Transphobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward transgender or transsexual people, or toward transsexuality. Transphobia can be emotional disgust, fear, anger or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to society's gender expectations. It is often expressed alongside homophobic views and hence is often an aspect of homophobia. Transphobia is a type of prejudice and discrimination similar to racism and sexism, and transgender people of color are often subjected to all three forms of discrimination at once.
- Etymology and use
- Related concepts
- Harassment and violence
- As users of healthcare
- In the workplace
- From government
- In education systems
- In social conservatism
- In feminism
- In the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities
- Gay and lesbian communities
- Bisexual communities and binarism
- Problems at home and at school
- Poverty and homelessness
- Violence and harassment
- In public restrooms
Other terms, such as cissexism, cisgenderism and cisnormativity, place more stress on societal norms that enforce the gender binary but are occasionally used synonymously with transphobia.
Child victims of transphobia experience harassment, school bullying, and violence in school, foster care, and social programs. Adult victims experience public ridicule, harassment including misgendering, taunts, threats of violence, robbery, and false arrest; many feel unsafe in public. A high percentage report being victims of sexual violence. Some are refused healthcare or suffer workplace discrimination, including being fired for being transgender, or feel under siege by conservative political or religious groups who oppose laws to protect them. There is even discrimination from a fragment of the movement for the rights of gender and sexual minorities.
Besides the increased risk of violence and other threats, the stress created by transphobia can cause negative emotional consequences which may lead to substance abuse, running away from home (in minors), and a higher rate of suicide.
Etymology and use
The word transphobia is a classical compound patterned on the term homophobia, sharing its second component -phobia from the Greek: φόβος, phóbos, "fear". The first component is the neo-classical prefix trans- from transgender (originally meaning "across, on the far side, beyond"). Along with lesbophobia, biphobia, homophobia and transphobia are members of the family of terms used when intolerance and discrimination is directed toward LGBT people.
Transphobia need not be a phobia as defined in clinical psychology (i.e., an anxiety disorder). Its meaning and use typically parallel those of xenophobia.
The adjectival form transphobic describes things or qualities related to transphobia, and the noun transphobe denotes someone who harbors transphobia.
The transfeminist theorist and author Julia Serano argues in her book Whipping Girl that transphobia is rooted in sexism. She locates the origins of both transphobia and homophobia in what she calls "oppositional sexism", the belief that male and female are "rigid, mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires". Serano contrasts oppositional sexism with "traditional sexism", the belief that males and masculinity are superior to females and femininity. Furthermore, she writes that transphobia is fueled by insecurities people have about gender and gender norms.
The transgender author and critic Jody Norton believes that transphobia is an extension of homophobia and misogyny. She argues that transgender people, like gays and lesbians, are hated and feared for challenging and undermining gender norms and the gender binary. Norton writes that the "male-to-female transgender incites transphobia through her implicit challenge to the binary division of gender upon which male cultural and political hegemony depends".
The related concept of cissexism (also termed cisgenderism, cisnormativity or cissexual assumption, occasionally used synonymously with transphobia) is the appeal to norms that enforce the gender binary and gender essentialism, resulting in the oppression of gender variant, non-binary, and transgender identities. Cisgenderism refers to the assumption that, due to human sexual differentiation, one's gender is determined solely by a biological sex of male or female (based on the assumption that all people must have either an XX or XY sex-chromosome pair, or, in the case of cisgenderism, a bivalent male or female expression), and that trans people are inferior to cisgender people due to being in "defiance of nature".
Harassment and violence directed against transgender people is often called trans bashing, and can be physical, sexual or verbal. Whereas gay bashing is directed against a target's real or perceived sexual orientation, trans bashing is directed against the target's real or perceived expressed gender identity. The term has also been applied to hate speech directed at transgender people and to depictions of transgender people in the media that reinforce negative stereotypes about them. Notable victims of violent crimes motivated by transphobia include Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, Angie Zapata, Nizah Morris, and Lauren Harries.
Harassment and violence
As homophobia and transphobia are correlated, many trans people experience homophobia and heterosexism; this is due to people who associate trans people's gender identity with homosexuality, or because trans people also have a sexual orientation that is non-heterosexual. Author Thomas Spijkerboe stated, "Transgender people subjected to violence, in a range of cultural contexts, frequently report that transphobic violence is expressed in homophobic terms." Attacking someone on the basis of a perception of their gender identity rather than a perception of their sexual orientation is known as "trans bashing", analogous to "gay bashing".
