Transphobia & Transmisogyny
What is transphobia?
Transphobia and cissexism are terms used to describe a range of societal acts of violence against transgender people.
Although transphobic attitudes reinforce a cycle of physical violence against trans people, the ways in which individuals and society can be violent to trans people isn’t limited to direct physical violence. Cultural invalidation, lack of institutional support, and societally enforced discomfort with the very idea of being trans (in particular, towards trans women and transfeminine individuals) all contribute to the ongoing global death toll of trans people, as well as negatively impacting the lives of trans people on a constant level.
Given that society currently teaches people to see trans individuals as falling outside the default, it is incredibly easy to unwittingly perpetuate the cycle of transphobic views and acts, especially when one does not make an active effort not to do so. Transphobia can present itself both as outright aggressions and as microaggressions that more subtly hurt trans people without ill intent, so it is vital to examine one’s own actions for potential harm to trans people and listen to trans people first and foremost when they say that something is hurting them.
The following are some examples of transphobic attitudes:
The belief/insistence that trans women are not “real women”.
The belief/insistence that trans men are not “real men".
The belief/insistence that non-binary genders and genders other than male and female specific to certain cultures (especially Indigenous communities) are invalid.
The belief/insistence that trans people are gay people in denial and wish to have sex reassignment surgery to attempt to 'restore their heterosexuality'. (Being trans is different to one’s orientation and presentation.)
Refusal to acknowledge a trans person’s true gender.
Refusal to use the correct name for a trans person.
Repeated and deliberate misgendering of trans people.
Exclusion of trans people from activities, services or conversations (including discussions/debates about our own existence).
Treatment of trans people as a fetish.
Conceptualising a person’s transness as a sexual paraphilia rather than as their actual gender. This includes the outdated, problematic and just plain offensive to all women (trans and cis) term 'autogynephilia'.
Fixating on a trans person’s biology rather than acknowledging their gender.
Institutional unwillingness to accommodate name changes, changes in listed gender, and the existence of gender options other than ‘male’ and ‘female’ on systems of records.
As well as making daily existence as a trans person more difficult than it should be, transphobic attitudes (in particular, the portrayal of transgender women and transfeminine people) are the direct source of extreme acts of physical violence. Worldwide, hundreds of trans people, predominantly trans women of colour, are murdered in acts of transphobic hate crime each year.
See the following links for more information and discussion on this (content warning for explicit descriptions and statistics of murder, violence, assault, abuse, (racialised) transphobia & transmisogyny, biological essentialism):
The term transmisogyny refers to the specific oppression of trans women and CAMAB (Coercively Assigned Male At Birth) non-binary people.
While many forms of oppression, such as difficulty obtaining medical support, correct identification or updating names, or rejection by our families, affect all trans people similarly, a large variety of kinds of violence are enacted almost exclusively against trans women, and other attacks on trans people are frequently motivated by the supposed danger that trans women pose.
Transmisogyny is a heavily racialised form of violence, and trans women of colour — particularly Black trans women, whose specific oppression is referred to as transmisogynoir — face extremely high rates of assault, incarceration, police violence and murder. All the forms of violence discussed in this section are particularly pronounced for trans women of colour. (Likewise, transmisogyny has its roots in white supremacy due to the colonial gender system violently overwriting existing gender systems in colonised countries, particularly to the detriment of CAMAB individuals.)
At its core, transmisogyny starts by accusing trans women of being men, even as this is used to justify treating trans women as disgusting and inhuman in ways that are not applied to men.
To attain recognition as women, trans women are expected to fit an impossible double bind: they must put a great deal of labour into appearing feminine to avoid immediate abuse, but this also opens them to routine accusations of creating an exaggerated parody of womanhood. If they are not recognised as women, they are immediately subject to derision at best and more often hostility and violence.
Linked to this is the trope of trans women being deceptive about their gender in order to manipulate and abuse people. This is especially relevant in discussions about gendering of bathrooms, as the myth that trans women are actually just men trying to gain access to women's bathrooms to harass them is often trotted out, despite the fact that trans women are infinitely more likely to be victims of violence and harassment than they are to be perpetrators.
