“We’re not transphobic!”

We’re not transphobic! Perish the thought, say the transphobes. Are they lying? Well, they believe what they say, even if it is not true. Here are two ways they might be fooling themselves, because few people want to see themselves as prejudiced, particularly not progressives.

First, the Bad Apple Theory. Our systems are perfect! When something goes wrong, it is because someone has fouled up, someone is bad, not because of our systems. A woman was paralysed because someone put chlorhexidine in her drip by mistake, rather than saline. One way to stop such a mistake happening again is to make chlorhexidine look unlike saline, by dying it or making it more viscous. Another is to issue new safety guidance: don’t put chlorhexidine in a drip when you mean to put saline! I have no idea how likely that mistake is, or why someone might imagine chlorhexidine was saline, even if it looked like it- why the containers would be similar, for example. Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic used to disinfect skin before surgery. However, one person at least has made the mistake, and there is now a petition to make chlorhexidine look different. Managers might say the worker could not possibly have been tired because overworked; but the question should be how to stop foul-ups happening, not how to blame someone else.

People already know chlorhexidine is not saline, and is for external use only. Giving another instruction blames the person who made the mistake, so everyone else and particularly the managers can sigh with relief. We’re not bad, and neither are our systems. There’s no need for a system which would prevent the mistake, you just get rid of the bad person. We’re not transphobic! We dislike the trans woman because she (note we use the correct pronouns, we checked and everything because we’re not transphobic) is a

bad person.

I have noticed that being trans is rarely the whole root of any of my problems, and it always makes everything that bit more difficult.

The opposite of this problem is ever proliferating systems and practices making everything more complex: the unnecessary rule because someone did something really stupid once. There are different ways of seeing all these issues.

The second is Location of Disturbance, a concept in group analysis, which is a psychoanalytic psychotherapy framework for analysing groups rather than individuals. If an individual has a problem it may be a manifestation of something in the group. The black sheep of the family might be the only sane person. I don’t understand location of disturbance or group analysis, of course, there are professionals working on these things and lots of research and all I have done is read a blog post. However there are people with their faces glowing with cherubic innocence, who say “We’re not transphobic” and don’t even put a “but” in afterwards, and I am trying to create a little doubt here, even if only for my own self-respect, it wasn’t my fault, even if the doubt only partly convinces me and convinces no-one else at all.

The example is of a Black person in a group of progressive whites, who notices conscious communication of their acceptance and unconscious microagressions. When she complains, she is ignored and marginalised. I believe in such situations. I am not sure of blogger Guilaine Kinouani’s explanation, quoted from B. Stobo, that the space between the white group and the Black individual contains a trauma the whites cannot name, our shared histories of imperialism, colonialism and racism and our inability to acknowledge ourselves as racist. I would not explain it as trauma because I am not a psychoanalyst, but I can see that treating someone differently and being unable to acknowledge myself as racist would create discomfort which I might project onto that person.

And all people have had problems with gendered expectations, which have stressed everyone. How much easier to project all that discomfort onto the trans person, bind her as a scapegoat, and drive her out.

My facetiousness in this post is a defence mechanism. If I call people transphobic they will be angry. Oh, I say, I don’t really mean it, look, I’m joking. I wear my peculiar gender for everyone to see, and if they make assumptions based on it I contradict them with outlying behaviour. Of course they are uncomfortable about gender, and of course they come to associate that discomfort with me. Notice I’ve started a new defence mechanism, protesting too much, pleading that these people are entirely understandable, I’m not blaming you, no! Not a bit!

It took me a long time and some particular experiences to see I might be racist. I am glad to have read of microaggressions, some reading makes the invisible more visible. I’m not going to ask anyone to draw parallels between racism and transphobia. That would be far too frightening.

4 thoughts on ““We’re not transphobic!”

  1. In almost all cases, when I hear “we’re not transphobic,” it turns out to be an opening bid in an attempt to negotiate the definition of transphobia. They will perhaps come up with their own personal laundry list of rights that trans people do enjoy in their particular system of just laws. And anything that operates within their preferred laws counts as non-transphobic.

    It’s sort of how the “privacy policies” that Silicon Valley gets us to assent to, if you actually read them, always read as an aggressive dumbing down of the definition of privacy.


    • Yes. One I was interacting with recently said that trans people should have a medical diagnosis and “an acceptance that biological sex still matters”. That is, we’re OK if we never say anything she disagrees with.


      • That sounds creepily similar to the ways anti-choice laws in the U.S. put words into the mouths of those involved in pre-abortion counseling. Surely this wasn’t a feminist…?


        • Just as those abortion laws framed as protecting the mother, such as requiring admitting privileges, reduce the number of abortion clinics, so the requirements stated of the “Good Transsexual” reduce the number of acceptable trans people until there are none.


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