I came out in 2017, and since that time, I’ve encountered this question in many different ways from cis people. Sometimes, it’s asked in good faith from cis people who are just trying to do better. “Am I transphobic? Please teach me.”
Other times, it’s combative. “Really? You think I’m transphobic? I’m not afraid of trans people!”
First of all, yes. Most people who ask these questions are, in some way, transphobic. We all are, myself included, which is why these conversations get complicated in short order.
This is why I don’t necessarily like words like “transphobia” being used as a catch-all. Many people, both well-intentioned and otherwise, get hung up on the “phobia” part, forgetting that a phobia can be a literal fear, but it can also be an aversion, as in the word “hydrophobic.” Hydrophobia can certainly refer to a fear of water or swimming, or it can refer to a substance that rejects water. That difference jams up otherwise good discussions about what it means to be exposed to anti-transness throughout our lives.
Here’s the thing: we live in a fundamentally transphobic society. The problem is systemic, with far-reaching impacts on the cultural zeitgeist of the past few hundred years, to varying degrees throughout each era.
Transphobia, trans antagonism, and transmisogyny are often considered synonymous but can refer to subtly different kinds of anti-transness (transness, by definition, specifically touching on the condition of being trans and/or manifesting trans qualities). Transphobia refers to the explicit aversion to trans realities, while trans antagonism refers to overt bullying and expressions of transphobia. Transmisogyny, conversely, refers to misogyny, bigotry, and rejection enacted against trans people, particularly femmes and women.
As a trans person, I grew up particularly cued in to anti-trans mindsets. Cis people tend to internalize anti-transness differently than trans people, but we are all influenced by it in our perspectives and, in the case of trans people, our sense of self. I’ve often spoken of how I struggled to see myself as trans as a child because my only exposure to trans women was on shows like Jerry Springer, which is notably not the best or most flattering representation — nor is it even the worst. I saw movies as a child in…