This originally appeared on In Our Words Blog. The website is no longer available so I am posting this previously published piece here. It has been edited slightly to fit into my more recent words and writing style (such as an added paragraph) but 95% of the post remains the same as it was when it was posted to IOWB.
Why do trans people act so sensitive when you discuss trans identities? Why do they get so uptight and righteous when you start talking about the obviously fake trans people and not them? Why do they get so upset when you misgender someone out of spite? It’s not like you were talking about them! You’re just talking about the bad trans people who give queer people a bad name! People shouldn’t get so upset about that!
When you talk about people as a collective, you are talking about them. You are telling people it is ok to do these things as long as someone sees them as bad, wrong, or incorrect. You are telling others and setting an example of behaviors that are never OK to do to anyone. You are tone and identity policing people.
“Why do trans people act so sensitive when you discuss trans identities?” Are you cis? If you are, you have no room to discuss trans identities and your opinions on them. Unless you are signal boosting or supporting trans voices. If you are another trans person, you are not allowed to discuss the identities of other people because you are not other people. You are allowed to discuss your OWN identity, your own experiences, your own narrative. These things are very personal as identity is a very personal matter for all people. This makes it a sensitive subject. When you claim to talk for everyone, you are silencing other people’s lives and narratives. You are saying there is only one way, your way, and nothing else. Everyone experiences life in their own ways and their own narratives are true for themselves and themselves only. You cannot tell other people how to experience their lives. While there are certain things that are immutable truths, such as how society at large treats and reacts to trans people, how identities are presented, acted, and shown are all personal and one of a kind. Critical discussion is possible surrounding identities, especially when it comes to appropriating certain identities (non-NDN/Indigenous people identifying at Two-Spirit for example), but these should not be criticisms as the person themselves, but rather the nature and context these identities exist in.
“Why do they get so uptight and righteous when you start talking about obviously fake trans people and not them?” No one is a fake trans person. People are their own deciders of their identities. Identities can be very fluid things, especially in something that is as wishy-washy as gender is. Many trans people are called fake their entire lives. They are fake men, women, people, their genders constantly put in scare quotes and then misgendered. They are proclaimed to be cross-dressers and deceitful, seen as people who cannot be trusted since they lied about their genders to people. Obviously, this isn’t true, but by calling people fake trans people you are allowing people to continue this trend. You are saying it is ok to do these things if they do not fit into how you view trans people. Both queer and non-queer people are guilty of this. They tend to focus on those who are extremely vocal about their identities. Being vocal and in your face does not mean fake. Does it come off as asking for validation? Sometimes, but how is that unheard of when you are talking about one of the most invalidated communities? Being trans is not something that can be dropped when cissexism and transphobia exists in everything around you from medical care, television, the news, family, and so forth. Trans people are constantly invalidated by other people about their identities. If these ‘fakers’ decide they are not trans in the future, this does not prove a point. It just shows that that identity was not for them and did not fit them properly. Identities are fluid and people are allowed to try and shed them as they grow, change, and evolve as people.
“Why do they get so upset when you misgender someone out of spite? It’s not like you were talking about them!” It’s never ok to disrespect someone on such a basic level, no matter how much you may dislike them. It is not ok to invalidate someone’s identity in such a harsh and inhuman way. By misgendering one person, once again, you are setting the example that it is ok to do such a thing. It is never ok to misgender someone on purpose. Accidents happen, especially if the person transitioning is someone you grew up with associating with their assigned at birth gender. However, doing it out of spite? Not cool. Sometimes people get upset when people accidentally misgender them. Correct, apologize, move on. Do not try to explain your misgendering to them. Misgendering is often extremely triggering and upsetting to a trans person, even if it is an accident. Perpetual misgendering can leave people extremely discouraged. If you mess up, do not make a big deal out of it either. Just correct yourself, and move on. The bigger a deal you make out of it, the more likely you are to upset the person who happens to be trans you are talking to. Their feelings of anger, frustration, etc. are perfectly valid explanations and you cannot explain them away for it is not your place to explain them away.
“You’re just talking about the bad trans people who give queer people a bad name! People shouldn’t get so upset about that!” No one is a bad trans person. No one gives queer people a bad name. They give themselves a bad name. If they actually represent an organization, they give that org a bad name, but they do not give a whole group of people a bad name. You cannot give a whole group of people a bad name via one person. If someone believes that someone behaving in a certain way brings shame to the entire group of people, they have their own bigoted issues to sort through. This goes for both queer and non-queer folk in oppressed communities. If someone is basing their feelings on an entire group based off the few they have met, then they are expressing bigotry, pure and simple. Being queer does not prevent you from being a bigot. If someone continually basis their opinions on a large group of people based on a select few, I do not believe they even had the ability to hold non-bigoted beliefs about the group in the first place, this includes their own group sometimes too. “I’m trans/gay/queer/etc. but I am not one of THOSE trans/gay/queer/etc.” reflects internal conflicts of identity against society’s stereotypes, -isms, and -phobias. It shows problems within oneself and their own personal identity and the need to validate their identity among others as opposed to personally validating it.
“You’re just being cisphobic!” No. Being wary of cis people who exist in a system and benefit from a system that invalidates trans people and their ideas is not ‘cisphobia’. There is no such thing as cisphobia. Cis people exist in a world that assumes their identities are automatically valid, as automatically more sincere and real than that of a trans person. Cis people are even the gatekeepers of transness who can deny and approve who gains access to medical care and who is appropriately trans. Trans standards while occasionally enforced by other trans people, were originally created, maintained, and upheld by cis doctors and their ideas on what a real trans person was. Trans people are denied existence, agency, reality, medical care, and even life by cis people. Being wary of the systems that uphold these ideals and those that benefit from them is not oppression or some form of reverse oppression, it is smarts in regards to navigating a society that would rather you not exist.
Remember, even if it is just your opinion, expressing things in a broad sense impacts many people. You are setting an example that it is ok, when it is not. Also, an opinion does not mean you cannot be wrong or are free from criticism. Opinions do not make you immune from backlash, or impervious from people telling you that your opinions are wrong because they can be and are if you believe or express any of the above points. People get angry for a reason and you cannot tell them they are wrong for being involved in things that personally affect them, their lives, and sometimes their rights. They are angry for a reason and it is your place to listen and respect it, and hopefully learn.