Transphobia is an insidious creature: a little seed is planted in a brain, when values are still forming, and the seed imbeds itself in the garden of nuances that build this little person’s character. The transphobic seed is nourished and encouraged by an environment thriving in transphobic opinions and caricatures*–that seed sprouts and thrives in a land fertile with examples of how loathsome the transgendered person is.
When we are little we are taught men who wear dresses should be laughed at–they are the butt of a joke. A woman who wear ties is a sickly imitation of masculinity. And there is something not just culturally abhorrent about this behavior, but vaguely immoral as well–so this seed gets buried at a very instinctual level, one which (often times) escapes the cold eye of logical inquiry, in the same way that religion, for many people, falls outside the realm of scientific questioning. Transphobia is second nature for many people, like a belief in God or a disgust for feces. We are conditioned to believe this is natural, healthy behavior–believe in a higher power, find disgust in transgendered behavior–therefore many of us never question it. So like so many other -isms and -phobias, transphobia sometimes escapes the analysis of even the most liberal thinkers.
Transphobia sneaks in under out analytic faculties cloaked by the insidious catch-all of “normality.” It’s just natural to dress and act your birth sex, it’s normal to act aggressively if you have a penis between your legs; and it starts at a very young age, after all, boys will be boys! And if they are not boy, then they are sissy. This transphobia seed burrows deep like a lyme ridden tick, and is encouraged through all the varied means by which we transmit our societal norms. Because if it is normal to adhere to the cultural expectations determined by your birth sex, then any other thought or belief or behavior is abnormal.
We don’t know why some people are transgendered, maybe it’s hormonal imbalances in the fetus, maybe it’s the lack of a good male role model as a young child, but as long as we keep thinking of transgendered people as mentally ill, it will always be seen as a defect, as a lesser model, as a human lemon. To feel that way about others is one troubling degradation, but to feel that way about yourself encourages a whole host of other problems.
So when I look in the mirror, and I see my new chest, and I listen to myself in that first second of recognition of my body, what I hear is what have you done to yourself, freak? and I just hear a whisper of it, just for a moment, but it is long enough to derail me–my mood, my identity, my self-esteem. It is enough to make me question whether or not I made the right decision. But then the critical faculties kick in, after that initial emotional reaction, and they say your chest is healing well. You are healthy. You are going through a difficult transition and all these emotions and fears are part of the healing. And I know I’m right, but that first response kick-in-the-teeth is deeply troubling. It’s quite painful to look in the mirror and hear, ringing out of your own head: you are damaged goods, kid. You are sick to do this to your own body. Something is deeply fucked up about you if you have to mangle your body like this to feel normal…and there’s that goddamn word again, normal, and I know it’s some internalized transphobia coming to the surface. I know I have made the right decision. I know I have always wanted this chest. But I have three decades of cultural norming to undo, and that is a much more trying obstacle to overcome than a surgical procedure.
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli
* Take, for a minor example, the fact that transphobia and transphobic are flagged as being misspellings while I type this. A word to define our oppression is not even acknowledged.