After Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, people across the world reacted in every manner imaginable. And although there has been an outpouring of support from many, unsurprisingly, the majority of comments have been ignorant at best and hateful, and even murderous, at worst.
I say ‘unsurprisingly’ since transphobia is what many believe to be, the last “acceptable” form of bigotry. Time Magazine captioned their June 2014 cover, featuring Laverne Cox The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier.
My initial reaction, and I am not proud to admit this, was “America hasn’t even come to terms with the actual civil rights movement yet. I mean their cops are shooting unarmed black kids in the street! How the hell do they expect people to sympathise with such a fringe issue?”
That type of attitude is problematic for a number of reasons.
First, it assumes that caring about one issue makes you unable of caring about another. This is nonsense of course. I can walk and chew peanuts at the same time, can’t I? Likewise I can be concerned about equal rights, animal cruelty, fracking, Nkandla and the fact that Joss Whedon is apparently refusing to make another TV series all at the same time.
Second, is this Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others? Surely if you fight for the equal treatment of some, you should fight for the equal treatment of all? Rebecca Davis recently wrote about the faulty logic of single cause activism in this piece much more eloquently than I could ever put it.
Third, transgender people aren’t nearly as “fringe” as many people believe them to be. Worldwide estimations were that trans women are 1 in 30 000 and trans men 1 in 100 000. But one only has to glance at the origins and data collection of these figures to realise that this number has to be greatly under-representative. This data reflects the DSM IV results, which effectively means it only counts people who are identified through psychiatric evaluation as people with Gender Identity Disorder.
More recently it is estimated that 2 to 5% of the world’s population is transgender. Recent studies from the Netherlands show that about 1 in 12 000 natal males undergo sex reassignment surgery and 1 in 34 000 natal females. And that’s only those who go for the surgery.
One only has to look at the annual number of horrifying murders and tragic suicides of trans people to see that this condition is not nearly as rare as we think it is. Actually, go on and do it. Read this article, and see how these young men and women were brutally tortured and murdered because of who they were and see if you’ll laugh as much at the next trans joke.
The thing is humans have always been awful about things they don’t understand. And I get it – for many of us whose gender matches our sex, the idea of being trans is difficult, if not incomprehensible.
But you know what? Not so long ago people also didn’t understand how the earth could move around the sun. Or that people suffering from epileptic seizures aren’t possessed by the devil. Or that raping a woman, even if she's your wife, is not your proper right as man.
So, whose side are you going to pick?
Ask yourself: Do you want to be a person who strives to have empathy with people, no matter how different to you they are?
Or do you want to be the hate-filled asshole with the pitchfork throwing rocks at the sun?