Trans 201: Self, Identity and Why ‘Hating the Sin’ Is Hating the Sinner

Introduction

I have heard the phrase “love the sinner, but hate the sin” many times in my life, but what does it mean to ‘love the sinner’ and to ‘hate the sin’. I have always understood that it means we love the people who do bad things while at the same time hating the bad things that they do. That seems simple and intuitive enough. I can love someone despite their vices. For example, my close friend may say something problematic or deeply offensive to me, but that does not mean I need to disapprove of her as a person. I can still love her while not approving of what she said. This may seem like a rather practical rule-of-thumb in most contexts, but there are times where it runs into problems.

For example, when talking about LGBTQ+ folks, folks of a certain persuasion will often assert that they can love LGBTQ+ folks while simultaneously disliking or disapproving their ‘choices’. “We are not our actions.” They often say. “It’s okay to be queer, but that does not mean you have to act on it.” At first glance, it may seem that one can, for example, disapprove of or detest ‘homosexual acts’ while loving homosexual individuals. However, this is not the case. One cannot ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’ when it comes to LGBTQ+ individuals.

Identity and the Self

So why is it that one cannot love the sinner while hating the sin? It all boils down to identity and the self. Beginning with identity, it helps to use simple, workable definitions:

Identity – traits, characteristics, social relations, roles, and social group memberships that define who one is or gives someone a sense-of-self, or self-concept. 

Self – the sense that something is “about me”, that there is a subject “I” that can think about an object “me” while the subject is aware of this sense.

Self-concept – a cognitive structure that can include content, attitudes, or evaluative judgements and are used to make sense of the world, focus attention on one’s goals, and protect one’s sense of basic worth.

People can take on any number of identities–religious identities, occupational identities, group identities, etc.–and these identities are what make up one’s self-concept. Notice that not only does one’s identity influence one’s actions, but one’s actions also influence one’s identities and self-concept. For example, let’s take religious identity. Jane considers herself a devout Catholic. She prays every day, regularly attends mass, and takes communion. Suppose one day a law was passed prohibiting her religious observance on the basis that “though being a Catholic is okay, acting Catholic is not okay”. She is thus legally, and apparently morally (according to some), prohibited from praying, attending mass, taking communion, etc. In other words, though she may consider herself a Catholic, she is pressured to not observe her religion.

So what would it mean to be a Catholic in this situation without observing Catholicism? I would bet that Jane would experience a lot of distress at this dilemma. Either observe her faith and risk the consequences, or repress her religiosity. Would it make sense for someone in this situation to tell Jane, “I love you and it’s okay that you are Catholic, but I would hate it if you attended mass because it is wrong”? Of course not. One would rightly say that this is nonsense and religious bigotry.

Self-actualization

Now that we have explored these ideas of identity and the self, I would like to turn our attention to two different types of identities: sexual identity and gender identity.

Sexual identity – consists of one’s sexual orientation and how they define their sexuality. 

Gender identity – one’s innermost sense of being male, female, both, or something else; how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. 

To be homosexual is to be attracted to others of the same sex. To be transgender is to have a gender identity that differs from the one that is assigned at birth. So far, all we really have talked about is ‘being’ gay or trans. But what does it actually mean to be gay or trans? As a homosexual trans woman, my sexuality influences who I engage in sexual relations with, i.e., women. However, it is possible for me to be attracted to women without having sexual or romantic relationships with them, but let’s go back to Jane. If Jane’s inability to practice her religion causes distress and that not permitting her to observe Catholicism comes from a place of religious bigotry and intolerance, what does that say about those who would assert that being gay is okay, but ‘acting gay’ is not?

Jane’s ability to self-actualize, i.e., become her truest and best self, is hindered by prohibitions to her observance of Catholicism. Of course, this could all go away if she decided she was no longer Catholic, but to Jane, Catholicism is fundamental to who she is as a person and who she feels she needs to become in order to live a good life. Not being Catholic is not an option for her. Likewise, being a lesbian and being trans are fundamental to who I am. I cannot simply choose not to be homosexual or not trans. It’s not an option for me. Therefore, living authentically is critical for my self-actualization as a person. In other words, I need to be able to express my love for my wife (who is a woman as I am), and I need to be able to live as a woman. I also need to transition. All of these things require action in order to achieve happiness and self-fulfillment. The opposite has not done me well at all. Believe me, I have tried.

Conclusion

I have done what I can in a reasonably short amount of space to make a strong case for the assertion that “love the sinner, but hate the sin” is logically and empirically untenable. Those who use such rhetoric need to consider what they are actually saying. It is simply not loving to deny someone the ability or right to self-actualize by living authentically. In fact, it is just downright cruel.

