Editors' Note: Austin Crowder is a Bilerico-Indiana contributor. We thought this post should be lifted up to the main site so more people could see it and add their own lists of common excuses and how to deal with them.
Thanks to Chaz Bono's decision to transition, I've found myself in a number of conversations on transgender issues in the past few weeks. For the most part this has been a positive experience; it's nice to see people open and willing to learn about transgender issues. However, I keep running into the same wall, time and time again, when some folks close their eyes and say "that's not possible" or "I can't help what I think."
The excuse is infuriating; it boils down to the classic schoolyard logic of plugging up the ears and screaming "lalala!" at full volume. It's a blunt-force object of ignorance, wielded specifically for the purpose of pigeonholing a group of people while simultaneously heading off at the pass all attempts of education.
Unfortunately, this behavior is the de facto response to transgender people, whose issues are not taught in school, not expressly brought up in pop culture (save for Springer Shock Value), and whose people often spend their entire life trying to hide from the facts of their own identity. Many times we end up like the witch in Monty Python, held to the fire by impossible logical gymnastics. (At this point, I feel it necessary to state that I do, in fact, weigh more than a duck.)
The only option, of course, is to take these people to task for their opinions. This is hard to do, since the incidence of transgender people usually runs in the 1:3000 category, but thankfully 1:10 people fall under the GLBT umbrella and can all benefit from a little, shall we say, ammunition for these conversations. Here are five easy "I can't help it" opinions about transgender issues every GLBT person should correct, with answers born of personal experience.
- "We should be curing the disorder, not cooperating with it."
- "Transgender people are just men trying to cross an artificial gender boundary that shouldn't be there in the first place."
- "It's just plain weird! / It's against the Bible!"
- "Having them in my bathroom is just dangerous. What if someone gets molested?"
- "The poor dears had a rough home life / All they want is attention."
We should be curing a disorder, not cooperating with it.
This person is obviously better versed in the world of psychotherapy than the AMA and the APA combined. Be sure to ask where they got their degree, and what papers they've written on the subject of transition. This exposes their first logical fallacy: their opinion does not trump facts.
Transgender treatment is a problem-based solution. The problem is simple: the patient is depressed - often to the point of suicide - about how their outside doesn't match their inside. The solution is similarly simple: prescribe hormones, surgery, and real-life socialization. People who would have lived a few months before the depression would lead to taking their own life can now live happy, productive lives as functional members of society. It's impossible to justify this "cooperation" as a bad thing.
If all else fails, try the gall bladder routine. "Well," you say, seemingly affirming their opinion, "I think we should be curing gall bladders, not removing them. Anyone who thinks they have an infected gall bladder actually has kidney stones which will pass with time." Remind them that professional opinion (say, a doctor's orders) doesn't matter in the face of your own deeply-held opinion, and that you're going to stick to your guns on this one.
Transgender people are just men trying to cross an artificial gender boundary that shouldn't be there in the first place.
Again, this person is obviously well-versed on gender theory and psychotherapy. Be sure to ask for credentials, papers published, and their opinion on third-wave feminism. Chances are that you'll get some half-cocked response consisting of a couple of college classes, a pop fiction book on empowered women, or too much NPR. The opinion is offensive on two levels: one, it indicates that trans-people can be nothing more than girls in suits or boys in dresses; and two, it actually cements gender binaries by even suggesting that a trans person must cross boundaries to become male/female/etc.
These people are usually unaware of the internal anguish created by gender dysphoria, and cannot imagine a life where their minds and bodies are in conflict. Furthermore, they're convinced that there is no difference between men and women, save for the parts and the proportions. This is easily rectified; ask them to name a few things that men do/women do that they simply do not understand. (Everyone has a half-dozen of these, easy.) Then, when they've finished their list, let them know that transgender people get to live in that role, despite not understanding how people of the same sex actually think, and must live their pre-transition lives in a prison made of their gender.
If transgender living were as simple as gender roles, I'd spend my nights vacuuming my apartment in a pretty pink dress. It's not that simple; I tried. The two genders think differently, act differently, and behave differently, and no amount of feminist deconstruction will account for the strength of a trans-person's desire to match with the gender they were supposed to be.
