Risk, Danger, and Internalized Transphobia

September 26, 2008

It does something to you, growing up trans in this world, coming out, transitioning. It does something to you, knowing you are worth less.

When you decide, if you decide, to take hormones, to have surgery, to medically transition, you have to accept that your life is worth less because you are trans. You have to accept that in our society, you are not worth a couple weeks of a researcher’s time, an office, and a couple hundred rats.

You have to accept that you will never receive safe medical care again. There are no studies, there is no research. There will be no research. There is a federal ban on funding research. No one knows your risk of cancer, no one knows if there are better options, no one has scientific evidence of jack shit. No one knows the long term effects of trans HRT, let alone how your body reacts with other drugs. Let alone the changes you will experience that aren’t on the map for cis people, that aren’t about them, that are specifically trans. You are not worth even the laxest of FDA approval standards, at least not to the government. Not to medicine. Not even to WPATH. Not even they advocate, protest, denounce, even they are complicit. You are not worth a single class in medical school. You are not worth a single day in medical school. You are not worth any formal training. At all. You are not worth being treated by someone properly trained.

I know, these are false. This is only culture. But you have to accept it nonetheless. You have no choice, if you want to access medicine.

You have to accept not merely the risk, but the certainty of institutional violence against you as a cost of transition. If you want to transition, you must accept abuse. You must accept coercion. These days, you can purchase hormones from overseas, but you still must accept that if the US government finds your purchases it will steal them. You must accept that if it does this you risk health consequences.

If you have surgeries, you have to accept paying thousands of dollars for what cis people have to begin with. You have to accept paying for it all yourself, unfunded by the same cis people who will demand that you take part in funding the same procedures for them. You have to accept that you are shouldering a larger economic burden than those who make twice as much as you do. You have to accept shouldering economic burdens for the very same people who discriminate against you, paying for research you are legally prohibited from benefiting from.

You have to accept that from here on out, you are never safe. You have to accept exchanging internal misery for violence, discrimination, and abuse. You have to accept that the chances you will be murdered go up 16 fold.

You have to accept that you are accepting the risks of violence, discrimination, death, and abuse. You have to accept that you are accepting medical risk that would be illegal for any other population. You have to accept that you are accepting the risk that you will not only be killed for who you are, but that that killing will not even be considered murder. You have to accept, when you transition, that you are taking steps that will disqualify you from many of the most basic safety nets our government provides, and that you pay for in taxes. You have to accept, when you transition, that the actions you take may legalize sexually assaulting you, IPV against you, raping you, harassing you, etc etc, and cause you to lose many of the resources available for dealing with them. You have to accept a world in which your life is worth less than a cis woman’s comfort–and you have to accept entering that world on your own two feet. Whether or not it’s a “choice” to be trans, you have to accept that every pill you take, every patch you wear, every shot you inject is a choice to remain in this world of violence and hate.

You have to accept transitioning anyway. You have to accept leaving yourself vulnerable to all of that. You have to accept taking immense risks to gain some of what cis people have from birth, what they have handed to them. You have to accept that you are not turning back, that your own actions expose you to this risk, no matter how little your fault it is–but if you do turn back, you have to accept that you are throwing your emotional health in a wastebasket and lighting it on fire.

You have to accept betraying yourself. One way or another.

No, it is not your fault. No, the violence, discrimination, hate, etc etc is not your fault, you are not “bringing it on yourself,”–the government is, transphobes in the street and in the West Bank University of Minnesota Office Building and in every office building are, transphobic feminists and CLGB folks are. They are solely responsible, and they are reprehensible for it. But you have to accept risk. You have to accept unacceptable risk. You are in a building lit on fire by arson, and you have to accept that there is an exit you are not taking.

There is something that being trans does to you. Something that transitioning does to you.

