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Combating Conditioned Transphobia

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Here’s the problem with the way people tend to view transphobia: If it’s not forthright, hateful, violent, and unapologetic, then it doesn’t exist. People live under the assumption that when trans people aren’t literally dying, they don’t face any kind of debilitating descrimination. As a result, when trans people point out the existence of transphobia in other, less direct forms, they’re brushed off as being sensitive or victimizing themselves. Even in spaces that are safe for queer youth, it feels tedious or guilt-inducing to point out ways in which transphobia lingers-- And believe me, it does. Brace yourself for a bold statement that will probably backfire on me:

At one point or another, you’ve probably said, thought, or done something transphobic.

I can already see comments piling up along the lines of “Did this crazy SJW just say everyone is transphobic?” And, yes, kind of. But I don’t want this to be misconstrued as me saying “Everyone hates trans people.” Rather, what I’m trying to say is everyone grew up around misinformation and skepticism surrounding trans people and probably came out of that with less-than-stellar stereotypes. In short: We all have a lot of unlearning to do. And fellow trans people, myself included, are not exempt from this. There is no holier-than-thou mentality to be had when discussing casual transphobia because it’s something everyone perpetuates.

Identify and Unlearn

To identify conditioned transphobia, you have to first understand where it comes from. Most people don’t learn about trans people through their parents (a problem of its own), so their introductions tend to come from the media. And let’s face it: We have not been kind to the transgender community. When it isn’t trans women being portrayed as men in dresses for the sake of a gag, it’s trans men played by cisgender women or nonbinary people being the butt of yet another “I identify as a helicopter” joke. It isn’t exclusive to Hollywood, either. You’ll likely recall the infamous Shane Dawson parody that made a resurgence not long ago, a video with a plethora of problems, one of which being that Dawson puts on a wig and calls himself a transphobic slur while implying it’s somehow bad to be attracted to trans women. It’s an old video, but it’s pretty indicative of the narratives surrounding trans people when other kids my age were growing up. It’s an ongoing trend for creators big and small that creates this kind of rhetoric that gets transgender women murdered because cishet men view them as predatory “traps.”

Even if you’re critical of this kind of stuff now, it’d be hard for anyone to disregard the conditioning that comes with growing up around it. Have you ever cringed at a young trans kid online who was maybe too open about their gender or didn’t “pass?” Yeah, so have I. I have to remind myself that being proudly trans or not adhering to traditional gender roles as a trans person aren’t actually bad, they’re just things we’ve been told are bad. That is unlearning. You’re not a terrible person for thinking these things, it’s how we’ve been conditioned to think. Challenging these thoughts when they come up is challenging every preconceived notion we have about trans people and what it means to be trans.

Becoming Trans Inclusive

The best thing you can do to be trans inclusive is listen to trans people. Give them the space and platform to talk about transphobia, uplift their voices and use your privilege to show you’ve got our backs. Allyship can be anything from attending rallies to signing petitions to putting your pronouns in your bio on instagram. Do what you can to normalize inclusive language (Here’s an introduction from Trans Style Guide). Don’t be invasive or othering with the way you talk to and about trans people (Here’s TransTorah’s guide to Transgender Etiquette). Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. We may not always have the answers, and it’s not our job to walk you through and explain our identities. But at the end of the day, trans people want you to understand and we value your allyship. I hope you leave this article with an open mind and continue to be critical of the ways we’ve been conditioned to feel about trans people.


Carter Kirby (they/he)

Cabot High School Junior

Instagram: @giddyawp

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