It is a difficult thing to have to outlay your own prejudices – past or present knowing that you have actively participated in the harm that befalls trans people on a persistent and unrelenting basis. As someone who grew up in a small provincial town, trans people were not present in my insulated world. Well, actually, they probably were but given the social conservatism that gripped the town, I imagine trans people were forced into hiding their gender identities to keep themselves safe from the violent identity-denying vultures.
This is by no means an attempt to justify the prejudices I held. But I cannot write this post pretending that I have always treated trans people in a dignified way. I have denied trans people their right to define their identity under the illusion that my vagina gave me superior rights to define who was and was not a woman, or indeed a man. It is certainly not a position I hold now, but it would be remiss and dishonest of me to ignore my own destructive role in transphobia of which I am deeply regretful and to which I offer my sincere apology to trans people everywhere.
On Saturday 21 February 2015, the annual Pride Parade took place in Auckland. The event included a float by both the New Zealand Police and the Department of Corrections. A small group gathered to protest their inclusion. For those unaware, when trans women are arrested, they are placed in men’s prisons in which they often become subjects of violent sexual and physical assaults. These institutions do not recognise the identities of trans people and are unsympathetic to the risks they impose on trans women in the process. The protest was derided by many as unnecessary with calls to the group that they were ‘ruining the parade’. The protest was in fact a necessary act of resistance to highlight the impropriety of including these institutions as part of the pride event given the routine mistreatment of trans people who come into their custody. A trans woman was removed with such force that it broke her arm, and as she was pinned to the ground crying in agony, a Police Officer stood atop of her. That the majority of people are quibbling over the minutiae of facts rather than being upset and incensed that a woman’s arm was broken during a forcible removal for participating in a legitimate form of protest, stuns me. This is an explicit act of violence against a woman.
From the responses I’ve seen circulating social media, I suspect if she were a cis woman, those same people would be banging on their keyboards in support of her. That just speaks to the harrowing extent of transphobia and transmisogyny lurking in supposedly liberal circles. After all, only a few weeks back cis people were bemoaning the mistreatment of a cis white woman who was called a hua on national radio. This is not intended to minimise Eleanor Catton’s experience, but is invoked here to highlight the blatant hypocrisy regarding the reactions to both situations. Catton, an author, was criticised for expressing a political opinion at a book/author event. Cis people everywhere (rightly) backed her rights to speak freely and validated her voice. A Māori trans woman dared to express a political view to challenge institutional transphobia at a Pride event. Cis people everywhere blame her for injury (“she was being aggressive”), attempt to silence her voice (“she was ruining the parade”), and invalidate her experience (“she was lying”).
This physical and emotional violence carried out by cis people against trans people must stop. If you can’t see your own hypocrisy or refuse to acknowledge your prejudice and work to overcome it, then you are not just part of the problem, you are the problem. Rather than dismantling structural inequality, you are reinforcing it.