People like me don’t have to deal with that … so we don’t. We don’t think about those pressures or those messages because we’re comfortable with them. We’re technically included in the target audience, so those pressures reinforce something that’s already there; we aren’t struggling with a different identity. Not all trans people struggle internally, either. Plenty never experience gender dysphoria, but externally, they’re still bombarded with hourly indications that they should conform.
I was part of that. I didn’t realize it, but that doesn’t make me any less responsible. I had no trans friends growing up. I had no trans relatives to call me out. Later on in life, when I got into gay club culture and hung out with drag queens, they were all cis men wearing costumes. They dealt with harassment for it, sure, but they talked about their stage personas as though they were separate people. When they went home, they were cis gay men, and not trans women. They were playing a part, and that’s not the same thing as living the transgender life. I had no encouragement, no stimulus to identify or empathize with trans folks beyond, “I’ve been bullied by straight people, too.” So, I didn’t.
Now that is incredibly gross to me.
My Passive Cissexism and Transphobia
What I've discovered is that I was cissexist and transphobic in that passive way that people can be racist or sexist without actually realizing it. That is because it’s totally normal, in our society, to be a little bit misogynistic, to look down on the poor and the homeless, and to clutch your purse or roll up your windows when you go through the black and brown parts of town. It’s “normal,” but it’s not right. It’s our job to recognize that it isn’t right and to understand how we’re hurting people - and then, to change.
When I was in college, there were fellow students who were trans. This was my first real exposure, and I handled it poorly. I didn’t bully or harass them, no, but I thought I was being progressive when I said things to my friends like, “You know, people can wear whatever they want, but seriously, wear something that flatters you!” As if, in my wisdom, it was my place to decide what looked good on somebody without even knowing who they were. Maybe those lacy pink panties weren’t for me, but my subvocal judgment toward she whom I unconsciously saw as the man wearing them was unwarranted, unsolicited and unhelpful.
I wasn’t being inclusive or empathetic by assuming I knew better about somebody’s wardrobe - just like I wasn’t being constructive by essentially seeing the person as their wardrobe and by using their clothing to define them. Defining someone by their clothing is a familiar oppressive act, but it wasn't one I recognized in myself, at that time, because I was too busy being ignorant.
I was cisgender, and I let that make me cissexist too. Like so many who ought to know better, I allowed the fact that I wasn’t part of a group bias me against that group. I didn’t see how I had a stake in their situation, so I questioned whether they really had a “situation” at all. Sure, “some men want to dress up as women,” but why? “Some girls like to cut their hair in boys’ styles,” but what do they hope to gain? There are even people who reject gender altogether “and, I mean, people should be allowed to wear whatever clothes they want, I guess, but…” Always some foolish suspicion along those lines, as if transgender people have some ulterior motive.
As it turns out, they’re completely open about their motives. They just want to go to the bathroom in peace.