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Why Words Matter

By Leea Pronovost

Disclosure: This is my opinion of why words matter within the trans community and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of either the Gender Advocacy Project nor the North County LGBTQ Resource Center.

Trigger Warning: This article will deal with my own personal opinion on transphobic issues surrounding the trans community and also my personal experience around the issue of both aggressive and passive aggressive transphobia.

We all know a little bit about phobias. So, I don’t think I’ll have to explain that it’s a fear of something, (i.e. heights, spiders, etc., etc.). To define what transphobia is, we have to take into account that this is based upon a fear of transgender people. That fear is then shown through negative attitudes, feelings, or actions in some form of fashion towards transgender people or transness in general. Whether or not that this is seen as transgender, gender non-conforming, bigender or anything that doesn’t fall under the gender binary. Our society has generally accepted as a truth even though gender diversity has existed for as long as homo-sapiens have, and maybe even before that time as well.

Now that we have the formal definition out of the way, I want to get into the many different types of transphobia. If you’re a member of the community that falls under the transgender umbrella, Transgender, GNC, Transexual, Crossdresser, Transvestite, Bigender, or any other permutations that would be considered different than the gender you were assigned at birth it may not include the Intersex community, (depending upon their own interpretations of their gender). Basically, you have experienced one or more of these in your lifetime, and in my personal experience I think a lot of intersex people get clocked as being transgender even though they may not identify that way. If this is something that trigger’s you, then please stop reading!!

I have known about being transgender my whole life, before transgender was even a word that was adopted by the community. My ex-wife knew before even I did, so I’m excluding her. I came out as transgender sometime in 2008, still not knowing what I wanted to do. This is when I started to experience some of the things I’m talking about. Let me tell you though, I experienced many of them way before coming out. I used to cross-dress quite a lot to help ease my dysphoria. In 1978 getting caught while on leave from the base I was stationed at, and then having to go through a court martial. But, that’s for another blog. However, having to have go through that of itself is a bit transphobic. Basically, they feared what they did not know, and back then, they considered this a mental disease. So, to be treated as such, fits the criteria for being transphobic.

In this particular time of Transgender Awareness month, and especially the week before Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) that is on the 20th of November. We are reminded of the most extreme of transphobia. We honor ALL those that have been taken from us by extreme transphobia in the form of violence, to the point where a person’s life has been taken from them.

BTW, I must mention here, we are having a week-long memorial/ofrenda/altar here at the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, 3220 Mission Ave., Oceanside, CA 92058, to honor those taken from us this year due to that violence. This year has been extremely bad for transwomen of color. So far, there has been a record number of murders (34 that we know of) of transgender people. If you are so inclined, please feel free to stop by and pay your respects, or drop of an offering to honor the ones lost.

There are also plenty of instances where a trans person has been beaten to near death but has survived. We do not talk about those instances very often. They actually occur probably more often than we care to talk about them. I have to say, that under the current administration these types of hate crimes have seen a sharp increase. Every once in a while, you will see in the headlines, a trans person getting a beating that puts her into the hospital. I used to work the Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860) a suicide hotline for transgender people, and half of my calls were from transwomen who had survived some sort of rape and/or attack on their personal being.

Of course, there are many other forms of transphobia that are not as brutal or filled with that type of violence. I remember a time, attending (in my early days) a support group and sitting in our meeting space, which was at a hospital lunch room, were a bunch of contractors that were working in the hospital. I sat outside the cafeteria, because I was the first person to show up for the meeting. A couple of others showed up for the meeting and they joined me. The guard for the hospital came up and without even looking at any of us, walked into the cafeteria said something to the contractors. I heard them all laugh so hard out loud. I felt very embarrassed by this laughter and they stared straight at us, as they all filled out of the cafeteria. All the while, they were still laughing. I was frozen with fear and anxiety, I did not know what to say to the other people that came and they were just as new to this as I was, maybe even more so.

One can experience transphobia, especially from family members. Just the fact that someone calls you from your dead name, or misgenders you, this is a form of transphobia, even if they didn’t mean to. Let me explain why I believe that. Let’s say it is your own mother who does this, after you are correcting her many more times than you care to count, she still keeps doing it. Each time that you correct her, she keeps responding with excuses as to why she is doing so. These excuses are actually in my opinion are transphobic. This a way of her explaining to herself why she cannot accept you for who you are. It shows that she is not trying to learn, especially with the barrage of excuses. If she was really trying to learn, then maybe she should say thank you for correcting me. This would be a more appropriate way of showing interest in learning and respecting your identity.

When I first started my transition, I was always afraid of being clocked as transgender. Sometimes I would be and when that happened, I would experience looks, to someone mumbling something almost imperceptible. A few times someone would even say something to me, saying I was a freak, or even worse. Now a days I am actually one of the lucky people, as I am probably passible. Which allows me to avoid most of these types of scenarios.

Let me say this though, even being one of those privileged people with the ability to pass, we still are getting some form of transphobia. I remember once sitting with a bunch of other lesbians having a nice discussion, I mentioned that I was transgender. One of the other women responded to me “Really? It looks so natural on you!”. The only thing I could do was to say to myself WTF, what’s that supposed to mean. Oh yeah, I get it transwomen are not supposed to be “real women” so they don’t look like “women”, at best this is passive aggressive and at worst this is just pure aggressive. Another time I even had another trans woman tell me but you look like a woman, so it come even from within our own community.

Another time with another lesbian woman having a conversation about dating and who we would date. The type of woman that we would be attracted to. She opened up and told me she would never date a transwoman. Immediately I felt that I was being discriminated, I asked her why she said that’s just her preference. I asked is it because they may have male parts? She said no. I asked is it because they were socialized as a man for some part of their life, once again she said no it is just her preference. Well the thing that got to me is a lot of the transwomen I know, would actually fit her description of the type of woman she would be attracted to. However, because they are transwomen, she would not ever even think about dating them. When deep down I know if she didn’t know they were transgender, she would be all over them, but yet the moment she would find out it would change her mind. This is truly transphobic at least in my opinion actually truly aggressive transphobia.

This is why Words Matter!!!

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