Sunday, April 23, 2017

What is it about transgender people that scares the crap out of straight men?

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The amount of angst over transgender access to facilities is notably and grossly disproportionate to their presence in the population. Trans people seem to invoke  sheer terror in some people. Conservative Christian have become quite adroit at creating panic. However, there has to be a fundamental dread for the religious fundamentalists to spark such irrational fear. It is horror really.

By contrast, homophobia is easily understood. Given that sexual orientation is a continuum most people experience some homosexual feelings from time to time. Insecure men (males in particular) in repressive cultures (such as exist in conservative Christian circles) react to those feelings with irrational anxiety. They have been told their entire lives that homosexuality is a grave sin. They react to those homosexual attractions in a manner which fiercely says “not me.” The greater the attraction, the greater the reaction. At the same time it makes them angry and resentful.

Some of those folks who insist that being gay is a choice actually do believe that they are choosing to be heterosexual over any contrary impulses they might experience. To admit that (which they never will) means to admit that they have homosexual feelings. They absolutely require a binary construct for life to conform to scripture.

Is there a similar dynamic at work in transphobia? Gender is also a continuum but my sense is that there is greater concentration at the extreme ends than with sexual orientation. For most of recorded history, manliness has been a vaunted virtue. Logic suggests that there are more important things about being a man (or a human being for that matter) than splitting rails or shooting straight (tell me that a rifle is not a phallic symbol). Our intellect and emotions make us who we are. I have always admired, for example, managers who have a knack for making people feel good.

There are two parts to this I suppose. The first is the refusal to accept that transgender people exist. Trans people are always depicted as something like “a biological male who identifies as female.” It is a way of introducing choice into the works. Fostering “enlightened” discrimination requires a mutable trait to be discriminated against. As much as it defies logic that anyone would raise their hand and volunteer to be trans, choice to do so is as much a part of the gospel as the prospect for the Second Coming. We can assign that to religion and the influence of The Elders; our version of Iran's morality police.

But that doesn't get to the core of the fear and hatred. First there is a transposition of the fear, by men, from men to women. They work themselves into a frenzy over the notion that a trans girl or woman poses some threat to their wives or daughters. Unlike homosexuality I don't think that trans women inspire fear of a cisgender man's own femininity.

My hypothesis (and a weak one at that) is that transgender women create opportune anxiety. The femininity of the transgender person instills a need and an opportunity to demonstrate manliness. What could be more manly than protecting women? They genuinely fear for the safety of “their” women but the fear is entirely unfounded. No amount of evidence to the contrary is going to make a whit of difference. That constitutes the greatest difficulty in dealing with irrationality. We offer rational thought and they just twitch some more.

Does it matter why some men, in particular, become so deathly afraid of transgenders? Yes and no. The pathology is secondary in importance our resoluteness. What is vital for us and for transgender people to understand is that the negative reaction is irrational and illogical. It is essential to recognize that the oppressors do not have a legitimate point about privacy or any of the other manufactured excuses for discrimination. It remains important to realize that the underpinnings of transphobia are religious belief which, at least for me, is the equivalent of organized superstition.

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