By Pieter De Wit
In 2020 transgender people are more openly present in our society — and rightly so, but still, there is a lack of understanding and a lack of respect around how they continue to be treated. Sometimes we aren’t aware that we are hurting a persons’ feelings, other times, lack of understanding is represented as malicious bullying and transphobia.
Recently, author J.K. Rowling was accused of transphobia as a result of some poorly worded and insulting tweets, showing that lessons need to be learned even by those considered intelligent and educated.
The Canada Human Rights Trust’s insights show the various forms and layers that can exist and how we might consciously or unconsciously harm transgender people. In this article, I took a look at the types of bullying targeted at transgender people and how we can respond and react to help create a safe haven for all humans.
Purposeful Enforcement Of Cisnormativity
The concept of cisnormativity (or cis) is the idea that a person’s gender identity matches their biological sex, assigned at birth. People who think exclusively on cisnormative lines will never see a trans person born biologically male as a “real woman” and vice versa. We must rethink this concept. Cisnormativity also forces gender roles and reinforces stereotypes such as, “If you’re a real woman, you must wear dresses.” This tunnel vision leads to a lack of comprehension not only towards transgender people but also genders that fall outside the male-female binary.
Refusal To Acknowledge
When people don’t want to or refuse to use the preferred gender pronoun corresponding to a transgender person’s identity, it can really hurt the person in question and may even be dangerous. Someone I know explained this as feeling completely invalidated as a person. I understand it may be challenging when you are in this situation for the first time, not knowing whether to use “he” or “she”; but think about it now and avoid being confused later and causing unintentional pain.
Exclusion From Gendered Spaces
Being banned from gendered spaces such as a male or female bathroom or from physical education class as a kid really denies who you are as a person and makes you feel disrespected to the core of your being. Often this comes with a lot of misunderstanding and people thinking, He wants to be a woman so he can use the woman’s changing room.
While this may appear an innocent thought, the transgender person may feel attacked and that integrating into our cisnormative orientated society is an impossible task.
Comments That Transgender People Are Sick Of Hearing
For me, this doesn’t come from a “misunderstanding” with people that don’t know better, but from an outdated, fundamental medical base of misunderstanding. Shockingly, the WHO only stopped calling gender identity a ”disorder” in 2019.
When I was a kid, shamefully, my friends and I bullied a ginger girl in our class and spread gossip that it was contagious. I regret being so mean and hope that our victim is happy in her life now.
It is when we are children that this type of behaviour should be picked up by teachers and other adults. They need to intervene and start a dialogue so we can learn. Similarly, when it comes to transgender bullying. If we act like this as adults, there is no excuse.
The Portrayal Of Gender Identifying As A Choice
Without purposefully meaning to be harmful, curiosity could lead me to ask a transgender person why they would undergo surgeries or treatments. However, this question implies that it is a choice, and we need to realise instead that it’s a way of being, just like cisnormative.
Choosing gender reassignment surgery is a tough decision that comes with a lot of uncertainty. Most of us suffer a certain amount of self doubt about our bodies, but this treatment is life-changing and can save lives.
Misogyny, a clear disrespect to all women and girls—trans or cis, can sometimes be more subtle. If I was to dress up as a female hero of mine for a party or at Halloween, that is OK as long as I am not being disrespectful. A problem occurs when people dress up as a woman with the purpose of mocking. This act disrespects not only transgender people but all woman. Trans-misogyny also happens when a trans female is marginalised or treated poorly because of her gender status.
What We Can And Must Do
While I was a pretty timid and naive kid, as an adult, I now speak up when necessary. Speaking up is the number one action we can undertake and lets everyone know the expressed behaviour is not accepted.
It’s incredibly important for schools to discuss subjects like transphobia, homophobia or misogyny. Young people’s perceptions of the world are shaped by teachers and parents, who must lead by example. It is also unacceptable for transgender people to experience discrimination at work, and thankfully, the US courts recently agreed.
I have tried to give my limited insight into how transgender people can feel misunderstood, not accepted or hurt by other’s behaviour. But this is not only about transphobia. It’s about freedom for all genders, all human beings: male, female and anything in between, who also come in all shapes, rich or poor, black or white. We must speak up against all forms of discrimination and start taking pride in the unique human beings that we are.