This article took me a while to write.
Not because I’m personally angered, not because the article I’m responding to has well-written and well-structured arguments (it doesn’t), not because I had to sit and comfort my trans friends after exposing them to this article — but because the article called “Transphobia Is Perfectly Natural,” written by cis man Gavin McInnes, was seemingly so lost and ill-informed that I almost didn’t know how to approach correcting the blatantly sexist, transphobic, transmisogynist, racist, and ableist piece.
Before we continue on, I want to acknowledge my privilege in writing about this. As an AFAB (assigned female at birth) non-binary person who is still fairly girl-aligned, my existence wasn’t even acknowledged in the slightest by this person. The invisibility of non-binary people oftentimes really helps us, and it certainly did here. The main thing I find important to recognize in regards to this topic, though, is my whiteness, which shields me from more than I could ever know. We have to recognize that as a whole, sure, the trans community takes beatings — but statistics show that overwhelmingly, it’s people of color that suffer most of the violence and discrimination that trans people experience.
Now that that’s said, I want to sum up McInnes’ article for all those who don’t wish to read it or don’t find it readable: In the first few paragraphs, he attempts to have a “gotcha” moment by portraying gender affirmation surgery as a weird, gross result of a mental illness/fetish that is transness. He points to trans women as only wanting vaginas so they can experience the type of sex they want. He points to trans men as wanting penises only to be able to fuck their partner with said penis. Unfortunately, he didn’t outline for us why a trans men would want a flat chest, but I guess since that didn’t line up with his view of the situation, he decided to ignore that.
He then moves on to present some weird anecdotes to us, implying that parents should be uncomfortable with letting their (cis) daughter have oral sex with a post-op trans man, and that children of trans parents who start calling their trans parent “Mom2” are weird (because same-gender cis parents don’t exist!). He also points to Janet Mock as “retroactively rewriting history” by speaking about her experiences growing up as a trans woman, and then finally gets on to his actual point: that trans people are icky sicko gay kinksters that die before age 40 because transness itself is what causes drug abuse and suicide, and we have gone too far in supporting these crazies, especially because it turns out that trans people are actually the ones oppressing women.
Alright, alright, so let’s say you came here for a completely neutral and logical argument and you’re tired of the snark. I can do that for you, person incapable of treating others with kindness and respect simply out of human decency, because supporting trans people actually is quite logical.
It’s hard to know where to even start with such an uninformed, disorganized mess of an argument, but we can begin with this: being trans is not the same as deciding to go through gender affirmation surgery. The word “transgender,” as defined by almost every source (although this one comes from Merriam-Webster) is this: “of, relating to, or being a person (as a transsexual or transvestite) who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth.” That’s it. Nowhere in that definition does it say that trans people have all gotten their genitals “chopped off” or “turned inside out.” Nowhere does that say that all trans people want to or are going to do that. This man’s arguments against trans people are inherently flawed because he literally has no idea what “trans” even means — which is just that a person’s gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.
Now, that doesn’t mean that many trans people don’t want gender affirmation surgery. Plenty, if not most, do. But I can say with confidence that this isn’t simply because they like the feeling of being fucked (or fucking someone else) in a certain way — see, this thing called dysphoria exists. This is perhaps the mental illness he keeps trying to point to with a flailing, limp arm, not transness. Gender dysphoria typically means that you don’t feel at home in your own body — you may suffer from depression, anxiety, and social isolation because your body causes you so much grief. This isn’t a simple case of angst or wishing to look a certain way. This is a very serious problem that, without treatment, may lead people to self-harm and suicide. And while part of dysphoria may be how one experiences sex, having gender affirmation surgery isn’t solely about that for many people; it’s about taking a step towards them feeling comfortable in their bodies overall. Not to mention, in the cissexist society we live in now, most people do tie vaginas to womanhood and penises to manhood, and trans people should not be blamed for wanting their identities acknowledged and validated and taking measures to achieve that. Trans people did not create the gender binary or the society that forces nearly everyone to fit perfectly within it.
Speaking of the gender binary, it’s awfully convenient (or just downright ignorant) that McInnes didn’t mention non-binary or non-dysphoric trans people in his article. Even if he wanted to argue that trans people are “crazy” because of their dysphoria or something along those lines, not every trans person experiences dysphoria. He tries to make the case that trans people are furthering sexism and “misandry” by coveting vaginas when they identify as women and penises when they identify as a man, but he doesn’t utter a single word about the harmful practices of cis people who define their womanhood and manhood through their genitals and/or sex assignment. He also fails to mention any systems of sex/gender outside of Western society which include non-binary identities, making him undoubtedly binarist. And, of course, he doesn’t make a single mention of non-binary people who wish to obtain gender affirmation surgery. Again, because non-binary people don’t fit in with his view of trans people as fetishists and reinforcers of the sexist gender binary, we are completely erased from the conversation. Either that, or he’s ignorant about the existence of non-binary people, proving once again that he is speaking on something he has absolutely no knowledge of.
