Understanding transgender, and bigotry, or: Understanding bigotry

In discussing the form and nature of acceptance, some friends and I have run into an interesting impasse.  Those who some of us find lovable, acceptable, and welcome as equals, are found to be ill-fitting to others.  Or, to be more blunt, transgender people are considered to be inappropriate to attend some women’s circles.

Is this bigotry?   Or is it a matter of correct definition?  Maybe more correctly, what is the definition of bigotry?

Let’s start by defining a “woman.”  Gender is not binary, but it is commonly perceived to be.  What does that mean, though?  The binary understanding is that men have penises, high testosterone levels, and certain territorial and/or dominant personality traits.  Failing that, they at least have penises, with this as a defining factor.  Women have baby-making organs down below, breasts up above, a flux of estrogen and progesterone, and creative and/or nurturing qualities.  Again, should all else fail, the presence of a vagina and clitoral urethra decides this conversation.

Of those who are born every year, a Google search quickly shows that roughly 0.05% are born with “ambiguous genitalia” and a total of 1.7% are born within the nondescript range of gender identity.  This means that out of every 2,000 humans born each year, 1-34 of those people are born genetically…funny.  When we remember that the size of a “town” ranges from 1,000 to 100,000, that means a small town will easily produce an ongoing population of 100+ of these mid-range people.  Parents can make decisions on this, involving surgery, hormones, and/or appropriate clothing and decor.  But to be honest with ourselves, these people are simply…neither.

Yet more than that, we act like this is a scientific question, when it is not.  What defines our experience, after all?  What really creates our perception of ourselves?

Hormones are an all-inclusive distinction of experience, creating emotional environments that in turn define our choices and our actual external environments.  The sensation of testosterone, for instance, pushes the need for a perception of security and respect.  It requires one to sate certain needs, or feel the vibration of those needs in one’s bones and mind as a form of temporary insanity.  Physical activity, sexual proclivity, or success in the face of adversity can meet its needs.  Once satisfied, one is able to relax more, feeling sated and proud.  Or at least, that’s how it’s been explained to me many times over.  Yet – and this should be stated clearly – this is a response to high levels of testosterone.  Only a small percentage of people will ever experience that regularly.  The hormones of women can have similarly high levels, and if estrogen ranges unchecked it can even result in insanity, in both women and men.

As it turns out, people’s personalities operate on a full spectrum, and there’s assholes everywhere.  I know horrid men, and wonderful men.  I know self-centered and adamantly ignorant women, as well as kind, loving, and enlightened women.  I also know that the range is similar for the transwomen I know, mostly because we’re all humans, sharing this place.  None of us are perfect, and all of us are just trying to be happy.

Weak men are just as often preyed upon as women.  It is invisible to many, because it is insurrection within their own tribe – but no worries, the weak are punished for not living up to the expectations of their stronger kith.  Women are often targeted in a similar way – based off of the likelihood of success, for the hunter.  We are chattel to be controlled, after all.  Trophies to be collected.

But remember that range of behavior I mentioned before?  It isn’t all men who do this. And it isn’t just men – women often do, too.  As it turns out, the experience of hormones that I mentioned before has a lot to do with it.  Women often have high testosterone levels, and men often have high estrogen.  There are also those who are neither gender/sex, as mentioned above.  And if we ponder this not on the basis of invisible and expensive tests, but on the reality of one’s daily experience, many of us with a vagina are more like the “guys” we know, and many of those who wield a penis are definitely more “chick” material.

Is that a definition of one’s sex, then?  One’s feelings, identity with others, etc?  Doesn’t the physical anatomy count?

Well, yes, of course.  But how often do we find women, or men, whose anatomy cannot produce babies?  How many of us have small breasts, or small muscles?  For all that I feel like a guy more often than a girl, and my breasts are small, any realistically feasible attempt at making babies has succeeded.  So does that make me more of a “woman” than those who dote upon their homes and adopted children, knowing that they are sterile?  Does that make a man who somehow knows the feeling of fertility and longs to be beautiful, to nurture others, less worthy than me?

When we honestly discuss the qualities that make a woman, definitively, everything from the literal medical tests to the emotional, invisible traits exist on a spectrum.  I’m not sure exactly where the color blue becomes the color green, for instance, or where that turns to yellow.  But I know when it gets there.  Likewise, I know when women are very feminine, less feminine, and when they essentially fail to be female.  I know when men are very masculine, less so, or neutral.  However, I don’t pretend that red and orange are the same color, as are blue and green, with that awful yellow in the middle.

Humans are a species, with a variety of definitions.  I have a hard time loving them all, but I damn well try.  Some make it harder than others.  However, I take each person on their own terms, no matter how much I might ache to hate their stupidity, or simplify my world by excluding them.

But this is where we come to the word “bigotry.”  This is a hard word.  Its definition, per Dictionary.com, is “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.”  It is often equated with “hate: to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.”  Aversion is perhaps the better word, but it simply doesn’t wander through the English language the same way that “hate” does.

Bigotry, as we perceive it, never seems to feel like hate to those handing it out. There’s rarely a sensation of being intolerant. It’s more a matter of minimizing one’s own discomfort, and then expecting others to simply tell you if you’ve gone too far.  Hatred is a word that is more often used by the recipients – or those perceiving a victim – than by those accused of its crime.  And sadly, it’s more often used somewhat incorrectly: to describe those accidentally hurting others by trying to be comfortable.  Much like one swinging a fly swatter to keep away the flies, they sometimes hurt those who approach, especially if they happen to be flies.

I detest the idea of anyone being forced to be uncomfortable, but I have perceived my own loved ones push me away, speak to me less, not invite me, and not attend my normal life events, like my kids’ birthdays. They then acted confused that I was upset or uncomfortable, or felt unwelcome afterwards. I had to choose between attending Christian church with them or not discussing religion at all – as a pagan priestess. If I made exception I was asked why on earth I thought it was acceptable to discuss myself, or my religious beliefs. Yet this is delivered with love, kindness – just trying to keep the peace, and not make anyone uncomfortable.

I have no interest in enemies of any kind, or I might have gotten more upset over the years.  My goal, though, is to actually find common ground, and end the cycle of misunderstanding and misdirected self-defense. I generally hope to find the point of mutual understanding in tense situations, no matter those present.  The point, as I see it, is that we like to be united with those who are comfortable to us – those who have predictable responses, and do the subtle cultural things that make us feel welcome and loved.  We prefer to be separate from those we can’t or don’t feel fully welcomed around.

But the point of feeling separation between us and others is often internal – it’s not something the stranger imparts.  I’ve alienated some of those same relatives by assuming I wasn’t wanted.  Basically, hesitation creates logic to back it up, not the other way around. When one of these “others” are exposed to that logic, they have to puzzle their way through a stranger’s understanding, with no idea of the assumptions being made.  They didn’t create it, and they can’t fix it.  Whether those who are bigotted or those expecting bigotry, the assumptions of the party involved define the reality that follows.  Further, that alienation can’t be met by distance if one wants it to fade.  The assumptions will stand unargued in one’s mind and experience until a shared experience is allowed.

Does that mean we should all get more comfortable with trans-folk by going and cuddling with them on a couch?  Short answer – no.  If nothing else, they’ve had enough hate (or bigotry) thrown at them that at this point they expect unfriendliness first.  Such an attempt would appear at a glance to be a veiled attack, and that fly swatter would be taken into a new hand.  I know many who have gotten so used to being told that they can’t have loving friends or kind homes that they react with vitriol to those who propose it.  A victim will quickly become a new villain if beaten for long enough – they learn the tools of the trade all too well.

Am I saying that trans-folk are villainous, then?  No.  Far from it – most are terrified on a daily basis.  I am, however, saying that any vitriol one faces from them was likely instilled somehow.  I am saying that a peaceful arrangement will require sustained kindness and acceptance.  That after such long-standing intolerance, even the slightest insult will appear amplified.  And I am saying that most, if not all, trans-folk are learning how not to hurt, how to accept themselves and others, and how to be who they are, with pride.

