We’ve all heard the popular phrase “It gets better,” which is used to give young LGBTQ+ individuals hope for the future—but is it really getting better? Not so much for transgender folks, who are often left out of their own movement and face transphobia from others. Read on to find out exactly what transphobia is, how it’s damaging and how it can be stopped – with your help!
Terminology you need to know
First of all, let’s start out with some important definitions for those of you who might not be in on the lingo:
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. It is often abbreviated to “trans.”
Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity matches the gender he or she was assigned at birth; someone who is not transgender. It is often abbreviated to “cis.”
FTM: FTM stands for “female to male.” It refers to people who were assigned female at birth but identify as male.
MTF: MTF stands for “male to female.” It refers to people who were assigned male at birth but identify as female.
Gender binary: The classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite forms: male and female.
Nonbinary: An umbrella term that can be used to describe those who fit outside the gender binary, meaning they don’t identify as just male or female: they can be neither, both or somewhere in between.
Genderfluid: Those who identify with this term consider their gender to be fluid and constantly changing.
Agender: Many agender people describe themselves as being neither a man nor a woman, or being without a gender.
Transphobia: The fear or hatred of transgender people. Transphobia can be anything from misgendering someone to being violent towards a trans person. Unfortunately, transphobic acts are not uncommon, even on supposedly safe spaces such as college campuses, classrooms and dorms.
What transphobia looks like
Misgendering is when someone uses the incorrect pronouns for a trans person, such as calling a trans woman “he” or a trans man “she.” This can be accidental or on purpose, but either way, it can lead trans individuals to feel as though they aren’t “passing” as the gender that they are. This could potentially lead to dysphoria, a term used to describe a person’s unhappiness, and to more negative mental-health side effects.
Additionally, misgendering a person, especially in front of a group of people, forces a trans person to make the decision whether to correct you or stay silent – a choice that can lead to insecurity, embarrassment or even danger.
Lilith Starr, a trans woman and college student from Indiana, is no stranger to this. She faces rude and confused stares in the classroom and has even worse experiences at work.
“My supervisor misgenders me and laughs with the student workers,” she says. Lilith would sometimes correct others when they misgendered her, but only when she felt up to it.
Of course, sometimes misgendering happens by accident and isn’t meant to be hurtful. But even if you’re not trying to hurt a trans person or put them in danger, cis collegiettes should be careful not to make that mistake.
Violence towards transgender individuals
In today’s world, it’s no secret that if someone doesn’t understand something, they can often grow to be afraid of or hateful towards it. That is unfortunately the case with how others view transgender people. Trans women have a one in 12 chance of being murdered, and trans women of color have a one in eight chance.
Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old transgender woman, was one of those women. She was beaten to death in New York by a man who allegedly got angered when he found out she was transgender. This man was only charged with a misdemeanor as opposed to murder, and the charges were later dropped, despite the fact that there were several witnesses who saw what happened.
What happened to Islan Nettles is horrifying, but it isn’t unique. From November 20, 2012, to November 1, 2013, alone, it’s estimated that 238 transgender individuals were murdered.
Transphobia can also make it very hard for transgender individuals to find or keep a job. Thirty-two states in the U.S. do not have laws protecting employees from gender discrimination in the workplace. The Human Rights Campaign reports that “in the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 47 percent of respondents reported experiencing a negative job outcome – such as being fired, not hired or denied promotion – because they were transgender or gender non-conforming.”
Trans college students face discrimination as well. Lauren*, a trans woman from Concordia University, says she’s always afraid and unsure if she should reveal the fact that she’s trans to others.
“Sometimes I feel like I am passing by cisgender people’s standards, so maybe I don’t need to tell people I’m trans,” she says. “But I’m always afraid of what might happen if I don’t. It’s so hard finding a roommate once you tell them you’re trans, and it’s just so discouraging. I’m just not sure if it’s something I need to put on a resume or not. I don’t think it’s something you should have to worry about.”
How you can help stop transphobia
Sure, it’s unrealistic to think transphobia can end overnight, but if you follow these steps you could help spread awareness and protect the trans people around you.
1. Educate yourself.
The main reason trans individuals are still either ignored or vilified is due to the lack of knowledge many people have about them.
“Some folks, they just don’t understand. And they need to get to know us as human beings,” transgender woman and activist Laverne Cox told TIME. “But I do believe in the humanity of people and in people’s capacity to love and to change.”
Not sure where to start your trans education? Here are some websites to get you started:
- GLAAD is a great resource to find LGBTQ+-related news and information.
- PFLAG is another organization that helps individuals learn about different sexual orientations and gender identities and supports LGBTQ+ individuals and their families and friends.
If you’re on Twitter, here are a few interesting accounts that post anything from tidbits from their daily lives to information about being trans:
If you’re into reading, here are some great books you can check out!
- Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More is a memoir by trans woman and activist Janet Mock. In this book, Mock explores what it means to be a woman today and the struggles that have accompanied her throughout life.
- Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen is about the life of teenager and trans man Arin Andrews, who writes about his journey and transition, both of which haven’t always been easy but have led to embracing family, friends, his first love and himself.
2. Ask people about their preferred pronouns.
If someone hasn’t told you which pronouns they prefer, go ahead and ask before you use any! It may seem like an odd or awkward practice, but it could make a transgender individual feel immediately more comfortable around you.
3. Admit when you’re wrong.
We all make mistakes. If you’re cisgender, even if you’re part of the queer community, it’s unlikely that you’ll go through life without making a mistake, whether it’s using the wrong pronouns, using someone’s old name or just saying something transphobic without realizing it. If you’re called out on it, apologize to the person whom you hurt and admit that you messed up.
When you take responsibility for your actions, it shows that you truly do care and want to support transgender individuals. How you react to being called out on mistakes says a lot about you and the type of person you are. Don’t be someone whom trans people feel they can’t trust, especially if you claim to be an ally.
It’s important to be aware of the harmful effects of transphobia and take action against it. Gay rights have come a long way, so why is it that transgender people are still so underrepresented? Don’t forget the T in LGBTQ+, and help support transgender people everywhere!