Coming back to the binary identities he did criticize, I also find it interesting that throughout the article, McInnes treats trans women as men because they were born with a penis. However, at the end of the article, he states that it’s insulting to women to say that womanhood is tied to having a vagina. If he actually believed his latter point, why would he have a such a problem with penis-bearing people identifying as women? Does he also not realize the irony in implying that people with penises cannot be women, and then at the beginning of the article, talking about vaginas like meatholes always ready to fucked? Either way, it’s a losing game for him. In his arbitrary picking-and-choosing of who gets to be a real woman, he ends up appearing to be a transphobe, a misogynist, or both.
As a sidenote, I also don’t know where this guy got the idea of trans men’s penises looking like “cheese blintz.” I’ve seen penises that people were born with, and I’ve seen penises that were constructed through surgery, and guess what: There’s little to no difference in how they look. It’s almost like that’s the point of the surgery, or something.
This guy also apparently has no idea what any surgery entails, as he describes gender affirmation surgery as mutilating one’s body. When it comes to people who think like that, I’m always left scratching my head, wondering if they have any idea what most surgeries do. Many (if not the overwhelming majority of) surgeries involve acts of “mutilation” and permanent changes to the body. That doesn’t mean the person receiving the surgery does not consent to what’s being done, and perhaps even more importantly, it doesn’t mean these surgeries aren’t life-saving. This rhetoric actually reminds me a lot of how pro-lifers dishonestly portray obtaining an abortion as mutilation of your body and furthermore, your personhood. But in this case, McInnes isn’t even pretending to be concerned about if someone’s decision to get a potentially life-saving surgery effects another (potential) person or not. He is downright just uncomfortable with some rando’s bodily agency.
Before we reach the final argument I’d like to make, though, let’s tick off some of the smaller ridiculous statements he made throughout his article.
- “We see there are no old trannies. They die of drug overdoses and suicide way before they’re 40 and nobody notices because nobody knows them.” Ah, yes, transness is bad because it inherently promotes drug abuse and suicide in those that are part of the community. It couldn’t possibly be because of the high rates of assault, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and discriminatory practices of transphobic people, right?
- “When Janet Mock appears on MSNBC and talks about growing up as a black chick, nobody’s going to bat an eye. We’ll all be totally comfortable with him retroactively rewriting history and putting a skirt on all his boyhood memories.” Next time one of my gay friends talks about growing up as a gay person, I’ll make sure to remind them that because they didn’t start dating someone of the same gender until they were in their 20s, they actually weren’t gay that whole time and are just rewriting history, putting a rainbow flag button on their childhood memories.
- “You’re not a man. You don’t even know what Turf Builder is.” Sorry, cis guys who didn’t know what a Turf Builder was before you read this article, but you were never a man. Knowing random “manly” products is what makes you a man, not having a penis! Wait…
- “This insane war on pronouns is about telling people what to do.” Remember that time when asking someone to say “she” instead of “he” was akin to war and facism? This guy does!
- “Being gay is a weird quirk that happens at birth. It’s like being an albino.” I’m not even sure if I need to address this one. Not only is there very little science supporting what he’s saying, but this discounts anyone whose sexuality is fluid or who doesn’t relate to the whole “born this way” idea. I mean, while I’m sure many, many people feel they were gay at birth, let’s just push the idea that gayness is a “weird quirk” out of the sphere, at least for a while. I think it needs a little alone time.
Okay, okay, all snark aside, I think the final nail in the coffin for McInnes’ article has to be the way he talks about mentally ill people. Throughout his little rant about how trans people are just sex-obsessed psychos, there’s been one common thread that ties everything bad about the article together, and surprisingly, it’s not outright transphobia. It’s ableism.
Think about it: he claims that transphobia is natural and okay because in reality, trans people are just big ol’ crazies. He implies that mentally ill people should have little to no say in what happens to their body. They are too “crazy” to understand who they are and what they want. They may hold down jobs, they may be known as caring, friendly, and capable to the people around them, they may be leaders and activists and educators, but in the end, because they want to do something “icky” with their bodies, or they don’t hold an identity that makes McInnes comfortable, they are deemed to be “crazy.”
And here’s the thing that gets me about this, too: yeah, a good amount trans people do suffer from mental illness, just as a good amount of cis people do. For example, I suffer from anxiety and depression, and I know many other trans people who are the same as me. I also know many trans people who fall even deeper into the “crazy” spectrum; schizophrenic trans people, borderline trans people, bipolar trans people, trans people who suffer from PTSD. And guess what? All of their identities are still valid. All of them can definitely decide what they do and do not want to do with their bodies, even if some of their illnesses prevent them from operating as a capitalist system expects them to on a day-to-day basis. But it’s people like McInnes that prevent them from getting the treatment they need; because instead of their therapist taking their PTSD or depression seriously, they’re too busy being “treated” for their transness, which will probably never go away.
Mentally ill people, no matter their gender alignment, have been infantilized and abused for ages because of the type of thought McInnes’ article promotes, which is that neurodivergent people can never be allowed any agency for their own good. And unless McInnes wants to argue to a population that is 1/4 mentally ill that ableism and abuse against disabled people is natural and okay, the entire premise of his article falls apart pretty quickly. Transphobia is not “perfectly natural” — at least not on the basis which he is presenting. If he wants to talk about the sex and gender binary or something, he can get back to me on that, and I’ll refute the same tired arguments again. But until then, don’t listen to anyone who lists “misandry” as a reason not to support trans people.