I’m going to be talking about some things I encountered on social media this week from two family members–one on each side of my family, both of whom I looked up to greatly as a child, one of whom supposedly supports my wife and I a great deal. Both of these things involve transgender people. I’ll be posting the images of what was posted, in order to deconstruct these things.
This is me, a cisgender person, talking to other cisgender people, about the things we’re doing to hurt transgender people. We need to stop.
I’m putting the rest below a cut, so that those who already have to deal with these aggressions on a daily basis (trans folks) do not need to be subjected to it one more time just so I can get my point out to other cisgender folks.
I’ll start with the shorter image first. My dad posted it. He claims to be supportive. Yet upon seeing this post, myself, my wife, and my boyfriend all felt sick and upset.
The picture claims to be “Funny, Interesting, and/or Inspiring.” I submit that it’s none of the above.
Breaking it down: Gender dysphoria is real. Not all transgender folks feel dysphoria, or even a debilitating amount of dysphoria, but it is real, and it can be quite debilitating in a person’s life. Gender dysphoria is also what used to be termed Gender Identity Disorder, and is meant to better discuss lived transgender experiences than did GID. The supposed Financial Identity Disorder in this meme pokes fun at the very real distress of folks who experience gender dysphoria.
Moving along, the “Help stop the hate” line is particularly disgusting, as it makes light of the very real hatred and transphobia that kills transgender folks too often. Transgender panic–killing someone because you found out s/h/they is/are transgender–is still a legal defense in 49 states. There’s nothing funny about that.
Insofar as being a rich person in a poor person’s body goes–while there are very real income inequalities in the United States, these affect transgender people more adversely than they do cisgender people. Everything from health care to housing to education falls under this heading and is affected by being either cisgender or transgender. Again, cisgender people poking fun at this, using the ‘trans’ idea, is at the very least in poor taste if not leading toward outright harm.
I can hear people saying, “But it’s just a joke.” Certainly that would be my father’s defense. Except it’s not just a joke. These words and memes are part of and play into and contribute to a culture that already dehumanizes transgender people to the point of murdering them and causing them to attempt/commit suicide at alarming rates. Even when death isn’t the result, life can be pretty difficult–from managing job expectations to getting people to use the correct pronouns to just trying to pee in peace, etc. ‘Jokes’ that punch down aren’t funny. Humor should punch up and reach down.
Moving on to the longer bit.
I came across this written post–a cousin posted it, and it showed up on my wall. I Gyazo’ed it so I could talk about it, though I did not include the photo of Caitlyn Jenner that went along with it. Content warning, again–it deadnames Caitlyn.
Link provided in case anyone would like to voice their opinion at the author. Click to embiggen. I’ll try to go through it point-by-point.
First, the post deadnames Caitlyn repeatedly. Deadnaming can happen by accident, but when it’s done repeatedly and pointedly (as in this post), it’s a tactic used to shame and silence transgender folks. Shaming and silencing directly contribute to emotionally and physically harming transgender persons, and so deadnaming can be harmful to the point of being deadly.
Second, the post tries to define Caitlyn’s experience as only “beautiful gowns and fake boobs…. makeup and pretty hair.” This denies and whitewashes all of Caitlyn’s lived experience as a woman. Also, it assumes that all women strive for these things (gowns, makeup) and/or have these things (pretty hair, breasts). As per the ‘fake boobs’ part of it–what of cis women who’ve had mastectomies and then gotten implants? Or cis women who’ve had any kind of implants? Are we not women? What of women (cis or trans) who don’t care about being femme? Those of us who don’t want “beautiful gowns and makeup” surely are still women. And, without centering cis women–what about Caitlyn’s struggle to be recognized, to be seen as authentically herself? She’s learned that lesson–that being a woman isn’t all about looking a certain way–in a harder way than most cis women could even begin to imagine.
