Trans people are rigorously policed by transphobes, who define what is acceptable: how we might express ourselves, what we can do, where we can go. Liberals make it harder, not easier, for us to be ourselves. Partly from internalised transphobia, we go along with the transphobes, and the liberals do not help.
We are surrounded and formed by transphobia. There is the concept of what it is to be a man- physically fit and emotionally stoic- and we do not fit it. I still find it difficult to see my qualities as strengths, rather than missing the mark of what a man should be. Then there is the concept of the trans woman, which transphobes police. There is extreme transphobia, as with vile abuse in the street, and more subtle transphobia, being treated slightly differently because I am trans. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the relationship seems odd. Many of us go on a quest for the acceptable trans woman, fitting the stereotype in a way the transphobe will find acceptable, except nothing is really acceptable and they will keep moving the goal posts.
So the liberal, who “takes people as she finds them”, “treats them as individuals”, “quietly lives her own life”, “engages with people on the basis of who they are not what they are” meets the trans woman. The trans woman is nervous, having had bad experiences with cis people before, and the liberal is oblivious. What an unpleasant person, she thinks. Why was she so unforthcoming? Why could she not look me in the eye?
(like my friend Barbara, who did not look even me in the eye, apart from the occasional nervous glance up. Like me, I notice when I am hurt and cannot look someone in the eye even if I have sufficient courage to name my hurt)
If the standard of racism in this country is the neo-fascist who screams abuse at strangers in the street and tells people to “go back where you came from”, the ordinary liberal can imagine she is not racist. She may not notice how “taking people as you find them” reinforces their subjection. I am the only trans person in the room.
If you recognise that privilege exists you work to avoid it. It is not the job of the trans person to point out to the “liberal” where it is; if we do, we may be ignored; if we don’t, we suffer for it.
This is not a matter of learning the language we speak, knowing the precise term a trans woman wants to name gender surgery, but of seeing how we are ground down, and making absolutely clear that you will not grind us further. We don’t know if you will come out with something transphobic, so we are wary.
How can you “take people as they are” anyway? You can’t see their differences, always. We make assumptions about people, and normally those assumptions fit the Kyriarchy. The difficulty is to shed the assumptions. You can’t always see how people are, so we don’t surprise you because you don’t notice.