Are Trans People Easily Offended?

Trans people have a reputation for being fierce social justice advocates to the point where there exists a stereotype of an “angry” trans person, especially an “angry” or “crazy” trans woman who takes offense at the slightest thing. For example, trans people are very nitpicky about language. If a news article describes a trans woman as being “born a boy” trans people are quick to point out the proper terminology is “assigned male at birth”. Examples like this can be multiplied. The point is that trans people often get offended over what cis people deem to be relatively “trivial” things particularly with respect to linguistic decisions.

A few things. First, every trans person is different. Some might not care about slight linguistic choices. Others care a lot. Second, it’s not up to cis people to determine what’s offensive or not. If a trans person takes offense at something a cis person deems as “minor” it is probably the case that the cis person fails to put themselves into the shoes of the trans person who is being hurt/offended.

A good example of this is misgendering. It’s really difficult for cis people to understand how much it hurts to be misgendered. Cis people might just say “get over it” or “it was just an innocent mistake” or “I am trying”. But to the trans person, these small acts are deeply personal. The wrong pronoun really stings. Or getting deadnamed. And perhaps the cis people making the mistake are not directly at fault for such slip-ups, but instead of being defensive they should be open to the idea that their slip-ups can really hurt.

Furthermore, I would say that trans people often have a good vantage point to see where some things deemed “minor” are actually the effect of a deeply transphobic society. Most cis people cannot see transphobia or cis-sexism because they are so steeped in it – like the old joke about fish not knowing what water is. When society has unconsciously made trans women the butt of jokes everywhere it’s easy to just say “oh those trannies are getting huffy about an innocent joke again” or “can’t you take a joke”? Another example is the t-word “tranny”. Trans people are allowed to reclaim this word but cis people have no right to it. Yet cis people feel it should be theirs to use, especially cis gay men like Ru Paul who feel his drag world credentials make it permissible to use the t-slur. Ru Paul has no right to that word for the same reason white people have no right to the n-word.

Words have power. Cis people need to understand that the words we use reflect our underlying metaphysical assumptions. Saying a trans woman was “born a boy” instead of “assigned male” helps reinforce the idea that a trans woman is “really” a boy who grew up to play dress up. By stepping up and calling out problematic linguistic usage trans people are desperately trying to re-take language for themselves, for language to be inclusive and validating. This is why we are often such fierce protectors of the language the trans community has developed over decades. Battles over language are important because it’s one of the few tools we have to combat rampant cis-sexism. By educating cis people about the importance of language we can hope to make this society more accepting of our existence as trans people.

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Filed under Gender studies, Trans life, Trans studies

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