OPINION: What gender advocacy could look like
“We have to begin to create spaces where we can begin to express our genders in ways that are true to ourselves” says Laverne Cox. These hopes are shared by people across all genders and bodies, but particularly by trans feminine people. Before we can create these spaces, we have to understand the forces that stop people being able to be true to themselves.
A phobia is an aversion or irrational fear to something. Transphobia is expressed as the individual and structural discrimination against transgender people, rooted in aversions or fears about us. Common examples of transphobia are failing to regard someone as the gender they identify as, by using incorrect gendered language or using old names that they no longer associate with. In more severe cases we see violence, isolation and harassment, which inflicts economic stress and mental ill health on our community.
Misogyny is prejudice against women and that which is associated with femininity, as is understood through the diminishing of women in all parts of society. We see it in biased perceptions of how much time women speak compared to other genders, how we assume masculinity in power and leadership, and in the increased rates of verbal and physical harassment women face in our society.
Transmisogyny is the intersection of these two social powers, and is the aversion, fear, or prejudice against transgender women or feminine transgender people. GLAAD, a famous American LGBT media organisation, defined transmisogyny as “the negativity, violence, and cultural hate towards trans women or gender non-conforming individuals who identify with the feminine end of the gender spectrum”.
In our advocacy, we need to be countering all three of these socio-political ideas, but currently there is a lack of intersectional feminist organising which incorporates transgender women. We need to be supporting trans feminine folks to be in our spaces, supplying them with resources, and taking up leadership. But what does that look like when our spaces aren’t made in supporting trans women?
Firstly, we must understand intersectionality. Even amongst trans feminine people, it’s trans women of colour who are the most disadvantaged. In the video below, Laverne Cox describes differences faced by white trans women and trans women of colour, detailing the intersectional understanding of street harassment as racially-based trauma: “So often when I am called out on the street it’s as if I am a disgrace to the race because I am trans, and I understand that as trauma.”
Secondly, we must de-centre those who benefit from the oppression of trans feminine people. In women’s spaces, we must transition from ideas of women’s rights and assigned female at birth (AFAB) definitions of autonomy which erase trans women. Instead, space must be made for discussions of reproductive health of different types of bodies, sexualities and genitals, and better prioritise the safety of women who are intersex, transgender, or both.
Our women’s spaces must support women, and our trans spaces must support transgender and non-binary folks; but both must understand their roles as separate in tackling transmisogyny. Splicing groups together in an attempt to increase participatory numbers (such as non cis-male spaces) will erase trans women and centre those who hold power over them through transmisogyny.
Our women’s spaces should be constructed to bring in people who use women-identifying terms, not excluding people because they have a penis or experience situational or tangential misogyny. Gay men, drag queens and some men of colour, like asian men, are unfortunately feminised compared to other forms of masculinity, and will experience misogyny because of bias against women and femininity. But it’d be ludicrous to include them in women’s spaces.
In the same way, this applies to cis women who are queer coded or who have gender expressions which are not traditionally feminine but will experience situational transphobia as their gender identity is questioned. This doesn’t mean they should be in transgender spaces, but rather that they are people who can empathise and engage with our movements easier as allies.
Thirdly and most importantly, we must bring these practices from these politically-charged spaces into everyday life - into our schools, our workplaces, our clubs and parties, and even our family homes. In Style Like U, Alok Vaid-Menon talks about how transmisogyny infiltrates every aspect of our social spaces, and how most responses to trans feminine people are shallow compared to the structural problems we face.
“The very core of transmisogyny is that we’re masquerading as something we’re not. We’re seen as worthy of our violence because we’re inauthentic and wearing dresses and makeup to trick people. At a party everyone tells us how fashionable and cool we are, but no one asks us how we’re getting home or stands up for us when we’re getting street harassed."
When I flirt and use online dating, this attitude is most prominent. Straight men who swipe right on everyone will accuse me of tricking them, and those who still view me as a woman will still not want to be seen in public with me.
They know they will experience oppression due to their association with us, whether it’s a questioning of their sexuality as means to misgender us or through assumptions they are also transgender and feminine. It doesn’t matter if a straight man dates a transgender woman, or if he realises he’s bisexual or transgender due to dating one, but transmisogyny aims to isolate and separate us away from as much of society as possible.
Unfortunately, most reactions against transmisogyny are symbolic and two-dimensional, and act as a form of advertisement rather than as a solution of root issues. A key part of supporting trans women is to move past visual aspects in how they look, and engaging deeply at acceptance into gender advocacy spaces even if they have little understanding of feminism or trans politics. By putting in the energy to include, support and engage us, you will erode the knowledge and power hierarchies which transmisogyny creates.
This is not easy to do in every aspect of your life, but eventually must become normalised as an issue to engage with. Whether it’s at family gatherings, or in our media, or amongst our workplaces, we must find ways to bridge the academic, politically-charged organising and bring these movements to the ignorant in casual and accessible ways.