One of the most frustrating things about interacting with transphobic people is how frankly sanctimonious they can be about their behavior. However unexamined their beliefs may be, they often express those beliefs in the tone of someone who is taking the high road, who exudes a sort of justified moral superiority, who simply defends legitimate social and moral norms—even as they are being confronted for denigrating transgender people. It’s a neatly working self-defense mechanism because it enables such people to feel self righteous about the misinformation or even the venom they’re deploying, even as their beliefs remain unexamined.
I have seen a number of friends posting material recently, which touches on the subject of transgender people, perhaps spurred on by the recent rash of legislation aimed at preventing transgender girls from joining in girls teams sports, but also because of the rather silly Potato Head story. Honestly, I’ve been disappointed by the lack of curiosity and compassion on display by even some friends I held some amount of respect for. It seems our transgender friends and family belong to a category of people many still free to criticize and even mock, despite (apparently) having had little or no interaction with trans people.
Some of the arguments are very ill thought out. “God created two genders” is a common one. This argument ignores a few facts. First, intersex people exist. About 1.7% of people are born intersex, so you likely know someone who is intersex, whether you know it or not. They’re as common as redheads. Intersex people are not the same as transgender people, but there’s a larger point to be made here: Not everyone fits easily into the larger binary categories we are accustomed to: male and female. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or even that they are “confused” about their identity.
In fact, we also know that not all people fit into the seemingly standard arrangement of XX and XY chromosomes. Some people are born with other chromosome variations, such as XXY, XXX, XYY, XXY, XXXY, XXXX, XXXXY, or XXXXX, too. And there’s plenty of science on this subject. But those chromosomal variations also have nothing to do with being transgender. The point is: All of these variations exist and there’s science to explain them. That science isn’t finished, either. We’re still learning more.
So given all this variation — which some of us, understandably, may not yet be familiar with — why is it so difficult to accept the presence and the legitimacy of transgender people?
You see, “they’re confused” is not an answer. Because if you talk to transgender people (and I suggest you do), you’ll find they’re not confused about their identity at all. In fact, they’ve often known they were trans for many years, often since they were children. Essentially? Our society simply hasn’t made it easy for them to express this deep understanding of themselves externally.
If you still feel very secure in your belief that transgender people aren’t real or that they’re just confused, I would like to challenge you with some questions:
- How many transgender people do you know?
- How many transgender people have you spoken to at length about their lived experiences?
- How much time and curiosity have you had put into researching the facts and the emerging science about transgender people?
If your answers are “none,” “none” and “little or none,” can I gently suggest that there may be much for you to learn on this particular subject before you dismiss someone as being “confused” or deny their very existence?
An important point about that second question, tho: It’s really not the responsibility of transgender people to educate us about their experiences. Some may be happy to do that, but for others, your questions may be uncomfortable or even traumatizing. However, many transgender people have shared their stories in articles and on YouTube. Transgender people have typically been through enough in the lives. We shouldn’t pressure them to martyr themselves for the sake of our understanding. The onus is on us to educate ourselves.*
There is some emerging science out there about what it means to be transgender. If you don’t know much about the topic, I’d encourage you to read up on it. To stretch yourself to understand why a group of people — much misunderstood, much maligned — would spend their lives trying to explain themselves to others (however quietly, however loudly) despite being subjected to a level of mistreatment and hostility that’s increasingly unacceptable when directed at any other group in our society.
We should be celebrating the diversity of human experience. Not mocking these experiences and making false claims about them when we haven’t taken even a few moments to seriously contemplate them.
It’s OK to stop and think, “What if I’m wrong?”
*Thanks to the redditor LaFleurSauvageGaming who gently reminded me of this point and who said, “My only problem with this article is that it shifts some of the burden onto trans shoulders. Having deep conversations about the lived experiences of trans people sounds great… until you realize that a trans person has to relive those experiences everytime they tell them.” That’s an absolutely valid point, which I wish I had addressed. I added this paragraph accordingly.