2020 has been an especially dangerous time for the transgender community, as at least 25 transgender or gender non-conforming people in the U.S. have been killed this year so far, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Heightened racial tensions and a global pandemic have forced the spotlight onto the oppression of many marginalized communities, especially the transgender community.
Just a few days ago, as two opposing protests – Black Lives Matter and Back the Blue – gathered across from each other in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a participant seeming to be a part of the Back the Blue protest started chanting “kill transgenders” to the crowd, according to a local CBS-affiliate news station in Pennsylvania.
Trans folks, especially trans people of color, are one of the most vulnerable populations right now as their rights are debated on a national level. For a group of people that are clearly victim to violence simply for existing, is validating their identity really too much to ask?
A few weeks ago, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, made international news because of a blog post she wrote about sex and gender issues. In the blog post, she writes, “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”
To Rowling, just because you identify as a woman, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are one. It’s true that there are some people who identify as a woman but don’t have the stereotypical physical or social characteristics that are associated with being a woman, but this doesn’t mean that they are actually a man. If you identify as a woman, you are a woman. Gender identity is always valid, even if it doesn’t align with society’s understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman.
Rowling also fails to address that men have always had the ability to dress up as women and sneak into women’s restrooms long before trans rights gained national attention, yet this doesn’t appear to have ever been a problem. There is not an epidemic of men pretending to be women so they can enter women’s spaces and harm them. Rowling’s blog post not only assumes trans women aren’t actually women but also assumes men are predators.
On Twitter, many people have accused J.K. Rowling of being transphobic. In one tweet, J.K. Rowling shared her contempt of being called a trans exclusionary radical feminist, or “TERF” for short. “TERFs,” such as J.K. Rowling, often like to refer to their opinions as “gender critical feminism” – a nicely phrased euphemism, which is really just code for transphobia. They may convey their support and love for trans people, but underneath it all, they don’t validate trans people’s identities, and at the very core, don’t validate their existence.
In one Twitter thread, J.K. Rowling expressed her concern that the lived experiences of cis womanhood was being erased because of the transgender movement. To people like J.K. Rowling, trans women are harmful to the feminist movement because they are chipping away at the core of womanhood. In their eyes, womanhood is defined by reproductive capabilities, the menstrual cycle and the shared pain of women being sexualized by society. This is not womanhood; this is reactionary and anti-feminist. Womanhood is not defined by the ability to have a baby or society’s obsession with objectifying women’s bodies. Womanhood is arbitrary, and it’s what we, as individuals, decide to make it. Acknowledging this is not what sets us back but is what propels the feminist movement forward.
Despite seeing “TERFs” and people that are blatantly transphobic make factually wrong and discriminatory statements online, I still want to help them understand if I can.
For many of those who are anti-transgender, it often comes from a place of misunderstanding.
There are even people who support the trans community, yet don’t quite understand them. For a long time, I myself didn’t understand exactly what it meant to be a transgender person. I have come to realize that it is not enough to just dogmatically support this community; we also need to understand it for ourselves.
Understanding the difference between sex and gender is an important piece in the puzzle when dismantling transphobic rhetoric. I’ve been a part of many “hyper woke” and progressive spaces on social media that are guilty of dogma. There is a subgroup of left-leaning people which preach the importance of supporting trans people, simply because it is the right thing to do. I agree that supporting transgender people is the right thing to do, but for a large portion of society this doesn’t come off as a very good argument. That’s why we owe it to ourselves to understand the differences between sex and gender so it can be explained it to other people with good faith reasoning.
Sex refers to the physical and physiological characteristics of a person, such as their sexual anatomy and chromosomes. Sex is typically classified as either male or female, but sex is bimodal, not binary. This means that although someone’s sex characteristics usually classify them as either male or female, this isn’t always the case. Intersex people, for example, don’t fit the standard of male or female.
Gender refers to the social roles, behaviors and identifiers typically ascribed to the male and female sex. People who are assigned male at birth often grow up to be men, and people who are assigned female at birth often grow up to be women, but this is not true for everyone. The existence of transgender people tells us that sex and gender, although heavily associated with one other, are not the same thing. Western culture still treats gender as a binary, but gender is fluid and our understanding of it evolves as our society adapts to changing conditions.
This 7-minute YouTube video, “Trans 101 - The Basics” by Minus18 is a great way to better understand the differences between sex and gender. Minus18 is a charity based in Australia that provides resources and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
After becoming more knowledgeable about the trans community, I wanted to see what Missouri State was doing to support this group of people. MSU does offer a range of resources for transgender students. One of these resources – the Gender Zone – set to launch in fall 2020, is a training program designed to help educate people about transgender and intersex individuals led by the LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
The Transitions Closet is a program at MSU that provides clothing to any student that is in need of it, including transgender students who are wanting to change their clothing choices.
Gender-neutral bathrooms are also available in some of the academic buildings on campus, one of which is located on the fourth floor of the Plaster Student Union. It seems like MSU is creating a better environment for trans people to thrive in, but the community still has a lot of work to better educate our students.
Transgender rights have become a larger topic discussed by many people on social media, and as entertaining as it is to make fun of transphobes on the internet, many just don’t understand and might be more receptive to validating trans people if we tried educating them instead of shaming them.
Although I am optimistic that anyone’s mind can be changed on the issue, I do understand that some people are hateful, refuse to listen and consistently deny science. It is vital that we do not engage with these people and that we deplatform them as much as we can because for a lot of transgender people, it’s a matter of life and death.