How We Talk About Trans* People Exposes Antiquated Ideas About Gender

Over the past few decades people have come to have a greater understanding of the gay and lesbian community. It’s not perfect, by far, but being gay isn’t necessarily the scandal it once was (at least in some parts of the world). The trans* community, in contrast, hasn’t made the same kind of progress. There are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about what it means to be trans*. These misconceptions tell us a lot about our messed up views of gender.

First it should be said that transmen are men and transwomen are women. Regardless of what kind of genitals you were born with, I’m unlikely to question you if you identify as a different gender. (I mean, you would know better than I would, right?) But for the purpose of this post I’m trying to get into the headspace of someone who either can’t or refuses to empathize with what it’s like to be gender non-conforming. (And please don’t leave me; it’s scary in here!)

Recently, ex-Navy chaplain Dr. Gordon Klingenschmitt went on another one of his rants about how trans* people are just out to hurt kids. According to Raw Story:

“‘Transgenders’ want your children,” he wrote in the email obtained by Right Wing Watch. “Liberals demand public access to rape your girls, at least visually in public bathrooms, or to expose themselves to your girls at school, without parental consent or protection of any kind.”

Klingenschmitt advised parents in Maine to “immediately remove their children from public schools, and teach them at home.”

Earlier last month, Klingenschmitt argued that the transgender girl in Maine should “man up” or be subjected to an exorcism to rid her body of demons.

Klingenschmitt clearly thinks that transwomen are simply men in skirts. In reference to a school teacher who was removed from a classroom because she is trans*, Klingenschmitt said that “there’s a spirit of lying when a man claims to be a woman and he’s not a woman.” Everyone knows that the only thing lower than a woman is a man who displays feminine characteristics or — gasp! — actually identifies as one.

This isn’t the first time Kingenschmitt has accused transwomen of dressing up as women so they can violate little girls. Last year, in response to a court decision allowing a transgirl to use the proper bathroom in Colorado, he said:

“You know, there’s not just a demon of deception here or confusion or sexual immorality,” he explained. “But there is a demon of rape inside of this movement to violate your daughters.”

This is classic fear-mongering. Think about your daughters! Girls, being small women, are obviously the absolute weakest human and therefore in desperate need of protection. (Klingenschmitt and others of his ilk seem unconcerned about transmen getting their mitts on boys.) It’s also a great illustration of how certain expectations of masculinity are toxic.

It’s not only the expectation that people born with male genitals present as a man. It goes deeper than that. It comes down to what being a man means.

Remember that Klingenschmitt thinks that transwomen are men. Men pretending to be women, but men at the core. And what makes a man a man? Aggression, both sexual and in general. So of course these men who pretend to be women are only doing so so they can sexually assault women and girls. We should expect violence. Boys will be boys, after all.

That’s seriously messed up. Boys and men deserve better than this. We need trans-inclusive feminism not just for women, but for men, as well. I believe that just because you may have been born male that you are inherently violent and out of control no more than I believe that people who are female bodied are inherently weak and submissive. How trans* people are discussed in some circles exposes how skewed our perceptions of gender really are.

Photo Credit: Liz Henry via Flickr

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Leanne B.
Leanne B.about a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F.about a year ago


Berny p.
Berny p.about a year ago


Anne F.
Anne F.about a year ago

Thanks for a thoughtful article. The question of what is manliness is an important one to consider for all of us.

Koty Lapid
Koty Lapidabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watolaabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

Janis K.
Janis K.about a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F.about a year ago


Justin Vale
Justin Valeabout a year ago

transsexuals are girls. very, very much girls. and for those of us that know or a friends with transsexual, we would never mistake them for a man.
they are drama queens from the tip of their toes to the top of their heads. drama,drama,drama. girl,girl,girl.

Robert O.
Robert O.about a year ago

Good article. Thank you Mindy.

Ken Y., maybe this is just an issue above and beyond your scope of comprehension.