What Is Transphobia? And, What Is Cissexism?

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Transgender and gender non-conforming people face pervasive prejudice, discrimination, and violence around the world.

2008 San Francisco Trans March

Photo: jerekeys

Scenes from the 2008 San Francisco Trans March

People whose lives, experiences, and sense of self are outside of the gender binary of woman and man/female and male are a consistent part of world history.  In fact, there have been societies and cultures in the past that recognize, and even celebrate, a third genderToday, however, individuals we now know as transgender or gender non-conforming face pervasive prejudice, discrimination, violence, and invisibility around the world.

What Is Transphobia?

I have written in earlier posts about who transgender and gender non-conforming people are.  There is a great deal of diversity among transgender and gender non-conforming, most notably in terms of gender identity and gender expression.  Yet, these communities are also diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, age, sexual identity, social class, nationality, body shape and size, and so forth.

But, one commonality that transgender and gender non-conforming people share in the US and worldwide is exposure to prejudice, discrimination, violence, and invisibility.  Transphobia is a set of negative attitudes toward, fear and hatred of transgender and gender non-conforming people.  This, like homophobia can be thought of as the prejudice that many cisgender (i.e., non-transgender) people hold toward transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Recent debates over passing laws to protect and include transgender and gender non-conforming people from discrimination provide a great example of the hostility many cispeople hold toward transpeople.  Examples of transphobia include: myths and stereotypes (e.g., that transwomen are men posing as women to rape other women in the restroom); negative portrayals of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the media; trivializing or ignoring a transperson’s gender identity.  New research suggests that even elementary school-aged children hold transphobic (and homophobic) attitudes.

What Is Transphobic Discrimination And Violence?

Typically fueled by transphobia (hostility, fear, hatred) is transphobic discrimination and violence. These are negative, hostile, or harmful acts and behaviors directed at transgender and gender non-conforming people.  Similar to homophobic and biphobic discrimination, there are (at least) three levels of transphobic discrimination:

  • Interpersonal transphobic discrimination: this occurs at the individual level.  That is, one person or a small group of people discriminate against another person or group of people.  This often occurs in the workplace, for example, as unfairly firing or denying a job or promotion to a person because of their actual or perceived gender identity and expression.
  • Organizational transphobic discrimination: this occurs at the organizational level.  Typically, this occurs when a company or organization has formally or informally set or enacted a rule to treat transgender and gender non-conforming people differently (i.e., worse) than cisgender people.  The Girl Scouts of America is an example of an organization that explicitly includes transgender and gender non-conforming people.  Despite the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, now allowing LGB people to openly serve, the US military still excludes transgender and gender non-conforming people from serving.
  • Structural transphobic discrimination: this occurs at the structural or societal level.  This form of discrimination exists in laws, policies, and macro-level values and practices that privilege cisgender people over transgender and gender non-conforming people.  Structural transphobic discrimination is related to, or sometimes called, cissexism, the set of attitudes and behaviors which value and normalize cisgender people, while keeping transgender and gender non-conforming people invisible or treating them as inferior or deviant.

Transphobic violence is threatened or actual violence toward transgender and gender non-conforming people.  While this typically occurs at the individual level, it, like other hate crimes, sends a message to the entire transgender and gender non-conforming community that they are inferior, hated, and should feel unsafe.

Some Consequences Of Transphobic Prejudice, Discrimination, And Violence

While there is a growing body of research that examines the consequences of prejudice, discrimination, and violence faced by LGB people, little is known about the consequences of these experiences for transgender and gender non-conforming people.  Some of the consequences of these hostile, unfair, and harmful acts are obvious and immediate.  These range from from the physical and emotional damage caused by transphobic violence to the increased risk for poverty and homelessness due to limited and constrained job opportunities because of transphobic discrimination.  The added stress (known as “minority stress“)of hostile attitudes and treatment for transgender and gender non-conforming people wears on their health, placing them at elevated levels of physical, mental, and sexual health problems.

Additionally, because of transgender and gender non-conforming people are stigmatized, many are afraid to come out.  This translates, for some, into hiding one’s true identity and sense of self from others.  And, related to the stigma associated with homosexuality and bisexuality, the strict social norms regarding gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality also constrain the freedoms of cisgender people, as well.  We all risk facing ridicule, being shunned, or even experiencing discrimination and violence, if we step outside of the narrow range of acceptable gender identities and expressions.  As others have said, transphobia hurts us all.

Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman

received his PhD in sociology at Indiana University. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond. Dr. Grollman's research interests lie in medical sociology, social psychology, sexualities, and race/gender/class. You can see his personal blog at http://egrollman.com.
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