What Is Transphobia

What is Transphobia?

Transphobia: An analysis

Content Advisory:

-Transphobia, including hate crimes

-General bigotry discussed

-No way in hell I could add enough jokes to make this video fun and whimsical but I tried

Snarky Intro

Bonjour, mon nom est Faits Crittit (pronounced Face Critty),

*clip of Eddie Izzard saying “for those of you who don’t speak french, that was damn funny”*

My name is CritFacts, and this channel is about tackling transphobia. And in my last video, I laid out some definition of what it means to be trans. In this video, I would like to establish what I’m talking about when I talk about transphobia. What it is, how to recognize it, and what it does.

Baseline Definition

Transphobia is bigotry, prejudice, or antagonism against trans people.

So, what is bigotry?

This is one of those words where we all have a pretty decent sense of what the intended meaning is in most contexts, but it’s a little harder to put into words that capture what’s really going on.

*showing several different dictionary definitions as screenshots*

Most of these talk about “beliefs” and “ways of life.” These give reactionaries a case to pretend, through argumentum ad dictionarium, that “You’re being bigoted against my opinion that gay relationships are less important than straight relationships. It’s my OPINION and you’re the REAL bigot for being intolerant of that!!!1”

So we can put that definition and the clowns who use it in the garbage where they belong, and here, I’d like to offer my own definition of bigotry, one that is closer to the common usage and a bit more useful.

Bigotry is: Antagonism, prejudice, stereotyping, or blanket mistrust of groups of people, targeting them on unchosen, immutable, or religious characteristics.

There’s some reasonable disagreement on whether or not you really “choose” your religion, but that’s an aside and not what I’m here to focus on. But suspending any disagreement on that part specifically, I think that’s a reasonable definition.

This definition includes:

  • Racism

  • Sexism and Misogyny

  • Ableism

  • Homophobia

  • Transphobia

Let’s start with some other cases that are much more well defined and agreed upon, even by people who don’t think transphobia is a real problem:


We can all agree that racism is a problem, right?

*snip from history of the entire world, I guess* https://youtu.be/xuCn8ux2gbs?t=1105

Here's an overview of common beliefs about what racism is - A broad term for actions, attitudes, and beliefs that are unfair to certain people based on their perceived race or ethnicity.

These include:

  • Antagonism towards people, based on their race.

  • Making assumptions about people based on their race, such as an elevated level of caution around people of color just because of their skin color.

  • Insensitivity to the social context that people of color have to navigate - indifference or complacency with more overt racism.

Examples of these, respectively, would be:

  • Harassing or attacking someone for their skin color,

  • Assuming that a person of color is less trustworthy or safe to be around. A classic example of this is the racist white woman who is unbothered sitting next to a white dude on the bus, but clutches her purse and readies her keys when that same seat is taken by a black man.

  • Discrimination, whether that be deliberate and overt or as a result of unconscious bias in candidate assessments.

  • Saying “I don’t see color, we’re past racism!” because this is basically turning a blind eye to the fact that racism still exists and is still a very real problem. If you don't see color, you aren't seeing PoCs' experience of life.

Important note - bigotry doesn’t have to be overt for it to be real and to be a problem, or even intentional. There’s a lot of emphasis on being able to assess bigotry as a blameworthy act, but I think we should also see it as cognitive hygiene - we’ve all got bigotry that we need to unlearn, because bigotry doesn't require intent, and it affects how we treat people, but that’s a more complicated discussion for another time. For now, I’m going to continue with the premise that bigotry includes both deliberate actions, beliefs, and unconscious assumptions.

So, let’s take the previous examples, and just to start, what are the examples of those kinds of bigotry in transphobia?

  • Harassing or attacking someone because they are trans, their gender or sex are ambiguous, or they are gender nonconforming.

  • Assuming that a trans person is untrustworthy or unsafe to be around entirely based on that they are trans.

  • Saying “Trans people should be made to like their own bodies."

So, why do people do transphobic things or make transphobic assumptions? What’s the underlying belief or beliefs that motivate this behavior, that inform these assumptions?


Common Tropes of Transphobia

Most forms of bigotry rely on persistent tropes about the people targeted, and transphobia is no exception.

Anti-Semitism relies on the narrative that Jewish people are conniving, conspiratorial, manipulative, greedy.

