What is transphobia, anyway?

I mentioned that today is the international day against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia but I don’t think I’ve ever explained what transphobia actually is. The Trans Actual website has put together a comprehensive explanation.

Transphobia, like homophobia and biphobia, is an umbrella term to describe various negative attitudes towards people based on a single characteristic: who they love, or who they are.

You can be perfectly pleasant to trans, gay or bi people and still be transphobic, homophobic or biphobic; you can vote for equal marriage but feel uncomfortable around gay people, use trans people’s pronouns but think they’re mentally ill, accept that bisexual people exist but believe that bisexuality means promiscuity or sexual greed. And while that’s not ideal, you’re not directly hurting anybody. But unfortunately some people with transphobic, homophobic or biphobic beliefs do hurt people – not necessarily physically, although god knows there’s plenty of that, but also by discriminating against them or making their lives more difficult or dangerous.

And just as people who are racists don’t like being called racist, people who are transphobic (or homophobic, or biphobic) get very upset when people point it out. Some of the most transphobic people around are adamant that they don’t have a bigoted bone in their body.

Like many of their strategies, that one has been nicked wholesale from the religious right and the far right: racists aren’t racists, they’re race realists who just want to protect white people’s civil rights; religious conservatives don’t hate LGBT+ people, they just believe in family values. The transphobes’ equivalent is to claim to be protecting “sex-based rights” or battling “gender ideology”, terms that come from right-wing religious fundamentalism. The term “gender ideology” was barely used before 2016.

Most people who say they aren’t -phobic truly believe it: in the movie of their life, they’re certain that they are Luke Skywalker, not Darth Vader. Few of us want to believe we’re the baddies. So to protect that, they attempt to define what homophobia, transphobia or biphobia is or isn’t. That definition always, always, finds in their favour. They are the judge and the jury of their own prejudice, and they always find the defendant not guilty.

The thinking goes like this. Transphobia, homophobia and biphobia are traits that bad people have. I am not a bad person, therefore what I do cannot be transphobic, homophobic or biphobic.

Racists do this too. My favourite (and I say that with bleak humour) example is the Ku Klux Klan, some of whose chapters recently claimed that because they no longer go around wearing pointy hoods and burning crosses on people’s lawns, they can’t possibly be racist. But of course, they are.

Transphobia, like racism, doesn’t just mean acts of violence. It can be pushing a narrative that human rights for trans people are in conflict with human rights for others. It can be trying to limit trans people’s access to healthcare, or demanding that charities do not help trans people. It can be misrepresenting the actions of a few as representative of the many, or misrepresenting science and medical opinion to cast doubt on trans people’s very legitimacy. It can be choosing not to hire trans people, or to give them a platform you offer to others. And most dangerously, it can be about stochastic terrorism: demonising a particular group of people in the knowledge that such demonisation may lead others to commit violence against them while your own hands remain clean.

Today, like every day, LGBT+ people are on the receiving end of all of those things. It’s terrible everywhere, but in some parts of the world it is also exceptionally dangerous.

Graeme Reid in Advocate.com:

The annual celebration  is an opportune moment to reflect on the advances made in LGBTQ+ rights, and the challenges that remain.

…At a time when access to health care is a global concern, LGBT people remain vulnerable to discrimination, driven by health workers’ personal prejudice or government policy.

…Access to appropriate health care is a struggle for transgender people in many parts of the world. Coercive medical requirements can foster abuse.

…LGBTQ+ people are often cast as a threat to traditional notions of the family, society and the nation. Stigma and hate speech are even more threatening in a pandemic, when vulnerable groups are blamed and targeted.

…As IDAHOBIT is celebrated throughout the world, as an aspect of  “breaking the silence,” challenges to  equal access to healthcare, education, protection from discrimination and violence, and rights to association, expression and privacy remain pressing in many parts of the world. Even in a crisis of staggering proportions, the advances that have been made in human rights, including for LGBTQ+ people, need to be protected.