What Fuels hatred of Transgender Women?
There’s a particular and profound type of stigma and derision in society aimed at femininity in men (or those who are perceived to be men). This stigma (it could also be called hate, aversion, distaste, repugnance) is very deep and very old in our consciousness, particularly among men. A man in a dress has historically been fodder for humor and entertainment in movies and in male-bonding rituals. There’s both an uncomfortable feeling and a forbidden fascination among men with seeing men outwardly showing their feminine side. Why is this so?
Let’s delve into the male psyche a little to find some answers. At some point in early development (around ages 2 to 4), the young (cis-gendered) boy must make a developmental leap in order to identify with his Father or as ‘male’. Psychologically (and unconsciously) the thinking goes like this: “I’m like you (the father), I am not like you (the mother)”. Hence there is a sort of rejection of the mother and specifically with her femininity in the nascent psyche of the young male. (Jessica Benjamin writes about this – see ‘The Bonds of Love’, 1998). And because this rejection happens in so young a psyche, it is correspondingly harsh and rigid and with little grey area. Femininity must be rejected in all its forms and additionally is seen as less than and dangerous. This is a perplexing and scary phenomenon for one so young. And as Yoda once said: “…fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate…” One could extrapolate from this that in some cases – this kind of dilemma in one with a weak ego or mental illness could lead to violence such as gay bashing or violence against transgender women. This, I believe is the root of pervasive stigma against men showing femininity and it could be argued that it is the root of homophobia, transphobia, internalized homophobia and internalized transphobia.
Previously I mentioned a ‘forbidden fascination’ with the feminine. This is so (I believe) because, in spite of the unconscious rejection, the young boy still loves and is bonded to his mother in the strongest possible way. The mother was his first love, source of all love and nurturance. In fact there was no consciousness that they were separate beings until a few months into his development. The love, coupled with the aversion is a cause of great inner turmoil and confusion.
Certainly when a man with these unresolved issues sees a transgender woman, these feelings bubble up – often without the man even knowing why. Hopefully things will improve with more knowledge about our own psyches and the nature of gender variance.
You explain this soo well!
This analysis seems very Freudian, and fails to explain why there is no similar fear and hatred of all things masculine by women. I usually appreciate your blog, but I find this post disappointing in its failure to take into account the way patriarchal ideology and other social forces influence individual identities and behaviors. To explain anti-transfeminine attitudes without talking about our misogynistic society is nonsensical to me.
Girls don’t need to make the same developmental leap since they are the same gender as the mother. This syndrome is in no way related to ideologies. In fact its unconscious. Its fine if you don’t like this post – I’m glad you’re following and sharing your thoughts.
It seems very evident to me that the patriarchy is responsible for the ridicule and shaming of trans women. That someone can give up the privileges of (assigned at birth) masculinity and embrace their (inate) femininity voluntarily is not perceived as individual self-determination but is rejected as irrational. It is perceived as contributing to the emasculation of all men, which is threatening to patriarchy and is therefore shamed in an effort to prevent it. Trans women endure the double losses of male privilege and cisgender privilege.
On the other hand, tomboyish behaviour is girls has always been tolerated because it is perceived to reinforce masculinity and thereby the patriarchy by making it aspirational or desirable. That a trans man should be perceived to ‘seek’ male privilege is accepted as rational, not rejected as irrational. Trans men endure the loss of cisgender privilege but gain male privilege and are thus the only ones in a position to be able to qualify and quantify the relative strengths of these privileges based on their status in society after transition compared to before it. It should come as no surprise to learn that it’s a net loss – cisgender privilege is much more potent than male privilege.
Trans people simply require congruence between their inate gender identity and their lived lives in order to be authentic and happy – ie. acquire the “gender euphoria” that cisgender people don’t even realise they have. Gender identity runs so deep that societal privileges cannot trump it. Whether a trans person comes out or not is a matter of how desperately they require relief from the incongruent internal conflict we call “gender dysphoria” compared to the social stigma and loss of privileges that comes with it. Trans people are justifiably terrified of coming out. However, in view of the gains and losses of privileges, it should come as no surprise that the median age at which trans men come out is lower than that of trans women.
However, I knew I identified as a girl at age 5 when I started school but lacked the language to describe my feelings. I was ‘outed’ and called a pervert by my mother at age 15, which shamed me deeply and became part of my internal mantra “I’m not good enough, I’m a pervert” that it took me to age 50 finally to accept myself – some 16 years after I found support groups on the Internet. None of this answers my burning question “Why am I transgender?” and within trans circles it is a contentious topic. I have been branded “truscum” simply for talking about myself. The fact that I am trying to understand myself by sharing my ideas should not threaten anyone else’s sense of self yet it is perceived by some to do so – it is analogous to the perceived threat to the patriarchy I described above. Such transgender ideology is a quagmire best avoided.
I am interested in the “developmental leap” perspective because it is something that has also occurred to me. Most of us like to believe that we grow up in “normal” families and thus our particular situation, no matter how distorted it really is, becomes our perception of “normal” and we are blind to the distortion. That’s how mental health problems leap generations with ease. From being blind to it, it came into focus for me because of domestic violence by one of my children. As a concerned parent I googled the behavioural traits I observed and was confronted by narcissism. How the hell had I not recognised that? I bought books on dealing with manipulative people and came face to face with my mother and my wife. My world fell apart. It was devastating to learn that I hadn’t recognised it because it was my “normal”, however, my mother, unable to deal with her shame at having a transgender offspring had already rejected me and employed triangulation to separate me from other relatives. I’ve lost most of my family. I think I knew subconsciously this was the inevitable consequence of coming out and that’s why it took me so long to do so. Unsurprisngly, my formerly violent child is the one who does not accept me, whereas the others do.
However, back to the “developmental leap” or lack of it. A dominant mother with a weak father who immersed himself in his career to escape and bolster his self esteem. “I’m like you (the father), I am not like you (the mother)”. It’s not difficult to envisage this “leap” failing to happen in a dysfunctional family, where the mother is treats the child as an extension of herself, not as an autonomous person. It begins to shed light on what I recognise in my former self: the weak sense of self and transgender identity. If you are transgender and have not come out, you are likely to have a weak sense of self because you are not being authentic. Until you are authentic, you cannot truly find out who you are or define yourself. However, which came first? Was my transgender identity perhaps “collateral damage”, a consequence of having a weak sense of self because of having a narcissistic mother? Did my mother lose interest in me when my sister was born and I wanted to be like my sister to regain her attention? If I ever expressed effeminate behaviour as a young child, how did my mother deal with it? I’ll never know. The first casualty with narcissistic people is the truth. My mother maintains that she never called me a pervert and would never call anyone a pervert. That’s because it’s shameful to shame and of course, my mother needs the world to see her as perfect.