Racism relies on tropes about the different kinds of people that exist, such as that people from Africa are less intelligent and more violent, that people from Central America are, paradoxically, both lazy and stealing everyone else’s jobs, people of the Middle East are violent, angry zealots, and so on.

Sexism relies on the tropes that men are (or ought to be) inherently sex-driven, violent, commanding, dominant, and physically more powerful, often also more analytically intelligent, and should be emotionally void, while women are (or ought to be) sex-averse, incapable of violence or malice, nurturing, submissive, fragile, hypersocial, and emotional.

Homophobia relies on the tropes of perversion, social contagion, and nefarious influence. That there’s a natural way people should be - heterosexual - and that gay people are willfully deviating from that and trying to influence others to similarly deviate. That this supposed nefarious influence is trying to subvert the way that men and women ‘should’ be.

The common tropes of transphobia are that apply to trans people (or their allies) are:

  • Unreliable Narrators: That they are

    • Delusional

    • Deliberately deceptive.

    • Profoundly ignorant about their own bodies and how they ‘should’ navigate living in said bodies

  • That they are perverts and trying to spread their perversion by influencing others, particularly children.

  • That they’re a nefarious influence trying to subvert natural orders and the ‘proper’ way that men and women should be.

And if those last two sound familiar- en petit deja vu - it’s because they are. They’re homophobia. I’ve never yet met a homophobe who was not also a transphobe. #ReheatedHomophobia

These are the narratives and ideas that tend to underlie and motivate transphobic behaviors and reactions. The perceptions of trans people, conscious or unconscious, that influence how one responds to and treats trans individuals.

It’s pretty safe to say that any statement or action that is either informed by or trying to reinforce those beliefs about trans people, generally, is an act of transphobia.

One of the most notorious examples is the Gay Panic Defense. This is when someone literally murders a trans person, most often a trans woman, and then claims it was because they were “tricked” into sex with said trans woman. The perpetrator questioned their sexuality, panicked, and did a murder. It’s where the slur “Trap” comes from; the idea that the cis man was “trapped” with the likeness of a cis woman as bait.

(Onscreen - Perversion (homophobia) - Deception - the murderer was ‘tricked’ into sex “with a man”)

But most transphobia isn’t so drastic. Most of the time, it’s just asserting that trans women aren’t women, usually followed with one of several justifications:

“That’s just a man in a dress.” (Delusion)

“Dysphoria is a mental illness.” (Delusion)

“If you don’t know which bathroom to use...” (Ignorance)

“They’re just men trying to get into women’s spaces!” (Deception)

“Trans women aren’t ‘real’ women.” (Pick one)

Or one of several trans-specific kinds of bullying and harassment:

Misgendering - the deliberate referral of someone by gendered nouns or pronouns in order to assert that they are wrong about their own gender identity.

Deadnaming - deliberate use of someone’s pre-transition name, usually to assert “That’s who you really are”, as if a trans person being trans is identity theft or just

In addition to just plain recycled homophobia:

“Transgender Trend” - social contagion rhetoric.

“They’re out there telling kids they were born in the wrong body!” - deliberately spread, influencing others [side note, “Wrong body is only ever used to describe what it can feel like to be trans, it’s never used to persuade someone they’re trans, because how the hell would that even work?]

“Transing kids.” - see above

“ROGD.” - just a phase

“Autogynephilia.” - perversion

“Only two sexes, everyone is male or female.” - that trans people are trying to subvert nature or what is ‘natural’ to do or be.

“You’re redefining womanhood.” is just ‘redefining marriage’ with a tweak. “Adult human female” is the equivalent of “one man, one woman," implying that there’s a single, universal definition that we should always be using, instead of letting everyone decide for themselves what ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘marriage’, and ‘family’ mean. Polycules, unmarried but committed partners, etc, can still be a family.

Other transphobic lines and narratives are often a bit more layered and often require more time to pull apart. I’m gonna be able to make a whole series out of that shit.

And then there’s Rowling’s letter. Yes, I read it all the way through, and hoo fuckin’ boy, Prendre la tête. It’s just filled to the brim with this unreliable narrator narrative about trans people, all carefully veiled with just enough artifice to pretend that it’s all ‘genuine concern.'

“When being female has shaped my own experiences-” you think trans people are unaware of how bodies shape experiences? You know…he people who are trans because of their experiences in their own fucking bodies? I plan on doing an entire video just for this letter, peeling back the plausible deniability to expose what she’s saying between the lines.

