How to survive Christmas with your transphobic relatives
It’s Christmas and that means chestnuts roasting on an open fire, turkey sandwiches and horrifying transphobia from your relatives.
Last year we gave you a guide to surviving Christmas with your Trump supporting relatives, so it’s time to address this year’s hottest Christmas topic – transphobia!
Here’s a guide on battling some of the worst arguments that your transphobic relatives may bring up over the festive season to help out or, as a last resort, to print out and wrap as a present to give to an especially terrible relative.
“But there are only two genders!”
The gender binary (the idea that there are only two genders and everyone is one or the other) is wrong in so many ways. Gender is a spectrum. Even if your relatives don’t ‘believe in it’, it’s still a spectrum.
Your gender is the way you feel inside in relation to ideas of masculinity, femininity and androgyny, and these feelings are often far more complicated than just man or woman.
Third genders and other genders have existed for literally thousands of years.
There are references to third genders in Mesopotamian mythology and also on pottery shards from Ancient Egypt, both from around 4000 years ago. Returning to modern times, many countries now recognise the existence of other genders and the list is growing each year as non-binary people become more recognised.
So no, there aren’t just two genders.
“You’re just born as a girl or a boy! