What is Transphobia?
Transphobia “is the hatred of transgender people… typically accompanied by the belief that trans people don’t deserve respect or rights.” It can encompass fear or hatred towards transgender people, or the belief or idea that transgender people aren’t real or are somehow not valid in their own identity. Transphobia is deeply institutionalized and causes direct harm and loss of life for transgender people.
Transphobia shows up as a range of behaviors that make it difficult for trans people “to live openly and comfortably in society.” These include, but are not limited to:
- Laws and policies that restrict trans people’s access to resources and public spaces;
- Harmful and demonizing representations of trans people in the media;
- Intentionally misgendering, misnaming (also known as deadnaming), and mispronouning trans people;
- Obsessing over trans people’s bodies, especially their genitalia;
- Disclosing a trans person’s identity without their express permission;
- Using transphobic language;
- Referring to cisgender people (meaning nontrans people) as real, normal, natural, and/or biological;
- “Debating” trans people’s existence or rights;
- Harassment, abuse, and violence (including physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual).
Transphobia isn’t always overt or violent. It includes microaggressions, which are more subtle comments or actions that express prejudice towards a marginalized group. This is important, because ,many people might be quick to think “I’m not transphobic! I don’t hate trans people” when someone presents them with constructive feedback on how to be a better ally but could be committing microaggressions.
How are transphobia and racism related?
Transphobia is a product of white supremacy and colonialism, which rely on a strict gender binary. White supremacy culture is upheld by an imagined and imposed superiority of white cisgender heterosexual masculinity. This connection can be seen in a number of ways:
- The co-existence and support of transphobic legislation with racist ones, such as: curricula and book bans;
- The misogynoir supporting anti-trans sports bans;
- Using gender variance among Indigenous people in the Americas to justify genocide by “marking them as racially inferior and uncivilized.”
The intersections of racism, anti-Blackness, and xenophobia lead to higher adverse impacts for trans people of color in an array of arenas from the workplace and unemployment, to health disparities and housing insecurity, to name a few. Transgender people of color are six times more likely to be victims of police brutality than white cisgender people. Transgender women in US immigration detention are often held in men’s facilities or in solitary, leading to trauma and psychological distress. The vast majority of murders against trans people are against Black and brown trans women.
What are the connections between transphobia and sexual violence?
While trans folks face higher rates of sexual violence (specifically trans people of color), they have less protection from the law and other institutions. Research indicates that 50% of transgender people have been sexually assaulted at least once in their life yet are less likely to be identified as victims by courts and the police. For example, transgender victims of sex trafficking are more likely to be arrested and charged by law enforcement than offered intervention or victim services.
- 15% transgender individuals report being sexually assaulted while in police custody or jail.
- 32% of African-American transgender people report being sexually assaulted while in police custody or in jail.
- 5-9% of transgender survivors were sexually assaulted by police officers.
- 10% of transgender survivors were assaulted by healthcare professionals.
Empowered by larger trends of transphobia in society (such as anti-trans legislation), public harassment against transgender people is commonplace as well as harassment in gendered spaces, like bathrooms and changing rooms. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), “Acts of hate violence, such as harassment, stalking, vandalism, and physical and sexual assault, are often supported by more socially sanctioned expressions of transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia and are intended to send a message to LGBTQ communities. . . . Many LGBTQ people also face substantial bias because they belong to other traditionally marginalized groups along other axes of identity such as race, class, incarceration history, immigration status, or ability. . . . membership in more than one traditionally marginalized community can increase targeting for severe violence.”
How is Transphobia Institutionalized?
Transphobia has been institutionalized by patriarchy. Systems based on binary gender (a strict divide based on the limited categories of male/female) are at the core of patriarchy- a social system and ideology which places men as the central source of authority. Patriarchy has been designed to appear as a naturally occurring social fact so that people will be less likely to question it. However, expectations of gender are constructed (meaning they are created by a certain history, a certain social norm, a certain culture, or a certain people). Stepping outside of the strict confines of patriarchy, we see fluid understandings of the gender and sexual identity spectrum which encompass much more realistic understandings of people, their identities, and their diversity. The mythical divisions of gender conceived by patriarchy imagine ‘males’ and ‘females’ to match a set of characteristics, or stereotypes. These expectations create very real harm by dictating how a person ‘should’ be based on their imposed role to keep up the continuation of the patriarchal system. As such, systems have been put in place to legitimize transphobia- such as limited and rigid categories (like male/female) on official forms which do not match an individual's true identity; the refusal to respect pronouns in the legal and incarceration system; the erasure of transgender affirming medical care, especially for trans youth; the refusal to address the murder of transgender people as a national crisis; or the public outcry in speaking about the existence of fluid gender categories to children. For example, many people in the United States were reported to inaccurately believe that ‘being transgender was a new concept’. This, however, only further documents the erasure of transgender people throughout history, and showcases how institutionalized transphobia has been so deep rooted in our society.
What is the connection between transphobia and health inequality?
The discrimination, mistreatment, and violence that trans people face in health care settings further exacerbate their lack of access to competent, trans-affirming, and affordable health care. This includes refusing to provide medical care, using the wrong name and/or pronouns intentionally, and unwanted physical contact. Between one in five and one in four trans people report avoiding or postponing seeking care and preventative screenings out of concern for how they will be treated. Even when trans people seek out screenings, insurance policies and legislation can become a barrier.
This contributes to wide disparity in health outcomes for trans people in a number of areas, from depression and anxiety to asthma and heart disease. For example, among the general US population, 0.3% live with HIV as compared to 1.4% (i.e., nearly 5 times more) of trans people, 6.7% of Black trans people, and a staggering 19% of Black trans women.
What is the connection between transphobia and housing inequality?
Housing discrimination is not an uncommon experience for trans people, with nearly a quarter reporting being evicted from their homes, being denied a home, and other forms of housing discrimination. This is an obvious contributor to low levels of home ownership (16% compared to 63%) and high rates of homelessness, with nearly a third of trans people having been homeless at some point in their lives.
With discrimination and mistreatment in shelters being a reality, more than a quarter of trans people experiencing homelessness avoid accessing one. Mistreatment in shelters - affecting 70% of trans people who access shelters - include harassment, physical or sexual violence, and expulsion. 63% of trans people who are homeless (as compared to 49% of cisgender people) are unsheltered, which significantly elevates vulnerability to chronic and mental health issues, drug and alcohol use, self harm, and avoiding medical treatment.
Due to transphobia, trans communities face a multitude of structurally, institutionally, and socially imposed challenges that lead to higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, housing and food insecurities, poverty, departures from educational institutions, and health disparities. Each of these are magnified for trans people of color and especially trans women and femmes of color, who also contend with the colluding forces of racism, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and misogyny. All of this furthers trans people’s exposure to experiencing various forms of violence, including sexual violence. Therefore, ending sexual violence also entails resisting transphobia and centering trans people in prevention and response efforts.