2018-08-26

As vulnerable by any other name

I like to do a lot of reading about issues and topics that I find interesting or relevant... articles, blog posts, editorials, whatever. Sometimes even vitriolic pieces, if only so that I have some idea of what truth and decency are up against. Usually, though, I prefer more informative pieces, or those that try to explore various questions or psychological aspects of things.

When the comments on a piece aren't too noxious to bother with, they're sometimes more interesting than the piece itself. Which brings us to one of the commenters on an older post about Internalized Trans-Phobia, who remarked that "while technically I'm a 'trans girl' according to my medical record I don't identify as trans, I don't even see it as part of me; it's just something on my medical record." She objected to the way that people sometimes tell her that she has internalized transphobia and shouldn't be so ashamed of who she is.

Not knowing the person or anything about her situation, I obviously can't say whether these people have a point or not (though, even if they do, I still object on principle to them trying to tell her how she thinks and feels). Regardless, it's possible that she doesn't want to identify as trans because, at least on some level, she still thinks of that as something dirty, inferior, unnatural, or sinful. It's possible that she's uncomfortable at the idea of being associated with those who don't blend in as gracefully as she seems to. It's possible that she hasn't been able to fully accept her past and the journey it took to reach her present. It's possible that she's simply taking a head-in-the-sand approach, as though it can't affect her if she doesn't acknowledge it. It's possible, in short, that they're right.

On the other hand, maybe she doesn't think of herself as trans because, to her, that means experiencing crippling gender dysphoria, while she has successfully transitioned and doesn't feel much, if any, dysphoria any more. Maybe she simply appreciates that there aren't any particularly meaningful physical, much less social, differences between a medically transitioned transgender woman and a cisgender woman not of childbearing potential. Maybe she just regards her male birth designation as little more than medical trivia, with no more bearing on her current life than baby teeth. Maybe, as she writes, she genuinely believes that any distinction that may exist between cis and trans women doesn't matter, and no attention should be paid to it. If so, fair enough. I wish I could agree, but...

The problem is that it does matter, far too much and to far too many people.

Those people making a big fuss about "trannies" and "freaks" and "abominations" and "affronts to nature"? They're talking about her, too, and she's just fooling herself if she thinks otherwise. Those laws they're trying to pass about who can use what bathrooms, and the places where it's already perfectly legal to discriminate in employment, housing, and other arenas based solely on someone's gender identity or expression, or the assumptions that other people make about them? That means her, too. Those marchers holding up signs insisting that "God hates fags"? They'll lump her in with all the others and condemn her straight to hell, never mind that gender and sexuality aren't even the same thing. And, obviously, anyone who believes that people are whatever their chromosomes say they are, no matter what, isn't about to make any allowances for her.

To her, it may be just a note on a medical record, but the world won't leave it at that.

Maybe she had supportive parents and was able to socially transition early enough that she never had to worry about schoolmates regarding her as a boy. Maybe she got on hormone blockers early enough to avoid going through a testosterone-driven puberty. Maybe hormone therapy worked out so well for her that she can approximate an ideal of feminine beauty. Maybe she's had such skillful genital surgery that even a gynecologist can't tell her nether bits didn't grow that way on their own, not that that's anyone else's business. Maybe all her legal documents identify her as female. For whatever combination of reasons, maybe she can make it through her adult life without anyone knowing that she was designated male at birth, and thereby avoid the worst of the bigotry that's out there.

But if the wrong person finds out about her past? She'll be accused of maliciously trying to hide it, even if she's never done anything more than not mention it when it's not immediately relevant. And you can count on there being some people who will make every effort they can to use that against her.

Some people will call her neurotic or delusional. Some will publicly scorn her. Some employers will decide she's not worth the trouble. Some people she thought of as friends will turn against her. Some potential romantic interests will accuse her of trying to "trick" them into sleeping with a "man", even if there's nothing the least bit masculine about her. Some women will accuse her of making a farcical attempt to invade their spaces for diabolical reasons. Some parents will react with paranoia any time she gets anywhere near their children, on the unfounded assumption that she's likely to be a sexual predator. Some people may go as far as stalking and harassing her, and some may even want to kill her, and they'll be chillingly serious when they insist that she's the one at fault. However noble the content of her character may be, whatever she may have accomplished, however harmless she may have proven herself, none of that will make a difference to such people. Whether she regards herself as trans or not will matter even less.

As far as an uncomfortably and disproportionately vocal and influential minority are concerned, she might as well be Hannibal Lecter in a sundress (even if she never wears dresses). It's noxious and twisted and nonsensical, but it's the way things are, at least for now.

And it's not just those in her situation who may have reason to worry about such things. Many people who do identify with their birth-assigned gender simply don't fit societal expectations for what a man or woman is "supposed" to be like. Someone who has issues with trans people isn't likely to bother making the distinction, and trans women are in fact often dismissed as "men in dresses" regardless of how feminine they may be. Likewise, someone who, for instance, objects to men wearing skirts as not "normal" is likely to object to men kissing men as not "normal", and neither appreciate nor care that these are otherwise unrelated. And even people who objectively meet these largely arbitrary standards of "normal" aren't necessarily safe from hasty conclusion-jumping and mistaken assumptions. Discrimination, ironically, often isn't terribly discriminating.

That's why trans rights and acceptance ought to matter not just to those who identify as trans, not even just to those whose designated birth gender doesn't match the reality of their lives, but to essentially everyone. As long as masculinity and femininity are regarded as opposites and inescapable absolutes, anyone who deviates in any way from the stereotypes, or is so much as suspected of doing so, is at risk.

We can do better.