I had an experience this past week that I would like to share with you. It does not reflect the best of me, though it turned out well. I think the lesson I took from this is one I would like to share because we can all benefit from it. It is a lesson that has been profoundly repeated at least weekly, if not almost daily since I made the decision to complete my transition over the past 6 years or so. It occurs so frequently now that in many ways I have begun to take it for granted. It is the more poignant examples that I now find to be emotionally moving.
There is another type of bias and prejudice that I have described in vague ways. It is something that we must search within ourselves and sit in judgment of ourselves. It is a form of oppression of the worst kind. It is oppression of the self and it is called CISPHOBIA. It occurs when we expect cisgendered people to discriminate against us, hate us, or perpetrate violence against us with no basis for that expectation. It is rarely discussed and even more rarely described.
Do cisgendered people at times discriminate and publically express hatred towards us, even to the point of having perpetrated violence against us solely for the reason we are transgendered? That is an unequivocal YES. It is the legacy that I grew up with, the same type of virulent hatred also characterized by racism and homophobia, however we must also recognize the tremendous advances our society has made in accepting us and recognizing our right to participate openly in a free and just society with respect to our Constitutional rights. There is, however much that remains to be done to further the progress we all have made. That progress benefits cisgendered people as well as transgendered people.
Incumbent upon us is that we also reflect and identify those areas of potential and/ or unrecognized cisphobia that impair our ability to experience a fully free and self actualized life. It is also incumbent to make necessary changes in our own personal attitudes when necessary to eliminate cisphobia in our lives.
The example I would like to share with you involves a former patient of mine who I had not worked with for about two years. Quite frankly, the experience of informing all of my current patients that I was transitioning, while very successful (I retained over 97% of my patients), was also very stressful, at times exhausting, and it was an experience that I am glad is over. On occasion, I still have to disclose to a former patient who is insistent about wanting to work with me. I don't look forward to the times I have to do this. I just want to live my life without having to review the past, but in my choice of work, that is not always possible. Here is where the problem arises and it is where I have personally struggled with an area of cisphobia.
This patient came to the office two weeks ago, unaware that I had transitioned. He had asked to see me for a few minutes, but because of the unanticipated nature of the visit and that I had already seen 9 patients with a serious crisis patient in the afternoon I was not prepared to deal with the situation.
My thoughts were that due factors of his cultural background, his religious background and his personality that there was no way that he would be accepting. In other words, I made a cisphobic judgement about him. It turns out that I was grossly unfair to this gentleman.
The front office staff did an admirable job handling the situation. They began to try to explain without discussing my transition that I (my former male self) was no longer there. Out of genuine concern and care, he pressed them to tell himwhat happened to me as he was clearly worried that something tragic had befallen me. So they explained in simple terms that I had undergone a gender transition. His response to them was that it did not matter a bit to him and that he felt that because of the work I had done with him that I had saved his life. (No I didn't save his life, I was simply the tool he chose to use to save his own life).
The front desk staff relayed this information back to me and I asked that he come by on another occasion. It had indeed been a very long day and I was tired.
Yesterday my patient had an appointment with me and saw me for the first time. The first order of business was to apologize to him for my misjudgment. He graciously told me that no apology was necessary, but I insisted that I had been wrong, apologized to him again and thanked him for his acceptance of me.
In the past, I have seen opinions expressed that people who are oppressed cannot be oppressors themselves because of their oppressed status. I have always sharply disagreed with that opinion. By the act of being bigoted, prejudiced or biased against people, whether they are members of an oppressed class of people, or by the act of being bigoted, prejudiced or biased against people who are members of a class of people who have been oppressive towards another class, we perpetrate the impedance of societal progress. We injure those we have unfairly judged. We injure ourselves by depriving ourselves of the opportunity to take advantage of the progress we have made as a society. We slow the process and the progress of our own full integration into society.
Now I am someone who believes I am fully assimilated in daily life; I do not fear going to the ladies room, using the ladies dressing room in stores, nor do I fear an encounter with the police, going through TSA when I travel or interact in any way with the predominant culture. I generally don't see myself as a person who is cisphobic, but there are these areas of cisphobia that apparently do exist in my life.
It is my hope, through my own personal growth in this area and by bringing this potential problem to the attention of other transgendered people that we can do our part to make our society a more free and open society.