According to the American Psychological Association, transgender children are more likely than other children to experience harassment and violence in school, foster care, residential treatment centers, homeless centers and juvenile justice programs. Researchers say trans youth routinely experience taunting, teasing and bullying at school, and that nearly all trans youth say they were verbally or physically harassed in school, particularly during gym class, at school events, or when using single-sex restrooms. Three-quarters report having felt unsafe.
As adults, transgender people are frequently subjected to ridicule, stares, taunting and threats of violence, even when just walking down the street or walking into a store. A U.S. survey of 402 older, employed, high-income transgender people found that 60% reported violence or harassment because of their gender identity. 56% had been harassed or verbally abused, 30% had been assaulted, 17% had had objects thrown at them, 14% had been robbed and 8% had experienced what they characterized as an unjustified arrest.
A study of 81 transgender people in Philadelphia found 30% reported feeling unsafe in public because they were transgender, with 19% feeling uncomfortable for the same reason. When asked if they had ever been forced to have sex, experienced violence in their home, or been physically abused, the majority answered yes to each question.
A review of American studies on sexual violence towards transgender people found that it is "shockingly common" and while reported rates vary considerably among studies for methodological and other reasons the most common finding is that around 50% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted.
When transgender people are murdered, they are often shot, struck or stabbed repeatedly.
Misgendering is the experience of being labeled by others as having a gender other than that which one identifies with. Misgendering can be deliberate or accidental. It ordinarily takes the form of a person using pronouns (including "it") to describe someone that are not the ones that person prefers, calling a person "ma'am" or "sir" in contradiction to the person's gender identity, using a pre-transition name for someone instead of a post-transition one (called "deadnaming"), or insisting that a person behave consistently with their assigned rather than self-identified gender, for example by using a bathroom designated for males even though the person identifies as female.
Transgender people are often excluded from entitlements or privileges reserved for people whose gender identity they share, but whose assigned gender they do not. It is very common, for example, for transgender women to be stopped or questioned when they use public bathrooms designated for women. Homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons have denied trans women admission to women's areas and forced them to sleep and bathe in the presence of men.
The experience of being misgendered is common for all transgender people before they transition, and for many afterwards as well. Transgender people are regularly misgendered by doctors, police, media and peers, experiences that they have described as mortifying, hurtful, especially to transgender youth, cruel, and "only making our lives harder". Deliberately misgendering a transgender person is considered extremely offensive by transgender individuals.
As users of healthcare
A study of 81 transgender people in Philadelphia found 14% said they had been refused routine medical care because they were transgender. 18% answered yes when asked if, when they went in for a check-up, "being transgendered create[d] a problem" for them.
Transgender people depend largely on the medical profession to receive not only hormone replacement therapy, but also vital care. In one case, Robert Eads died of ovarian cancer after being refused treatment by more than two dozen doctors. In the United States–based National Center For Transgender Equality's 2011 survey, 19% had been refused medical care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status, showing that refusal of treatment due to transphobia is not uncommon. Another example of this is the case of Tyra Hunter. Hunter was involved in an automobile accident, and when rescue workers discovered she was transgender, they backed away and stopped administering treatment. She later died in a hospital.
In many European countries, any transgender person who wishes to change their legal gender must first be sterilized. Several countries are reviewing this law; Sweden repealed it in December 2012.
In the workplace
Transphobia also manifests itself in the workplace. Some transgender people lose their jobs when they begin to transition. A study from Willamette University stated that a transsexual person fired for following the recommended course of treatment rarely wins it back through federal or state statutes.
News stories from the San Francisco Chronicle and Associated Press cite a 1999 study by the San Francisco Department of Public Health finding a 70 percent unemployment rate amongst the city's transgender population. On February 18, 1999, the San Francisco Department of Public Health issued the results of a 1997 survey of 392 trans women and 123 trans men, which found that 40 percent of those trans women surveyed had earned money from full or part-time employment over the preceding six months. For trans men, the equivalent statistic was 81 percent. The survey also found that 46 percent of trans women and 57 percent of trans men reported employment discrimination.
