The function of “Transphobia”

I have been on the internet for about a decade now, and throughout the course of my 10-year long browsing session, I have engaged in many threads, topics, discussions, arguments, and debates about homosexuality. These topics have pertained to all sorts of issues, such as whether homosexuality is or isn’t a choice, whether gay people should have children, if gay people are gross or not, if AIDs is a “gay people disease.” And in all these discussions, at this point dozens, if not over a hundred, the word “homophobia” has rarely crept into all the sentences, paragraphs, pages, threads.

On the other hand, the word “transphobia” pops up very often in discussion threads I encounter on transgenderism, and usually in the form of “You are being transphobic/this opinion is transphobic/you are a transphobe.” It seems as if the terms “homophobia” and “transphobia” function in vastly different ways. The former is short-hand for the phenomenon of hatred, hostility, fear, and discrimination shown against homosexuals. The latter is a trump card, an empty rebuttal meant to shut someone down while ignoring what they have to say by declaring that it’s mean. It’s responding to a long, carefully written post that draws its position from informed research and thoughtful scholarly inquiry with “Nope! Transphobic. Next argument?”

I have been trying to get a sense of what transphobia actually is. I turned to Wikipedia to see what the general internet community had to report on transphobia (the article presumably written by people interested, knowledgeable, and favorable towards transgenderism). Wikipedia is not a tool to be used when you need specific facts or high-level analysis, but it reveals the zeitgeist of the internet community on just about every topic under the sun.

The Transphobia page on Wikipedia is fairly long. At 3,250 words, it’s longer than the Women page (2,750 words). Notably, though, there is little writing on the origin, etymology, or history of the word. The largest section of the page is on “examples” of transphobia, which isn’t detailed descriptions of major historical incidents of transphobia, but rather descriptions of ways that transphobia can manifest (e.g., “transphobia in health care,” “transgender disenfranchisement,” “transphobia in employment”). Most of these sections are a few sentences, maybe a paragraph or two in length. The largest sections on transphobia pertain to transphobia in feminism and in gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities. The pie chart below indicates the amount of attention each example of transphobia is given in the Wikipedia article on transphobia:

transphobia

The section on transphobia in feminism makes up 26% of the text covering examples of transphobia. Combining this with the passage on transphobia in gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities, over half of the coverage on transphobia is about offenses within the LGB communities and feminism. Not even transphobia in employment gets as much attention as either of these two topics, and issues like trans bashing and even the right to vote are little more than a blip on the radar.

The coverage of transphobia in the sections on feminism and LGB communities is what one would expect if they have any experience in dealing with trans activists. The main focus on these two sections, which make up 50% of the coverage on “examples” of transphobia, have nothing to do with violent crime or taking away their right to vote or denying them health care. The transphobia problem in feminism and LGB, according to this Wikipedia page on transphobia, is the exclusion of trans people from women’s spaces. Highlighted in the section the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a female-only gathering of feminist women, and a case of a trans male being expelled from training as a rape crisis counselor for a rape-relief and women’s shelter.

Yes, you read that right. It is transphobia to bar a male from counseling women who are the direct victims of male violence. Social-justicey feminists take no problems with the concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist, an anxiety many women feel around males in an unsafe space, but it’s apparently not okay for victims of rape and violence to be afraid of males when that group includes trans males.

The other two points covered in the section revolve around two quotes by Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys.

That’s the long and short of this section on transphobia in feminism, which makes up 26% of the article. The section on transphobia in LGB communities is largely a regurgitation of what was stated in the previous passage.

Wikipedia is by no means a condensed version of the rhetoric surrounding this topic, but it is representative of the attitudes of those who contributed to the page, presumably trans people and transfeminists who are familiar with the LGB community and social justice and feminist spaces. My own experiences within LGBT, social justice, and feminist spaces, as well as, I suspect, the experiences of many others, support the finding that transphobia is less often discussed in terms of discrimination and violence and more often in terms of invalidation of the trans identity.

