Stephanie Farnsworth takes issue with the arbitrary barriers we’ve placed to deny people’s trans identities.
Visibility has been shown to be both a good and dangerous thing for the trans community, as demonstrated by this amazing post by Aria Ehren last year but many trans identities are still being completely erased from society’s consciousness. Trans rights are advancing but at a painfully slow pace, with barriers such as the trans spousal veto, poor health care and laws which still make discrimination possible such as accessing women’s shelters. Even basic recognition of what it means to be trans is fundamentally lacking in society, with trans youths far more likely to end up being homeless due to family rejection. Sadly, to compound all of these issues, there remains the idea that to be trans only means to identify “as the opposite gender”, which is a belief that erases numerous identities and serves only to reinforce the narrow gender binary that has been forced upon everyone for far too long.
Sadly, to compound all of these issues, there remains the idea that to be trans only means to identify “as the opposite gender”, which is a belief that erases numerous identities and serves only to reinforce the narrow gender binary that has been forced upon everyone for far too long.
There are many people who experience different trans identities that are uncomfortable with using the term “transgender” to describe themselves for numerous reasons, but the dominating factor is so often that they worry about appropriating the label. Such a worry is understandable; trans people are far more likely to experience oppression (individual discrimination, violence and systematic) than cisgender people. Those who are aware of this are more likely to fear appropriating the term because of worries that they may be undermining the struggle of what it means to be trans, while denying their own identity. For instance, someone who fits the narrow idea of what it means to ‘pass’ as a cis woman (an incredibly problematic concept anyway), conforms to society’s narrow ideals of gender expression and rarely experiences any dysphoria may feel that it is pointless to come out or feel as though it would be treading on the toes of the trans people who face violence every day. We’ve built a system where people feel like they need to pass a test to see if they are trans enough to claim the identity. Inadvertently, this is contributing to a greater system of erasure of trans people and this is purely the fault of inherent transphobia in society.
The way that discussions have been framed is that when trans people are recognised, it is often only within a binary fashion (and those discussions are more often than not derogatory). Agender, genderfluid, genderqueer and nonbinary identities (to name just a few examples) are rarely ever even uttered. The backlash against a Green Party feminist group stating they are for “women and non men” is at its core, a desperate attempt to try to stop people from the right to self define. It is a term not to describe women (as some will vehemently and falsely insist) but to signal that it is a group for those who do not identify as men, which includes myriad of identities and allows those who do not even know how to describe themselves to be recognised. The idea of identities existing beyond “man” and “woman” is incomprehensible to many. It’s also particularly true when it comes to acknowledging different concepts around gender globally. We see almost everything through a Western lens so completely different ideas of gender due to language and culture are treated with suspicion and as inferior.
The way that discussions have been framed is that when trans people are recognised, it is often only within a binary fashion (and those discussions are more often than not derogatory). Agender, genderfluid, genderqueer and nonbinary identities (to name just a few examples) are rarely ever even uttered.
There is also little understanding or acceptance as to how gender can evolve each day for a person. The terms we use are often presented as static, regardless of whether they are or aren’t, and this is a reflection not of our limited language but of our need to control identities. Cis and trans identities are talked about as binary opposites but they aren’t, they are descriptors of the experience of gender. Yet nuance and acceptance are rarely ever allowed when it comes to bodily autonomy and self definition so people find themselves silent about how to describe their own gender. It is entirely possible that yesterday a person may have been distinctly agender but today they do align with their assigned gender and so the idea of ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ being binary terms can feel like a clash of experiences for some.
We still like to think of people only ever having one facet to their identity, even when it comes to equality. It’s a situation demonstrated throughout every movement, such as why the LGBTQ+ community is dominated by white people, because white is somehow seen as neutral (an entirely racist assumption) when actually it reveals that in almost every context we are just as oppressive as we have always been when it comes to expression and liberation of identities. We allow only one facet of a person, which is why surveys about LGBTQ+ life will regularly ask if a person is gay, or bisexual or transgender as though all transgender people can only be straight. Such entrenched attitudes are crushing any chance at greater acceptance and it is why intersectionality is required.
Such monolithic attitudes are crushing any chance at greater acceptance and it is why intersectionality is required.
There are also many who are unwilling to employ the label of “trans” to describe themselves because of the great stigma of being transgender. The rates of suicides among transgender people (that we know of because so many are unable to ever come out and so their deaths cannot be counted) shows clearly the plain reality that to be out as trans is often to live with a forced target on oneself. It’s not hard to understand why so many would be forced to remain in the closet.
While the LGBTQ+ community and wider society are learning what it means to be trans, ironically we need to unlearn and unpack a lot of ideas that we held to be true. Moving beyond the idea of just two genders is critical, as well as the idea that gender is a static and never changing experience. There is no one way to be trans and trans people shouldn’t be forced to compete to prove their identities. Cisgender heterosexual society especially needs to give up the ideas around ownership of trans people’s bodies. It does not matter how someone presents or what gender assumptions you make, it is up to each individual to decide what labels work to effectively describe their identities. Gender experiences can be incredibly complex and nuanced, and they can also change. It is not for us to decide another’s gender, but it is our responsibility to make sure that we create an environment where people of all genders experience acceptance. Trying to erase or limit how we can even talk about gender is purely an act of control designed to silence trans people. It’s beyond time that all identities were recognised.
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