“Transphobic? It’s not transphobic!” I’ve had all too many people respond to me with. “How is it transphobic?”

[snip of John Hammond saying, “I’ll show you”]

What counts as Transphobia?

Perceptions of trans people culminate in behaviors that result in gross mistreatment of trans people, with most of the malice directed at trans women. We’ve got transphobic beliefs, and transphobic behaviors.

And obviously, you can’t punish people just for thinking things, even things that are glaringly wrong, but we can encourage good mental and informational hygiene. Believing the earth is flat isn’t really a *crime*, as it’s not inherently doing anything, but it is a wrong belief and we should foster a culture where everyone is reasonably expected to do their due diligence in ascertaining truth when it comes to what they believe.

But, as for what it looks like when it manifests in behavior…many (but not all) of the behaviors we see are otherwise reasonable responses that humans have, but based on horribly wrong misconceptions. Think someone is delusional? The reasonable thing is to try to reel them back into reality by using their legal name, right? If you think someone is untethered to reality to the point where they don’t even know who they actually are or what parts they have, then you’re not going to trust them to manage your spreadsheets - resulting in job discrimination. If you think they’re a fetishist wearing their kink to the office - well, you wouldn’t let someone wear a gimp suit to work, that would make everyone else uncomfortable. If you believe that a trans woman is trying to deceive people for nefarious or predatory reasons, you’re not going to trust them around children, cash registers…or even other women. As a result of being perceived as some kind of monster based on these faulty (and fucked up) assumptions, people naturally mistreat trans people thinking that they’re just doing what they should do for the safety and integrity of themselves and others.

And when you believe even more horrible things, then more drastic measures seem like a reasonable response. If you believe that there’s some big trans conspiracy out to turn your children against you and steal their reproductive abilities and bring an end to your family line… well… if you actually believe that, then grabbing a gun might seem reasonable. If you think someone is in the bathroom specifically to rape you, then dragging them out and beating them seems like a reasonable response.

This is what misinformation does. When you believe abhorrent lies about people, you take action based on that misinformation, and when you believe you or a loved one may come to harm, you tend to do harm in response to "save" yourself or someone else.

And then we see the behaviors that are just plain unprovoked. Even if you think someone is weird, think someone is delusional or disabled, cruelty is uncalled for…and yet, it happens all of the time. Compounding with the more serious forms of discrimination and mistreatment, no less.

So, what should count as a transphobic behavior?

Here, I propose:

Any action that, deliberately or through negligent ignorance,

  • Is mistreatment of someone because they are trans.

  • Adversely affects trans people as a group, specifically and/or directly.

  • Reinforces harmful misinformation about trans people.

  • Encourages others to mistreat trans people or to exhibit transphobia.

  • Is disrespectful to trans people or insensitive to their political struggles.

  • Deliberate deadnaming or misgendering.

I can’t say for sure that this smol list is comprehensive, but I think it’s a good start, and we’ll apply this metric…

Not just what it looks like, but what it *does*

The reason I dressed in this silly French getup, besides that it’s fun, is to pay homage to a video essay by Tube de Filosofi, also known as Olivwah Thuaw…. I mean, Philosophy Tube… Oliver Thorn. About anti-semitism, link in the dooblaydwah.

The point is, that it’s not enough to determine what counts as a certain form of bigotry, and determine who does it. We have to find out why that prejudice has emerged in the first place, and why they do it.

Now this, this is where things get complicated.

Why are transphobes the way they are, and why do they do transphobia?

The Why of any bigotry is complex and multi-faceted.

When it’s evoked intentionally, it’s because someone stands to gain from it. Antisemitism was useful to the wealthy because it gave them a handy scapegoat - an alternative to “Why does poverty exist?” that didn’t include capitalists who owned the means of production. It gave fascists an enemy to rally everyone against, and then offers means to exploit those taken in by those forms of bigotry. The people who exploit bigotry in others don’t even have to believe it themselves to benefit from it or to manipulate others with it.

It’s said that Anti-Semitism is the Socialism of Fools. I would like to posit that, in the same way, Transphobia is the feminism of fools.

