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The Dangers of Being Trans-Friendly (a Caitlin On . . . post)

6 October, 2011

So, it is time for me to discuss a serious issue that I have had on my mind but did not have the guts to bring up. We are all aware being transgendered results in serious safety issues for transgendered persons. There is the very real possibilities of hate crime [which isn’t legally hate crime because it is not illegal to attack a person for their gender expression, we are the only unprotected group left in America], retribution in personal and professional lives, and a host of dangers born out of legal issues and the end-all-be-all, the genetic birth marker. ::spits on the ground:: These are all very real dangers. They are not, however, the ones on my mind tonight. What concerns me is the dangers faced by those who know me: classification by association, shunning for slumming, and flacking for backing.

[Cute names, right? I’m afraid I have to use the cute approach when addressing this subject because I feel overwhelmed when I considered it without a certain degree of levity. I’m not trying to downgrade the issue, I am just trying to cope with the danger my existence as self puts those around me in.]

Classification by Association

If we are honest with ourselves we can all find things about us that are not gender ideal. The regenerating individual is on the extreme end of a very real phenomena for every person. The prevalence of cosmetic plastic surgery, anti-aging muds and creams, diet and exercise fads, and heart-healthy Cheerios all point to a basic insecurity at the root of the American psyche. On our mad dash from the cradle to the grave each of us attempts to align ourself to the gender ideal. Or, as Kate Bornstein puts it, we are all attempting to reach the capstone on the gender pyramid. Advertisements, programing, publications, and a slew of other pop-culture sources inundate us and belittle us into believing we have not yet reached the gender ideal, but with just one more purchase, one more pill, one more diet, one more round of psychoanalysis, we can come just $19.95 closer.

Living in a society that labels our worth on how much we conform or fail to conform to the gender ideal has made us all paranoid about not living up to it. It took a bold step away from that gender ideal for me to see just how deeply entrenched the idea is. Something else I have seen is how desperately people look for those who do not conform as well as they do, because it allows them to feel better about their own status. The idea that there is someone lower on the rung than you means that you are not as bad off as it seems. There is always another rung down, another slot that you have been fortunate enough to exceed. When people spend their time looking for these nonconforming points in others it is only a matter of time before they are found–real or not.

This is hard enough for the transgendered and cis-gendered [trans means cross, cis means on the same side of] when they are alone, but the cis who spends time with trans-folk are taking on an extra risk that may lead others to question whether the friend is cis or just another tranny. When this classification by association happens all the dangers the trans person is exposed to are now the cis person’s dangers too. When I am out with female friends I worry that someone may see them as less of a woman because they are associating with me. When I am out with trans-friends I worry that my inability to successfully pass due to in-progress regeneration will out them and put them back in a danger zone they were “out” of.

Shunning for Slumming

Slumming, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, is a term first brought into the common language in London, 1884 and referred to the members of a higher social class spending time with a lower social class or participating in lower class activities for amusement. It is typically done with a sense of superiority over the class being entered by the participants, a malicious mocking of the lower class. In this case, I am not saying that cis-folk that hangout with trans-folk are slumming. [Though there are members of the cis population, particularly among the wealthy and famous patrons of the arts, who do so.] I am suggesting that cis-friends of trans-individuals can be viewed as “going slumming” by hypersensitive activists and faux-friends of the transgendered. Those who wish to be friends with trans-folk, should be aware that not all attacks are going to come from the bigots who hate transgender-ism; there are plenty of people–cis and trans alike–who are going to take offense to the cis-friend’s acceptance of their transgendered friend. I, myself, know my friends are genuine, but it can be hard to convince others. Just something those who are my friends should be aware of.

Flacking for Backing

The moral majority, the religiously fanatical, and the bigoted asshats are the ones responsible for giving flack to cis-friends of the transgendered. They will, with luck, only try to convince or sway the cis away from the corrupting influence and  inherent “evils” of friendship with a transgendered person. However, much like whites who marched alongside of blacks in the civil rights movement, the cis-friend exposes themselves to same physical dangers that their transgender-friend is exposed to. The people who jump your transgender-friend as you walk from the theater to your car are not going to say, “Hey, that person isn’t transgendered, so we should leave her/him alone.” The whites were not exempt from brutal attacks by racists, and neither are the cis.

And let us get one thing straight. This is a civil rights movement! Regardless of what others might think, regardless of what others might wish, the call for equal rights and fair treatment of the transgendered is a civil rights movement. If a person of color is denied the right to housing because of their ancestry, it is a hate crime against their civil rights. If a homosexual is beaten because of his sexual orientation, it is a hate crime against his civil rights. If a lesbian is shot at by a drunk, off-duty police officer, it is a hate crime against her civil rights. So why is denying housing to, beating, and murdering a transgendered individual seen as somehow less important? Why is it less of crime and why does the general population tend to sympathize with the perpetrator of the crime and villainize the victim? “The murdered transsexuals were most likely hookers,” I overheard a teacher say about the transwomen shot this summer. “That cop was just doin [sic] what need [sic] to be dun [sic],” posted a commenter on a washingtonpost.com article about the cop who shot at the transwomen who refused his advances.

This is clearly a civil rights issue and it is clearly dangerous for everyone involved in it whether transgendered, family, or friend.

It is this last bit that leaves me nervous and questioning. What have I exposed my family and friends to? None of them have been attacked or molested, but they have received verbal flack, been questioned, and been rebuked and shunned for their association with me. Yes, I know they are big boys and girls and the choices they make are their own, but it still worries me and knowing that they chose to be my friend will not make me feel any less guilty when someone puts them in the hospital because they were spending time with me at the wrong moment. Sometimes I wonder if those I care about would be better off not caring about me. Perhaps not better off, but certainly safer.

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