Trans*phobia

(Deutsche Übersetzung)

The text that was read aloud at the GPP meeting in Bethanien, November 28, 2010

Trans*phobia is a discriminatory and non-acknowledging attitude toward trans*people. The central point is the non-acknowledgment that each person should be free to define their own gender and everything that it involves. Self-definition is – as the term suggests – not up for negotiation.

There are different kinds of trans*phobia that manifest themselves in different areas of life: Structural (e.g. verbal), institutional discrimination by way of institutions), and personal trans*phobia that becomes apparent in personal interactions with other people. It is the latter kind that we wish to address here.

A preliminary remark: We all make mistakes, and that’s okay. What is not okay, however, is the refusal to deal with one’s own mistakes.

Trans*phobia does not only manifest itself through physical assault or scuffle; we encounter it ever so subtly in our everyday lives:

Trans*phobia may for instance surface in the non-consensual outing of a trans*person. While some people are very open about their being trans*, others prefer to live un-outed, or they out themselves depending on the situation. The most important thing is: Only the trans*person themselves can decide whether they wish to be out in a certain context or not. This is a matter of informational autonomy that we should all be able to take for granted. And even if the person sitting next to you / in your communal house / in a group is out, that doesn’t mean they have to be (or want to) in all contexts. Consequently: It’s better to ask when you’re one-on-one than simply out that person.

Pronouns and names are very important; they are the best indicator of (non-)acceptance. Letting a wrong pronoun or name slip is not the end of the world. But if one fails to improve, makes a big deal out of it, or even insists, then that’s trans*phobic. This is also the case if something is being communicated as belonging to the past when the person wasn’t out yet or maybe identified in a way that differs from the current one.
Maybe the person doesn’t want to hear the assigned name in connection with themselves anymore. Although that may not be an external ascription if it happens only once, it’s still an outing.

Valorizations, i.e. how well or poorly a person conforms to the clichés, may seem intrusive and normative even if they’re meant to be affirmative. „Positive“ recognition devalorizes other people who fail to or don’t want to conform to certain criteria. Often these external ascriptions are also blood-curdlingly sexist; if the people uttering them were addressing cis*people, they might think twice before making such statements. We find it desirable to think beyond assignment of gender roles and categorizations.

The term trans* comprises a plethora of identities that deviate from the given gender. Within a society reigned by the notion of two genders such as ours, attempts are often made to pressure trans*people to become 100% woman (i.e. transwoman) or man. The many identities in between are thus rendered invisible or impossible, whether neither/nor, both or nothing or whatever else.

Trans*phobia also appears as disrespect, in uninhibited interrogations about intimate details, in the belief that everyone is entitled to know about bodies, sexual desire, medical measures, etc. Also trans*people, however, have a sphere of integrity that must be observed every bit as much as everyone else’s.
Moreover, the focus on the body/biology disempowers and robs people of their autonomy. Their self-definition must be respected regardless of what biology or medicine has to say about their bodies.

Trans*phobia lets people believe that they’re free to address a trans*person with all sorts of trans*themes and whatever else comes to mind without considering whether that person feels like having that kind of conversation – now or at all. No one is exclusively trans*. On the contrary, they are preoccupied with various different things in their everyday lives; things that may even be more interesting or urgent than educating people on trans* issues round the clock.

Trans*phobia becomes apparent in a devalorization of a trans*person’s problems, among them trans*phobic experiences, seeing that „don’t get all worked up” and „don’t take that so seriously“ in effect constitute solidarity with the individuals who behave in a trans*phobic way (because „they mean no harm”). While other forms of discrimination are recognized and treated as social problems, trans* is often depoliticized as the „personal destiny“ of a single person or a very small minority. The issue is excluded from political discourse.

Last but not least: Everyday trans*phobia reveals itself in the tacit assumption that there are no trans*people present (as long as no one has outed themselves as such), in the lack of awareness that anyone could theoretically be trans* without that „being noticeable“ and of the problems that this entails and that make trans*people’s lives more difficult, whether in public rest rooms, in communal showers, in locker rooms or other spaces cast as monosexual, or when people show their ID or have to say their name. We live in a society organized around the notion of two sexes, and the people who are happy with the gender assigned to them rarely have to even register the many instances when gender plays a role in our everyday lives and becomes an impediment to other people. Don’t assume that there are no problems just because you can’t see them. Rather, remain open, sensitive, and alert, but don’t patronize. Act in solidarity!

Here is some advice as to how you can support trans*people because it often makes life easier if their trans*phobic surroundings don’t leave dealing with trans*phobia to the people it affects.
The latter have to deal with it every day.

Support
- So, please recognize and name trans*phobic behavior as such, seeing that this is a prerequisite for doing something about it.

- There’s a lot of information around, e.g. if you consult the internet, trans*specific groups, etc.
It’s great if you start out by seeking information on your own.

- Nor is it difficult to educate and sensitize other people. For instance, you can leave the Trans*respect flyer at various venues…

- Include trans*people when planning for facilities (toilets, showers, etc.)

- Mind verbal ascriptions (e.g. say „person“ rather than man/woman whenever you’re not sure). Add preferred personal pronoun to name during the round of introduction in working groups where people don’t know each other yet.

- Generally avoid ascriptions of roles and various presumptions; thematize rather than reproduce them.

- take care of each other during police checks, ticket controls, or similar unpleasant situations (trans*people are often harassed when officials discover a mismatch between their preferred gender identification and the one in their passport).

- Try to not only use a trans*person’s name and preferred personal pronoun (while continuing to think something else). Rather, strive to align your thinking with name and pronoun so as to facilitate a discontinuation of your own two-sexed mindset.

- Correct others when it becomes evident that a person would like to go by a different name and/or pronoun.

We find it important to deal with trans*phobia (and other discriminatory behavior) in left-wing contexts ON OUR OWN TURF, so that we can establish a foundation upon which we may live, work, and together affect some change!

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