Third: this woman talks about having a period as if that is a defining experience of womanhood. Moreover, those periods most cause “searing stomach pain so bad it doubles you over.” I’m here as a cis woman to share a secret: not all periods cause searing stomach pain. Also, if you’re in a lot of pain with your period, you should probably be seen by a doctor. Also, not even all cis women have periods! I currently have a Mirena IUD and do not get periods. I love my IUD and my period-less existence. Also, some transgender men do have periods.
Next, of course, she trots out the idea that Caitlyn will never know whether the strangers who stop to help her when her car breaks down by the side of the road will have good intentions. Now–Caitlyn may actually never know this from here on out, but it’s not because she’s transgender. It’s because she’s a wealthy superstar. However, transgender people absolutely have to worry about strangers’ intentions. My wife worries every time she goes out dressed as herself in public (rather than in what we call her ‘uniform’–the male clothing she currently wears to work or anywhere we aren’t sure is relatively ‘safe’) because someone might decide her trans body offends them and kill her (horrible enough on its own) and then cite transgender panic to get away with it.
Next up comes the ‘never know what it’s like to give birth’ argument. Not all women do know what it’s like to give birth. Some women are infertile, or are monogamously/monamorously married/partnered to an infertile partner and never give birth because of that. Some women (like me) choose to be child-free. Giving birth is not a be-all, end-all marker of womanhood. Also, again, some transmen do give birth. Also, not all women miscarry–even among those who do get pregnant. It’s okay that Caitlyn doesn’t give birth. She does, however, know what it’s like to be a parent, to worry about her children, to worry about how to authentically be herself and raise children.
As for the hot flashes–actually, some trans folks do get hot flashes. My wife does. They can be pretty brutal. She has to be especially careful in the heat now, which is a huge change from how her life used to be. Caitlyn may just be able to identify with pregnant people and/or menopausal people there. While on a recent trip with my wife, mother, and grandmother, I had the (dubious) pleasure of hearing my wife and mother commiserate over these hot flashes.
As for the example of being widowed–of course one wouldn’t identify as a widow if one is not a widow. Caitlyn, however, is a woman. She has always been a woman. She is making her identity known, which is the point of saying, “I identify as a woman.” Biological sex is as much of a construct of our society as is gender identity or naming conventions or any other social category. Relying on what one assumes another’s genitals look like is a pretty pathetic way of determining who belongs in what gender category. For one thing, it’s usually pretty erasive of intersex people (of whom there are more than most people would suspect). For another thing, it usually conflates gender identity and genitalia and gender expression, all of which are three very different things.
The author then says, “let’s not even talk about women who have worked through their double mastectomy.” Actually, I think we should. I think she didn’t want to talk about it because she knew she’d wind up in trouble here. See, a lot of transgender people go through a lot of terrifying body alterations in their lives. A lot of transgender people experience gender dysphoria–that feeling of their bodies not matching their identities, of things somehow not lining up. Not all transgender people want or go through surgeries and/or hormones, but many do. There’s a vast array of things transgender people might experience with their bodies, given enough money/insurance coverage/desire to do so. Some of these things involve their breasts, others involve trach shaves, others involve hormone balances, others involve genital surgeries….. All of it can involve a coming to terms, a coming to grips with one’s self. And even without the surgeries or hormones, there’s still the coming-to-grips, learning to love one’s self. Furthermore, transmen who have mastectomies/top surgery may be in an even better position to empathize with cis women who have mastectomies, though transwomen will still be able to identify as women.
The author then circles back around to her point–that she thinks that transwomen are fake. She thinks transwomen are in it for public approval, for plastic surgeries, for botox and designer clothing. I think I’ve eradicated those myths enough already, but if not–well, you can read above.
Then she says, “A real woman is one who in spite of the stretch marks, age spots, dirt under her nails and tired eyes, and even with 1/2 photoshopped supermodels as her competition, she has carried herself in such a way that her family, husband, and children, see her real beauty and find her far more valuable than rubies or diamonds and they rise up and call her blessed.”
