Am I a man? Or a woman? Or something else? Internalized transphobia is what happens when trans people unconsciously buy into the belief that, e.g., trans women are really deep down men and trans men are really deep down women. That biology will never change. That biology is destiny – gender is immutable. Often internalized transphobia is based on the toxic idea of cis-normative “Passing”. The idea is that the more you pass as cis then the more of a woman or man you are. We see ourselves in the mirror and see our assigned sex and the darkest thoughts enter our minds. “You’re just a man. What are you doing”. Or we meet a trans women who doesn’t pass perfectly and we can’t help but think “You’re still a man” – I admit I’ve had thoughts like this – I think we all have. Although I don’t have hard evidence I believe EVERYONE who has met a non-passing trans woman has had these thoughts. Even trans people. Trans people are not immune to transphobia. We live it and breath it just like everyone else. You look at someone, they have “masculine” features, and you think “boy”. But our minds like to ignore that many cis women have “masculine” features too. Oh but you might say even the most masculine cis women still is within the “norms” of cis-standards whereas non-passing trans women are “extreme” examples of masculinity. But this is internalized transphobia. It doesn’t matter if even the trans women before you is the tallest women you know. That is no license to assume she must be a man “deep down” because she is extreme on one or two traits. If a trans woman does not pass as cis female we have to fight against our own internal biases to see them as 100% women. We have to have grace for those trans women who have not had the time or opportunity to learn everything about acting/socializing like cis women. Furthermore, and most important, we must divorce ourselves from the idea that cis women define the standard by which socialization must be codified.
Personally, I don’t care if people think im 100%woman. But that’s just me. I’d be fine with like 70-80% woman. My self identity is not based on rigid binary concepts. I don’t even really identity as a woman simpliciter as in your “average everyday woman”. I see myself as a special kind of woman. A rare kind of woman. A woman that you just don’t meet everyday. But we must be careful. Because just because I’m rare that does not make me less of a woman. We need to reject the idea that the ONLY women are those women who embody cis-normativity 100%. If someone is read as 51% women we need to make room for these being full-fledged members of the category or women. We need to expand the concept of womanhood to make space for trans women who fall into the margins of binary stealth cis-passing normativity. Some trans women are butch, have no interest in passing as cis, and yet are fully comfortable in their own womanhood. Women come in all shapes and sizes. I know this idea is hard to swallow. Many people want to keep things easy were there are only two boxes for gender/gender presentation and everything is neat and tidy and correspondent with biology. But newsflash: biology is messy. Humans are messy. Gender is messy. This isn’t your biology 101 textbook about farm animals. Gender defies easy categorization. This is part of what makes the human experience so interesting. We are generally much more fluid than people believe. The line between men and women is rather thin actually and the boundary is porous.
But the battle with internalized transphobia is to accept this not just at an intellectual level but at a deeper, unconscious, core level. It’s one thing for liberal cis allies to use the right pronouns and treat us on the surface as women. But internalized transphobia deals with those secret thoughts you never share with anyone. It’s that twinge of uncomfort around non-passing trans women. And yes I am focusing on non-passing trans women because non-passing trans men often lead to less unconscious anxiety because they’re simply read as butch lesbians for which there is a socially acceptable category. But there is no acceptable social category for non-passing trans women. We are the fringe. But you know? Confidence is key. Hold your head up high. Be confident in your body language. Have a deep voice? Fuck it? Don’t pass perfectly? Fuck it. I am proud to fly my freak flag. I know not every one is comfortable with that language but for me non-conformity and living outside of society’s shit is a good way to cope with my internalized transphobia and dysphoria. Sure, I still care about passing. I still present femme. But I’m no longer obsessed with my voice. I’ve come to accept my voice. It’s mine. It will probably always be deep. It will always probably bring about occasional dysphoria. But that’s fine. Everyone has something they don’t like about themselves. Cis people also don’t like many parts of themselves. All we can do is work to better ourselves. To be good people.
At the end of the day the war against internalized transphobia can probably never be won. We might win a few battles but the war itself is a on-going lifelong struggle to accept ourselves. And to accept others. To divorce gender from biology. From appearance. From presentation. We will never live in a genderless world but we can live in a world where people internally fight hard to see trans people as their true genders no matter their appearance.
8 responses to “Why Internalized Transphobia is the Hardest Battle”
Thank you Rachel for sharing that with all of us . I enjoy reading everything I can find concerning the issues confronting trans folk. You are a good writer and I look forward to reading your next post.
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Thank you so much for this article Rachel. What you wrote nails the issue on the head. Lately, I’ve been finding it difficult to accept what I still see in the mirror as well as how I sound… I’ve been fighting so hard to become who I am and I still sometimes hear that voice in my head that says you’ll never be a woman… And that I will always be incomplete… I sometimes feel phobic about myself and that’s not healthy.. Anyway, it’s nice to know that I’m not there only one feeling this way about myself. So I’m just going to do my best to say screw it. I’m an awesome person and that no matter how my appearance, body/voice turn out to be, I will always be a woman.
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Guilty, your Honour.
Very early in my transition, I went to a support group barby. As usual for every time I step outside, I made my best effort to be femme. I don’t pass, never will. But I think with effort I can look acceptable to open minded people.
But for many of the attendees, their effort seemed minimal or nonexistent. I felt very uncomfortable, and haven’t been back to that group.
It may be that they felt they didn’t need to extend themselves among “their own”. I don’t know.
But I live in fear of looking like bad movie casting. And being around others who did, sent me into a pit of dysphoria of my own.
I’m sorry, but I have enough of a struggle dealing with what I see in my own mirror, my own self loathing.
But if you at least try, I’ll stand by you through the ups and the downs.
The flip side of this is when trans women who have problems with themselves hate on women they regard as “passing better” or further in transition than them. I was always told that post op trans women were stuck up and considered themselves above other trans women. What follows is pre-emptive unfriendliness. But TBH I think trans women are just creeped out by all other trans women to the point they won’t even help another if they are struggling or try to connect on our shared struggles. And that’s the main thing that triggers my transphobia.
“Fuck it. I am proud to fly my freak flag. ”
This fails when I get beaten up or when I am refused entry to board a bus?
How times should I say ‘fuck it’?
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