Sometimes, it’s done in a sort of cynical, tactical way. The same way racism was used - and is still being used. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” This was American President Lyndon B. Johnson, describing how bigotry is used by demagogues to manipulate the masses. Something we’ve seen time and time again.

For those who fall for it, it has a palliative effect - it’s a comforting lie. They can then say, “Hey, it’s not my fault I’m failing under capitalism, the problem isn’t the system… it’s those gosh-darned minorities, hoarding all of the jobs while being lazy and also hoarding all of the economic safety nets.”

And this is why groups like Life After Hate are very effective. They introduce bigots, and those manipulated by bigotry, to members of the groups they caricature and demonize in their minds, in controlled interactions. And then they help get the person’s life in order so they have no reason to blame anyone else.

And those who do it accidentally…well…obviously, they don’t mean to do it, so they aren’t really trying to benefit from it. And they might just accidentally fall into certain traps. If people remain ignorant as to what certain groups are really like, and never forced to reconcile the humanity of those other people, they’re susceptible to being taken in by demagogues. Or maybe just saying something out of ignorance and insulting people, like when a gay couple gets asked “Which of you is the man in the relationship?”

Even people who don’t mean to be transphobic - even people who mean to be anti-transphobic - can still fall on these tropes when it’s more convenient than doing some of the more complex discussions.

Let’s look at some examples of these:

In the case of deliberate transphobes, or those who stand to materially or politically gain from it, we see Abigail Shrier, who has a book out about the dangers of transition and how trans is a “craze seducing our daughter”. A book that I’ll be reading so that I can dissect its methods and debunk it to anyone that I can reach. But do you think it’s a coincidence that her adamant defenders happen to reply with “but did you read it” whenever you say that the book is bad on Twitter? A counter that, in order to counter back, you’d need to pay money to purchase that book?

*list of examples*

I’m linking to some reviews that go into detail about why it’s bad, but you can take it from me, Jangles, and others - Shrier’s book is bad and it’s a transparent attempt to profit off of anxieties about trans people wanting bodily autonomy and misinformation about why people transition. Don’t give her money. Pirate the book, and that’s if you feel the need to suffer through it at all in the first place, which I suggest you don’t. Seriously, it’s bad.

Or perhaps Arielle Scarcella, who saw her viewership plateau while she was posting mostly feminist content, but then gained significant follower numbers when she became “redpilled” and stopped even *trying* to not be transphobic. Among other bad positions she spreads now….

And hey, look at that, she supports Shrier. Game recognizes game, it seems.

What about transphobes who aren’t in it for profit? Those taken in - why are they taken in, what anxieties are ameliorated by placing fears and blame on certain people?

Consider the cousin form of bigotry, homophobia. Why were people antagonistic to gay people? Why would a straight person care about what two consenting adults are doing in their bedroom? And the short answer is, that heterosexuality appeals to religious prescriptions of what sex and gender expression are acceptable, eugenical and Darwinian thinking - that we need to continue the species and it’s our duty to reproduce - as well as the status quo and for capitalistic modes of production. Capitalism flourishes best when people are doing reproductive labor and making more sources of labor and more consumers to buy shit.

And most complicated yet, what about people who intend to be allies to trans people who say or do something transphobic or disrespectful? Perhaps a metric might be useful...

Because it’s the year 2020 and nothing I start can go without something uncomfortable happening, the gentleman to whom this video pays homage has recently gotten some criticism over a tweet.,

Quoting a piece headlined, “Nonpartisan board calls on Trump to begin transition.,” Olly here came in with the joke, “That’s a surprise! Best of luck to the President in her transition!”

And this made a lot of people pretty upset. And even worse, it makes this video I’ve been planning for weeks potentially really bad timing. Dammit, I got art commissioned of me in this french getup and now by keeping this theme, I risk pissing off a lot of trans people!

So, let’s pause for a second. That section where I suggested a metric for what should count as transphobia,

It’s not really mistreating or harassing any trans person, not doing anything that harms trans people materially such as in policy, and I’m very confident that it’s not encouraging anyone to mistreat trans people or any trans individuals. But that last point:

  • Is disrespectful to trans people or insensitive to their political struggles

I think there’s reasonable room for interpretation in how sensitive or insensitive that joke was. Personally, I think that the joke was meant in good humor, but landed in poor taste. That shit happens. I don’t think we should ascribe malice to that, but I won’t fault anyone for being bitter to Olly over this incident. I think Olly is a good ally and a good bean, but you don’t have to agree with me on that assessment for us to be allies against transphobia.

