When most of us think about transphobia we generally think of the most obvious form such as when we are physically assaulted, denied access to services, harassed, denied employment or educational opportunities. Almost of all of us have experienced this to some degree, myself included.
Then there is the more insidious form, institutionalized transphobia. Institutionalized transphobia happens when you are denied access to a public restroom for example. When you go to the ladies room, you go into a stall with the door closed and sit down. Nobody knows whether you are pre op, post op, non op or intersexed. When confronted, the person who accuses you makes a judgement on your physical appearance on whether you are male or female without regard to your physical sex and your expression of gender identity. This is based on the institution that men use one rest room and women another. I've heard some activists refer to this as "gender apartheid" I for one, don't want to share a restroom with a man, I'm not in favor of unisex bathrooms unless they are SRO's (single room only).
I experienced this one personally once in a major department store and it was very humiliating.
Another example of institutionalized transphobia that I experienced as a result of this episode happened when I was sharing the example with a female friend who is very supportive. She said, "Well what if a mother with her 7 year old daughter had been going in while you were in there? "She might be afraid for the safety of her daughter." My friend didn't recognize that she had internalized a fear based on fear and bigotry; much of society fears us because if we are transgendered, then we must pose a threat as a potential sex offender. Ouch. That really hurt and when I pointed this out to her, she was immediately apologetic. She recognized that her statement was based on a bigoted stereotype that is in fact not true, but that is how deeply ingrained institutional transphobia can be. It was stated without any real thoughtfulness involved.
Overt and institutionalized transphobia can be confronted, but because internalized transphobia has become rooted in our subconscious, it is much more difficult to overcome.
Consider the following statement:
"If there is no shame in being a woman, why should I be ashamed of wanting to become a woman?"
I think this captures the deepest most damaging aspect of internalized transphobia. It is the guilt and shame we experience for merely being transgendered that is the worst. Of course, this wouldn't have happened without the presence of transphobia or institutionalized transphobia, but the reality for people of a (ahem) a certain age, things were so much worse that we can easily see the changes for the positive and how rapidly things are beginning to get better. Make no mistake, we are still seriously discriminated against and we are not able to go about our lives without being vigilant for our safety in certain places. We do not enjoy the same access to health care as other people do. That has been getting better. Every insurance company I work with as a mental health professional (with exception of my own (COVENTRY, ADMINISTERED BY SOUTHERN HEALTH AND THE MENTAL HEALTH MANAGEMENT GROUP MHNET), cover mental health services and most of them to the best of my knowledge are paying for hormones, blood work, physician visits, and preventive care such as mammography based on what my patients report to me.
I do not fear every moment I am out living my life publicly. I fly, get passed through TSA, rent cars, get hotel rooms, shop, use dressing rooms and have only had one negative restroom experience. I have a church that not only is welcoming but wants me as an active member of their community to meet my spiritual needs. I am able to go to the grocery store, do my banking, get my oil changed and all those little mundane things that make a normal life normal, the things cisgendered people don't think twice about. These are all good things, but the National Center for Transgender Equality and their executive director, Mara Keisling, work tirelessly to advance our civil rights and we owe a lot of gratitude to NCTE and Mara, as I do, that things are improving. We have a long way to go. The results of their recent survey documenting how far we have to go show how hard life is for many of us and even more so if we are a person of color.
One of the most important things we must do, is examine the ways we handicap ourselves. Do we allow ourselves to live with guilt and shame? Do we tell ourselves that no one will treat us with dignity and respect, so we avoid living our lives publicly and hide away living a lonely life? Do we get involved in service work to the larger community we live in and make a difference, for the good it does us spiritually and to be an example to the community that we are regular people going about our daily business leading normal lives? Do we take risks in going after opportunities presented to us or do we avoid them because we "know" it won't turn out well. We have to challenge all those self defeating thoughts and actions that are based on transphobia. Even when you think you have rid yourself of all of these negative thoughts and actions that are self nullifying, you might just still be hanging on to something that is holding you back.
Just for today, I'd like to challenge you to take some time and look at what transphobic thoughts and beliefs that you have about yourself and remove those obstacles from becoming the best you that you can be!