Combating the Devaluation of Transgender Experience

Kate Forbes’s “Do These Earrings Make me Look Dumb” struck a chord with me because it highlights a consistent problem hat trans people face in nearly all aspects of life: cisgender people who think they understand trans people better than trans people understand themselves. While Forbes focused her critique on the academy—especially women’s and gender studies departments—the issue comes up time and time again: cisgender politicians and pundits argue endlessly about which bathrooms trans people should be allowed to use, cisgender psychologists and sexologists pathologize transgender experience according to their own biases, cisgender insurance executives arbitrarily what is and isn’t “necessary care” for transgender policyholders, and so on.

There is a real cost to the devaluing of personal experience Forbes describes. My own transition was delayed two years because my father didn’t believe I was trans and followed his own conceptions of what was best for me instead of just listening to me, which eventually nearly drove me to suicide. The stress of constantly being denied agency and told you don’t know what you’re talking about by authority figures likely contributes to the massively disproportionate rates of depression and suicide among trans people. Eventually, many trans people internalize the misguided and sometimes deliberately hateful narratives put forth by cisgender people and privileged by cisgender society. Even now, despite going about my daily life as a woman, I harbor a deep sense of shame about my gender identity and often find myself privately questioning if I “deserve” to call myself a woman. I often feel constrained to express my femininity in a very traditional way, because while much of society views a cisgender woman acting in a non-stereotypically feminine way as transgressive and potentially liberating, a trans woman displaying masculine behavioral or stylistic traits often finds her “dedication” to her gender identity questioned and picked apart.

I agree with Forbes in her analysis that, in order to guarantee trans identities the same sort of respect granted automatically to cis identities, more diversity in all aspects of life is needed. In addition to increased diversity, I would also like to see cisgender authority figures acknowledge the way their own perspectives are rooted in personal experience and not some overarching factual norm. By including trans perspectives and acknowledging the limits of cis perspectives when applied to transgender individuals, society can finally bring trans people into the conversation from which they have long been excluded.

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5 thoughts on “Combating the Devaluation of Transgender Experience

  1. This was a very strong and compelling post and I agree with the points there were made. It is unfair sometimes how our society work as far as identity and judgement. Some people cannot get past their own experiences and what they think is right. In order to survive such critique one must be very strong and hold their ground in the face of a misguided and misunderstanding individual. It is not their job to parent or in this case tell someone who they are. When Forbes talks about identity I also agree with the fact that the more diverse our community is, the less and less we are able to stereotype, judge and form groups of normal and “un-normal”. These are two very sensitive terms because our society could have just as easily be built where trans it the “norm”. In my opinion, one who is trans knows the experience a trans individual may go through, which I agree with you on. Having someone who is not trans explain trans is like having someone without cancer explain what it is like to go through chemo therapy, yes they may know the external and medical standpoints but they do not truly know who it feels.

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  2. I strongly agree with this post, and enjoyed “ Do these earrings make me look dumb” the most of all of the readings we had thus far. Forbes talked about how she was not considered an expert in the topic of trans women, yet she has personal experience in this. Yet an “expert” on this topic may be a cisgender woman with no experience in this. People can read statistics and read works on this topic, but I truly believe that personal experience and one’s own story is the most valid information someone can use as a resource. Of course, people won’t be able to fully connect to someone else but it is nice to have real information and similar things to connect to during such a special time in someone’s life. Personally, even if I was only connecting to a small part of someone’s personal experience, that would be more assuring and comforting for me, instead of having ”expert” information to compare to. I think this paper was one of the easier reads, and how she explained her formal field of expertise was her job, and being a scientist, and knowing all the concrete facts in her field. But she also was an expert due to her own life, personal experience, which is much more meaningful to connect to than research and facts on such a sensitive and special aspect in someone’s life.

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  3. This was pretty eye opening. You definitely helped me realize that there is so much more than coming out as trans and continuing on. Society STILL is highly scrutinous and holds people to typical gender role standards. It’s interesting to consider the fact that those who have no shame in discriminating against trans people seem to still be critical every chance they get, even after someone comes out and tries to adjust and live their life. This tells me it comes from projection and hate rather than an actual logistical argument. Definitely frustrating to come to the realization that people hate people with differences, rather than possessing a desire to understand and accept.

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  4. This post was extremely eye opening, I am literally in awe. It really does bother me how society, even to this day, still tries to make it seem like being gay, lesbian, transgender..etc is some sort of crime, or un-normal. And how they still hold people to gender role standards. IT’S 2017. The people of the panel today even said so, and I 100% agree that there even is so much more than just being gay, lesbian, and trans. The spectrum is so wide and there’s so much in between. Why is it so difficult for people to be loving and accepting of one another. Why is it even more difficult for those who are supposed to love you unconditionally to continue loving you even after you come out to them. It’s just so ridiculous to me. You definitely opened my eyes with this post and you are so strong for continuing on ! You deserve to identify as who what you want to identify as and shouldn’t have to question yourself. I know it might be easier said than done, but you deserve to be content with being who you are and being able to express it without questioning it.

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  5. First I just want to say I’m sorry your transition was delayed due to family difficulties. I am so happy for you that you have transitioned and you’re being your true self. That is admirable. I completely agree with this post at a whole as well. Cisgender people have no right to think they know more about a transgender person’s life then themselves; this ties into Forbe’s comment about how she doesn’t have to fit into theories, but rather the theories are required to fit to her, because she is the true empirical evidence since she is transgender. The spectrum is constantly growing. Through readings such as Forbes and the student panel that spoke to us today, that is becoming more and more clear. I didn’t realize how little is being done for the LGBTQ community. You, along with every other person who is discriminated against simply for being who they/he/she is; needs to be treated equally.

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