Microaggressions are a frequent part of Trans people’s lives, along with many other minority and targeted social groups. They are the everyday form of bigotry that falls under the larger banner of oppression. They are like a thousand little cuts. By themselves they are not that pernicious but taken together they can really add up and affect a person adversely. Derald Wing Sue defines the term for us. “Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.”
In this blog I would like to discuss several examples of anti-trans microaggressions that I have experienced:
- “What is your ‘real’ name?” When the person asks this they are asking for the person’s birth name AKA dead name. This is incredibly offensive to trans people since the name we use is our “real” name not our birth name. Also, what is gained when a person learns our birth name? It is just to satisfy some prurient curiosity or worse to put us back into the box associated with our birth gender.
- “Have you had THE operation/surgery yet?” This is a very personal and private question. Asking people to disclose personal medical information is always problematic. When it involves the genitals, it is doubly so. It also seems to me that this is another attempt to put us back into a box. Some only will acknowledge a person’s actual gender if they have had the surgery. This is the genitals=gender equation that states that a person’s junk is the most important thing in defining a person’s gender. There are so many important social, cultural and economic issues related to trangenderism that are much more important to talk about. Skip the surgery talk.
- “Which bathroom do you use?” This can often be a sore subject. Many trans people, myself included, have faced harassment or abuse in gender-segregated restrooms. One of the most offensive questions relating to my trans-ness I ever faced was by a social work student who asked me if I “pee sitting down or standing up.” The topic of bathroom access for trans people is indeed an important one, but someone’s personal urinary habits are less so. It is important to look at it culturally rather than individually.
- “I cannot accept they/them as a singular pronoun.” I use they/them and it is infuriating to me when I hear this, whether from English purists or from people who believe only in the gender binary. While the claim may be about language, I believe it is really about holding on to the gender binary system for dear life. Using they/them forces people to move beyond the he/she dichotomy and that is incredibly important. Even if you haven’t wrapped your head around non-binary people, use what people want as a basic mode or respect. And this goes for correct pronouns usage for all trans people. We are misgendered so often and it really stings, so using the correct pronoun or mode of address can really mean a lot.
- Assuming a hegemonic trans narrative. For instance, cis people assuming that every trans person they meet is “trapped in the wrong body.” This really needs to change as it is not how many trans people describe their identity or their experience. For instance, I believe that I am “trapped” in the wrong culture because it does not accept the notion that there are more than two genders and that one’s body can be different from one’s gender identification. I don’t feel “trapped in the wrong body.”
These are just a few but there are many more trans microaggressions, not to mention microaggressions faced by other minority group members. We also must become much more aware of our words and our body language and cognizant of how our actions can harm others, even if there was no intent of ill will.