Being Trans is Normal and Unremarkable
There’s a new, hot transphobe out on the prowl for some delicious outrage clout. She’s written a book so transparently cruel and poorly researched that a major retailer swiftly banned it and many independent bookstores refuse to stock it. The book’s been panned by every interviewer who possesses even a shred of scientific knowledge or respect for trans people’s humanity. In many ways, the evil has already been defeated; the bad idea has lost in the court of public opinion, and the trash has been swiftly and unceremoniously taken out.
But on another level, this book has been a raging success. It’s generating exactly the kind of shallow, frantic attention its author always intended. Before the book came out, this author was a relative nobody with some decent bylines. Now that she can crow about being “cancelled” for being a bigot, she is a conservative darling.
It’s a good scam, I’ll give her that. It’s so easy to turn anger into pageviews. It’s so tempting to give absurd, hateful diatribes attention, setting out to “debunk” them but actually feeding into their prominence and granting them greater public legitimacy.
It’s a trap trans people and our allies fall for so often. We fell for it when JK Rowling had a book coming out and we fell for it when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie needed attention recently, too. We want so badly to resolve the trauma caused by a lifetime of rejection that we keep shadow-boxing with monsters better left ignored. And of course, social media has been engineered to make such traps very appealing.
I’m not gonna name this author or her book, by the way. We need to stop taking this kind of bait. Each of us now lives in a world where trans identities are increasingly normalized; the time has come to ignore those who seek to treat us like freakish novelties. Trans people are a very regular, common type of person. It’s time we start acting like it.
When we attempt to “debate” the validity of transgender people, we lend controversy to something that is already a settled issue. There is no point in eviscerating the claims of a woman whose only argument is that she finds us gross and laughable. That kind of person is on the fringes of public life, and the more swiftly we dismiss her, the more easily she’ll remain there. We can’t change her mind, but we can nerf her Googleability by refusing to grant her the attention she desperately wants.
Trans people do not need to engage with those who question our right to exist, or provide “proof” that we “really know” we are trans. We don’t have to explain what transness is, or why it is; it’s actually very regressive for us to do so. Trans people are a natural part of the world. We have been around for a very long time, and we will always be around. We don’t debate settled issues. We live in reality.
A large majority of Americans not only support trans people, but believe we need and deserve legal support from discrimination. There are trans people on daytime television, in state legislatures, on the covers of magazines, and at the forefront of Triple-A video games. The President-elect named trans people as one of the groups that delivered him electoral victory. Our place in society is self-evident, a fact conservatives have no choice but to face.
Public opinion on gay rights didn’t change because queer people finally “proved” being gay wasn’t a choice, or because we successfully answered questions about how a person can “know” for certain they are gay. No, we moved forward by normalizing gay people and their relationships. We got to the point where nearly everyone learned to dismiss such questions as hostile absurdities.
We need to do the same thing with trans identity. It’s not a mystery that needs to be solved. It’s not some super-confusing, super fringe experience that must be constantly explained. It’s just a mundane fact.
Two nights ago, I was on a nighttime radio show that has a fairly conservative host. I was there to promote my forthcoming book, which has nothing to do with transition or transness. I was pleased to learn that despite being right-leaning, this radio host was genuinely interested in my book, and my idea that laziness doesn’t exist. She was receptive to talking about how the hatred of “laziness” has been weaponized against homeless people and those with addictions, for example.
However, this host was also a bit flummoxed by my transness. Or rather, she briefly pretended to be.
“It says on my info sheet here that you use they/them pronouns,” she said, at the show’s half-hour mark. “Can you explain to me what that’s about?”
“Surely you’ve heard of nonbinary people, right,” I said. “People who don’t identify as either male or female?”
“Yeah,” she began.
“Well, that’s what that is,” I replied in a bored tone. I offered nothing further. We got back to talking about the book.
I knew this woman was trying to bait me into some pointless, derailing conversation, where I’d be asked to explain what nonbinary identity was, and how I really knew I was nonbinary, and why I couldn’t just choose to be a gender-nonconforming woman instead. These are not questions worth answering. While they usually come wrapped in a patina of well-intentioned curiosity, at their core they are invasive non-sequiturs.
I would never ask this radio host why she “decided” to stick with the gender label placed on her at birth. I wouldn’t interrupt a cisgender male scientist talking about his research to ask why he goes by “he.” Nobody should get caught up in questions that are so pointless.
Furthermore, this interviewer was feigning confusion about something I knew she was already familiar with. She’s a broadcaster who spends three hours per night, five nights a week talking about a wide variety of social and political issues. She had a transgender activist scheduled to be on her show the very next night. She’s damn well heard of nonbinary people and they/them pronouns before. So I forced her to acknowledge that familiarity, took the validity of my existence as a given, and refused to re-explain something she clearly already knew about.
As I’ve written before, cis folks try to keep trans people trapped in an endless cycle of explaining our identities. Every time we interact with the public, we are expected to bear our souls and tell compelling stories and “prove” our genders are real. Then, as soon as all this repetitive trauma-mining and hand-holding is done, cis people act as if we’re all baffling and wholly unfamiliar yet again.
Trans People Aren’t Novelties. We’re Normal.
I am sick to death of narratives that put our transitions under the microscope.
At some point we have to stop trying to “introduce” transness as a new concept. It’s not new. We don’t have to keep striving to help the willfully obtuse “understand” us. We’re past that. They’ve heard all about us.
I don’t think most writers and journalists realize they’re doing this, but by constantly treating trans identities as a new, strange phenomenon, they are actively inhibiting trans people from organizing, naming the systems that exclude us, and claiming our rightful place in public life. In order to advance, we need to be respected as a legitimate class of people who have common struggles and shared interests.
Trans people everywhere. There are more out trans people in the world than there are people who know how to code, and our numbers grow a bit more every day. People are gonna have to deal with it, even if they don’t “get it.” Basic respect for a person’s name, pronouns, and identity is not the kind of thing you “explain.” That’s the kind of thing you demand.
The era of transnormativity is here. There’s nothing controversial or mystifying about us. We’re not novel anymore, and embracing us is not difficult. The widespread public existence of trans people is an indisputable fact — and facts don’t care about transphobes’ feelings.