Advertisements

Trans 101: Transphobia

CW: discussion of transmisogyny

Introduction

You’ve likely heard of homophobia: the fear, dislike, prejudice, or oppression of homosexual people. You may have also heard of the word transphobia, but are probably a little unclear about its meaning. “But of course I know what it means.” you may be thinking. “It’s the fear, dislike, prejudice, or oppression of transgender people.” Okay, fair enough. But do you really know what that means? “What do you mean? I just defined it. Of course I know what it means.” Well, we shall see.

In a previous post I talked bout cissexism: what it means, what it looks like, and what cis people can do about it. That garnered some disagreement and showed a lack of understanding. I recently had a conversation with some cisgender folks and it became apparent that there was a lack of understanding of what transphobia was as well, so in this post, I wanted to discuss transphobia and how it is better described as cissexism. What we are really talking about is transmisogyny.

Transphobia

So what exactly is transphobia? Let’s start with the definition we used in the introduction:

Transphobia – the fear, dislike, prejudice, or oppression of transgender people

Okay, so we have a clear, workable definition to start off with. Given this definition of transphobia, what does it mean to be transphobic? Well, put really simply, all it requires is one or more of the following:

  1. A fear of transgender folks
  2. A dislike of transgender folks
  3. Prejudice against transgender folks
  4. And that someone either oppresses or perpetuates the oppression of transgender folks

Looking at (1-4) we can see that prior knowledge of, or experience with, transgender people is not required to be transphobic. That is, you could be someone who has never heard the term ‘transgender’, or has never interacted with or seen a trans person before and still be transphobic. Do you have to have prior knowledge of, or experience with, trans people to fear them? No. In fact, that lack of knowledge and experience is very likely to be a major reason for that fear. Same goes for dislike, prejudice, and oppression.

Another way to look at transphobia is to consider what I have written about cissexism: a set of norms and acts that privilege cisgender people and/or oppress transgender people; a system of violence that targets transgender people for the benefit of cisgender people.

If we look closely enough at the definitions of cissexism and transphobia, we can see that they are very similar. In fact, cissexism is perhaps a better word than transphobia because it is the fear, dislike, prejudice and oppression of trans people that cissexism is built and thrives on. Neither requires knowledge regarding trans folks and neither require malicious intentions in order to be perpetuated. Cissexism is the better word because it more explicitly brings to mind the structural and violent nature of what we are talking about:

“So when I talk about cissexism, it should be absolutely clear that no matter who you are, or how good of a person you are, you have cis privilege, i.e., you benefit from cissexism (if you are cisgender). That does not necessarily mean that you should feel guilty and it doesn’t make you a bad person. What it does do is make it so that you and I are not on equal social footing. We may be moral equals, but there is a power difference between the two of us that puts me at a huge disadvantage and makes me vulnerable as a trans woman.

“According to Injustice at Every Turn

  • 41% of trans individuals have attempted suicide.
    • Compare that to 1.6% for the general population (4.6% according the Williams Institute).
  • Trans people are four times more likely likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 per year compared to the general population.
  • While in K-12, 78% of trans and gender non-conforming people experienced harassment.
    • 35% experienced physical assault.
    • 12% experienced sexual violence.
  • Trans folks have double the rate of unemployment compared to the general population.
  • 90% have experienced harassment at work.
    • 26% report being fired for being trans.

“According to the Office for Victims of Crime

Transmisogyny

Okay, so now that we have an idea of what transphobia is, we need to shift our attention to transmisogyny. First, let’s start with a clear, workable definition:

Transmisogyny –  the fear, dislike, prejudice, or oppression of transgender women, or woman-aligned non-binary transgender people; a system that under privileges transgender people who were coercively assigned male at birth

Describing transmisogyny, Julia Serano has written the following:

“Trans-misogyny is steeped in the assumption that femaleness and femininity are inferior to, and exist primarily for the benefit of, maleness and masculinity. This phenomenon manifests itself in numerous ways:

  • Studies have shown that feminine boys are viewed far more negatively, and brought in for psychotherapy far more often, than masculine girls.
  • Psychiatric diagnoses directed against the transgender population often either focus solely on trans female/feminine individuals, or are written in such a way that trans female/feminine people are more easily and frequently pathologized than their trans male/masculine counterparts.
  • The majority of violence committed against gender-variant individuals targets individuals on the trans female/feminine spectrum.
  • In the media, jokes and demeaning depictions of gender-variant people primarily focus on trans female/feminine spectrum people. Often in these cases, it is their desire to be female and/or feminine that is especially ridiculed. While trans male/masculine individuals are often subjects of derision, their desire to be male and/or masculine is generally not ridiculed—to do so would bring the supposed supremacy of maleness/masculinity into question.”

