transphobia

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: R is for “Real”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

R is for ‘real’

The idea of realness is often levied against trans people. The misuse of the word ‘real’ by cis people is actually one of the reasons why we need the word ‘cis’, because without a word to identify the group of people who (basically) identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, people commonly default to describing such men and women as ‘real men’ and ‘real women’, thus implying that trans men and women somehow aren’t real (or rather, that their man- or womanhood isn’t real).

Cis people seem to think trans people(’s identities) aren’t real because they’re different from what some doctor announced when we were born, and even that our names aren’t real because we may not have the same name we were given when we were born (though we at least have that in common with a majority of married women (somehow), and they aren’t often asked what their real name is, or if their current name is their real name. I wonder why that could be?*)

I know that sometimes this misuse of the word ‘real’ (especially with respect to names) is fairly innocently intended – I know because on the occasions that I have questioned people’s use of the word in these contexts, they’ve  been clear that wasn’t what they meant and have fumbled for a more appropriate word.

For names, the phrase you want is “birth name”. Some trans people also refer to their birth name as their “deadname”; I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s never ok to ask someone what their deadname was, because when people use that term, it is giving you an idea of how they feel about that name, ok?

For people, if there is some reason why you need to specifically denote the subset of men and/or women who had their gender (basically) correctly identified at birth (and for the record, unless you’re talking about their privileged position relative to trans people, you probably don’t), the word you want is ‘cis’ (or ‘cisgender’ if you want to be formal about it).

Stop implicitly invalidating trans people in this way. And call out other people you see doing it, too.


*Rhetorical question. I know it’s because of cissexism. And heterosexism. And, to some extent, plain old misogyny. Triple whammy of nesting/intersecting oppressions!

Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: L is for “Love”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

L is for “Love”

This one has multiple sides. On the one hand, I want to take a moment to acknowledge here that there are cis folks out in the world who just love the trans folks in their lives, unproblematically and unreservedly. It’s not all bad! In fact, when I was originally mapping out this alphabet, I had intended for this post to be simply positive, for a bit of a break.

But, as it worked out after my unplanned break, this post is going up on Transgender Day of Visibility (I am coming out to the folks I work with today in fact! Expect to hear more about this soon), and I really don’t want to spend my TDOV post celebrating cis people.

And in any case, the word ‘love’ is actually used against trans folks at least as much as it is used to support us.

The classic example of this is one that applies to LGBT people generally, in the form of that good old (primarily Christian) adage “love the sinner, hate the sin”. More than any other ‘sins’, this rhetoric gets pulled out in attempt to demonstrate that it’s possible to hate LGBT people’s LGBT-ness without hating the people themselves.

This is, of course, a steaming pile of bullshit. I mean, I hope it’s obvious that it is inherently hateful to consider an uncontrolled, unchangeable part of a person’s lived experience and identity as a ‘sin’, as something that renders them incapable of being unsinful. Even if you only tie the ‘sin’ to actions rather than internal experiences (e.g. accepting that homosexual attraction simply exists naturally, but still believing that pursuing homosexual sexual relationships is sinful, or believing that trans people are fine as long as we keep to ourselves never actually express or present as anything other than our birth-assigned gender), it is still blatantly hetero-/cis-sexist to take this attitude toward LGBT people, not least because it’s not even a scriptural stance in the first place.

On top of all of that, even, ‘love’ is often used against trans people in other violent ways, as when a cisgender parent tells a trans man in the same breath as “ I love you” that “you’ll always by my little girl”, or when a cisgender friend insists that their trans friend will always by [deadname] to them. Because, y’know, love.

These sorts of sentiments are intensely selfish, as it suggests that these cisgender people really only love the idea they had of the trans person before they found out who that person really is. Bringing love into this kinds of violently invalidating statements perverts the entire concept of love, and turns it into a weapon by implying that trans people should accept bad treatment from their loved ones.

And I hope it is very, very clear that that is not how love works. That is, in fact, how abuse works. It is emotional blackmail, and it is not ok.


Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: H is for “how do you have sex?”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

H is for “how do you have sex?”

This question? It’s not even just relevant to trans people – it’s a common question  directed at LGBQ+ folks as well. The clearest answer in most cases (unless you’re planning on having sex with the person asking it, I guess?) is ‘um, none of your darn business.’ It is kind of amazing how simply being trans can open a person up to the kinds of invasive questions that they would never dream of asking in any other context. Suddenly we’re not people; we’re research subjects, or more often merely objects of fleeting curiosity.

But, even setting that aside, this question? It just depresses me, on so many levels. I do want to acknowledge upfront that for some trans people (as for some cis people) the answer is always simply going to be “I don’t have sex.” Because not everyone wants to , and not everyone has sex even if they do want to. But again, even setting that aside, I don’t understand how this is even confusing to people.