Now we come full circle: how do they learn to be transwomen?  Do we women teach them?  They can’t be men – they have never felt like one, and they have most likely been victimized their whole life as the weak man in the men’s tribe.  They have been stripped of their “white male privilege” badge by those who think they hand them out.  They are stuck alienated from those they are supposed to be similar to, and unable to fully appear as the only thing they have ever honestly identified as: a woman.

For those women who have gotten used to the behaviors of testosterone games defining “men,” women’s space is a sacred place, a safe place.  Men have indeed refused us public standing, freedom in our own homes, the full exploit of our lives.  As those who raise these men to adulthood, though, I hold this fact before women: we are a range of experiences, some complicit in the crime, and others soldiers on the battlefront.  I will not hate those who love to raise their beloved children in a devoted way, as housewives and nannies.  I will also not ignore the areas where women had power to create their world’s next generation, and created something that would in turn restrict the privileges of their daughters.  What greater power do we as women have, than to create the next generation of human life?

I would help women to learn how to be strong enough to create a world that benefits us, in all future generations.  And I would be happy to meet women in perfect love and perfect trust who share that mission, because I know that we love a world that helps our babies to become wonderful human beings.

At what point does that exclude transwomen?  For me, never.  They are just another infertile woman, in my mind, someone else trying to raise the world as a whole instead of focusing only on one’s own progeny.  Having three of my best friends in the whole world who never intend to have babies, I see no difference between them with their goals and those who have penises and a fully female emotional spectrum, with their own ideals and goals.

Men are a tricky bunch, and those who hate women tend to hate turncoats of their own kind even more.  To aesthetically, hormonally, or even surgically change one’s sex is the worst betrayal of the tribe.  There are those who don’t feel this way, but even they tend not to understand the desire involved, since they do not share it.

For those like me – I joke that I’m a bisexual, male transexual trapped in a woman’s body; I’m just very happy about that – it’s easy.  Perhaps I’m closer to a trans lifestyle than others, but I am incredibly grateful that I am happy with the wrapping that my body came with.  However, it’s just that.  Wrapping.

Can you imagine the sacrifice involved in changing one’s wrapping?  The work involved – the money, the emotional flux, the surgical recovery – this is no small thing.  All I did to earn the title of “woman” was be born. I didn’t have to fight for it.  I didn’t have to pay for it, change slowly, or face a lifetime of being told that my inside and my outside could never match.

It feels weird – really *&%^ing weird – to have the inside and outside of one not match, according to public understanding of genders and sexes.  If you are told you can only be one or another of two categories, what do you do if you aren’t either?  Do you disappear, melt into the ground, commit suicide, or just fail to mention it?  Because after all, why on earth would one assume it was acceptable to discuss oneself in public?  That’s only for those who buy shoes like yours, after all.

In my opinion, if someone is willing to fight that hard, risk that much, just to be a woman like me – then more power to her.  I am happy to stand by her, to share religion and the divine.  She will have earned it by my standards.

But according to the standards of others, she never should have tried to rid herself of her penis.  She had a privilege, and even though she might rebuke it, even though she leaves the men’s tribe with dishonor, she cannot be welcomed due to the tarnish of her prior allegiance, perceived or real.  Her tribe will always color her for them – she can never be blue or green, if she carries any red (or orange) in her.

Now, if she – and others – are given the unconditional welcome I offer, with no idea of their individuality or personality, then I feel I shouldn’t insult those who dismiss her with similar ignorance.  My blind welcome should be balanced by a blind dismissal, yes?  And after all, who wants to go to a club where they aren’t welcome?  It’s like a fish wanting to go hang out with the sharks.

Here is where I give away my surprise ending.  I don’t like to demean the love or goals of anyone.  I don’t like anyone to be stuck uncomfortable, unable to find the solace that feeds their heart.  I would never choose to force someone to violate their rules of comfort.  I would rather people have the right to form groups that feed their soul.  I would protest that they should view their peers individually, as peers, and feel joy at the opportunity to meet others.  I would ask that they meet as equals, and discover the similarities and differences that make them comfortable or not.  However, I would ask them to dislike anyone they want to – based on real knowledge.

