of a cyber *hug* for somebody on Twitter that encounters a lot of hatred and abuse for being a trans woman.

What is transphobia?

It is the prejudice and negative attitudes and/or hatred towards people who are categorised as transitioning/considering transitioning/transitioned from the gender they have been assigned by the cultural definitions of male/female (binary gender), and those that don't identify with either culturally assigned gender (known as non-binary gender).

The issue has been highlighted to me since increasing my use of Twitter and encountering the extreme hatred towards some that are not cis (short for cisgender; when the sex/gender you know yourself to be correlates with the one you were originally assigned).

I have a long way to go before really understanding the experience of somebody who is not cisgender. I recall watching a couple of documentaries in the early 80's about men transitioning to women. It never occured to me that what they were doing was wrong or unnatural in any way. I was aged around 10 and I distinctly remember thinking how devastating it must be to realise that your outward appearance is the opposite of the gender which your actual self identifies with. I didn't know the word cisprivilege then but the fledgling concept developed within my psyche. I trusted that if somebody feels that way then they must have the wrong bits and bobs to fit with the societal expectation of the outward appearance of the gender they are. Surgical correction made perfect sense.

What is gender anyway? When in deep, authentic "I-Thou" relationship to another, gender falls away, along with age, race, class.

So I am absolutely perplexed at the hatred that I bear witness to on Twitter.

But I have become aware that I am unwittingly contributing to that hatred, which is a horrible thing to admit, but my own prejudices around gender, although not wrapped up in hate, or born of hate and fear,  might even contribute to the culturally backward thinking attitudes that we have. For example, I thought that I was pretty liberal for being cool with trans men and women, but it was only in the last couple of years that I appreciated the concept of being genderqueer or non-binary. I had assumed that people were either male or female (trans or cis) and it took some serious rethinking to realise that I had been effectively blanking out all those who identify as neither.

We seem to be attached to polarised thinking. Black or white, rich or poor, good or bad, male or female, gay or straight...

Remember the hatred towards homosexuals 20+ years ago? Of course hatred and intolerance still exists now, tragically, but we have come a long way from the days of being okay to call homosexuality unnatural and thinking that gay weddings are an abomination. It is becoming more accepted that sexuality is a spectrum that we don't have to plant ourselves firmly at either end of. Again, we have a L-O-N-G way to go but we are getting there. In this country and is my part of the UK at least I would not describe our society as homophobic. There remain some ignoramuses who remain homophobic but they are becoming more and more the minority.

BUT we have a transphobic society. Many people are unaware of the concept of a gender spectrum. Many, many people are not even aware of the issues faced by anybody affected by transphobia. And I, seeing through my cis eyes, filtered with my cis brain, have taken my cisprivilege for granted way more than I would prefer to admit.

Somebody pointed out to me recently that the 90's film Ace Ventura Pet Detective is transphobic. I vaguely remember watching it back in the day and nothing registered. But seeing the relevant scenes today, with my eyes open more than they were then, I was absolutely appalled. Not just at the film itself, but at how I hadn't appreciated in my 20's how blind I was to the hatred and abuse inflicted on those that are not cis.  I can appreciate now how distressing and abusive a trans woman might find the film's (non) handling of trans issues.

I'll call it a day for now. I would like to write more about the topic as I learn and understand more. I'd like to blog a full on rant about TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) women who dish out abuse and hate to trans women (very much "I-It" relating).

One more point. Please let me know if you are trans/non-binary and find anything that I written in any way disrespectful. I don't know what it is like to be you but I do know that there are many things I don't know and I am open to being educated.

Ignorance isn't bliss. It means hurting others without even knowing it.

* The picture above is from the album artwork for I am a Bird Now by Antony & The Johnsons. A beautiful, soulful album. The song You are My Sister never fails to make me cry.

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