A 2002 American study found that among educators, trans educators are 10-20% more likely to experience workplace harassment than their gay and lesbian colleagues.
In the hiring process, discrimination may be either open or covert, with employers finding other ostensible reasons not to hire a candidate or just not informing prospective employees at all as to why they are not being hired. Additionally, when an employer fires or otherwise discriminates against a transgender employee, it may be a "mixed motive" case, with the employer openly citing obvious wrongdoing, job performance issues or the like (such as excessive tardiness, for example) while keeping silent in regards to transphobia.
Employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression is illegal in some U.S. cities, towns and states. Such discrimination is outlawed by specific legislation in the State of New Jersey and might be in other states (as it is in the states of California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington) or city ordinances; additionally, it is covered by case law in some other states. (For example, Massachusetts is covered by cases such as Lie vs. Sky Publishing Co. and Jette vs. Honey Farms.) Several other states and cities prohibit such discrimination in public employment. Sweden and the United Kingdom has also legislated against employment discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. Sometimes, however, employers discriminate against transgender employees in spite of such legal protections.
As an example of a high-profile employment-related court case unfavorable to transgender people, in 2000 the southern U.S. grocery chain Winn-Dixie fired longtime employee Peter Oiler, despite a history of repeatedly earning raises and promotions, after management learned that the married, heterosexual truck driver occasionally cross-dressed off the job. Management argued that this hurt Winn-Dixie's corporate image. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Winn-Dixie on behalf of Oiler but a judge dismissed it.
Sometimes transgender people facing employment discrimination turn to sex work to survive, placing them at additional risk of such things as encountering troubles with the law, including arrest and criminal prosecution; enduring workplace violence; and possibly contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
Transgender people also face the denial of right of asylum or inhuman treatment in process of asylum-seeking. For example, Fernada Milan, a transsexual woman from Guatemala was placed in an asylum center for males in Denmark and while there, was raped by several men. She was in danger of deportation into Guatemala where transgender people have no rights and face possible execution, but has since been granted entry.
Transgender disenfranchisement is the practice of creating or upholding barriers that keep transgender individuals from voting and therefore restrict the principles of universal suffrage.
In education systems
Within the school system, many transgender teens are harassed and mistreated with reported negative effects on both victim and the school's population in general. "Transgender youth frequently report fear and anxiety about using restrooms and locker rooms at school because they had experienced harassment by both peers and adults when using them." Over 80% of transgender teens report feeling unsafe in a school environment, more than 40% report having been physically abused, and over 65% report being bullied online or via social media. Through official channels, such discrimination is generally underreported.
In social conservatism
The Christian Right in North America, including organizations such as the American Family Association, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality believe that transgenderism is unnatural and that transgender people are and remain their birth sex, and they oppose laws and policies intended to accommodate transgender people, such as allowing them to change their legal sex, use the washroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify, or become ordained Christian ministers. They say that God created people's bodies as they are meant to be, that accepting transgender people would violate scripture and natural law, and that the Bible refers to male and female.
According to the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance website, under Pope John Paul II, the Vatican first stated its opposition to reassignment surgery in 2000, although it was not made public until 2003.
Radical feminists who hold antagonistic views of transgender people, particularly against trans women, are commonly called TERFs, or trans exclusionary radical feminists. Those whom the term is targeted against, in turn, have perceived their labeling as "TERF" as being a slur. Radical feminist Janice Raymond's 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire, was and still is controversial due to its unequivocal condemnation of transsexual surgeries. In the book Raymond says, "All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves .... Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive." Raymond also authored a paper in the 1980s which the United States Department of Health and Human Services used to deny trans people access to transgender-specific healthcare.
Perhaps the most visible site of conflict between feminists and trans women has been the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The festival ejected a transsexual woman, Nancy Burkholder, in the early 1990s. Since then, the festival has maintained an intention that it is for "womyn-born-womyn" only. The activist group Camp Trans formed to protest the "womyn-born-womyn" intention and to advocate for greater acceptance of trans women within the feminist community. A number of prominent transgender activists and transfeminists were involved in Camp Trans including Riki Wilchins, Jessica Xavier, and Leslie Feinberg. The festival considered allowing only post-operative trans women to attend, however this was criticized as classist, as many trans women cannot afford sex reassignment surgery.
