Why the Trans Hate?, Part V: Trans Analogies
Last week, as part of the ongoing discussion of trans hate, reader D.V. in Columbus
analogies that Democrats might use in their messaging in order to help explain the Party's generally
pro-trans stance. Here are some of the suggestions readers sent in:
- E.B. in Seattle, WA: The following analogy really helped me through emotions as my son
came out as nonbinary and then a trans man.
Imagine you have a nephew. When he was a baby, everyone called him Billy. That kept up through middle school, when he
told everyone that he wanted to be called Will in high school. Is Will the same person as the child you knew as Billy?
Of course, except that he's grown up and expressing opinions about what he wants to be called. Do you respect his
desired name to the best of your ability? Of course, unless you're a jerk. Does it matter if his "new" name is Will or
William or Frank or George? Of course not.
So why would it be different if the new name was Jane or Alexis or Wilhemina? Likewise with pronouns. It is literally no
more effort to remember someone's pronouns than their name. If they change, it's going to be an adjustment. But it's
really not that difficult unless you're bound and determined to make it so.
- I.S. in Durango, CO: Ezra Klein's
podcast this week
happened to be an interview with
Gillian Branstetter of the ACLU about the GOP's anti-trans policies, and she gave this very simple but (I think)
profound analogy, which she attributes to her friend Emily St. James who she worked with at Vox:
If you are a cis person, imagine for a moment that all evidence to the contrary, everyone in the world becomes
convinced your gender is not what it is. If you're a man, everyone starts using she/her pronouns for you and calling you
by a woman's name. One day you start insisting to the world you are who you are, and the world insists otherwise.
And that sense of, for my trans friends, that sense of unbelievable wrongness between how you are seen and how you feel,
that—I don't exactly have a question here, but I just think it's worth stopping for a minute that the intensity of it,
from everyone I know who has gone through it, is I just think really hard to grasp if it's not something that you've
- M.H. in Ottawa, ON, Canada: The analogy that always comes to mind for me is that being
transgender is rather like having a cleft palate. The person was born like that, their body developing in a way over
which they had absolutely no control. They suffer, both developmentally and socially. They cannot just "get over it" or
try to not have the issue, and they certainly didn't choose to have it happen. And like with a cleft palate, there exist
medical treatments (including surgery) to alleviate the problem for the vast majority of sufferers.
And here's where the analogy shines for me: Treatments for a cleft palate take place as early as possible in life, to
provide the best possible outcomes for people as they develop and mature. Additional therapy (like speech therapy) is
both available and, more importantly, expected. Nobody suggests restricting access to treatment until the person is
older, and certainly not eliminating access entirely. And nobody is judged for having the surgery and thereby refusing
to be the way God made them. ("God doesn't make mistakes? Then why do we surgically correct cleft palates?")
- B.W. in State College, PA: My youngest daughter is trans and I've used the following
example when discussing dead-names and pronouns. When my first child was born, my father asked me that he not be called
things like Pop-pop or Pe-paw. He wanted to be called Grandpa. This was not his legal, given-name. That was his choice
and our responsibility to honor his choice out of the respect we have for him as a person and someone we care about.
- W.S. in Austin, TX: Gay marriage, which certainly struck conservatives as unacceptable or
unimaginable for centuries, but is, in the current America, widely accepted in both cultural and legal senses.
The language issues will be much more difficult to solve than the tolerance issues, though.
For instance, I have a friend who was married to someone who, after their divorce, subsequently went though a gender
identity crisis and is now transitioning surgically (becoming a woman).
However, my friend married a man, and she doesn't want others to believe she is a lesbian when she isn't. Therefore, in
referring to her ex at the time of their marriage, she uses the pronoun "he" to reflect her spouse's identity at that
But my friend also wants to support her ex today. Therefore, she calls her ex "she" in any present-tense reference.
This discrepancy has led to confusion and will continue to do so. English is not well suited for such a scenario; I'm
not sure any language is.
Similarly, in the event we invent time travel, we will struggle with verb tense as we try to describe things we will
have done in the future if we travel into the past.
- J.L. in Albany, NY: In response to D.V. seeking trans analogies, I like to use the
left-handedness analogy myself. (Disclaimer: I'm a cis male so any trans information I get isn't personal experience, but
obtained from listening to trans people and observing what's going on.)
I'm left handed and too young to have been around during this time, but for a long while, being a lefty was seen as an
abomination. Lefties were forced to write with their right hand.as if which hand you wrote with was a choice. Similarly,
LGBTQ people have been forced to "act straight" and have been told that their sexuality/gender identity is a choice and
they could just choose to be straight/cisgender. In both cases, it's actually not a choice and isn't something that
could just be switched. Could I write with my right hand instead of my left? Yes, but it wouldn't feel right and my
writing would be messier. (Given how messy my handwriting is to begin with, that's really saying something.)
To give another point, the right will often point to rising numbers of transgender individuals as "proof that the left
is indoctrinating kids." The theory here is that the left is somehow convincing non-transgender boys and girls to "act
transgender" and that's behind the rise. Going back to left-handedness,
here's a graph (and article)
You can see a rapid rise in left-handedness from around 1910 to about 1960. Were the political left at the time
convincing young people to be left-handed back then? Of course not. What happened was that people felt free to publicly
say that they were left-handed. The graph of actual lefties would have been a straight line, but many of the lefties
felt persecuted and so said they were righties instead.
Similarly, many LGBTQ people have, in the past, "pretended" to be straight/cisgender to avoid persecution. This doesn't
mean that they could choose to be straight—just that they went through the motions to avoid persecution. Just like
a lefty writing with their right hand in 1910, it was never natural or right for them, but it was what the person did if
they didn't want to be beaten.
If we 100% normalized being transgender, we would see a rise as more transgender people felt comfortable being who they
always were. Then, this would level out. The percentage of transgender people would settle at the level that it has
always really was instead of being kept artificially low by hatred and persecution.
Thanks, all! Tomorrow will be letters from readers who might be described as "trans-adjacent." (Z)
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