Tangled Webs of Transphobia

Imagine that there is a system of oppression that you were born into that is so pervasive that most of the time you don’t even see it. Sometimes you get glimpses of it. Sometimes you realize there is something there, but you ignore it. You end up organizing your whole life around this all-pervasive system. You’ve organized your whole personality around it. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, sometimes it is unfair, but for the most part you accept it. You don’t see the nets that ensnare you. 

Then someone comes along who exposes the system for what it is: a prison. It is a prison enforced by our actions, our minor judgments on other people, aggressions both small and large, peer pressure, familial pressure, wanting to live up to others’ expectations, and even by the law.  

This person you see expresses a much higher degree of freedom from the system than you have seen. Such freedom exposes the system, shows its cracks, shows what has paraded as natural or necessary as anything but.  

What do you do when faced with a person with such freedom? Do you encourage them? Do you make space for their freedom? Do you also begin to express greater freedom whether in small or large ways? Or do you defend the system that you have already put so much effort into. You gave up your freedom so long ago, so perhaps you think no one else should get to have it too. You lash out against them in anger or frustration. 

I woke up thinking about this quote from the Matrix. Morpheus is speaking:

“The Matrix is a system, Neo…. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

Lana Wackowski, The Matrix: Shooting Script

That is, people will fight to protect the system that not only oppresses others, but also oppresses themselves.  

The Wackowskis who wrote and directed the original Matrix movies were both transgender women. They have said that the Matrix is, at least in part, a transgender allegory, in which the Matrix represents the gender binary.  

People have been asking me lately, sometimes privately and sometimes publicly, how there can be so much hate against trans people. Why do people even care that we are transitioning? Let others live their lives! I have, by the way, had some conservative, more libertarian-leaning friends come and tell me how much they support me because they see what I’m doing as the ultimate expression of self-determination.  

But people lash out because they are so hopelessly dependent upon the systems of compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory cisnormativity – that is, they gave up their freedom long ago – and when they see us break free, they lash out at our freedom. They want to take away our freedom so that our lives can be as dull, boring, confined, and limited as theirs are.  

To be free from the system, you don’t have to be trans; you don’t have to be gay. The system may oppress us in especially intensified ways, but it oppresses everyone! What you have to give up is policing people’s gender expression and give up the assumption that everyone around you is cis or straight. Give each other space.

As Italo Calvino wrote: 

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

Invisible Cities 165

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