I have seen a number of posts on different platforms (Facebook, Twitter, WordPress etc) where trans people accuse another person of being transphobic. There are even articles that tell allies not to use phrases that they thought were supportive but that are supposedly ‘transphobic’. My absolute favourite recent example was someone who said, on a Facebook group, that this video was transphobic.
I find these imaginings of transphobia very unhelpful. A humourous video poking fun at a heteronormative fairy tale is a bit of satire. If anything it is broadly supportive of the trans community because it challenges preconceptions of gender, sexuality and the patriarchy. At the very worst it ignores trans issues. This is not the same as a phobia.
Let’s get some definitions out of the way. A ‘phobia’ is defined by Wikipedia as ‘a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational.’ The word when used as a suffix has come to connote a hatred for a type or group of people (possibly founded in fear) that leads to discriminatory, abusive and even violent behaviour towards that group of people by individuals, society or even the state. Hence we get ‘xenophobia’, ‘homophobia’, ‘transphobia’ etc. To my mind, to qualify as a phobia, their needs to be action. You need to sprout hate speech, actively avoid people, or be abusive. This is a real manifestation of a phobia.
Supporters, allies etc are people who actively assist, aid and benefit other people. They are probably not part of that group of people but seek justice, fairness and liberty for all. These allies and supporters will go out of their way to accommodate people who are discriminated against, they may stand up to bullies, write articles in support or even petition law makers. They again are active citizens doing something to support others. I suppose they are the opposite of the ‘phobe’.
In the middle ground there are people who are neither ‘phobes’ nor ‘philes’. They are not actively persecuting anyone , they don’t seek any particular type of person out as a friend, but nor are they actively helping or hindering anyone. They are in all likelihood not even aware of the issues faced by the discriminated group of people. If they were they would probably be surprised that the discrimination, abuse etc takes place and see it as wrong, but they do not have the time or the inclination to fight a fight that is not theirs to fight. They are ‘neutral’.
Seeing the world in ‘black and white’ is seldom helpful. We have a whole plethora of colours out there and grey does not describe them. Things are seldom either one thing or the other and to expect people to be ‘for you’ or ‘against you’ will probably result in you acquiring more enemies than friends.
I believe that we as a community need to realise that we have many allies and supporters out there. We have some ‘haters’ or ‘phobes’ as well, but the vast majority of society probably couldn’t care about us. They aren’t actively seeking to harm us and are happy for us to exist as long as we don’t do them any harm, but they don’t realise how hard life can be for many of us. This is not their fault. They are not against us, they just have a limited frame of reference. Also, not every issue is a trans issue, some issues are just what they are. ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’ and to expect everyone to actively support us all the time, in their choice of language, in the way they express things etc is simply unrealistic.
Furthermore by adopting an extremist point of view we run the very real risk of giving up the power that we have. By forcing people to be either ‘for’ or ‘against’ us, we alienate potential allies and surrender the power of the majority. If we focused our efforts on exposing real transphobia we would activate far more neutrals to become supporters or allies than if we tried to shame people into supporting us through enforcing ideals of political correctness on people who are essentially neutral. Indeed, we are a very easy community to ridicule and if we start being ridiculous we open ourselves up to more ridicule. This becomes a highly counterproductive exercise.
Let’s rather assert the power that we have in meaningful engagements with society to overcome discrimination and the very real manifestations of transphobia that are out there. Let’s show the transphobes to be the irrational and disproportionate people that they are. To do this we need to be moderate, rational and balanced beings taking a proper and considered view of the world and all its people.