It's just plain weird! / It's against the Bible! / It never used to be this way!
I've lumped these three together because they, at their core, all deal with the issue of validity. Basically, by debunking the validity of transgender experiences, the person can safely hold prejudice against transgender people. This process is one of the central processes of discrimination; after all, to hold a prejudice one must 1) create an Other, and 2) denigrate said Other into an inferior position. This is the cry of a person stuck in step one.
These people obviously speak from experience. For the weirded-out, be sure to ask what transgender person gave her this idea, since they've obviously spoken with a transgender person before. The answer will be no. The next step in this problem is simple: "Have you ever spoken to a transgender person?" In my experience, most people who were "weirded out" by transgender people change their tune when they actually meet one in person; suddenly the Jerry Springer stereotype melts away, leaving a normal, unassuming person behind.
For Biblical issues, be sure to ask for the chapter and verse where transgender issues are specifically called out as against His will. Most will point to Leviticus and say something about men laying with men; at that point, remind the person that a transgender person isn't a homosexual. People adamant in their religious prejudices will quote Deuteronomy 22:5: "A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this." If this comes up, be sure to mention that both midrash and Biblical history show that this verse was about laws and brothels, not transgender people.
But seriously. That's it, as far as negative Bible verses about transgender people go. Some may quote Genesis and the whole "God made man and woman" plan, but that's a good time to remind them that the Bible doesn't specifically admonish transgender behavior, and that this reading relies entirely on speculation to succeed.
If someone dares to try the "it never used to be this way" card, remind them that numerous cultures identified transgender portions of their population, sometimes even defining a new gender for said people. Some cultures even revered transgender people as prophets, wise men/women, or leaders. If they're Biblical, you can even point them to Isaiah 56:4-5; Acts 8:26-39; Matthew 19:12, all of which praise Eunuchs for their service to the Lord. But hey. It's against the Bible and history, right?
Having them in my bathroom is just dangerous. What if someone gets molested?
A popular "I can't help it," considering how much Focus on the Family pimps the idea. Again, be sure to ask for specific examples of someone using gender identity as a cover to commit sexual harassment in a bathroom. Be sure to remind them that a gender dysphoria -- the whole man in dress/woman in suit thing -- often requires patients to submit to long-term hormone therapy, forever affecting libido and brain structure.
Then, if they persist, be sure to mention that the only horror stories about cross-gender bathroom use comes from transgender people who are forced to use the wrong bathroom. These lead to verbal harassment, assault, etc. Not one case of sexual harassment by a transgender person in the bathroom has been reported in the 13 states that allow transgender people to sue the restroom of their choosing.
If they still say they're "weirded out," the conversation is no longer about bathrooms. Refer to the previous question for assistance.
The poor dears had a rough home life / All they want is attention / Their parents never loved them.
Again, be sure to ask them which transgender person told them that. (Noticing a pattern?) This popular notion achieves both prerequisites for prejudice in one fell swoop: it defines an other, and shows - through stilted logic - that the person is "above" transgender people. This one carries a sinister twist: by having pity on transgender people's "terrible experience," they feel that their prejudices are justified: after all, it's for their own good that they be brought back to acting like the man/woman they were born to be!
This fallacy is fed by religious groups attempting to peddle reparative therapy to bleeding-heart churches. It allows people to maintain extreme bias while simultaneously claiming "compassion" - a strange, she's-made-of-wood sort of paradox that only works if people never meet a happy, successful transgender person. If they did, of course, they'd have to face the fact that many transgender people had healthy home lives with kind, loving families, and never wanted for attention as a child.
I had a good home life. By all inclinations I was shaped into a forward-thinking, tenacious, successful male, who needed only reach out and take what he needed to achieve success. Wouldn't you know it, once I had the chance to reach for myself I reached for a gender change? The mind boggles. No molestation, no rape, no abuse, no nothing; I just needed to be a girl. As a girl, I'm happier, more successful, and more stable than I ever was as a man.
The same logic can be applied to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as well. Just change all the cross-gender stuff with same sex feelings. It's pretty flexible.