Scrabble players have the benefit of some new words thanks to the latest version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Transphobia and transphobic are two of them. Judicious placing of tiles on pink squares may see scores just about reaching three figures.
In the interests of assisting Scrabble aficionados, let me help by supplying a definition: Transphobic – hostile towards transsexual or transgender people.
Trans communities gain another level of recognition alongside the lesbian and gay communities – except that ‘homophobic’ scores at least four more points – at least in Scrabble.
I notice that one definition of transphobia, ‘an irrational fear of, and/or hostility towards, people who are transgender or who otherwise transgress traditional gender norms’, could actually be interpreted as including ‘homophobia’. It kind of makes sense – LGB and T people tend to be beaten up by the same people.
While we’re broadening our vocabulary, let me throw another word into the mix – cisgender. Despite the protestations of certain individuals who have articles published in the Observer, cis- is just a prefix to mean ‘not trans-’. Think CisAlpine Gaul and TransAlpine Gaul, or cis-polymers and trans-polymers. It’s not a statement of contempt, more a convenient means of description.
Sadly you can’t use its derivative, cisgenderism, in Scrabble – yet. But it’s not a word I’ve made up. It’s a concept that is gradually entering into peoples’ thinking, and has been mooted by academics such as Y Gavriel Ansara.
Cisgenderism is the sense in which society or systems are geared to only think in terms of cis-people. (See – that’s easier than writing ‘non-trans-people’ – one less hyphen for a start.)
I generally tend to prefer identifying attitudes I see as cisgenderism rather than transphobia. A phobia tends to indicate an irrational fear or hatred. In my dealings with politicians, civil servants, media people and society at large, I see the root of a lot of problems that trans people face is ignorance, not necessarily hatred. I see irrational fear only occasionally. It does happen, and when it does, the effects can be horrific. But the rest of the time I see people being curious but not knowing enough to think through their questions or assumptions.
How does cisgenderism work in practice? Well, for example, thinking there’s only one way to be trans – and that’s to go through half a lifetime of anguish, see some psychiatrists for a couple of years, then get wheeled into an operating theatre and Bob’s your aunt.
Anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotype – not transitioning to live full-time, or opting not to see medics, or even opting not to have ‘the op’ – is viewed as not playing by the rules. Except that trans people weren’t that involved in making ‘the rules’ in the first place.
You see other examples in media representation. The way that, because of some weird prurient fascination, most journalists and broadcasters always seem to feel the need to ask about trans peoples’ genitals. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the same question asked to a cis-person (it really is easy). I look forward to John Humphries asking ‘So, Prime Minister, how are your testicles today?’
Consider the relative invisibility of transmen and those who identify outside of society’s definition of ‘male’ and ‘female’? Cisgenderism again.
Government policy gives some other ‘fantastic’ examples. You saw some noble cisgenderism in the House of Lords on 24 June – where Baroness Tina Stowell of Beeston was gamely trying to defend the UK Government’s position that trans people need the consent of their spouses to gain gender recognition, in the face of a strong onslaught from Baronesses Glenys Thornton, Elizabeth Barker and Joyce Gould.
Except here, just maybe, my preference to use cisgenderism is being stretched. Government has had the issues thrown up by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales explained to them. They seem to be choosing to ignore them, or pretend that the issues don’t or cannot exist.
After all, government reasoning appears to go, you either want to be married to someone or you don’t, and if you don’t then surely you’d want to divorce your partner as quickly as possible? The concept of a divorcing partner being transphobic simply hasn’t registered as important in their consciousness. Sadly hostility in divorces seems to happen quite a lot and, if children or property are involved, then proceedings can stretch out for years.
Let me spell it out. The concept of spousal consent in marriage is being reintroduced – but only where trans people are involved. Transphobic, or cisgenderism?
Government is refusing to remove law that keeps trans people as second-class citizens, legally obliged to declare their gender history to any potential spouse, while murderers and child molesters aren’t obliged to declare their history. Transphobic, or cisgenderism? According to ministers, it’s important that someone can get out of a marriage to a trans person quickly. Transphobic, or cisgenderism?
Maybe we trans people just need to learn to put our point across better. Maybe cis-people need to start thinking about unexamined privilege. Either way, I’m pleased that I can distinguish between ignorance and hatred – and now have at least one ‘official’ word to use to do so.