As a transgender woman, I have to deal with glaring instances of transphobia on a near daily basis. “Oh, what’s that? A joke on a popular network TV show where they laugh about a ‘dude in a dress’ or react in absolute disgust thinking about ‘accidentally’ being attracted to a “tranny” (see: How I Met Your Mother, South Park, the Daily Show With Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, Community, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, Bob’s Burgers, Go On, and The Simpsons…just to name a few)? Great! After a long day, I love to come home and listen to jokes that attack my very existence!”
Should I go online and read about one of the all-too-common stories outlining the murder of a trans woman, I’ll find instances where the victim is blamed for their own demise. Similarly, authors of these stories seem to revel in the ability to play gender police, reverting to the birth names and pronouns of the recently assaulted or deceased. Even outlets that are “on our side” aren’t an exception. For instance, just this past June, HuffPost Gay Voices ran a story about a “transgender man” (by which they meant a transgender woman). After corresponding with an editor for nearly an hour, informing them that they were violating the AP Stylebook and the GLAAD guidelines for reporting on transgender individuals, he relented and “compromised” by changing the headline to read “transgender person” (while still leaving the victim’s birth name in the article).
How freaking gracious of him. I certainly hope that if something horrifically violent like that happened to me, the world wouldn’t be told about a “man” named “[birth name].”
No matter the individual, no matter the group, no matter how liberal or accepting you think someone is – they’re bound to let you down when it comes to steering clear of transphobia. For instance, take Patton Oswalt, one of my favorite comedians. He’s extremely liberal, injecting his own political views into his set. He’d never do or say something transphobic, right?
There HAS to be a transsexual whose e-mail address is “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) February 5, 2013
How often does someone try to make a joke at your expense? Occasionally? How often does someone try to invalidate your existence? Never? Sadly, this doesn’t even take into consideration things that actually happen to me “in real life.”
At the doctor’s office yesterday, I filled out my intake form, and sat down, waiting with the rest of the patients. On the form, I wrote my legal name (Parker Marie [last name]) and gender (Female, as listed on my driver’s license). After a few moments, the woman behind the desk loudly asks, in front of everyone else in the waiting room, if I had changed my name from [birth name] to my legal name, essentially outing me as trans to everyone within earshot. I nodded.
After finally receiving treatment, they handed me a form with a general summary of my visit. In the upper right hand corner, I noticed this:
DESCRIPTION: 27 year old male
Really, doctor? Really? Not only did you out me to the waiting room, but you felt the need to ignore what was on the intake form and legal document I gave you?
I’m lucky to be in a position where I have a job. I’m lucky to be in a position where, by sheer genetic luck, my body has responded to hormones in a way that doesn’t immediately scream “this woman is trans!,” and thereby, I don’t get too many strange glances or harassment when I try to use a public restroom.
Still, generally, being trans sucks in the sense that there are so many people who think so little of the existence of people like you that they feel entitled to make jokes at your expense, use incorrect names and pronouns in news pieces about you, or stare you down or confront you over harmless things like the bathroom.
The individual examples listed above could easily be seen as harmless. It’s easy to go, “Oh, but it’s just a joke.” That’s simple to say when it’s just one joke. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t one joke. It’s dozens, playing on endless loops in media and real life.
We’re under the impression that so much has improved for trans individuals over the years, but is that really the case? Looking at Google search trends, you wouldn’t think so.
Over the past 5 years, terms “transgender” and “trans woman” have remained relatively consistent volume-wise, while two negative slurs (“shemale” and “tranny”) have continued increasing, both finding themselves at their highest points in internet search activity.
If “it gets better” for LGB folks, transgender individuals are finding their lives getting worse. Public perception needs to drastically shift. As long as significantly more people are searching slurs than are searching preferred terms, we’ll remain relegated to the sidelines, the easy punchline to any joke.
This is where our cis allies have to come in. I simply don’t have the time or emotional energy to devote to calling out every transphobic joke on every transphobic sitcom. Like many trans people, I’m just trying to survive from day to day, keeping my head above water. It’s hard to defend yourself when you’re already being piled on. That’s why cis allies need to stand up and call out transphobic media portrayals of trans people, contact newspapers when they publish sensationalistic headlines about trans people with incorrect names and pronouns, and generally, defend us.
Samantha Allen recently wrote a great piece called “5 Tips for Calling Out Transphobia.” I consider this recommended reading for any ally looking to make a difference in the battle of public perception.