Saturday, November 22, 2008

Transphobia Lives In Our Everyday Language

With the announcement of Thomas's second pregnancy, and the death of Duanna Johnson (RIP), I have had occasion to discuss the lives of the transgender community with various people that I interact with.  What I have come to realize is that so many don't understand the ways in which their negative language, and abuse leads to the death of so many.

What astounds me is that the same people who would be shocked and angered to hear someone use a racial epithet, have no problem referring to a trans woman as a man.  Hearing someone utter the word nigger would blind them with rage, but yet the word transvestite falls off their lips like it is nothing.

When I was looking through the list of victims for TDOR, I could not help but notice that many of the victims were of colour.  I have heard about the connection between race, and crimes against the trans community, but reading the list made it so concrete to me.  The connection is real. This  stunned me into silence.

As these people spread the ignorance, laughing and cackling like hyenas about trannies, what they fail to recognize is that they are minimizing the death of POC. If your blackness and culture means so much to you, how can you laugh at this?  It's not funny.  It is not amusing.

Someone once asked me why I care so much.  They told me that, "I was a normal woman", and they could not understand why I "cared about the freaks"... The answer is quite simple really.  When I see a trans woman, I really don't see any difference between her and I.  To me she is a woman struggling just like I am to make it in a world that tells us that we are less than.  I see our shared struggle; and I see sisterhood and solidarity.  To know unequivocally that trans women are victims of such a high degree of assault, only makes me want to speak out more forcefully.

The same things that reduce trans women to less than work against me.  To say that this is not my problem means that I would be blind to the ways in which the isms interact. Racism, Sexism, and Transphobia all have the same parent.

Beyond the connections which to me are obvious, there is also the issue of valuing humanity.  Bodies are rated  differently in this society, but this is the result of social construction.  There is nothing about a trans man or woman that makes them inherently any different than a cisgendered person. Any difference that we see is what we have created to benefit ourselves. 

What difference does it make what someone else's genitals look like? You are not sleeping with them, and they are not taking your body to do their business.  Why is it so damn hard to look at someone and see a human heart beating?

When I hear the terms like trannie, he/she, or it directed at trans people, I know that these are hate words.  I know that they hurt, and that they have real world consequences.  These terms exist to dehumanize the trangender community.  They perpetuate ignorance and hatred.  The fact that they remain in common usage allows murderers to use the trans panic defence. 

When I think about it the usage is so common, that the media does not even bother with code terms the way they do for the black community, or the gay community.  When was the last time you heard a newscaster say faggot or nigger, but yet they have no problem saying transvestite or referring to a trans person by their pre transition name.  In fact they often go out of their way to insinuate that the victim was at fault for "play acting".  Each time these hateful words are said, they reify difference where there is none, and justify the bloodshed of innocent people who are just trying to live their lives.

If you cannot find commonality with the trans community based in race, then find it in our shared humanity. When you belittle their experience you are reducing us all. No one, no matter who they are should live a life where they fear violence.  No one should lead a life in which they are daily marginalized just for being who they were born. Fuck,  I know I keep saying it, but all bodies matter.  Every single one of us is precious with untold gifts to bestow upon this beautiful blue planet.  We will never know peace as a species until we learn that one essential fact.

The next time you hear someone tell a trannie joke, or act like their words have no meaning, remind them that words are how we order and understand our world.  If the words that we use as descriptors create someone as less than, then we are devaluing the life of another.


T. R Xands said...

Someone once asked me why I care so much. They told me that, "I was a normal woman", and they could not understand why I "cared about the freaks"...

I have to say, I really hate the implication that you're not supposed to care because you aren't "one of them". Trying to "select" what human beings you associate with & feel compassion for is just wrong...

Great post by the way. In my job meet we briefly brought up the "pregnant guy"--Beatie? Sorry I can't remember his first name to save my life right now, but yeah one of the girls just had this "ew!" look on her face and asked if his story was for real (no girl it's fake). I'm kinda glad it didn't go further beyond that...

T. R Xands said...

Whoops, if I'd been paying attention I would have realized you mentioned his name, duuuh. Sorry, still asleep.

Chally said...

Thanks so much for this, Renee. I'm recommending it to my friends.

AR said...

Someone once asked me why I care so much. They told me that, "I was a normal woman", and they could not understand why I "cared about the freaks"...

Besides being selfish, this attitude is also shortsightedly selfish. I want to stop people from oppressing me, right? Well, even if nobody is oppressing me right now, that doesn't mean they won't try in the future. So, if I want to do something about it anyway, what's there to do? Go after the people who are oppressing anyone, obviously. If nobody can get away with it in general, nobody can get away with doing it to me, either, so one might as well fight it all.

This is a pretty commonly heard sentiment, as with free speech, but very few people have any real conviction in it. Most people favor free speech, even for things they oppose, until they come upon something that truly offends them, and then it's free speech for some, censorship for others. The possibility that the "others" here could ever shift to include them is beyond their imagination.

AnnMarie Kneebone said...

All bodies matter - whenever you write that I want to cry and laugh and shout and dance.

Cara said...

When Beatie was pregnant the first time, my mom brought him up once when my husband and I were over for dinner and started saying stuff about how he's "not really a man" and that "if you're being a man, being pregnant should be considered offensive to you" and crap. I got pissed off and totally went off at her. I even know the arguments I made anymore, but I believe that I kept hammering away at the point of: "he says he's a man, he lives as a man, he considers himself a man, he asks us to recognize him as a man, he's a man." And I just kept getting those vaguely amused "there's Cara ranting about something politically correct again!"

But the story has a good end to it. Just yesterday, my mom brought up how Beatie is pregnant again, and she used all the correct pronouns and certainly didn't say anything offensive. Whether I actually changed her mind or she just knew better than to pull that crap around me now, I don't know . . . but I'd like to think that if she still felt the same way, she wouldn't have brought it up again around me at all.

The much shorter version of the story is: standing up to people you love over saying bigoted things can really fucking suck, but it can also work.

Emily said...


I had to do exactly the same with my sister. Being a transsexual woman myself, and being generally accepted by my family, I was practically heart-broken to hear my sister use exactly the words the transphobic lot were using.

Standing up to people one loves when they say things like this does suck (tremendously), but for my part, I want to say thank you for doing so.

And, Renée, thank you for this post. I don't think I've seen this tackled so well before and I deeply appreciate your support and understanding of transsexual people.

Shev said...

HI Renee,

I've read your blog for some time now, but don't often comment (anywhere). I just wanted to say thank you for this:
"When I see a trans woman, I really don't see any difference between her and I. To me she is a woman struggling just like I am to make it in a world that tells us that we are less than. I see our shared struggle; and I see sisterhood and solidarity."

So many people think 'that's not my problem - **** is my problem', without ever joining the dots in their head.

We are not free to be human until everyone is free to be human, because until then, every privilege we enjoy, whether it be race, class, cis, gender, or orientation, is off the backs of the most vulnerable in our society.