Matt Kailey is a transman living in Denver, Colorado, and an author, public speaker, and trainer on transgender issues. He blogs at Tranifesto. In his ideal world, no one would be equal to anyone else – everyone would just be equal.
If you’re worried that you’re transphobic, the bad news is that you very well might be. The good news is that self-awareness is more important than a minor case of transphobia, because if you are aware of it, then you can prevent yourself from acting on it – and in addition to some self-regulation, your awareness can help you attempt to make changes.
There are plenty of phobias and isms out there, and most people probably harbor one or more of them. I would guess that almost all of us can take some category of people, stick “phobic” or “ist” after that category name, and claim that label in one way or another. The problem is not so much being able to do that – the problem is not being able to do that.
If we are unaware of our own internalized biases, then there is nothing to prevent us from acting on them. There is no inner control mechanism that stops us before we say or do something offensive, damaging, or dangerous, because we are not aware that we might. There is nothing that prevents us from allowing these biases to continue, within ourselves and within our society.
If you are worried that you are transphobic, then you have already established trans people as a group that is “different from” yourself in a way that is at least a little negative, which is where the “phobia” part comes in. But you have also established trans people as a group that you have the potential to harm by your words or behaviors, and that is where the benefit of self-awareness comes in – because now that you realize it, you are capable of stopping it.
Being worried about the possibility that you are transphobic puts you one step ahead of those who know that they are transphobic and aren’t worried about it one bit, and those who aren’t worried about being transphobic because they don’t know that they are. If you’re worried about it, you are in a prime position to look inward and make some adjustments.
This does not mean that we should simply accept our phobias and isms. No one can sit back and say, “Well, at least I’m aware of it, so that makes it okay.” Self-awareness is only the first step in a long journey of work to be done. But if you can’t take that first step, you can forget about the rest of the trip.
So instead of being worried about the possibility that you are transphobic or that you might say or do something that will mark you as transphobic, harness the energy from that worry and use it to do some self-examination and self-reflection. If you discover any anti-trans feelings, try to identify where those are coming from and what you might be able to do to alter them.
Denial of our biases is actually far more destructive than acknowledging them, because if we deny them, we never do the work to eliminate them. It’s better to face even minor biases head on and say, “I have this, but I don’t want it. Where did it originate, what can I do to change it, and how can I make sure that it doesn’t negatively influence my behaviors or harm others?”
The Implicit Association Tests (IAT) through Project Implicit are a great way to ferret out hidden biases. Although none of these demo tests deals with trans people, there are a variety of tests designed to help you discover unconscious biases. While some people have questioned the reliability of these tests, they have been used for years by researchers and individuals to examine possible biases. They are easy and actually fun to take, and since they have one for sexual orientation, I hope that trans will not be far behind.
Just remember – whether or not you like the results of your IATs or what you discover from your internal soul-searching, being aware of a bias is the first step in working to change it and making sure that your words and behaviors are not injurious. Being worried about it is a good sign – as long as you are willing to move beyond that and into positive action.
Readers, what do you think?