And by “invalidation of the trans identity,” what I really mean is refusing to allow men to appropriate your experiences, identifying your sex as the basis of your oppression, setting up sexual boundaries that exclude males, fighting for the right to assemble as females. Saying that girlhood matters, that women have the right not to be attracted to males, that vaginas are more than just holes to stick things in, that breasts are more than just lumps of flesh or silicone, is the kind of rhetoric that genderists call transphobia and seek to erase. With enough threats, with enough intimidation, with enough male-driven, male-powered campaigns, trans activists are bullying feminists into silence, shutting down feminist discourse, and invading women’s spaces. Transphobia is not about identifying violence or discrimination: It’s about targeting and taking down those women who dare to acknowledge that their femalehood matters.

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23 Responses to The function of “Transphobia”

  1. karmarad says:

    “…refusing to allow men to appropriate your experiences, identifying your sex as the basis of your oppression, setting up sexual boundaries that exclude males, fighting for the right to assemble as females. Saying that girlhood matters, that women have the right not to be attracted to males, that vaginas are more than just holes to stick things in, that breasts are more than just lumps of flesh or silicone,”

    And maybe? Being very cautious about including a group that itself is in transitional turmoil and has no defined boundaries, and includes for instance any male who announces he’s a woman now, irrespective of any medical intervention or motivation; being aware that even medical intervention does not change the generally larger skeletons and muscle mass and socialized aggressive behavior which are long-established reasons for establishing separate facilities; critiquing the notion that a two-gendered society is all that can exist and therefore those who reject being males must be females, which solidifies further the traditional female gender role; and insisting that women are a clearly defined genetic and biological human class, which is not in the same historical or political situation as transgender people.

    All these points above should lead to important discussion and reasoned debate, not intimidatory labelling of any feminist discussion as “transphobic”. To me that is a smear word which is wrongly applied to feminists, when its real origin is to describe men who are prejudiced against “feminine” men. From all I have learned, feminists are far less prejudiced and can far better empathize with the actual discrimination transgender people experience in society.

  2. Feminist at Sea says:

    Reblogged this on Feminist at Sea.

  3. thanks for taking the time to gather these stats. it provides a better view of this topic.

  4. Nicky says:

    Reblogged this on Kallmann's syndrome life and commented:
    This is why Trans like to throw the transphobia card at people. They don’t have any validity to their arguments and when you don’t agree with their mental illness, they throw the transphobia card to silence and shut down any conversation. It’s very typical and male like of them.

  5. Em says:

    Welcome back, GM.

    Pathological narcissism is a driving force with trans folk, the very common behaviors you cite are nothing more or less than rage in reaction to narcissistic injury. “Um, no, you’re not a speshul snowflake. You’re a male fetishist in a dress” does NOT comport with their fantasies about themselves.

  6. Grace says:

    The first thing the oppressor does is invalidate the language used by the oppressed to define their experience.

  7. ladyyaga says:

    It’s about damn time an articulate feminist took on the self-righteous trans-rights people.They hate any attempt to create women’s space or women’s culture. If you disagree with them, you’re labeled a bigot. Mary Daly had it right– trans “women” are merely taking men’s age-old jealousy of women to a new level. The trans community actually exemplifies essentialism more than any other group– how else could one “be” a woman when, biologically, this is not the case?

  8. Grace says:

    A bunch of cisgender women refusing to acknowledge their ‘privilege’?

    tut tut!

  9. Pingback: Trans criticism is not transphobia | Women of the Patriarchy

  10. Pingback: The Cotton Ceiling This Week | GenderTrender

  11. agoldengrove says:

    The only thing that makes a human being male or female is their chromosomes. Men wishing to be women doesn’t make them women anymore than wishing to be a millionaire makes me a millionaire.

  12. Jewel says:

    > … is the kind of rhetoric that genderists call transphobia and seek to erase.

    According to Wikipedia, genderism is one who supports the gender/sex binary and believes in its inseparable association with one’s birth sex. So, basically the opposite of how you’ve used it here. But, for what it’s worth, I think your definition makes more sense because gender itself has become a worthless concept where “woman” can be appropriated by anyone and emphasis on male/female sex is dismissed as archaic because it “discriminates” against transsexuals.

  13. RedHester says:

    dear sister, thank you for your brave and illuminating words. it is such a waste of precious time and energy, this whole trans* v. women arguing. ugh. there is no end to the brutality and sociopathy of men. such a tragedy. :(

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