Yes, Deliberate Misgendering is Transphobia

“Is deliberate misgendering transphobic?”

This very debate is happening in spaces trans people are often not safe to access, because of, well, because of misgendering. Allies who jump in and assert that misgendering is transphobic get told they cannot speak for trans people, and often it’s hard for us to find our own voice in such environments. So, I decided to do a quick poll to check out what my community actually think of this, and surprise surprise, the vast majority of trans people who responded (94%) believed deliberate misgendering really is transphobic.

First, let’s be clear what we are talking about.

Deliberate misgendering is when people say that trans women are really men (and vice versa), or use male pronouns or old names to speak to or about them when their actual identity is known.

A good description of its impact can be read here.

As an aside, the dismissal of concerns about transphobia is often accompanied by the privileging of male-stereotypical traits. The trans community are urged to be “less sensitive”, or not to be so “weak and feeble”. This is part of a patriarchal anti-vulnerability narrative that we have all become far too indoctrinated with. If we tend to be emotional, sensitive, easily hurt, or vulnerable, there is, apparently no room for us in an activist sphere that was designed for people with thick skins (ironically, a physical trait that is linked to higher testosterone levels). When we say we are not safe in spaces where we are being continually misgendered, we are mocked and jeered at, or our concerns are simply dismissed.

Let’s face it, all suggestions that the trans community “toughen up” over the issue of misgendering are thinly veiled orders for us to “man up”.

The Poll

I polled 2 non-political Facebook groups for UK trans people. The following table makes it clear what a general transgender population thinks of deliberate misgendering:

Q: Is deliberately misgendering someone transphobia, yes or no? 68 Trans people responded to the poll Yes 94% Not always 6% No 0% Other words used: violent, aggressive, abusive, deliberately hurtful. feministchallengingtransphobia.wordpress.com

The “not always” category belonged to people who could see exceptional circumstances where it wouldn’t be transphobia; for instance where a trans man is called a “girl” in a teasing way, that’s simply sexism, and where friends and family are struggling with the change, it may not always be strictly transphobia at work. Also, when you are misgendering someone at their request and for their safety so as not to out them. However, the overwhelming feeling was clear: Misgendering is transphobia.

Which leads to the other important point made by more than one respondent – that it is not for people outside our community to decide what is and is not oppressive to people within our community, any more than it is for white people to decide what is and is not racist.

One defender of misgendering said it did not bother her so why should it bother trans people? This reminds me of a white teenage girl I once knew who told me there was nothing wrong with the N word; her friends called her it all the time and it did not upset her one little bit!

Misgendering is transphobia, end of story. When you engage in deliberate misgendering, you do so to undermine us; to make our social position less tenable; to cast doubt on our own words and explanations of ourselves; to privilege your explanation and categorisation of us; to expose us as “fraudulent” or “fake”; and frequently to infantilise, mock and belittle us. You also put us at higher risk of violence and lower access to social support and services by calling our identities into question, and this could substantially affect our wellbeing in multiple ways.

Of course misgendering is transphobic. Of course, as Laverne Cox says, it is an act of violence.

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9 thoughts on “Yes, Deliberate Misgendering is Transphobia

  1. womandrogyne

    I just wanted to add that cis (or trans) people who deliberately choose to misgender or dismiss those of us with non-binary identities and titles/pronouns are being equally phobic (I say phobic because not all non-binary people identify as trans). It’s particularly depressing being deliberately misgendered in this way by trans people, who really, really should know better, and those that do this need to pull themselves together and show more empathy.

    Reply
  2. Talia

    “One defender of misgendering said it did not bother her so why should it bother trans people?”
    Wow. Not only does that reek of “privilege” but it is so ego-giagantic as to be sad sad sad. Like the world revolves around her and her feelings. Uh. No.
    And yeah it it VERY transphobic and aggressive to purposefully misgender. It’s a premeditated attack upon a person’s self, and that is a violent act.

    Reply
  3. Amalthea

    womandrogyne, I want to express my solidarity as a binary woman with you: nonbinary identities and pronouns deserve respect! Also, there are sadly some “feminists” who assume that saying “Trans women are women” or “Trans men are men” is enough, and that missexing is just fine. An example not far from what I’ve encountered in dialogue: “Of course I agree that trans women are women; and assert that I am not transphobic for saying that nonfemales can and should stay away from our female-only spaces; not to try to change our chosen boundaries; and not try to tear our spaces down with actions like boycotts.” The “sex-not-gender” movement seeks to legitimize missexing (with or without misgendering), and that’s a familiar “dog whistle” problem.

    Reply

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