Transphobia is like anti-semitism: people deny it exists. Just as there is clear anti-semitism, like the blood libel, and justified opinions which are not, such as opposing house demolitions in the Occupied Territories, there is clear transphobia and questionable opinions which are disputed. Some would say even the opinion that trans women should not use women’s public toilets is not transphobic, and work hard to produce the appearance of rationality and concern for the vulnerable, arguing that. Perhaps trans folk would extend the definition too far.
Some people have a Yuck reaction to us. As with anti-semitism, many of them get self-righteous about it, like the woman who objects to the feminine presentation of trans women, claiming any feminist would find that presentation disempowers women, as if we had the power to be fashion leaders. How calm is that person, really? How far do they want to exclude us from ordinary life? What proportion of their writing concerns trans women, rather than other feminist concerns?
It seems to me that some people cannot imagine that yuck reaction, and I wonder how I can convince them. A man in the shopping mall who had never seen me before hissed “f–king nonce” as he passed me, and I wondered what I had done that he so hated me. A group of drunk young men on the train, and one shouts, “Oh look, it’s a tranny”, and they continue shouting until they get off. Fortunately my friend was in First Class, safely apart from them. Just possibly, that might be societal transphobia rather than individual, deliberate hatred; not all of them are repelled, but none stops the others from shouting and perhaps they would say, “But, it’s a tranny! Wouldn’t everyone shout at a tranny?” if asked why they were shouting. Just boisterous young men with normal animal spirits?
A shopper takes a second look at you, and exclaims, “It’s a man!” But she was just shocked and surprised, and vocalises a passing thought, as anyone might stare at someone a little out of the ordinary.
“F–king nonce,” though. Calling me a sex offender. No idea who I am beyond reading me as male, dressed female. That’s not a normal reaction to people like me, surely? Might you believe that it was phobic?
If someone I think of as a friend could imagine herself exclaiming “It’s a man,” the first time she had seen a trans woman in the street, could imagine herself feeling “Bless my soul” levels of shock, because, well, trans women really are out of the ordinary- even though perfectly acceptable-
could someone be my friend, chat happily with me, then say, “Well, you are a bit weird, really. You aren’t normal. I don’t hold it against you, I like you, really…”
but me being trans is if not the elephant then the sweaty runner’s shirt in the room, which we don’t see but which insinuates itself into everyone’s nostrils…
How widespread is the “I am perfectly accepting, but face it you are a bit weird” sort of attitude? Would they say, “Surely everyone’s like that, I would not shout abuse but I would notice, surely you can’t object to that?”
Am I too sensitive?
Transphobia exists. “F–king nonce” is an example of that. Yet friends don’t seem to realise.
A man. I hear he is now in prison: he did not attend the first sentencing hearing, threatening suicide, but did attend the second a day or two after I had the misfortune to meet him. He came to the Quaker meeting once and left after ten minutes, not liking the silence. Then he came a few weeks later just before we were about to finish, and we gave him a cup of coffee. He sat in the corner. We did not start a conversation with him, nor he with us, but I took him over the cup of coffee and offered him a biscuit which he declined.
People were leaving, and he made no sign of wanting to, so I told him we needed him to leave. He objected. I explained and he said, “I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman” and continued objecting, standing close to me, and waving his hand near my face. At this point people notice and come over to see what is going on. They see me in a confrontation with a man.
So after he has actually left, I explain what happened, and someone says, “Well, that’s your account of it.”
Honestly, what? It’s transphobia. Have you no memory, no gay friends, you never saw someone abused simply because he was gay? That man could only object to me if I had done something objectionable? The EEUghH reaction, the hatred, for Jews, black people, gays, Manchester United supporters- some people are prejudiced and react violently- you are aware it exists, right?
Can you not imagine that someone might be prejudiced against people like me, without any other reason? Do you sympathise with their shock or revulsion? So, you look at me, disbelievingly, without sympathy when I explain how horrible the situation had been, and how can I possibly get through to you?