A few days ago, I saw an interesting series of tweets from Zinnia Jones. It was based on the article “How I learned to hate transgender people”, which I link in the description below. The article described how Hollywood movies portray trans people as predators. Zinnia pointed out that transgender people is such a small group of people to hate.
She concludes: “I’m inclined to think much of this hate is rooted in the portrayal of our lives as more interesting and sensational than they actually are. ”
While this is certainly true in some cases, my personal belief is that most cases of transphobia has very little to do with stereotypes about trans people and their lives. It has even less to do with actual trans people and their actual lives. Instead, it’s mostly about stereotypes about men and women. Some people think of “men” as one narrow little box and “women” as another little box. Separate boxes. Clearly defined. Painted with a really broad brush.
A lot of people don’t really fit into those little boxes, which is very scary for someone who limit their thinking like that. What scare them about trans people is not what they are, but what they are not: They are not easy to squeeze into those little boxes of stereotypes.
This is the short version of what I have to say today. The long version is a bit more complex.
The two boxes I mentioned are an example of the thing called dichotomy. We try to understand something, in this case gender, by dividing it into two categories. These categories are defined by each other: To be a man is to not be a woman, and to be a woman is to not be a man.
While such dichotomies make it easy to get a quick overview, it is easy to get stuck in them. In this case, reducing all human to your stereotypes about what it means to be a man or woman respectively.
Generally speaking, dichotomy is that something is “either A or B”. For example assuming that every person is either a man or a woman, and either a child or an adult. In reality, parameters such as gender and maturity are sliding scales. Any person who refuse to see this will have a very hard time handling individuals who don’t fit their stereotypes of what it means to belong to one of these categories.
Richard Dawkin has named this phenomenon “the tyranny of the discontinuous mind”. Yet another article I’m including in the description of this video. However, the phrase “the tyranny of the discontinuous mind” is too long and cumbersome. Therefore, I call it dichotomism instead. For simplicity. Dichotomism is to get stuck in dichotomies.
Another such “ism” word I often use is Categorism. At the core, Transphobia, Misogyny, Homophobia, and Paraphobia are all the same thing. The same thing as each other, and the same thing as Racism and Sexism. They are different focuses of this same phenomenon: They are prejudice, discrimination, bigotry, marginalization, dichotomism, and so on against a certain category of people, or based on a certain categorization of people. In these cases against the categories trans people, women, homosexuals and other sexual minorities respectively. Or, in the case of racism and sexism, based on the categorization of race and gender respectively.
However. While different forms of categorism are the same basic thing, they often work a bit differently. Homophobia and misogyny are about in-group an out-group. It’s about dividing people in dichotomies and then putting one side on a pedestal. Heterosexuals being better than homosexuals, men being better than women.
Male chauvinists tend to define themselves against women. They have a narrow-minded misogynistic vision of gender. A vision that is so narrow that it leaves no room at all for trans people and gender-queer people.
Likewise. Heterosexists tend to define themselves against homosexuals. They have a narrow-minded homophobic vision of sexuality. A vision that is so narrow that it leaves no room at all for sexual minorities such as fetischists and people who are into BDSM. Minorities sometimes referred to as “paraphilias”, hence the word paraphobia.
Gender and sexuality intersects a lot, and heteronormativity is based on the same gender stereotypes as sexism. We can’t divide people into heterosexuals and homosexuals if we don’t divide them into men and women first. Therefore, heterosexism often includes quite a bit of misogyny or misandry or both. As well of the inability to comprehend the existence of trans people. A wide definition of heteronormativity includes narrow norms for gender identity, and monogamy, as well as limiting and reducing sexuality to being a matter of male on female penetration.
In my opinion, this wide definition is reasonable. I know that some people want to limit the concept of heteronormtivity to the cases where it excludes monogamous, vanilla, cis-gender homosexuals. This limitation is very useful for making these particular homosexuals appear more normal, at the expense of the polyamorous, the sexually kinky, the transgender, the gender-queer, and so on.
What I’m trying to explain here is a system where transgender people are excluded: Not just by being the unfavored side of the dichotomy, but being outside of the dichotomy altogether.
People make up a lot of negative stereotypes against homosexuals or in some cases heterosexuals. Against women and against men.
They do this because the other orientation or gender is on their mental map. It is not only on it, but it is a major landmark for how they understand themselves. For example identifying as heterosexual men, telling themselves that the very essence of their identity is to not be gay and not be female.
While a lot of people identify as heterosexual and male or female, I don’t think a lot of people identify themselves as cis-gender. Not yet, anyway. It will probably come more and more, as trans people and gender-queer people become more and more visible. But for now, trans people is not something that the narrow-minded in general define themselves against. Instead, it is something entirely outside the realm of their comprehension.
They can imagine themselves to be staring into the abyss. Further imagining themselves to discover, that the abyss is staring back. And that it has teeth. This nightmare of theirs has nothing to do with reality. Nevertheless, it is surely very real inside the minds that spawn it.
The article that prompted me to make this video describe how movies accuse trans people of being predators who emotionally harm cis-gender heterosexual men. However. While these movies do point fingers at trans people, I don’t think they actually *portray* trans people at all. Instead, it takes a “predatory male” stereotype, and slaps a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” or even “incomprehensible chaos spawn alien” template on top of it. In other words, they use stereotypes not to try to “explain” trans people, as they would explain homosexuals by homophobic stereotypes. Instead, they try to explain *away* trans people, creating a narrative where the trans people are problematic without even really existing.
To eradicate transphobia, we need to eradicate the dichotomism that fuels it: The delusion that mankind exists solely as a cis-gender dichotomy between the male and the female.
Transwomen are simply women who happens to not be cis-gender. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. But to understand this simplicity, you must first come to peace with the fact that gender itself is more complicated than a simple dichotomy. There is no abyss. And therefore, no teeth.