Gender identity-related discrimination
PLEASE NOTE, THE INFORMATION ON THIS PAGE TALKS ABOUT TRANSPHOBIA. READERS SHOULD NOTE THAT SOME OF THE QUOTES BELOW WILL BE OFFENSIVE AND SHOULD BE READ WITH CAUTION.
In 2009 I wrote a paper with Amy Patterson exploring what we referred to as ‘mundane transphobia’ in the media. When we used this term we were referring to the everyday ways that cisgendered people talk about transgender people that are not intended to be transphobic, but are nonetheless discriminatory and marginalising. We looked at statements made by cisgendered female celebrities Blake Lively and Megan Fox, such as:
I feel like a tranny a lot of the time. I don’t know, I’m … large? They put me in six-inch heels, and I tower over every man. I’ve got this long hair and lots of clothes and makeup on. I just feel really big a lot of the time, and I’m surrounded by a lot of tiny people. I feel like a man sometimes (Blake Lively, in an interview with Allure magazine).
I am pretty sure I am a doppelgänger for Alan Alda. I’m a tranny. I’m a man. I’m so painfully insecure. I’m on the verge of vomiting now. I am so horrified that I am here, and embarrassed (Megan Fox, talking to a reporter on the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards).
In both of these examples, Amy and i suggest that the women make it out as though transgender women are ‘really’ men in disguise. They stereotype transgender women as looking like men in makeup, a stereotype that is marginalising and disrespectful of trans women.
More recently, I undertook an analysis of the first interview that Thomas Beattie undertook with Oprah Winfrey. I again used the idea of ‘mundane transphobia’, this time to look at how, in the interview, Oprah challenges Thomas’ identity as a man in several ways. She does this firstly by suggesting that Thomas ‘really’ is still a person who grew up as a beauty queen (i.e., a woman). This is an example from the beginning of the interview:
Oprah: So, I know the first question, because we didn’t tell our audience is how is this [a pregnant man] possible? And we’re going to get into that in a minute, but first let’s go back to the very beginning. Thomas was actually born Tracy…
Thomas: Up until puberty, I didn’t see anything wrong at all. When I turned, I think it was about 14, I started to grow breasts and I thought –
Oprah: We all do, some earlier than others. It was 11 for me, but anyway, go ahead.
In this part of the interview Oprah really emphasises that “Thomas was actually born Tracy”, and that when Thomas started to grow breast he did so just like a female identified person who grows breasts (we can see this when Oprah says ‘we all do’, which treats Thomas and herself as both the same – as both females). Whilst we might say Oprah wasn’t trying to be transphobic, what she says makes it out as though Thomas’ experiences and her own are the same, and given Oprah identifies as a woman this implicitly treats Thomas as a woman too. Also, when Oprah says ‘actually born’ she is treating it as though Thomas is truly a female, rather than being assigned as female at birth.
In addition to these examples, Oprah was also very focused on questioning Thomas about his anatomy, such as can be seen in the quote below:
Thomas: so the body had already formed to a certain point but certain changes do happen when you take testosterone.
Oprah: And then does the clitoris get larger?
Thomas: It does.
Thomas: And it looks like a penis, looks like a small penis.
Thomas: Does size matter?
Oprah: Yeah. Well, to some people, yes.
Thomas: I don’t know. You can ask my wife that question.
Oprah: Okay. So it means that you just basically, your clitoris grows. It looks like a small penis and, therefore, you look like a man.
In this part of the interview Oprah speaks about matters that should by right be private to Thomas. We could suggest that if Oprah wanted to better understand trans men’s bodies, she could have read a book on the topic. Not only does she quiz Thomas, but she also never really uses his language. She refers to Thomas’ genitalia as a clitoris, even though Thomas refers to his genitalia with the word ‘penis’. Indeed, Oprah refuses to accept Thomas’ explanation when she says ‘looks like a small penis’ (rather than *is* a penis), and she also challenges Thomas’ masculinity by questioning whether a ‘small penis’ is adequate.
Finally, I have previously undertaken some research with Karen Webber on the attitudes of young Australian cisgendered people towards transgender people. This research found that for those who participated, people who were transphobic were also highly likely to be homophobic, and were highly likely to believe that natally-assigned sex determines gender. The research also found that male participants were more likely to hold transphobic attitudes than were female participants.