Even in government, in the United States I have noticed that we do best when we don’t get everything we ask for, in either party.  That the struggle between disparate parties typically (though not always) forces us to find a more healthy balance.  I like that balance.  I’m all for it.

So, in short, I don’t want everyone to agree with me.  Or with each other.  I don’t want anyone to simply live and let live.  Say no.  Say stop.  And urge each other also to be amazing, strong, more than the day before.  But do it with full willingness and understanding, if you are able.  Just – be fair about it.  Be inclusive.  Whether excluding someone due to their sex or their bigotry, one is excluding.  Let’s include each other.  We’re all in this together, after all, and no one’s getting out alive.  We might as well live well for all of us, yes?  Just – be nice.  Please.  All of us.




4 thoughts on “Understanding transgender, and bigotry, or: Understanding bigotry”

  1. I feel like, over all, I agree with you and yet at the same time I feel like I am misunderstanding, or that some points don’t quite sit right. I suppose in theory I’m all for accepting everyone, not excluding anyone on any basis, but the idea of welcoming even the bigots makes me feel uncomfortable for this reason: what if the presence of a bigot in a circle that welcomes trans folk poses a threat to those trans folks? Even if not a violent physical threat, what if welcoming someone who themselves is being exclusive (and bigoted based on patently false understandings of biology, hormones, psychology, and the place where all those things meet) poses an emotional or psychological risk to trans people who are coming to that circle seeking community and kinship? Brushes with bigots of any stripe (I know I’m using the term bigots in the broader, more popular use rather than the strict dictionary definition) can very easily become quite abusive even if it’s not explosive or dramatic. Not being trans I’ve never experienced the transphobia version of that specifically, but I’ve experienced the misogynistic version and I know lots of bi and homosexual people who’ve experienced that and walked away feeling afraid to return to a place that might otherwise have been a place of inclusivity and community for them.

    So I guess my question is this: is being inclusive even to bigots worth the risk of exposing our LBGT brethren to verbal abuse and/or micro-aggresions that make them feel belittled, demeaned, and alienated? Or is it worth the risk of the misinformation that typically feeds bigotry being propagated in order to let “safe places” for bigots stand? Because that feels like a mighty large risk… especially given things like the bomb in the Target restroom that was clearly in response to trying to keep those restrooms safe for trans folks. People will go a long way to ensure their “comfort” and I suppose it’s acceptable if they just avoid the types of people that make them feel uncomfortable (gods know I do that — I avoid the shit out of Trump supporters if I can) but it seems like there are plenty of people who, if find they’re not going to be checked on lesser discriminations, are quite willing to take their own discomfort with people they don’t understand to a very dangerous place.

    I guess I kind of figured out where my own discomfort exists with this. Because being tolerant of intolerance feels like too slippery of a slope to me. I totally accept that not all people who behave in a bigotted way do so out of malice, they genuinely just don’t feel comfortable with a thing. I wish I could tell them all to just educate themselves about that thing, they might feel less uncomfortable about it, but also I know that in some situations that’s just super not appropriate. That’s beside the point — the point is that there’s no way to discern which people are just trying to preserve their own comfort but genuinely don’t want to hurt other people (though the argument has often been made that erasure is quite harmful if unintentional, and I tend to agree) and someone who is malicious. It seems safer all around to not tolerate intolerance, or at the very least to try to check intolerance and bigotry when it’s seen — gently and empathetically, as turning around and being a bully yourself has obviously never done any good. Just like that beautiful little parable the top there says. 🙂

    I dunno. That became a much longer just vomiting of thought that I originally intended. XD I genuinely did only mean to ask some questions but then my brain kept going so I guess I let my fingers keep going too. I guess I’ll stop that now…

    1. I love your point here, and I actually totally agree with it. I try my best not to hate the haters, but to hate the hate. I have the opportunity to choose my own boundaries, same as they do. I choose each individual I interact with based on their own lifestyle, their own terms, much like I suggest above. And many I do not choose to keep around.

