During New York Fashion Week this year, Real Housewives of New York City stars Sonja Morgan and Dorina Medley were overheard making transphobic comments about transgender model Yasmine Petty during a runway show. “Well, with a body like that, it’s a guy. That’s a guy,” Medley were heard saying in an Instagram video.
“With a body like that it’s a guy, you’re absolutely right,” Morgan agreed.
Petty, who heard the comments, said they were “disheartening and disappointing.” Meanwhile, Medley and Morgan apologized in a joint statement that appeared in Page Six.
Despite the increased awareness of and support for the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, transphobia is still, unfortunately, alive and well. Here’s what it means — and how you can join the fight against it.
Transphobia is prejudice against or fear and hatred of transgender people. It is not the same as homophobia, which refers to hatred of gay people, although the terms are often confused, and someone may be both homophobic and transphobic.
Transphobia can manifest in attitudes toward trans people or beliefs and misconceptions about how they are and act. It may result in derogatory commentary or actions toward trans people — as we can see from the Real Housewives example above — and even, in more extreme cases, abuse of and violence against them.
For example, in September 2019, Bee Love Slater, a 23-year old black transgender woman, was found dead in an abandoned car in Florida, her body burned such that she was unrecognizable. According to the Human Rights Campaign, she was the 18th transgender person known to have been killed with the year. Authorities are treating the incident as a murder, though, as per The New York Times, they have not found evidence to suggest that it is a hate crime.
How can I support someone who's trans?
Every person is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to respecting each individual. Still, here are some basic ways you can show your support for trans people.
• Respect their gender pronouns.
Don’t automatically assume you know the label someone prefers. If they don’t tell you, it’s perfectly fine to ask — in fact, this can lead to a more productive discussion and relationship. If they do tell you the way they’d like you to reference them, do what they tell you. It’s also possible that they aren’t sure about what terms they prefer, and you need to respect that, too.
• Pay attention to the terminology they use.
Similarly, not all transgender people use the same terms to describe their identities and experiences. Allow them to set the terms, whether they prefer to describe themselves as transgender, nonbinary and so on (we’ll clarify these terms below).
• Avoid backhanded compliments.
You may think it’s complimentary to tell someone they could “totally pass” as cisgender, when in fact it can be quite derogatory or hurtful. Don’t do it.
• Educate yourself.
Learn about the challenges and issues trans people have faced throughout history, and celebrate the many breakthroughs and accomplishments they’ve realized.
• Be patient and respectful.
Someone may be struggling with or unsure of their gender identity, and you need to be okay with that — this is their process. At the same time, be careful not to disclose potentially private and sensitive information about someone. In other words, don’t share information about someone’s gender identity or exploration or “out” a person who may not be comfortable with it.
• Take action.
You can help effect change in your organization by establishing groups and policies and promoting inclusivity. You can also work to make change more widely by, for example, calling your representatives to encourage them to pass measures that protect and support trans people.
• Understand your own limitations.
If you’re a cisgender person, you simply can’t understand what a trans person is dealing with, and don’t try to. Moreover, you can’t solve every problem for the trans community. It’s important to recognize your own limitations as an ally. Just keep doing your best, learning and growing. This will be more productive for both you and your trans friends and acquaintances.
Transgender identity terms and labels
People have many different thoughts, ideas and beliefs about how to express themselves and their gender and sexuality. Here are some terms to know. (NB: This list is not exhaustive.)
Agender: Refers to people who do not identify with any gender.
Androgynous: Indicates someone whose physical appearance or behaviors are neither masculine nor feminine according to cultural norms.
Bigender: Denotes someone who identifies with two genders.
Binary: A system of viewing gender as being either male or female.
Cisgender: Describes someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender: A term created by John Money meant to explain socially-constructed and accepted distinctions between the sexes.
Gender fluid: Indicates a person who has no single fixed gender identity but may identify with different genders at different times.
Gender expression: How someone conveys gender identity — through physical characteristics and choices, as well as behaviors.
Gender identity: A person’s self-identification with a gender or lack thereof.
Genderqueer: Describes people who see their gender or gender in general as fluid and something outside of societal and cultural constraints and categories.
Intersex: A biological term denoting a person who is born with a reproductive anatomy that differs from the standard female or male definitions. This has no bearing on whether a person is transgender.
Queer: An umbrella term for people with sexual orientations and/or gender identities that are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.
Sex: Refers to biological qualities, such as reproductive organs, that separate individuals into “male” or “female” categories at birth.
Sexual orientation: Describes a person’s attraction to others, often in terms of gender or gender expression. (Note: like cisgender people, transgender people may have any or no sexual orientation.)
Transgender: Describes someone who does not identify or solely identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. (Note: this does not have any bearing on sexual orientation.)
Transition: Refers to going through the process of assuming the gender expression that is consistent with a person’s gender identity.
Transsexual: An outdated term that is often considered deprecating, used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from the one they to which they were assigned at birth.