It is rare for spaces designated as being for women to allow trans women access, even when it is desperately needed. For example, although trans women face extremely high risk of rape, even more than the already extreme rates experienced by cis women, they are rarely allowed to use facilities such as rape shelters created to protect women.
Trans women face a great deal of economic violence. Following transition, many trans women take large pay cuts, or find themselves unemployed and unemployable in most industries. As a result of this, many trans women survive through sex work, where they have a small fetishised niche. As sex workers are also particularly vulnerable to violence, trans women sex workers face extreme degrees of violence.
Derision and mockery of trans women is a routine staple of comedies, usually relying on implicit disgust about their bodies as a punchline to a joke. Portraying a 'man in a dress' is a staple visual gag, as is the stock character of a trans women sex worker portrayed as laughable and disgusting figure. Comparison to trans women is also sometimes used to attack cis women who do not meet standards of attractiveness.
Outside of comedy, for example in news and other media, trans women are usually deployed as stock victims or pitiful figures. This is described as 'hypervisibility': cis people pay extensive attention to stories and images about trans women, almost never produced with trans womens' involvement, in order to perpetuate harmful narratives; their hypervisibility is also what opens them to regular street harassment, risk of assault, and abuse by police.
Trans women's mistreatment by police and the justice system leads to high rates of incarceration that are especially pronounced for trans women of colour. Inside of prisons, trans women are frequently housed with men, opening them to extensive violence and abuse. While in Britain guidelines introduced in 2011 require legally recognised trans women to be incarcerated with women, getting such recognition is difficult even for trans women who are not poor and imprisoned.
Legal provisions against transphobia
Transphobia has been defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as
“The fear of or a dislike directed towards trans people, or a fear of or dislike directed towards their perceived lifestyle, culture or characteristics, whether or not any specific trans person has that lifestyle or characteristic. The dislike does not have to be so severe as hatred. It is enough that people do something or abstain from doing something because they do not like trans people.”
'Gender reassignment' (i.e. being transgender) is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, regardless of whether or not an individual is seeking to medically transition. Discrimination against a person on the grounds of gender reassignment is unlawful under this act; such discrimination could be as little as preventing a trans person accessing facilities of their self-determined gender. The act also covers discrimination against a person due to their being perceived as trans, and discrimination against someone due to their connection to a trans person (parent, partner, etc.).
If you are interested in reading about transphobia and the issues surrounding it, Lisa Harney’s blog Questioning Transphobia is excellent (content warning for detailed discussion of (racialised) transphobia & transmisogyny, invasive questions, invalidation, murder, violence, hate crime, 'trans panic' defense, racism, (dis)ableism, coming out, biological essentialism, misogyny, homophobia, cissexism, outing without consent, deadnaming, misgendering, patriarchy, non-binary erasure)
More reading on the relationship of white supremacy and colonialism with transmisogyny, cissexism, and erasure of indigenous genders: http://www.academia.edu/2259929/Colonialism_Two-Spirit_Identity_and_the_Logics_of_White_Supremacy
(content warning in links for discussions of colonialism, racism, non-binary erasure, binarism, violence, forced assimilation, cultural appropriation, genocide, murder, patriarchy, transphobia, transmisogyny, homophobia, rape & sexual assault, coercive gender/sex assignment, medical violence against intersex people, forced gendered labour, violent imposition of sex work structures, slavery, 'jezebel' imagery, scientific racism, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, cannibalism)
More on the Equality Act and transgender equality in law: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/about-commission/our-vision-and-mission/our-business-plan/transgender-equality (content warning for non-binary erasure, legal & medical gatekeeping, links to specific cases with potentially distressing material facts discussing transphobic discrimination)
(Certain situations tend to be particularly ambiguous under the Equality Act. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the trans rep.)
If you or someone close to you has been a victim of transphobic or transmisogynystic hate crime, see our Tackling Transphobia page for support and information on steps you can take.
Content Warning: this page includes discussion of transphobia, transmisogyny, violence, death, murder, erasure, misgendering, homophobia, fetishization, biological essentialism, colonialism, non-binary erasure, racialised transmisogyny, transmisogynoir, binarism, medical gatekeeping, abuse, harassment, rape, discrimination against sex workers, coercive gender/sex assignment, medical violence against intersex people, police & justice system mistreatment.