Friends, I need you to say something if somebody around you is saying or doing something transphobic. Even if it’s awkward.
Why This is Important
I watched the BBC’s coverage of the election night and they interviewed many Trump supporters. I know these people are not representative of voters as a whole, but just about every single one of them said, without embarrassment, on camera, that they were against transgender people. These folks are largely misinformed and afraid of a false picture of trans people.
It’s dark times in the world. If somebody starts talking badly about minority groups, it may not be just talk. They may be working themselves up to action. Maybe they’re going to say something mean or do something mean or cast a ballot. They may be trying to gauge what people around them think – to determine if there’s consensus before they act. It’s up to you to speak up. Firstly, to let them know there’s not consensus. Secondly, depending on your relationship with them, to bring them around. Unfriending bigots has not worked out. We need, instead, to talk with them.
The SPLC has a great resource on talking to bigots. You should read it, but I’m going to give you some trans-specific devices here as well. (Trigger warnings for trans people.)
If you think this is less important than climate change and nuclear proliferation, remember this is why people said they voted.
There are two easy sentences I want you to have ready, that help with many a situation. Memorise them, Practice them:
‘Trans women are women.’
‘Trans men are men.’
A lot of transphobia involves assertions that we are not really our current gender. We are. Be ready to say it directly.
This is a gentle way to challenge transphobia, but alas, is still very awkward. This makes it a good place to start.
In modelling you re-state what somebody just said but with correct language.
Them: I think Bradley Manning is a [hero/traitor].
You: Why do you think Chelsea Manning is a [hero/traitor]?
Them: He was Bradley when he leaked the documents.
You: Yes, she leaked the documents before she transitioned.
When talking about somebody trans, use their current name and pronouns. Don’t say, ‘When Bradley was a man.’ Say, ‘Before Chelsea transitioned.’ This respects her current identity and helps keep people from tripping over pronouns. It’s very hard to get the right pronouns for somebody if you keep switching them up depending on when you’re talking about.
Perhaps your friend gets frustrated:
Them: This isn’t important!
You: It’s important to trans people. I know my trans friend said…
You Have a Trans Friend
We’re friends. I’m your trans friend. I’m giving you permission to use me as rhetorical device in conversations. First we need to talk about when you can use this:
Them: Trans people are [ugly|crazy].
You: My trans friend is [fairly unremarkably average looking | in ok mental health].
Yes! This is a good usage of having a trans friend – as a counter-example to a blanket assertion.
Them: I think what you just said may actually be kind of transphobic.
You: I have a trans friend!
No! Do not use me as a shield.
Them: Oh my god, the weather is too hot!
You: My trans friend likes the heat.
No! Only bring this up where it’s relevant.
Tl;dr: Bring up having a trans friend to challenge blanket assertions and stereotypes.
This is also a way to make things personal. If bigotry could be challenged by facts and statistics, it would already be over. Human connections are key to ending it. This is why Harvey Milk encouraged gay people to come out. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t work as well for trans people, partly because there are so few of us. I need you, my friend, to help humanise us.
One place people have been campaigning against us is our access to toilets, bathrooms and changing rooms. This is specific to trans women, so having a trans man friend (me) won’t be as useful, but I can give you some pointers.
If somebody you know starts talking about feeling uncomfortable about sharing facilities with trans people, remember your very first two sentences: Trans women are women. Trans men are men.
What we now call ‘rape culture’ used to be referred to as ‘male violence.’ Sometimes people will start talking about ‘male bodied’ people. But: trans women are women. Violence does not stem from bodies. If certain classes of bodies were the sources of violence, then there’s no hope of ever combating it. It would be a biological fact.
Violence comes from culture. Rape culture is what Donald Trump has done and bragged about. It’s not embedded in his physical form.
Trans women inhabit the cultural space of womanhood. Terms like ‘female bodied’ don’t reflect cultural roles. They reflect only what a birth certificate said.
So how do you talk about this?
Them: I’m worried about male bodied people in the changing room.
You: Trans women are also effected by rape culture.
You’ve responded to their fears, you’ve modelled a correct way to talk about trans people and you’ve shown that trans women have fears in common with them. If you want to make a personal humanising connection as the conversation continues, that’s where your trans friend comes in.
Again, I’m not a trans woman. But I (and nearly every trans person I know) have had to physically run away from a scary transphobic incident in a toilet. When I use a public toilet, I get out as fast as possible, which is something I’ve heard most of my trans friends say. Those of you who have been bullied in school bathrooms can relate to this, I’m sure.
I’ve also been barred entry to toilets. Being denied entry to one toilet did not give me access to the other toilet. I just wasn’t allowed to pee at all. But when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go! I used to make a habit of trying to hold it. Part of this involved drinking less water. I got some weird infection from chronic dehydration. Again, this is common among trans people.
If I’m not allowed to pee when out about about, this limits how long I can stay outside my home. If I can’t use a toilet at work or in the train station, I can’t keep my job. Keeping trans people out of public or school toilets keeps us out of public and out of school. Special ‘family’ toilets are great for people who want them and we should build more of them, but they’re not always available and mark us out. I’m a man. I use the men’s room.
I’m sharing this so you can use it – because emotion and human connections matter more than facts and figures. This is not statistics, this is the life of someone you know. Make it personal.
Conversations are going to be awkward. The first one often won’t change minds. If somebody says something and you’re unsure how to respond, think about it later to come up with a better reply.
Even if it feels like you’ve failed and made things uncomfortable, do remember that you have communicated a lack of consensus. This is important.
Also, if you spoke up in public – say, to challenge a sex change joke, you don’t know who overheard you. Hearing jokes like that sucks. Hearing a subsequent challenge restores hope.
Feel free to share this. I will try to answer questions in the comments.