Transsexual women such as Sandy Stone challenged the feminist conception of "biological woman". Stone worked as a sound engineer for Olivia Records from about 1974 to 1978, resigning as the controversy over a trans woman working for a lesbian-identified enterprise increased. The debate continued in Raymond's book, which devoted a chapter to criticism of "the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist." Groups like Lesbian Organization of Toronto then voted to exclude trans lesbians. Sheila Jeffreys labeled transgenderism "deeply problematic from a feminist perspective and [stated] that transsexualism should be seen as a violation of human rights."
However, Andrea Dworkin, a noted anti-pornography feminist supported the right of trans women to be considered authentic women in her book Women-Hating (1978). Other cisgender feminist support came from the work of poststructuralist feminist Judith Butler, particularly her books Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies That Matter (1993), which argue that the violent "inscription" of gender as a social construct on human bodies leads to violence against those that violate such binaristic gender dichotomies. Butler is lesbian. Most younger lesbian and other cisgender feminists strongly dissent from feminist transphobia. The latter is now generally regarded as archaic, rooted in feminists' historical distrust of patriarchal medical definitions of and interventions into women's physicality.
In the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities
Transphobia is documented in the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) communities, despite historic cooperation between these communities in campaigns for equality, such as in the Stonewall Riots.
Authors and observers, such as transgender author Jillian Todd Weiss, have written that "there are social and political forces that have created a split between gay/lesbian communities and bisexual/transgender communities, and these forces have consequences for civil rights and community inclusion. 'Biphobia' and 'transphobia' are a result of these social and political forces, not psychological forces causing irrational fears in aberrant individuals."
Gay and lesbian communities
Historian Joanne Meyerowitz documented transphobia within the gay rights movement in the mid 20th century in response to publicity surrounding the transition of Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen, who made frequent homophobic remarks and insisted she was not connected to or identified with gay men, was a polarizing figure among activists:
In 1953, for example, ONE magazine published a debate among its readers as to whether gay men should denounce Jorgensen. In the opening salvo, the author Jeff Winters accused Jorgensen of a "sweeping disservice" to gay men. "As far as the public knows," Winters wrote, "you were merely another unhappy homosexual who decided to get drastic about it." For Winters, Jorgensen's story simply confirmed the false belief that all men attracted to other men must be basically feminine," which, he said, "they are not." Jorgensen's precedent, he thought, encouraged the "reasoning" that led "to legal limitations upon the homosexual, mandatory injections, psychiatric treatment – and worse." In the not-so-distant past, scientists had experimented with castrating gay men.
Several prominent figures in second wave feminism have also been accused of transphobic attitudes, culminating in 1979 with the publication of The Transsexual Empire by radical lesbian feminist Janice Raymond, who popularized the term shemale as derogatory slur referring to trans women in 1994, and her statements on transsexuality and transsexuals have been criticized by many in the LGBT and feminist communities as extremely transphobic and as constituting hate speech.
In 1950s America, there was a debate among gay men and women about those who felt they were of the opposite sex. Gay men and women who were trying to melt quietly into the majority society criticized them as "freaks" who brought unwanted disreputable attention upon them. Such attitudes were widespread at the time.
Some trans men face rejection from lesbian communities they had been part of prior to transition. Journalist Louise Rafkin writes, "[t]here are those who are feeling curiously uncomfortable standing by as friends morph into men. Sometimes there is a generational flavor to this discomfort; many in the over-40 crowd feel particular unease", stating that this was "shaking the foundation of the lesbian-feminist world". Trans men were part of the protest at the 2000 Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, the first time the 'womyn-born womyn only' policy has been used against trans males, women supporting the transsexual community and young gender-variant women.
In the early 1970s, conflicts began to emerge due to different syntheses of lesbian, feminist and transgender political movements, particularly in the United States. San Francisco trans activist and entertainer Beth Elliott became the focus of debate over whether to include transgender lesbians in the movement, and she was eventually blacklisted by her own movement.
Bisexual communities and binarism
One view is that the word bisexual is transphobic, as "bi" means "two" (thus implying a belief in the binary view of gender). Some people, such as scholar Shiri Eisner, say that some make the claim that the term "erases nonbinary genders and sexes out of existence", as many dictionaries define bisexuality as "[o]f, relating to, or having a sexual orientation to persons of either sex", "[s]exually attracted to both men and women" and other similar definitions.
