Addressing Cis Male Transphobia

I had a thought about transphobia, particularly the kind of transphobia that involves cis males freaking out because the idea of a “gender change” is so wrong and unnatural to them.  When this kind of transphobia comes up, I think part of the problem may be that the kneejerk reaction is a sense of wrongness that the perpetrator feels when he imagines himself wanting to be, or turning into, a woman.  A common response is to critique that sense of wrongness, challenge the sense that femininity is wrong or less than masculinity, talk about gender fluidity, etc. And while that’s not a bad approach–certainly, the gender essentialism and sexism should be addressed–I think it might be more effective to instead latch onto that sense of wrongness and affirm it by explaining that many trans people feel a similar sense of wrongness before transition.  If we ask the hypothetical man to imagine instead being born into a female body, knowing that it is “wrong,” he might actually start to think about the transgender experience in a more sympathetic way.

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About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on November 14, 2011, in privilege, trans and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I completely agree and thank you so much for this wonderful post. The notion that gender queerness is troubling to cis males and cis females needs to be troubled and complicated so that transphobic, ignorant, people get it that becoming trans/being trans/living trans is not simply about the idea of switching genders, or playing dress-up, or fantasizing about what it might be like to be a “girl” or a “boy” for a day. It’s so much more complicated. And your very smart idea about how we can unlearn transphobia by addressing the actual phobia and turning it on its head also forces the conversation to happen between all activists. A lot of transphobics do not understand at all what it must be like to feel completely trapped in the wrong body. This might makes them a bit less than imaginative but perhaps not dismissable. The image of a child born into the wrong body and trying to live that way invokes panic but also, hopefully, a gentler understanding of trans politics.

    • It’s definitely a multi-step conversation that has to happen, and it’s unfortunate that we just don’t have enough allies to make the conversation a common one yet. I tend to roll my eyes at the “wrong body” trope, but it’s probably easier for a lot of people to understand, sort of like how it’s easier to say that gay couples are “just like straight couples” than to address how diverse queer populations are. Maybe eventually we’ll get to the point where more of these conversations can be “201” level, hopefully in my lifetime.

      • I certainly agree with you on the “wrong body” trope (I think it makes simple very multilayered sets of feelings and risks making trans a “body”-only phenomenon). I have tried expressing to my students what is at stake in their ignorance about affect and sticking it on bodies in general. But, like you, I think that with the serious phobics this, in the very least, might get someone to come out of their privileged comfort zone. For once. People really close to me still hear of a gay man being sick and presume, always sympathetically, that he has AIDS! Or that every lesbian “wants to become a man.” I often find myself saying, “gay people get colds too!” or “lesbians are multifarious and deliciously queer.” When I’m not seething though I feel better knowing that these friends and loved ones may be ignorant, but they’re trying. I think.

  2. What is your take on the cis male transphobia exhibited and celebrated by the Michigan Womyns Music Festival?

    • I’m definitely opposed to the anti-trans Michigan policy. I don’t know how much cis males are involved there–I was under the impression that it was mostly anti-trans lesbian feminists making the policies, but I’ve only read some essays about it, never been very involved in the conversation.

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