SAFAFU: How to Be a Better Trans Ally And React Appropriately to Transphobia


By Cathy Reisenwitz

I fucked up on social media recently (cue surprise). In this instance I traipsed into a discussion on transmisogyny and basically told trans people to be more diplomatic towards people who spread transmisogyny.

I jumped to defend someone who exhibited transmisogyny because I empathize with her. I remember as a younger person feeling a sense of revulsion, similar to what I felt when I thought about gay sex, when I saw a trans woman who wasn’t quite passing.

Now I’m embarrassed about that, to an extent. But at the same time, I was an ignorant person who grew up in an ignorant culture. I never put much thought into trans people or trans issues because why would I? Similarly, this person admitted she hasn’t put much thought into trans people or trans issues, because why would she?

The only reason is empathy. One day my empathy for trans people overcame the feeling of “wrongness” I’d been taught.

It’s that same empathy I extend to myself, because I don’t gain anything from being ashamed of who I was. So I choose to forgive myself. Sure, I wish I’d gotten started sooner. But I have begun. And I want to bring more people out of the darkness and into the light.

But asking trans people to empathize with their abusers is too much.

Because of course I empathize with this girl. I was her. And of course they don’t. They weren’t.

Instead, they have had to live on the receiving end of our revulsion. Of course I’m not angry. I’ve never had to deal with transphobia a day in my life. In fact my hyperfeminine presentation means I’m extremely far removed from transphobia. Of course they are angry. This is a daily struggle for them.

What’s amazing to me is that a trans woman took me aside, via FB message, and gently, privately, perfectly told me how I’d fucked up. She did exactly what I want to do, by:

  1. Assuming I have good intentions
  2. Acknowledging what I did right
  3. Being clear about what I did wrong, and why it was wrong

One fascinating point she made was that my plea to attack ideas not people was “white.” I didn’t get it at first but now I do.

What’s funny/sad is that my response made it plainly clear that in that moment I was empathizing more with the oppressor than the oppressed. Now, I hate those distinctions because I think they’re divisive and counterproductive. Labelling people “oppressors” usually doesn’t work very well at bringing them over as allies. Ignorance is the enemy, not the ignorant. But I also hate them because I’m a straight, cis, white girl. Because I’m an oppressor.

What that girl did for me is what I wanted the community to do for that girl. But it’s not right for me to patronize, gaslight, and tone police victims of transphobia.

Being an ally means educating the ignorant, not the oppressed.


Images: Jeff Few/Flickr


Cathy Reisenwitz is a D.C.-based writer. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has been quoted by the New York Times Magazine and has been a columnist at and Bitcoin Magazine. Her media appearances include Fox News and Al Jazeera America. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the Center for a Stateless Society.

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