      Much like I encourage these people to get to know those people they claim to dislike, I take the time to get to know people who make mgr uncomfortable, and lovingly educate them as necessary according to my needs in my life. If they have no interest in meeting my needs, I stop. If they pick a fight, I fight back, but with the goal of education and self-preservation. And more than anything else, I do protect me and mine.

      But I don’t protect us from a faceless mass. I don’t lightly decide a “common enemy” to be faced. And also, one of my favorite adages is “if it comes to a fight, you have already lost.” I try to keep most conversations peaceful, lighthearted, fun even. I just won’t stand for hurtful actions. It’s just so contextual that no blanket statement of “don’t do that” will fit every situation.

      Bigotry is a real enemy of those who wish to live in love. Bigots are not our enemy, though. Much like someone who carries a disease, it’s our job to be vigilant that it doesn’t infect us, or ruin the things about us that are healthy and good. More than that, though, it’s our impossible job to never live up to any of the negative associations that people create when justifying their discomfort. Witches boil babies, huh? So become a loving preschool teacher! Trans people aren’t kind and normal? Work at a department store! This is nerve-wracking, what I suggest, but I’ve lived it my whole adult life.

      Be the example you want to see in others. Famous saying, that, but it’s also the best solution to bigots. Give them nothing to hate, nothing to fight, nothing to feel alienated about. Then throw the best party on the block, and don’t invite them in unless they can be nice!

      Everyone has the control to give people permission to be in their life, or not. Don’t misunderstand – I give them the permission to decide for themselves, but I also reserve that right for myself. I won’t hate them. I just won’t invite them in unless they can return the favor.

      1. One last note. A major LGBT club in Orlando was just hit hard last night. Many were wounded or killed. The man in question had beaten his wife until she left him, been questioned by the FBI repeatedly for violent threats, and was still able to buy guns recently. He then used them to kill fifty, and wound more than fifty more.

        If beating your wife had the kind of penalties it deserves, if showing hatred to that level on a regular basis could be systematically punished and then – importantly – reeducated… I can’t help feeling like horrible events like this could be stopped. Hatred is not the same as the fly swatter, the bigotry, the microagressions I mention above. Yet that’s often the response these lesser bigots receive, and it isn’t fair.

        I have stood between a patriot and a skinhead the day after 9/11, trying to keep them from ripping each other’s throats out. I have dressed down haters, made them sound like they should slink off in a hole somewhere. And those who actively hunt trans people, try to hurt their lives, I will do my best to stop. But when it’s just a matter of staying within one’s own comfort range, I think we have far more to achieve by asking them why they’re uncomfortable than going into battle against them.

        I will also clearly that the trans folk are invited, and if they don’t want to be around them, they should damn well stay home.

      2. Haha, yeah, I’m definitely a witch and a Rökatru leaning pagan who works as a youth advocate in a domestic violence shelter, so I’m totally on board with living to challenge the stereotypes. XD I do try to not hate whole groups, because well… Becoming the thing you don’t like seems silly, but I am often quite frustrated with groups, typically more because the ideology the group represents clashes with mine so yeah… It’s definitely not a personal thing. When I encounter members of those groups in the real world I try to be as educating and respectful as possible, but I’m definitely still learning the best way to approach those kinds of things. Sometimes more successful than others. X)

        I had also wanted to say that I appreciated the discussion about biologically what gender means. One of the things I get frustrated with in the pagan community is that I very often see a distinct lack of academic accountability that sometimes goes as far as to become anti intellectualism. I feel like I’m seeing it used in much the same way it’s used in fundementalist Christian circles (i.e. this transphobia thing, discrimination, whathaveyou) and it always makes me so sad. It feels so counter to what the community holds itself up as being. But people are gonna be people, I guess. So we’ve gotta keep on keeping on with that educating and defying stereotypes thing. 🙂

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