Let’s unpack that for a few moments. First, the concept of ‘real’ women vs ‘fake’ women is tired. It usually gets used in the fat vs thin debates, but here it’s being used in the trans vs cis. No. All women are real women. It doesn’t matter if the woman has stretch marks or not, if she’s thin or cis or trans or fat or black or white or kinky or vanilla or anything else. A woman is a woman is a woman. Next, the idea of other women as ‘competition’ (even if they are supermodels) just keeps us all in patriarchy’s and kyriarchy’s grip. We’re stuck in the male gaze, stuck in the power of cisgender, heterosexual male power, if we insist that all women are in competition with one another for cishet men’s attention. Next, the author assumes that women have families and are heterosexually married. I’ve already addressed the bit about children above. Here, I’ll say this: not all women are heterosexual. I’m bisexual. I have lesbian friends. Caitlyn’s sexuality is her own. Like gender, sexuality exists on a spectrum, and no one is less of anything for being attracted how they’re attracted. Also, not all women want to have families in a traditional sense. Some might have a close group of friends and stay single forever. Some may form chosen families. Some may be polyamorous (like me!). Whatever the case may be, again, no one is more or less of anything for their decisions about their family status–these things are not preordained as ‘the way things shall be.’ Next, the author talks bout seeing real beauty. Without getting into an argument about external aesthetics, I’ll agree that internal beauty is valuable. Guess what? Caitlyn Jenner–like all transgender women–has internal beauty. She is blessed. The work that she does just by making transgender people more visible does indeed make her more valuable than precious and semiprecious stones. Perhaps my words will mean nothing to the author, since I’m neither a child nor a man saying so.
Finally, we get to the last paragraph. Here, the author finally addresses the concept of privilege. Tragilariously (to borrow a phrase from a wonderful online book penned by a transgender woman that includes much in the way of fluid gender and sexuality and kink), the author does not address her own amount of enormous privilege. I suspect she and I share similar privileges–being cisgender, white, educated, Western. She’s a mother (if I read her post right) which I am not, so this grants her some privileges I lack, while my lack of children grants me some privileges she lacks. Her use of the ‘rubies, diamonds, blessed’ language leads me to believe she’s Christian or at least Christian educated–which in the USA is a big privilege, as well; we’d share that privilege, too. She seems to be heterosexual, where I am bisexual, monogamous/monamorous where I am polyamorous. That said–she wants to lecture Caitlyn on Caitlyn’s privileges. Now, I agree that Caitlyn does have privileges. Caitlyn is white and wealthy. For many years, Caitlyn passed as a man, and so had passing privilege as a man–but passing privilege is not the same as being fully male-privileged, just the same as my passing as heterosexual sometimes doesn’t mean I have full heterosexual privilege even though I’m bisexual. Yes, Caitlyn has more money to change her body than do most people who wish to do so (cis and trans alike), but she has also addressed her privilege multiple times. So, yes, most women around the globe aren’t free to do this–but that doesn’t mean that Caitlyn shouldn’t be free to do so, and it doesn’t make her any less of a woman.
Whew. Okay, that was a lot. I want to wrap this up on a positive note, so I’ll say this: cisgender people, we have work to do. We need to educate one another. We need to do better ourselves. We can start by doing simple things: when we meet new people, we can say, “Hi, my name is ____ and my pronouns are ____.” We can say, “That joke isn’t funny” when someone punches down instead of up. We can examine our own sets of privileges, educate ourselves, and even figure out where we think we fall on various scales.
One image I really like, developed by transgender students to help discuss the various scales of attraction and identity:
Various versions of this idea exist online, but the idea remains the same: to help learn about how attractions and identities are different things, even though our culture likes to intertwine them. I find going through this on my own on occasion helps keep me on top of my game when it comes to sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, romantic attraction, etc.
We can do this, if we’re willing to do both the small and the big things. We can lessen violence against transgender people by speaking up, by educating ourselves and one another. Let’s do this.