Buuut…et le a plus, (eh luh ah ploos)

After this tweet, and after a lot of trans people responded with disgust and anger, another youtuber, Vaush, made a video response… to the responses Olly got. And in that video, Vaush said some…things…

*Clip to Vaush being extremely dismissive of trans people being upset*

He’s basically saying that trans people are either delusional about what counts as insensitive or insulting, or that the trans people expressing anger at the tweet are being disingenuous or delusional about those claims of how they felt. That’s pretty clearly an example of

  • Reinforces harmful misinformation about trans people.

But what does Vaush stand to gain from this? What does transphobia do for him? I mean, he tries to be an ally to trans people.

*Clip to Vaush snippet of him listing off the many different kinds of women, and very pointedly including trans women in that myriad*

Why would someone who tries so hard to help trans people do a transphobia?

And to top it off, one of the people in that video, whom rightly predicted that trans people’s anger at the tweet would be read as performative emotional manipulation or hypersensitivity, was swamped with hostile messages from Vaush’s fanbase immediately afterwards, and therefore, it’s pretty reasonable to say that, though probably inadvertently through negligence, Vaush also did:

  • Encourages others to mistreat trans people or to exhibit transphobia.

In this case, the harassment of a trans person.

Why is Vaush doing a transphobia? What does it do for him, someone who it really looks like actually wants to stop transphobia?

And the answer is…convenience and ease. Because examining our own prejudices is hard fuckin’ work. I referred to the duty to not be transphobic as everyone’s job to practice good mental and emotional hygiene. But ideas that are reinforced more and more are harder to let go of, even when we consciously know they’re wrong. Even after letting go, remnants can remain no matter how hard we scrub. And whether or not Vaush is otherwise doing his due diligence here, this is one bit of dirt that he missed. And so, instead of doing the painful work of acknowledging that these trans people are being genuine about how this tweet upset them, he feels that the correct course of action is to dismiss them as infighting, as drama, as mongering for a fight and to tear down an ally. When in reality…trans people are just fed up with insensitivity and tired of trying to hide or repress their frustrations.

I bring up this case study, not just because the whole theme for this video I had planned out for months turned out to be bad timing with un faux pas from the person who inspired said theme, not for the clout or attention of mentioning Vaush, and not just because I have a crush on Korviday, but because I want to reinforce a very important point.

We’re all a little bit transphobic - it’s impossible not to be. Getting rid of transphobia, or any form of bigotry, is scrubbing dirt off of ourselves, dirt that has been caked onto us by pervasive messages and by propaganda. By stilted representations in fiction and media. By selection bias in what happenings are seen as newsworthy and reported on, and how those people are portrayed. By algorithms pandering to our primal instincts to confirm our anxieties and to ridicule people, both of groups to which we belong and groups we see as other. This isn’t a condemnation of Vaush as a whole person. Truth be told, I don’t really have an opinion on Vaush overall, he’s just not on my radar enough for me to assess one. But this isn’t about him. This is about everyone, and about the systems we’re in.


So, if this whole video seemed like a bit of a downer,


But also, I don’t want this to discourage you. I want it to galvanize you. And if motivation can be seen as carrot and stick, you’ve gotten a whole lot of the stick. Perhaps enough to give you a little death, if you’re into that sort of thing. But now, it’s time for that sweet, sweet carrot: A reminder of why we’re fighting.

We may never completely and utterly eliminate all forms of bigotry from the world. But every bit of bigotry that we do eliminate is a real, material gain. Every gain we make in working bigotry out of our collective systems is that much needless suffering we can free ourselves from. We have a lot of work to do, but we are saving lives and making everyone’s lives better.

We have a goal, a future to fight towards, one where everyone can just be themselves, where everyone, cis, trans, and enby-tween,

Of every race, of every sexual orientation, of every sex, body, gender,

Gets to live in a world that celebrates and includes them, and appreciates them for what makes them unique and bonds over the things we have in common.

*snippet of Mewtwo looking off wistfully into the distance*

We can do this.

We will do this.

Et mon peti fleur,

You are worth fighting for.

So, sing with me, to the tune of your favorite Les Miserables song,


les personnes trans gagneront notre égalité, perdants stupides, riant de mon cul