By Seven Blue
I used to be really transphobic. For a good year after I became aware of the different types of trans people out there, I would find myself talking with one or more friends about how ridiculous “these people” were being. I’d rant and rave about how none of it really mattered and that there were more important things in life then labels. That, psychologically, it made no sense for them to fixate on gender like their entire existence was based on something so mundane. Didn’t they have career ambitions? Friends? A life outside of their made-up, imaginary drama? I always concluded with a hearty pat on the back (from no one but myself) that they were just special little snowflakes who wanted the attention and something to whine about on their blogs.
Stupid, stupid boy.
In all probability I would have continued with my transphobia for a long time had I not made some certain non-binary friends, purely by chance. The first was Ivy, who (at least in the place we met online) was an open demisexual. We started chatting on Skype and proceeded to argue for several months straight about gender identity. We had just about everything else in common: interests, faith, and — perhaps most importantly — a stubborn refusal to give up our point due to the absolute certainty that we were right. However, in the end they were right and I was wrong. I realize now that I was exhibiting a transphobic attitude and was absolutely and completely wrong in my opinions.
Ivy tried to explain to me that the people who I was so dismissive of were legitimately expressing themselves. That, in some cases, they were suffering from prejudices not unlike ones that I had harbored. At the very least I had the minimal sense to keep my opinions to myself and those who I knew they wouldn’t offend, for the most part. But some people saw openly non binary people as an open invitation for violence, sexual harassment, or just plain old bullying. Sometimes however the prejudice was more subtle; such as a conscious decision to ignore preferred pronouns, or a cruel thoughtless statement. One story they told me was about how their own mother refused to understand or accept their identity.
“I brought the idea up to my mother, how she would feel if I began binding to hide my breasts. and she told me, ‘What, to be a boy? But you’re a pretty girl. I have a son, I don’t want another son.’”
They went on to explain that they didn’t want to be a boy, but just less of a girl (hence why they identify as demisexual and not transgendered) and why I refer to them using gender neutral pronouns.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t separate the concepts of sex and gender. I couldn’t understand that sexual dimorphism — the physical differences between the male and female sexes of a species — in humans is not the same as gender. Gender is a complete social construct: it only exists because of our feelings on the matter, which makes trans and nonbinary individuals no different from any cisgendered man or woman.
Sadly, I didn’t understand this until I started to care about and love Ivy as a friend. Their experiences and their life story taught me that they weren’t just seeking out attention, but that this is who they really are and, once I understood that, all of my opinions changed. I started to care about gender roles and gender identities; I started to be bothered by the assumption that everyone is just a male or a female. I began correcting my speech and tried to start using gender neutral pronouns until I received some indication of which to use, and apologized when I used the wrong ones.
But it shouldn’t have taken me so long. I shouldn’t have been dismissive and I shouldn’t have assumed the worst of someone just because they were different from me.
So thank you, Ivy, for being one of the most frighteningly stubborn individuals I’ve met. For not giving up on a transphobic asshole because you saw something redeemable in them. Thank you for being open and proud of who you are, thank you for loving me despite my flaws and my transphobia, and know that you are loved in return.
And those of you who are struggling right now with your identity and are confused and scared, I urge you to seek people out who will understand and be able to guide you, someone like Ivy who won’t give up on you. We all deserve someone like that in our corner.
Image: Franziska Neumeister/Flickr