However, some bisexual individuals and scholars object to the notion that bisexuality means sexual attraction to only two genders, arguing that since bisexual is not simply about attraction to two sexes and encompasses gender as well, it can include attraction to more than one or more than two genders and is occasionally defined as such. Others, such as the American Institute of Bisexuality, say that the term "is an open and inclusive term for many kinds of people with same-sex and different-sex attractions" and that "the scientific classification bisexual only addresses the physical, biological sex of the people involved, not the gender-presentation."
In order to deal with issues related to transphobia and the gender binary, many individuals have taken on terms such as pansexual, omnisexual (an alternative word for pansexual) or polysexual in place of the term bisexual. The American Institute of Bisexuality argues that these terms "describe a person with homosexual and heterosexual attractions, and therefore people with these labels are also bisexual" and that the notion that bisexuality is a reinforcement of a gender binary is a concept that is founded upon "anti-science, anti-Enlightenment philosophy that has ironically found a home within many Queer Studies departments at universities across the Anglophone world". Eisner agrees with this view, stating that "allegations of binarism have little to do with bisexuality's actual attributes or bisexual people's behavior in real life" and that the allegations are an attempt to separate the bisexual and transgender communities politically.
Whether intentional or not, transphobia and cissexism have severe consequences for the target of the negative attitude. Transphobia creates significant stresses for transgender people which can lead them to feel shame, low self-esteem, alienation and inadequacy. Transgender youth often try to cope with the stress by running away from home, dropping out of school, using drugs or self-harming. Although it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics, suicide rates among transgender people are thought to be especially high, because of how they are treated by their families and by society. Suicide attempts reported by transgender and gender non-conforming adults vastly exceed the rate of the general U.S. population, 41 percent versus 4.6 percent.
Problems at home and at school
The 2015 United States Transgender Survey, the largest such survey ever carried out (with 27,715 respondents), found that one in ten respondents suffered transphobic violence at the hands of a family member and eight percent were kicked out of their homes for being transgender. The majority of those who were openly transgender or perceived as transgender at school were victims of some form of mistreatment on account of this, including verbal abuse (54%), physical attacks (24%), and sexual assault (13%). 17 percent experienced such severe mistreatment that they had to leave school. Support from one's community or family was correlated with more positive outcomes related to mental health and social functioning.
Poverty and homelessness
One third of U.S. transgender people responding to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey lived in poverty, compared to five percent of the population. During the twelve months prior to the survey, thirty percent of employed transgender people were either fired or mistreated for being transgender, from verbal abuse to sexual violence. 30 percent had been homeless at some point in their life, and 12 percent had been homeless during the previous year. Family and community support were correlated with significantly lower rates of homelessness and poverty.
Violence and harassment
During the year prior to the 2015 U.S. survey, 46 percent of respondents had been verbally harassed and nine percent had been physically attacked for being transgender. Ten percent had been sexually assaulted during the previous year, and 47 percent had been sexually assaulted at some point in their life.
In public restrooms
During the year prior to the 2015 U.S. survey, 12 percent of respondents reported being verbally harassed in a public restroom. One percent reported being sexually assaulted in a public restroom for being transgender, and one percent reported being otherwise physically assaulted for being transgender. Nine percent reported being denied the right to use a public restroom consistent with their gender.
During the year prior to the 2015 U.S. survey, 59 percent of respondents reported avoiding using a public restroom out of fear of violence or harassment. 32 percent limited the amount they ate or drink in order to avoid using a public restroom. Eight percent reported suffering a urinary tract infection, kidney infection, or other kidney problem as a result of avoiding public restrooms.
Thirty-three percent reported having negative experiences with a healthcare professional related to being transgender, such as verbal harassment or denial of treatment. 23 percent reported that they did not seek treatment for a condition out of fear of being mistreated, while 33 percent did not seek treatment because they were unable to afford it.
During the month prior to the survey, 39 percent of American transgender people experienced major psychological distress, compared to 5 percent of the general population of the United States. 40 percent had attempted suicide at some point in their life, compared to 4.6 percent of the American population. Family and community support were correlated with far lower rates of suicide attempts and of major psychological distress.