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.

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2 thoughts on “Trans 101: Transphobia

  1. What a well researched well-written post. If a reader is truly open minded, kind and caring but isn’t very familiar with the terms you explained so well this would be a great help. i have dealt with the trans issue since i was 5 (for 52 years) but I was unfamiliar with one term, “transmisogyny”. i had no idea that there was a term for this. Sad that there is one. You are quite a writer!

    Liked by 1 person

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