CN: discussion of microaggressions, gendered expectations, transphobia, transmisogyny
There is a thing cis people often do when trans people come out to them. They say something like, “I just love you for you” which might sound good in theory, but allows the cis person in question to not have to confront any of their ideas about gender identity and presentation. This glossing over often becomes the order of business anytime the trans person is interacted with, so the cis person never has to do the work to realign any of their perceptions or ideas about that particular person’s identity or gender on a larger scale, at all.
“you are just you” they tell us, or “I don’t even see gender” thinking that this is the peak of acceptance and allyship.
But gendered thinking is programmed into our culture, and if we aren’t actively breaking those subconsciously held ideas about what makes men, women, nonbinary people, and anyone else who they are, down, than we are indeed treating people in a gendered and potentially problematic way no matter how hard we try to ignore it. These implicit biases do negatively impact cis people as well, but are more directly harmful to trans people, especially multiply marginalized trans people, such as black trans women and femmes who are being murdered at terrifying rates because of the dangerous combination of transphobia, racism, and transmisogyny/femmephobia.
The end result of this can and does play out even with our allies, who possibly subconsciously categorize us by how they as cis people view our adherence to binary gender rules that they haven’t done the work of examining. This means that the only trans people who get implicitly and correctly gendered with any consistency are binary trans people who “pass”. That when allies haven’t done the work of examining what “man” and “woman” mean to them, they may use the right pronouns, they might even use the correct labels but their gender coded treatment of us will still show that cognitive dissonance.
For example, I have seen repeatedly, nonpassing transmasculine folks being automatically lumped into women only space, or allowed and encouraged to behave in a very misogynistic way that is only accepted specifically because they are still basically perceived as non threatening “woman”…which will suddenly change and no longer be encouraged when and if they begin “passing”. Inevitably if we trans folks say something about how uncomfortable we are with this implicit gendering, we are usually told, “oh I don’t mean you, you’re fine!”
That exception made for us, never feels like a compliment, it feels like the cis person in question doesn’t really take our gender seriously, it’s a verbal head pat. Now for me as a white, transmasculine person, this type of behavior is frustrating and hurtful, it means I get dismissed as cute, snoodly, funny aderble boy lite™.
For transfeminine people, especially nonpassing or non traditionally pretty (by European standards) transfeminine folks this is down right dangerous. It is why trans women and femmes are often/usually considered potential threats or predators. It is why even supposed allies say they “understand why terfs feel that way though it’s wrong”, or think that trans women benefit from male privilege. These implicit biases play out in ways that directly result in the villainization and murder of trans feminine folks.
Instead of making their trans friends exceptions to their internalized rules of what gender identity and presentation is, allies need to be working harder to rewrite those internalized rules entirely, in the mean time working harder to pay attention to how they think of and treat the trans people in their lives, what the subtext of their treatment really means, and the impact they have both with their direct friendships and in the wider world.