Given this definition and description of transmisogyny, what does it mean to be transmisogynistic? Transmisogyny, like transphobia/cissexism requires one or more of the following:

  1. A fear of trans women or woman-aligned non-binary folks
  2. A dislike of trans women or woman-aligned non-binary folks
  3. Prejudice against trans women or woman-aligned non-binary folks
  4. That someone either oppresses or perpetuates the oppression of trans women or woman-aligned non-binary folks

As with transphobia/cissexism, looking at (1-4) we can see that prior knowledge of, or experience with, transgender women or woman-aligned non-binary people is not required to be transmysoginistic. What is different about transmisogyny is how it specifically targets transgender people who were coercively assigned male at birth. In other words, transgender men or man-aligned non-binary people who were coercively assigned female at birth are transmisogyny exempt while transgender women or woman-aligned non-binary people who were coercively assigned male at birth are transmisogyny confined.

Transmisogyny, therefore, is a unique system of violence that specifically affects trans women and woman-aligned transgender folks. Trans men and man-aligned transgender people are not affected by transmisogyny and thus are in a position of privilege relative to those who were coercively assigned male at birth. For example, the recent hoopla over restrooms in North Carolina and elsewhere. Trans women and woman-aligned non-binary folks are derided as dangerous, perverted, etc. while trans men and man-aligned non-binary folks are being celebrated for going into the women’s room and taking selfies, reinforcing the idea that anyone who looks masculine doesn’t belong in the women’s room, which actually is an example of transmisogyny. The trans panic is is thus more accurately described as a trans woman/feminine panic.

Conclusion

Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of what transphobia is–how it doesn’t require previous knowledge of and experience with transgender folks, is better described in cissexist terms and how transmisogyny is a better term to talk about the systemic violence and oppression of transgender people who were coercively assigned male at birth. So next time you are discussing transphobia, remember these concepts.

Trans 101: “But How Do I Explain This to My Kids?!”

I came out and began transitioning very publicly, especially at work where we serve the public. One common question I heard was, “But how do I explain this to my kid(s)?” As a cisgender parent (or guardian) who has little to no knowledge regarding transgender identities and what transitioning is or entails, it’s understandable how explaining something so seemingly unusual for you to your kids can be a concern. I work with children of all ages. I have had to learn how to navigate this myself, so I thought it would be helpful to learn how to do this from a trans woman’s perspective and experience.

When explaining trans identities and/or transitioning, remember the following:

  1. Most young children are very flexible with their world views–the younger they are, the more flexible they tend to be.
  2. Your fear about confusing your children is probably projection on your part. In other words, you’re not necessarily worried that your kids will be confused as much as you are the one who is actually confused. That’s a perfectly natural response, but it’s important to not project.
  3. Being trans isn’t contagious. The only way that a child may become trans by learning about it is if they are already trans in the first place. If they happen to arrive at that truth by seeing and learning about others, then great! Being trans isn’t wrong, and figuring it out sooner rather than later has its advantages.
  4. It’s important to be as truthful to children as much as possible while explaining things in terms they can understand–it’s true you will have to tailor the depth and nuance to the child’s age. Kids don’t like it when adults lie to them, or aren’t telling them the full truth. Children need to know that you respect them, and being truthful is a part of showing them respect.

With all those points in mind, I will give you some examples that I have used in my personal experience.

Just the other day while I was at work, a child no older than five years old asked me, “How do you change from a boy to a girl?” I was caught off guard by this question. Usually kids don’t ask me this. They just typically ask me why I “look like a girl” and I simply tell them “because I am one”. In this case, it seemed like they were asking specifically about transitioning. I thought about correcting them by saying, “Actually, I already am a girl. I’m just trying to be more like other girls.” The reasons I why didn’t explain it that way had to do with my own personal safety. I thought, “If I don’t give a response their mother finds satisfactory, how would that affect me at work?” She might have already told her child that I was changing from a boy to a girl, so contradicting Mom might make things awkward. Also, some trans folks really do feel that they change from a “boy into a girl” (though that isn’t true in my case).

Considering all of that, I simply replied, “Well, first I start dressing like a girl. Then the doctor gives me medicine and the medicine does most of the work.” It was a simple explanation a five-year-old could understand that also had the lowest risk while being reasonably truthful to the child. As the non-parent, I had to sacrifice some details for my safety, but as a parent, it’s important to point out that someone like me is not changing from a boy to a girl, she already is a girl. She’s just a different kind of girl. This leads me to my next anecdote.

A young child of an age similar to that of the first who knew me pre-transition came up to me and asked me, “Why do you look like a girl?”

“Because I am a girl”, I replied.

“Really?”

“Really. There are different kinds of girls. I just happen to be a different kind of girl.”

“Okay.”