Because you know how I have sex with other people? [This is not going not be explicit, it’s ok!]

Me and the people I have sex with, we touch each other in whatever ways feel good to us. Or we try to, though it doesn’t always work out that way, I guess. But really, that’s it. And I really hope that’s how most people do it.

Just, like, if you seriously can’t think of ways that people with, I guess, different genital combinations than the ones you’re used to in your own sex life might be able to touch each pleasurably? You are seriously lacking in imagination, at best.

Because the thing is, genitals are somewhat important to sex, for most people, of course. But, so are so many other body parts that people possess regardless of gender or sexual orientation or whether they are trans. Most of us have hands, with fingers on them, or other appendages that can probably be used to do things.

Like, seriously? You can’t think of *any* sex acts you might participate in that the trans person in front of you is also capable of? Really?

Or are you just actually hoping for the dirty details, because you’re just that much of a creep? Which is it?


Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: B is for ‘Born a man’/’Born a woman’

Welcome to another episode of the “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet. Today:

B is for ‘Born a Man’/’Born a woman’

Sometimes, when cisgender people are talking about a trans person, they will try to explain their trans-ness in simple terms, by explaining that a trans woman is a woman who was ‘born a man’, (or that a trans man is a man who was ‘born a woman’). I would like this wording to die in a fire, to be perfectly honest.

I cannot stress this enough: no one in the history of the entire world – cis, trans, or otherwise – was ‘born’ either man or a woman. We are all born as babies, and in most cases adults then make a guess at what our gender is and generally call us either a girl or a boy.

For some people, it may very well be true to say they were ‘born a girl’ or ‘born a boy’ (other people – trans, cis, and otherwise – don’t really see their gender as something they were born with, but rather as something that developed after they were born). The thing about that, though, is that trans men are just as likely to have been born boys as cis men are – trans men who are born boys are just much more likely to have the adults in their mistakenly think that they were born girls, is all.

Certainly there are trans men out there who feel that it is accurate to describe them as having been born girls, and trans women who see themselves as having been born boys, people who feel their gender has shifted over the course of their life, starting in one place and winding up elsewhere. But that is far and away not the only, or even the most common trans experience.

So, cis people, just stop it already with talking about people of any kind being born as men or women. We aren’t, any of us. And, more importantly, stop saying trans people were born in a gender other than the one they tell you they are – most of us weren’t.


Check out the rest of “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: A is for Attention (as in, you’re just doing it for the…)

Welcome to my new Friday blogging series, the “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet. One letter per week for 26 weeks! Lets’ see if I can pull it off.

A is for Attention!

One of the weirder ways that cis people sometimes try to invalidate trans people’s genders is by claiming that we’re just pretending to be trans “for the attention”.

…Which, I find it hard to believe that the people making this argument even believe it themselves. Surely there are better and easier ways to seek attention? And, given the continued invisibility of trans people generally, (yes, despite this golden age of lavish media attention we supposedly have right now – it definitely seems that at least half of the random people I see making cissexist claims about ‘only women’ having periods or ‘all men’ having penises, etc. are doing so out of pure ignorance/forgetfulness of the fact that trans people exist, rather than a deliberate denial of trans people’s genders), if this is a bid for attention, it doesn’t seem to be working all that well, to be honest.

Here’s the thing cis folks: yes, trans activists and others are currently doing their best to demand attention be paid to trans issues. Because our lives are currently unfairly and unnecessarily disadvantaged and made difficult in countless ways that could be easily fixed, if people just managed to hold the idea of our existence in their heads on a consistent basis. We need to be visible, and we do want attention. And sometimes, when we talk about our lives and our identities, we do so for the purpose of increasing the visibility of ourselves and our struggles.

But that is an *entirely* different thing from the idea that our existence as trans people, that our identities themselves, are formed out of a bid for attention. We do make bids for attention sometimes *because* we are trans, and because of all of the ways our trans-ness causes us to be marginalized. But our trans-ness is not in and of itself, a bid for attention. Most of us just want our identities quietly respected in the way that most cis people’s are everyday.

Got it? Good.


Check out the rest of “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

Online dating while genderqueer: I feel gross right now

[Content note: cissexism, genitals]

Every once in a while I will get a message from some dude on OKCupid who wants to know if he can ask me some questions, because y’know, he’s just a straight shooter, the kind of guy who lays all his cards on the table. He probably doesn’t mince words either, and maybe he just wants to get right to the point.

Anyway, the point is, he wants to know about my junk. And what kind I have.

Mostly I don’t super care about these questions – my standard response is “None of your business, since if it matters to you, then I’m not interested anyway.”

