January 24, 2016

What Drives Transphobia?

I got the following question from a blogger over at tumblr who is working on a research paper:

"Who do you see is more susceptible to being transphobic? Like...types of people?" 
Not all transphobes are conservative. The
radical feminist icon Germaine Greer is one
of the most extreme haters today. (Getty  Images)

Here is what I answered:

I would say that insecurity, anxiety and fear are the main drivers for transphobia, in the same way they are for homophobia, racism and sexist attitudes.

Life is not without its risks, and it takes a strong mind to handle all the uncertainty life throws at us.

If you have been raised in a dysfunctional family, or you are taught to fear “the others”, or you live in troubled times, it is easy to fall back on the more primitive sides of our minds.


We look for someone to blame; we look for a place to vent our fear, and we do so by turning our fear into anger. We then channel that anger towards those that are different, the ones we do not understand.

This may give  us a much wanted emotional release, and for a moment it looks like we have a solution to our problem. For instance: "If we can only get rid of those pesky LGBT people, everything will go back to the way it once was, back in the good old days”.

Another group of people are using the same language and playing on fear without feeling it themselves. These are people who understand such social and psychological processes intimately, and who make use of them to gain power and influence. Many of them are borderline sociopaths or full-fledged psychopaths. Adolf Hitler comes to mind.

There are quite a few of them around right now, both in Europe, in the US and the Middle East. Such bullies thrive in times of upheaval, when people live in fear of their future, and of the future of their children. 

Charles Schultz captured the dogmatism of
some types of theology in  Peanuts.

Some would argue that transphobia is caused by religion, pointing to the fact that some of the most vehement anti-trans activists are religious fundamentalists.

I would say that it is not religion per se that is the problem. The history of  Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and many other religions are full of activists who preach love and compassion for your neighbor and humility in face of complexity.

However, there is one type of religious community that attract the kind of people who fear uncertainty, and that is what we could call law based traditions.

Such people read religious texts as if they were laws written by God or their founder, eternal and unchangeable. I guess this illusion of predictability and certainty makes them sleep better at night.

By making their religious life legalistic, they turn scripture into a weapon that can be turned against those who are different.


Many conservative religious people see the very existence of transgender people as a threat to their fragile world order, as trans people seem to violate both the god given natural order and the customs of their culture. They then cherry pick parts of their texts and use that to strengthen loyalty within their own communities, and to destroy those that are different from themselves.

Indeed, transphobia is more often found among “conservative” people than among “liberals”. I guess fearful people, and personality types who thrive when the world is more predictable and ordered, are drawn to more conservative philosophies, organizations and societies.

This is not a right wing/left wing issue, however, even if it may seem that way right now. Some of the most aggressive transphobes in politics, science, and health services have thought of themselves as progressive. I have known quite a few conservative and transphobic socialists in my time. The TERFs (the trans-exclusionary radical feminists) believe they are  revolutionary radicals. They are, in fact, traditionalists.

(On the other hand: Conservatives may be pro-trans. In Norway a Conservative gay minister has suggested that trans people are to decide on their legal gender, no medical intervention needed. The Conservative government in the UK is doing the same.)

Dehumanizing science

Bigotry of this kind requires that you dehumanize your opponent.  He or she is seen as uncivilized, a beast, or an all of the devil. They are not like you and your tribe. They are “deviants”.
Christian transphobic propaganda from Canada.
This kind of propaganda is based on the
misconception that being trans is something you choose to be.
It is also an attempt to erase transgender lives.

Since the 19th century science has become an efficient weapon to be used against people of color, independent women, gay men and lesbians, as well as transgender people. Their identities have all been sexualized. Their demand for respect and freedom is understood as the result of a mental illness, most often of the sexual kind.

Psychiatric and psychological terms like nymphomania, hysteria, masochistic homosexuality, transvestic fetishism and autogynephilia are used to give transphobia a sheen of respectability and objectivity.

The health system can then be used to discipline and control those that challenge the status quo and force them back into the closet, out of sight.

Social repression

In other words: Transphobia also represents a kind of social repression.

I guess this repression is partly driven by people’s fear of being “deviants” themselves. After all, neither nature nor culture live up to the expectations of fearful conservatives. It is full of diversity and ambiguity, also as regards sexuality and gender.

This is why some of the most aggressive homophobes throughout history have been sexually attracted to people of their own sex, and why some trans people use the language of transphobic science and religion to invalidate other trans people.

They are willing to do anything they can to be accepted as part of “normal” society, and avoid being thrown out into the wilderness of “the perverted others”.

A cure
Activists and artists like Laverne Cox
are giving trans people a human face.
(Photo: Time Magazine)

But this is also where we find the cure for transphobia: You fight dehumanization with humanization. You make people see that transgender people are people, just like everybody else.

As human beings trans people should not be defined by being transgender, no more than a diabetic should be defined by his or her blood sugar levels.

The recent progress in the struggle for same-sex marriage is caused by the fact that gay and lesbian people have become more visible. Most people know someone who is homosexual and they can see for themselves that they are not monsters.

Hopefully the recent  transgender “tipping point” will make more people see that transgender people are people, just like them, not to be feared.

 SIDEBAR: How to Handle Transphobes

The blogger also asked: "What is the best way to teach others that alienating a transgender person is wrong? How should I, even as just one person...how can I make a difference?"

You can read my answer here!

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!