I was asked a similar question by an older child (around eight or nine years old) and I responded, “Because I am a girl. You see, being a boy or a girl isn’t about what you look like, it’s about how you feel inside. I feel like I’m a girl and that’s what makes me one.”

That explanation is a very simple and concise way to help children understand that gender is a part of one’s identity. It’s about how one feels about themselves and their relation to others, not about how one looks. The great thing about this is that it’s not just a true explanation, it’s fairly simple and accurate–simple and accurate enough for a child to understand.

 

Libertarians and Trans Rights

I wanted to write about something positive today. I noticed that most of the things I write about tend to have a negative tone, but existing in a society saturated with cissexism will do that to you. Perhaps I’m internalizing the idea that too much negativity is a bad thing. But is it really? I don’t know. Perhaps not.

Why am I feeling so negative despite my desire to be more positive? North Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas, Tennessee, etc. It’s old news by now that the religious right is hellbent on removing transgender folks from public life with the endorsement of the Republican National Committee. It’s no secret that republicans are openly hostile as a party. But do you know what has me as upset, if not more upset? Most libertarians would rather talk about Bitcoin than about trans rights. I hear almost nothing from more prominent libertarians who say they are for social justice. Maybe it’s just the circles I am in. After all, just because I haven’t seen libertarians fighting for trans rights doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t. Maybe libertarians really aren’t as bad about this as they appear to be. Or maybe they are.

Why do I care about what libertarians think or say? That’s a really good question I keep asking myself. I used to call myself a libertarian and was quite passionate about it. For years, I was anti-‘big government’ and even considered myself a market anarchist for a brief period of time. But then I noticed how terrible a lot of libertarians can be about ‘identity politics’. Issues dealing with racism, sexism, or transmisogyny are rarely discussed. And when they are brought up, libertarians (primarily white and male libertarians) flock to put down the one mentioning the issue in the first place–especially when that person is a woman.

In her blog, Cathy Reisenwitz laments the existence of white fragility in libertarianism:

“…it pains me that libertarianism is so full of little flowers so delicate that the mere mention of the realities that other people have to live every single day of their lives causes them to be so triggered that they have to flee an in-group that is mostly openly hostile to and in denial of identity-based oppression for an in-group which actively and openly advocates for identity-based oppression.

“It’s not just libertarianism. White fragility is very real. When polled, most white people actually believe they are the real victims of racism in America today. The mere mention of any attempt to correct for racism causes white job applicants to get so nervous they throw their interviews. White people aren’t even strong enough to think about the realities black people live every day.

“I’m fucking exhausted. I’m exhausted by white identity politics. I’m exhausted by the fact that in libertarianism open racism and sexism by old white men is hardly remarked upon but a woman who is openly opposed to racism and sexism is angrily shouted down and told to leave their whites-only safe space.”

I’m exhausted, too.

Quite honestly, the fact that libertarians talk more about raw milk, taxation, and monetary policy than about my rights as a trans woman is enough for me to know that libertarianism isn’t for me. It’s great that some occasionally stick up for me, but I don’t see what the point of liberty is if it’s not for everyone.

Others (who shall remain anonymous) of marginalized groups who also happen to be familiar with libertarianism share similar sentiments:

“The fact that the vast majority writing articles for Reason and organizing Freedom Fest and Anarchapulco care more about the federal reserve than people actually aggressively losing their basic civil liberties and human rights is disgusting. I’m pretty sure the routine murders of [trans women of color] is a bigger deal than Bitcoin. That’s what turned me off so much. Actual lives at stake aren’t as important as money and taxes, at the end of the day.

“And not only are those high profile individuals ignoring that loss of life and increasing invasion of rights, they are belittling those who are speaking up about it.”
When posed with a serious question regarding how ‘freedom of association’ might negatively affect trans women, I saw one libertarian suggest that trans women should keep their identities a secret so they will not be discriminated against. I kid you not. Someone seriously thinks that’s a reasonable solution to private discrimination. Others not as overtly unreasonable responded that discrimination actually isn’t a problem from a rights-based or libertarian perspective. It was clear that many of them addressing the issue either didn’t care or knew next to nothing about how discrimination hurts marginalized people. This was actually higher quality discourse than I typically see in libertarian circles. Many are outright hateful and hostile toward trans people.
Fortunately, I do have some examples of libertarians who speak up for women, trans folks, people of color, and others. The Association of Libertarian Feminists Facebook page consistently does this. However, I struggle to think of others and that’s a problem libertarians should care about.
If you are a libertarian and you care about the rights and wellbeing of marginalized people, speak up if you are safe enough to do so. If you are a ‘celebritarian’, you are in a unique position to do so. If you are interested in keeping people like me around, it would help us if we knew you had our back.