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.