As far as trans* narratives go, mine is one of the lucky ones. Well, in retrospect, maybe not as lucky as privileged. What that means is that the blatant acts of hate and transphobia – poverty, unemployment, corrective rapes, social ostracism, forced marriages, to name just a few – that are an unfortunate everyday reality for a staggeringly high number of trans* persons, have never been a part of my story, since my privilege affords me the option to create a safe bubble around me and be choosy about who can get access to it.
But then, I wouldn’t be writing this piece, if all my experiences around gender were like those in the first paragraph. I think the problem is that we, as a society, understand gender itself in a very trans phobic way… and this binary, heteronormative expression of our collective understanding is then reflected in ways that make all trans* persons face transphobia, irrespective of who, if at all someone, is perpetrating it.
At an internal level, this worsens our sense of dysphoria, which impacts not just our mental health but can also lead to irreversible physical damage. All trans* PAGFBs who bind are all too aware of at least one manifestation on this.
At an external level, the constant scrutiny of our bodies especially by random strangers (in their attempt to decide ma’am or sir, of course!) makes passing a matter of life or death. Not that it’s not such a grave matter otherwise. I don’t even want to begin imagining what could possibly happen if I walked into a men’s washroom and someone got a little too curious! The very thought of going through airport security (irrespective of which queue I choose) gets my heart racing every time – and not in a good way! And when something you have as little control over as on passing becomes such a matter of life or death – that’s a big red flag for sanity right there!
I don’t know if all this even technically counts as transphobia, but I, for one, do read it as such… because constant fear of violence is definitely violence too.
So, attacking a trans* person because of their gender is obviously transphobia, but then so is staring at parts of their body that they are making an attempt to keep away from stares, or misgendering them, or outing them without their consent, or asking uncomfortable questions… to name just a few.
One other form of transphobia that I recently witnessed within the trans* community itself is this practice of assigning levels, or grades, to trans-ness on the basis of medical procedures one has undergone. It was a rude shock, because my understanding (and a big shout out to LABIA – A Queer feminist LBT Collective for helping me form that understanding) was that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and gender has nothing to do with that, anyways… that I can define my own version of masculinity / femininity which can be as different from the cis-masculinity / femininity as I want.. that these differences are just differences and not shortcomings… nor is there a test for trans-ness or a common transition trajectory ever possible…
I understand that a lot of us would probably want to closely resemble a cis-person of their desired gender in appearance, documentation etc., and agree that the community as a whole should work towards finding ways to simplify that process… but there should still be enough room left to explore, think, and come up with our own, unique gender goals and trajectories, which is why this competition between levels of trans-ness aiming towards a homogeneous trans* identity (of any kind) is a dangerous trend.
Perhaps the only fitting response to collective trans phobia is collective feminism, and that, to me, is a goal worth trying for.