But sometimes they manage to be extra creepy about it. The most recent dude, for no apparent reason, made a point of letting me know that he had scoured my profile and all of the photos I included, but that he had not been able to determine on his own what my genitals looked like.

I suspect that this is because I, shockingly enough, have not included and photos of my genitals on my OKC profile. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed to even if I wanted to. Nor do I describe my genitals in any of the written sections of my profile. Go figure.

But more to the point, my PSA of this day is:

Unless you are looking at a person’s genitals, or a picture of their genitals, no amount of searching their appearance for ‘clues’ or whatever will allow you to tell what genitals they have. The fact that so many people think this is possible is because they are cissexist douches.

That is all.

Bigotry and ignorance are not “phobias”

A very kind commenter recently pointed out to me that in using that word “homophobic” in my post about eliminating ableist terms from my vocabulary I was in fact (in an unfortunate irony) using an ableist term.

Phobias are, in fact, recognized mental health issues. Homophobia is not, in fact, a phobia, and conflating it with the very real experience of people with phobias is unfair. In many more ways than one. Let me explain.

The primary issue here is, of course, the unfair, incorrect, and damaging impact of comparing people with real phobias to bigots. Mental illness continues to be massively stigmatized, and people with mental illnesses are often portrayed as violent or otherwise inherently and uncontrollably abusive. By suggesting that anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-bisexual, anti-queer, and anti-asexual bigotry are “phobias” we are only contributing the idea that people with mental illnesses are bad people.

But I know that a lot of people are for some reason not convinced by this kind of argument, and think that because “everyone knows” that bi-, homo-, trans-, femme- and acephobia aren’t actually phobias that the use of the same terminology is irrelevant. So let me give you some other reason why it might be useful to avoid using these terms.

Referring to bigots as being “phobic” lets them off way too easy

The rhetoric of bigoted “phobias” carries the inherent implication that bigots can’t help the way they are, and that they can’t change. And, while I actually don’t believe most bigots ever will change, I also think it’s important to remember that the fact that they don’t change is entirely on them, based on a series of choices they make throughout their life (to not listen to other people’s experiences, to care more about their discomfort with learning than about the pain and death of other people, etc.) Bigots are responsible for their own bigotry and absolutely need to be held accountable, always. Calling them what they are (bigots), and calling their ideas what they are (bigoted), calling their actions what they are (bigotry) instead of couching it softly in terms of phobias is a powerful and necessary rhetorical move.

But it does even more than just holding people accountable.

Referring to bigotry as bigotry, and not as a phobia, makes it harder for the folks committing bigotry to derail the conversation

You see it again and again: someone points out that something another person said is problematic, and calls what was said (or the person saying it) ace/bi/femme/homo/transphobic. The person being accused of said “phobia” responds that they are not afraid of the group in question, and that they are therefore not “phobic”. Of course we know that this person knows that’s not what the word means. Of course we all know that no one thinks that anyone was actually referring to a real phobia.

But the conversation is derailed, just like that, and moves into a conversation about what it means to be whatever-phobic. Why give the person in question, the one who fucked up, such an easy out, when it can be so easily avoided? Call bigotry what it is, and close the door to this sort of derailment.

My commitment

All of this is really to say that I am making a personal commitment to no longer use the terms transphobia, acephobia, homophobia, and the like. I will instead refer variously to what is actually happening. There’s actually a plethora of better, non-oppressive, and more precise terms than “phobia” applicable to various incarnations of bigotry or just plain ignorance. Consider:

  • Acephobia may refer to:
    • anti-ace bigotry
    • compulsory sexuality
    • ace erasure
  • Biphobia may refer to:
    • anti-bisexual bigotry
    • monosexism
    • bisexual erasure
  • Femmephobia may refer to:
    • misogyny
    • devaluation of femininity
    • compulsory masculinity
  • Homophobia may refer to:
    • anti-gay bigotry
    • heterosexism
    • gay erasure
  • Queerphobia may refer to:
    • anti-queer bigotry
    • queer erasure
    • heterosexism
    • monosexism
  • Transphobia may refer to:
    • anti-trans bigotry
    • transmisogyny
    • cissexism
    • trans erasure

I mean, just look at the amazing list of more precise terms to refer to different kinds of bigotry and ignorance faced by LGBTQIA folks! There are so many options, and they are all so useful and way more accurate and direct than “phobia”.

I also plan to go back and edit references to phobias out of my old posts, although I currently barely have time to even sit down and write this out, so I’m not sure when I will manage to do that. I simply promise that it will happen.

I will, however, continue to use “phobia” terms in my tags, for indexing purposes. As a librarian, I understand that using the terms that other people use is sometimes important to make information searchable and findable. I am open to the idea of making sure that false phobias don’t turn up in the tag cloud on the right though, if that is potentially harmful or triggering for people. Please let me know if you have thoughts on this!