Imagine this: a beautiful night (one graced by the balmy currents that make Southern weather oh so sexy) a big bed, lots of comforters, a lady and her dude cuddling on said bed.
Then—a Facebook Notification:
Yes, our "calm moment" was interrupted by this message. Note the lighthearted tone, the flattery, the earnest desire to collaborate. Also note, the sender is under the impression that they are messaging a cross-dresser. If you’re queer, woke, and have basic inferential skills then you see issue in asking a trans-woman to play both a man and a woman—WITH THE MAN BEING TOPLESS. When I showed this to my partner, he became upset (though solely for the reason that some stranger was asking to me remove my top). I was upset because this person, although they claim to stalk me on social media, presents what is wrong with so many people’s perception of what trans-bodies are and do.
It is a common misconception that when trans-people (trans-women in particular—more on that later) present as their true selves and begin their transition: they aren’t replacing sex hormones and saving for invasive surgeries, but simply remove their “boy/girl” suit when they get home. Many people are under the impression that trans-women are simply cross-dressers, a form of sexual expression that is entirely separate from trans-identity. Cross-dressers use gender non-congruent clothing to explore a sexual kink. They have no interest in undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or any of the surgeries that so many trans-people crave in order to exist within a healthy mental head-space. Why is it that the general public is so unaware of this distinction, even after the Lavernes, Janets, and Carmens?
The answer is as bleak as anyone could expect and as unsurprising to an trans-person as they could ever expect: we are still considered undesirables, mistakes, freaks, etc. Trans-people now exist in the same space that gay men and women occupied during the height of the gay rights movement in the 70s. We were never included in that movement, and on more than one occasion have been politely asked to vacate it altogether even though many of us died and die under the same conditions. Gay men had a groundswell in political efficacy before HIV/AIDS, during which queer communities were all but decimated. Further, the power of gay men and lesbians lie in their numbers—to date, close to 8-10 million Americans identify as gay or lesbian. This means that many people know, are related to, or work with someone who identifies as gay or lesbian. Exposure and mere presence actually do a lot for people’s empathy regarding certain groups, and the large-scale organization of gays and lesbians in pursuit of their rights have benefited from this. This is why gay marriage now has overwhelming public support; the same cannot be said for trans rights.
Eliza Gray, writing for The New Republic, offered insight regarding the “invisibility” of the trans community and how this has stunted any movement for equal rights:
“For more and more people, gays and lesbians do not seem strange—but the idea of denying them rights does. Such a breakthrough seems unlikely for the transgender movement. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, there are only around 700,000 transgender people in the United States, compared with around eight million gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.They are invisible in a way that other minorities are not.”
Gray is correct to highlight the infrequency with which people meet trans individuals and how something simple like mere exposure is enough to allow for the development of unbiased attitudes. When considering how many arguments against the actual existence of trans-people use biased interpretations of science to drive their point home, it’s comical to note that such a basic behavioral mechanism is what drives them to even form those arguments in the first place.
Still, Gray’s most astute reflection is her recognition of how the gay rights movement—and its successful “normalization” strategy as reflected in everything from articles to television show titles (remember Ryan Murphy’s cancelled show “The New Normal”?)—found trans-people to be a bit of an inconvenience. This is understandable (I GUESS), because in harsher times many gay men and women faced ignorant questions such as: “So you want to be a woman/man now?” It’s the internalization of prejudice and ignorance regarding homosexuality that leads to the very real exclusion and sometimes bigoted treatment of trans-people by gay men and women.
So, if even the gays don’t get us, who the fuck will?
I don’t actually have an answer to that and have nothing to offer except that our only hope at achieving anything tangible regarding our equal treatment lies solely within the efficacy of our incredibly small community. I only feel empowered when I’m around other trans-people, I only feel normal when I’m with other trans-people and now—my partner. But with numbers that barely breach a million in terms of presence, how can we hope to capitalize on exposure as a channel towards acceptance like our gay brothers and sisters have done?
That’s why, when reading the message that rudely interrupted an intimate evening (only to remind me that some people will never see me the way they should) I opted not for the verbal Molotov but for a “teachable moment.” This is the only strategy I have when navigating the world as a trans-woman. While it’s not my obligation to educate the masses on how they can not be a complete asshole when meeting and engaging with trans-people, I found less solace in delivering a verbal lashing.
Please note: not only does this guy not understand just how offensive his cavalier display of ignorance was, he also doesn’t give a shit and he’s happy to smile about that—if tone is any indicator of sincerity, and I believe it is.
Trans-people are anomalies to most cisgender people; Gray points out that our existence “complicates categories that many people would prefer to think of as fixed.” It is with this, and the contentious relationship trans-people have with gay and lesbian communities, that a theme emerges: inconvenience.
If all that stands in the way of understanding trans-people, our bodies, and our right to be treated equally is a collective aversion to inconvenience, then the true perceived value of our lives is much less than any of us ever expected. As of now, I can think of no solution to transphobia—institutional and otherwise—other than being present and open, and above all, helping people understand—even when it hurts.
Zaida J. is currently a Features Editor here at WUSSY and a self-described transgender loud mouth.