Today someone asked me–I don’t remember what it was. Why I took some risk. Why I lane split on my bicycle, why I run red lights. And the only thing I could think of is “I’m trans.” Why I bike in bad weather in the winter–my excuse is that public transit is expensive and a site of harassment, but again I can’t get past ‘but I’m trans’. Of course I do that. Someone lectured me about taking herbs that hadn’t had vigorous scientific studies done on them, that no one really knew if they were safe, if they did what they were said to do, if they had unknown terrible side effects. All I could think of is, “but I’m trans.” Someone implored me not to wear my heart on my sleeve, to leave myself vulnerable to people who will attack me and hurt me, and all I can think is “but I’m trans.” People tell me not to get a tattoo unless I’ve meditated on it for a year and been completely certain, since it was permanent, but I think “but I’m trans. What are you talking about?” People lecture me on my BPA water bottle, on this health risk and that health risk, on what we don’t know about food risks, and I think ‘great for you, but I’m trans.’ People wonder why I go out alone at night, when I feel vulnerable to violence, powerless to defend myself, and they chalk it up to trans woman male privilege, but I know that’s not how being trans affects it. People wonder why I bottom intensely with a new person, and I think, are you kidding me? I should be concerned about that when I’m in a community space? Why did you spit at him when he had you trapped against the wall? Why did you kick the car’s bumper?

No, the reason I take risks has nothing to do with male socialization. I take risks because I’m used to it. I take my life into my hands and it’s nothing special, really. I take risks because I know that it’s ok for me to die in my society, and I can’t help internalizing some of that. I take physical risks to preserve my psychological health because it’s all I have. I take risks because I know I don’t matter. I take risks because what’s one more risk given all I already have? I take risks because I really don’t know how long I’m going to live, or what beast is staring at me from thirty years away. I take risks because I know that in ten years my life, my very existence, could be illegal. I take risks because I’m already surviving a risk that others quake at. I take risks because risk has lost its meaning.

14 Responses to “Risk, Danger, and Internalized Transphobia”

  1. GallingGalla said

    I think LL has a similar line in one of her posts but I’ll be damned if I can find it.

    Third paragraph of this post.

    I think it does something to people, to grow up transgendered in this world. It does something to grow up knowing you are considered expendable if not an abomination, that crimes committed against you don’t matter, that laws aren’t for you, that futures aren’t…

  2. GallingGalla said

    See, I’ve had the opposite reaction – I have become extremely risk-averse and fearful, to the extent that I have isolated myself from the very city I live in. I won’t even take a Spanish course for fear that someone in the class will do me harm b/c they can’t put me into on of their boxes.

    It may be a function of my age – I’m 49 – or my having grown up in a lily-white middle-class suburb (which I think encourages development risk-averse behavior). But I am not sure.

  3. Cedar said

    I mean, I think there’s some of both, but, yeah. Julia Serano has a piece that relates

  4. Cedar said

    Oh, and thanks!

  5. GallingGalla said

    and thank *you*, both for your writing (not just this article, but all your writing, including Beyond Inclusion) and for pointing me to Serano’s piece.

  6. […] do you have to be to insist that people are being pushed into transitioning by cultural attitudes? Have you taken a look around lately? Society hates trans […]

  7. Anonymous said

    Brilliant post, though I wish it hadn’t been the first thing I read in the morning!

    The risks, the health risks especially, really scare me sometimes.

  8. […] the flawed discourse they replaced. Or why The Seam of Skin and Scales means so much to me, or why this piece was so on the […]

  9. Sunbird said

    This isn’t something I’ve seen posted in the UK community. The truth is this side of the pond we have it easier. CA is OK but when I was in NY that was noticeably harder than the UK

  10. […] think only of the direct and immediate hurt caused by transphobia and trans discrimination.  An article on the Taking Up Too Much Space blog highlights how living in a world of ongoing transphobia can […]

  11. Rio Elington said

    This is so true…but so sad… T_T

  12. […] I can’t. I don’t get to.  As Cedar pointed me to hir post, Risk, Danger, and Internalized Transphobia, I actually have to embrace all the bullshit and danger and institutional hatred to be who I want […]

  13. Jacqueline B. said

    Reading this makes me… want to not be trans…

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