The Washington Post recently reported that a cisgender woman confronted spa staff in Los Angeles because she was “traumatized” when she saw a penis while in the women’s locker room. The story has been updated to indicate that the event may have been a hit. The transgender woman who was discriminated against has not been publicly identified, so there is speculation about the truth behind the abuser’s story. But the fact remains: Too many cisgender people anticipate or falsely claim violence and trauma when they know (or think) they may be around transgender people. You hurt us more than we’ve ever done or will never do you, so please fuck it up.
Every day, transgender people and our bodies are scrutinized. We are seen as oddities and with inappropriate curiosity in some cases, and in others we are told we are disgusting and dangerous. Our bodies are sexualized and stigmatized. Our lives are in danger because too many cisgender people believe that our existence is an excuse to deny us basic health care, access to housing, to work and to toilets. Transgender women in particular are threatened, attacked and killed at the hands of cisgender people who use transphobic excuses to defend themselves.
The Los Angeles spa woman was playing on the common and unfounded fear that transgender women in public spaces, especially female-only spaces, would be dangerous. They do this for several reasons. They don’t believe transgender women are women; they believe predatory males will disguise themselves as females to gain access to prey; they believe that all transgender women have a penis; they believe that cisgender bodies and genders are the “correct” bodies and are the only bodies that are worth protecting.
These beliefs are the product of a lack of education, social constructs and prejudices around gender, religion and the negative portrayal of transgender people in the media.
In many cases, like the spa, the cisgender woman couldn’t – and wouldn’t – verify that the transgender woman was threatening or inappropriate. If the sight of a penis was threatening to the client, it was because cisgender men used their cocks as weapons; not because transgender women are dangerous. The spa worker defended the transgender woman’s right to use the women’s locker room and any part of the spa because she is female. Period. She let the cisgender client know that if she was uncomfortable she was welcome to leave.
This is also a big reason why people jump in fear and harassment when they think their personal space is threatened by transgender people: they confuse unease with danger. A lot of things make us uncomfortable (math, traffic, a new job) but that doesn’t mean we’re not safe. Discomfort shouldn’t keep us from taking stock of what we need to learn about ourselves and others so that we can extend respect and understanding to those around us.
What would also help is for schools to provide better and inclusive education in sexual and reproductive health. These topics are told as if everyone exists in binary cisgender identities. They are also taught through the prism of heterosexual relationships which define sex as the penetration of a penis into a vagina. This fundamental default setting is wrong. It’s like building a house on the beach and wondering why it’s collapsing. Cisgender people like the spa woman are the hurricane of transgender bodies and same-sex relationships.
Not all women have their period. Some men do. Not all boys have a penis. Someone women do. Breasts and hairs exist on all sexes.
Inquire. And parents, please educate your children. In the rare event that schools try to make their LGBTQIA + curriculum inclusive, some parents will claim that they would rather have these conversations with their children than allow schools to introduce something they don’t think is ” appropriate for age ”. It’s another excuse to say you don’t want to talk about it and a fancy way to say “don’t talk about it.” this path. ”Not talking about sex, bodies and identities outside of the heteronormative is what perpetuates unfounded fears and crimes against homosexuals.
I recently purchased a book called “Let’s Talk About It: A Teenager’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and the Human Being.” It’s a graphic novel for teens about sex and relationships, and it’s one of the first truly inclusive books I’ve found. I bought it to read and prepare it for my kids when we start talking more about dating and adding layers of meaning to consent and healthy relationships. Most of the content is irrelevant to my 10 and 8 year olds, but the images of the different body types and the discussion of how bodies can experience puberty are perfect for them. We are a queer family and while the portrayal of queer relationships and transgender bodies is important to us, it is just as important, if not more, that cisgender children and non-gay children see and understand too. Another inclusive book which is aimed at younger people but also suitable for adolescents and adults is called “Sex is a funny word: a book about bodies, feelings and you”.
Do yourself a favor and watch the Netflix documentary “Disclosure”; it is hosted by Laverne Cox and features other transgender actors, activists and humans who talk about the portrayal of transgender people in the media. The film will show you why you carry your prejudices and teach you about the damage you are doing to our lives by adhering to harmful tropes and stereotypes.
Transgender people know that our bodies are healthy and normal; we need everyone to know this so that we can live our lives in peace and without the constant risk of harm. The people who feel authorized to access spaces reserved for cisgender people are not the ones who are in danger; the real people at risk are transgender people who are just trying to make a living.