Transphobia

Transphobia (or less commonly cissexism, transprejudice, trans-misogyny, referring to transphobia directed toward trans women and trans-misandry, referring to transphobia directed toward trans men) is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards transsexualism and transsexual or transgender people, based on the expression of their internal gender identity.

Attacking someone on the basis of a perception of their gender identity rather the perception of their sexual orientation is known as ‘trans bashing,’ as opposed to ‘gay bashing.’ Transphobia need not be a phobia as defined in clinical psychology (i.e., an anxiety disorder). Its meaning and use typically parallel those of xenophobia (fear of foreigners).

The transsexual feminist theorist and author Julia Serano argues in her book ‘Whipping Girl’ that transphobia is rooted in sexism. She locates the origins of both transphobia and homophobia in what she calls ‘oppositional sexism,’ the belief that male and female are ‘rigid, mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires.’ Serano contrasts oppositional sexism with ‘traditional sexism,’ the belief that males and masculinity are superior to females and femininity. Furthermore, she writes that transphobia is fueled by insecurities people have about gender and gender norms. Transgender author and critic Jody Norton believes that transphobia is an extension of homophobia and misogyny. She argues that transgender people, like gays and lesbians, are hated and feared for challenging and undermining gender norms and the gender binary. Norton writes that the ‘male-to-female transgender incites transphobia through her implicit challenge to the binary division of gender upon which male cultural and political hegemony depends.’

Homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons have engaged in practices that have a demeaning impact on trans women, refusing, for example, admission to women’s areas and forcing them to sleep and bathe in the presence of men. This situation has been changing in some areas, however. For example, in 2006, New York City’s Department of Homeless Services announced an overhaul of its housing policy with the goal of specifically ending discrimination against transgender people in its shelters. Transgender people depend largely on the medical profession to receive not only hormone replacement therapy, but also vital care. In one case, Robert Eads died of ovarian cancer after being refused treatment by more than two dozen doctors. In the US-based National Center For Transgender Equality’s 2011 survey, 19% of respondents reported having been refused medical care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status. Another example is Tyra Hunter, who was involved in an automobile accident; when rescue workers discovered she was transgender, they backed away and stopped administering treatment. She later died at the hospital. In Sweden, any transgender person who wishes to change their legal gender must first be sterilized.

Employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression is illegal in some U.S. cities, towns and states. Such discrimination is outlawed by specific legislation in the State of New Jersey and might be in other states (as it is in the states of California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington) or city ordinances; additionally, it is covered by case law in some other states. Several other states and cities prohibit such discrimination in public employment. Sweden and the United Kingdom has also legislated against employment discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. Transgender people also face the denial of right of asylum or inhuman treatment in process of asylum-seeking. For example, Fernada Milan, a transsexual woman from Guatemala was placed in an asylum center for males in Denmark and while there, was raped by several men. She is now in danger of deportation into Guatemala where transgender people have no rights and face possible execution.

The Christian Right has become increasingly involved in campaigning against transgender inclusive antidiscrimination legislation. Much of this transphobia is based on conservative Catholic natural law theory, derived from the work of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and then modified by John Finnis, Robert George and other conservative Catholics to posit human ‘essences’ that are ‘immutable’ (like ‘biological sex’ or ‘genetical or chromosomal sex’) to discourage government funding for reassignment surgery, or inclusion within anti-discrimination legislation, such as Canada’s contemporary Bill C-279, intended to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Radical feminist Janice Raymond’s 1979 book, ‘The Transsexual Empire,’ was and still is controversial due to its unequivocal condemnation of transsexual surgeries. In the book Raymond says, ‘All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves …. Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.’ Perhaps the most visible site of conflict between feminists and trans women has been the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. The festival ejected a transsexual woman, Nancy Burkholder, in the early 1990s. Since then, the festival has admitted ‘womyn-born-womyn’ only. The festival considered allowing post-operative trans women to attend, however this was criticized as classist, as many trans women cannot afford sex reassignment surgery.

 Trans author Jillian Todd Weiss traces this back to social constructions created by early sexologists which split homosexuality into sexual orientation (sexual object choice) and gender identity (sexual self-identification as male or female): ‘This scientific rationalism and medicalization of homosexuality confirmed it as a unitary, monolithic phenomenon. This created a monosexist (exclusively same-sex) ‘homosexual identity,’ and a corresponding tension between identification as homosexual, on the one hand, and passing as heterosexual and/or engaging in heterosexual relationships.’

Historian Joanne Meyerowitz documented transphobia within the gay rights movement in the mid 20th century in response to publicity surrounding the transition of Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen, who made frequent homophobic remarks and insisted she was not connected to or identified with gay men, was a polarizing figure among activists: ‘In 1953, for example, ‘ONE’ magazine published a debate among its readers as to whether gay men should denounce Jorgensen. In the opening salvo, the author Jeff Winters accused Jorgensen of a ‘sweeping disservice’ to gay men. ‘As far as the public knows,’ Winters wrote, ‘you were merely another unhappy homosexual who decided to get drastic about it.’ For Winters, Jorgensen’s story simply confirmed the false belief that all men attracted to other men must be basically feminine,’ which, he said, ‘they are not.’ Jorgensen’s precedent, he thought, encouraged the ‘reasoning’ that led ‘to legal limitations upon the homosexual, mandatory injections, psychiatric treatment – and worse.’ In the not-so-distant past, scientists had experimented with castrating gay men.’

While many gays and lesbians feel that transgender is simply a name for a part of their own community (i.e. the LGBT community), others actively reject the idea that transgender people are part of their community, seeing them as entirely separate and distinct. Nor is it solely radical feminist lesbians who are antagonistic to transgender rights and inclusion. The center right Independent Gay Forum website has opposed transgender inclusion within the proposed US Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity within the area of paid employment within the United States, arguing that sexual orientation alone was a more pragmatic objective. However, New Zealand LGBT individuals have repeatedly called for the direct inclusion of gender identity within New Zealand’s Human Rights Act 1993, its national anti-discrimination statute, instead of the current indirect inclusion that exists. In the early 1970s, conflicts began to emerge due to different syntheses of lesbian, feminist and transgender political movements, particularly in the United States. San Francisco trans activist and entertainer Beth Elliott became the focus of debate over whether to include transsexual lesbians in the movement, and she was eventually blacklisted by her own movement.

The nature of the terms man and woman also become unclear in a similar way under this philosophy, and many feel that the only real recourse is to accept that the mind and feeling of a person is the only thing that gives that person identity, and so a person that has a female identity and mind is indeed a woman. According to this thinking, it becomes clear that in at least a categorical sense, transgender people should only be accepted in the LGB community if they themselves self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and the blanket assumption on the part of some gay, lesbian and bisexual people on the nature of those transgender people who are in their LGB community with a view to dis-inclusion constitutes an issue of transphobia. The implacability of this question has been overcome by the rise in the 1990s of queer theory and the queer community, which defines queer as embracing all variants of sexual identity, sexual desire, and sexual acts that fall outside normative definitions of heterosexuality; thus a heterosexual man or woman as well as a transgender person of any sex can be included in the category of queer through their own choice.

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