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Viewpoints: Dealing with Ignorance or Bias

In a recent post I wrote briefly about the fact that, sadly, many trans* people face discrimination, or bias on a regular basis. We all have different ways of handling these incidents: from internalization or quiet protest, to confrontation or outright rage. Over the years, I’ve thought a great deal about how to address these situations in the most polite, yet effective ways possible. I thought I would put my thoughts here, in the hopes that they may help someone. Please note (of course), that these are only my thoughts and my ways to address situations: they may not be right for everyone. These methods and thoughts are my own, and suit my communication style. By no means do I believe that these thoughts will help everyone, in every situation. If you have other methods, or thoughts, please feel free to post them below.

As always, I welcome all questions, thoughts and (polite) discussion.

The situations

Encounters with discrimination or bias vary widely across identities, locales, and individuals. Some situations of discrimination are blatant, whereas others are subtle or hidden; some occur on a frequent basis, others sporadically. It’s important to gauge the situation on an individual basis. For instance, how you deal with a teacher who refuses to use correct pronouns in every class is very different than how you may address a distant family member you see twice a year. When thinking about confronting someone about their bias against trans* identities, consider the situation: what will potential ramifications be, when and where can you address them, what communication styles are best, etc? Of course I can’t write on every possible scenario, and how to address it – I can’t even fathom every scenario – but it is important to consider it when approaching confrontation.

Stay Calm

In many situations, the bias or discrimination may catch you off base, and it is frequently infuriating. But try to stay calm. Take a few deep breathes, and mentally or physically remove yourself from the situation, even if momentarily, before you respond. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts. In the past, I have responded to situations in the heat of the moment – every time I have regretted it. I spoke without thinking, and was hardly articulate in my responses. I would advise to avoid speaking without thinking first. Retain your calmness, think, and then speak.

It’s What you Say AND How you Say it

Don’t speak with anger or defensiveness. Of course, I recognize that this is easier said than done. The way I had it explained to me is “if you speak defensively, you show your opponents that you have something to be defensive about.” You should never have to defend your identity. Speak with conviction, in calm, even tones, without defensiveness.

Avoid swearing (again, easier said than done). Swearing doesn’t help your position, or prove you any more passionate about your opinion. You can convey the same opinion without dropping any swear words.

Avoid sweeping generalizations: your opinion or experience with trans* identities may not be true for everyone in the community. Just as you may not agree with every trans* person, not every trans* person may agree with you. Use words and phrases such as “In my experience,” “In my opinion,” “I feel,” “I believe,” “I think,” etc. If appropriate, you may want to add a statement that explains trans* people, like all people in any community, may differ in their opinions on the matter.

Don’t focus only on the bad, and remember the good. The tragedy of many trans* lives are a common element in our narratives: the hate crimes, discrimination, violence, etc. But all of us have some good in our lives. Personally, I try to assert the bad, but celebrate, and if possible, highlight, the good elements of my life and identity. This shows our opponents that not everything in the trans* community is horrible or terrifying. When we focus only on the bad, we leave others around us feeling like everything in the trans* community is about hatred and anger. When, there are some amazing things in each of our lives, and good things are happening! If anything, I think it’s good to remind people that you are proud of your journey and/or identity. And you should be proud….don’t forget that!

Be prepared. Many of us know, before walking into a room or event, that we will likely be facing some questions, comments or outright disagreement. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Before walking into these situations, take some time to think about how you may want to address the issues. Maybe write something out, or talk it over with a friend, Sig-O or trusted family member. As silly as it may seem, try role playing, to prepare yourself. It may feel awkward at the time, but if something happens, the benefits of your preparation will be readily apparent. As always, it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Think about language. Terms like “cis-gender privilege,” “non-op,” “SRS,” etc. are common within the trans* community. We hear/see them on a regular basis. But for those not in the trans* community, these terms are completely new and unknown. So think about language when addressing someone. Use language that they will understand, because then they will understand your message that much better. If you have the time and energy, you can educate a little about these terms (“…for someone who is not transgender, cis-gender, that may not be true. Cis-gender is the term used to define someone who is not transgender…”). If you’re not interested in education, than use the language that will be best understood by the person you are talking to.

Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the situation. If the conversation is getting too heated, or you are feeling threatened, unheard or increasingly insulted, sometimes you just need to walk away. That’s ok. Politely state that you are uncomfortable, you have somewhere else to be, or that you can discuss this another time – whatever you need to say to defuse the situation and get out of there. Some people are firmly entrenched in their ideas, and sadly, no amount of conversation is going to change that. There is no shame in recognizing that, and saving yourself the heartache of fruitless bickering.

You have the right not be questioned. Disclosing your trans* identity, or coming out as trans* does not mean that everyone else has the right to ask personal questions about your health, medical procedures or sexual orientation. If someone is getting too personal, I like to say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable answering very personal questions about my body or relationship status. I would never dream of asking you questions like these, and I respectfully ask you to honor that same etiquette.” It’s hard to argue with words like “honor,” “respectfully” and “etiquette.” Once again, language is important, so rather than saying, “bug off,” I like to phrase this retort carefully, with an eye towards civility.

Weigh your options. Some people prefer to address negative comments or ignorance on their own terms. If someone says something that hurts you, you can choose to address the matter then and there, or, conversely, write them a note and deliver it later. If you don’t like confrontation, this may be a good option. Plus, it gives you time to word things carefully, run it by others, and think about what you want to say. Of course, this only applies to some situations, but it is a helpful option. Be aware, however, that sending a note may distill the message. The person you are addressing may forget the situation or comment they made, or take it less seriously because you waited to address it. However, as I said, this is an option that may be helpful for some.

Considerations for Transmen

This was a pretty trans*-centered post, so I have very little to put in my “considerations for transmen.” However, I would like to address one matter that I have been faced with, related to this topic. In one situation, I confronted someone about their derogatory use of the word “tranny,” and explained, calmly, why some people in the trans* community would see this as hurtful (personally I don’t like the word, and choose not to use it; I understand others in the trans* community defend it’s use, but that is another topic for another day). Nevertheless, the person I addressed stated that I was clearly experiencing “testosterone-induced anger,” and I should consider lowering my dosage. Often, transmen who are on T are faced with this attempt to discredit our disagreements – people point to testosterone as the source of our “unreasonableness.” As stated above, in these situations it’s important to remain calm and polite. You won’t help the matter by raising your voice or getting angry. Personally, I politely explained that my dosage was carefully managed by my doctor, who is amply qualified to do so, and that I was simply expressing my views and disagreement on the matter at hand. Then, seeing that I was wandering into the region of fruitless argument, I excused myself, but expressed that, if they wanted to discuss the matter later, I was more than happy to do so.

You may handle this situation, and the others discussed above differently. As I said before, these are just my thoughts on how to handle bias or ignorance in everyday life. As always, I welcome any conversation and polite discussion on the matter. Thanks for reading!

Cheers – Mason

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