Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's Not My Place

The past couple weeks I have been working on a research proposal on transgender immigrants and the unique struggles they face. This means I’ve been nose deep in books and articles on transgender issues. Although I find transphobia within the immigration system depressing as hell, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn more because I have only recently began learning about transgender issues. I have the privileged of being cisgender which means my biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression all match. As a cisgender identified person my ability to understand transgender issues will always be limited. I will never experience transphobia or see life the same way that a transgender identified individual sees it. So I try to stay up to date on current events involving the transgender community and take almost every opportunity to learn more about this community of people I care about. I still have a great deal to learn but I feel that I have made progress.

My recent gain in knowledge causes me to think about questions or issues for a few weeks while I sort it all out in my head. The past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the question of whether or not to out transgender friends to cisgender identified friends before they meet. I’ve listened to and considered both sides of this argument but I keep coming back to the same conclusion: it’s not my place to out others. I fully understand the desire to make everyone comfortable in social situations or the desire to protect transgender identified people from potential harm but the decision to come out can only be made by the person themselves. I strongly believe that no one has the authority to out someone else. This is not just for the transgender community but goes with all identities. Once your friends meet, it will be up to your transgender identified friend whether or not to come out and their decision needs to be respected. Also, no one has a right to know anyone else’s gender identity before they meet just like no one has a right to demand other information about others before they meet.

One point I kept hearing about over and over again in this debate and the one that most people who are proponents of outing transgender individuals keep using as a defense is the possibility of a negative reaction. For example, what if you introduce your friend Fred to your friend Tom who was assigned female at birth but is actually a man. Fred makes offensive remarks towards Tom and Tom gets his feelings hurt. Of course this is horrible but isn’t this a possibility that comes with introducing anyone. Someone may say something offensive or have an non-gender based identity that offends someone. Everything is controversial to someone. For example, introducing your deeply religious friend to your hardcore atheist friend might end ugly or for a less extreme, your quiet shy friend and your loud outgoing friend may rub each other the wrong way. One reason I feel that it is not ok to out transgender identified friends before introducing them to another friend is I find it a very offensive action. The message being sent to transgender persons is that who they are and their identities are offensive or shocking to people and it is necessary to warn people about them before anyone can meet them. Even though that is not the intent of the action, that may be how it is perceived. Transphobia is another reason why someone should refrain from outing a transgender individual before introducing them to a friend. Transphobia is very much an alive and kicking beast. It’s everywhere and unfortunately the transgender community faces it on a daily basis. A transgender individual may not want to be out to everyone in the world to help protect them from discrimination and violence. A person may only be out in certain parts of their lives and not out in others like with family members, religious institutions, or workplaces. The decision to be closeted in those places deserves respect and understanding.

Now if something offensive or discriminating happens when introducing friends it is important to stand up against transphobia. I don’t think you can really call yourself a friend or an ally if you remain silent. Confronting a friend on their own prejudices is hard but it’s the right thing to do and what a true friend should do. Also, by having zero tolerance for transphobia in any form may help transphobic friends understand the impact of their actions and that transphobia is wrong. Maybe minds will open up to new ideas and friends will learn more about the transgender community.

I could keep typing and keep listing reasons why I feel that outing transgender identified friends is a bad idea but then this blog post would never end. Instead, I want to leave everyone with a link to a blog post on another site written from a transgender person’s prospective. The post is from last June and appeared on a feminist blog and I highly recommend everyone reading it.

1 comment:

  1. Really good blog Lauren. I totally agree with you. Sometimes it pains me to keep my mouth shut too but that comes with the cisgender privilege.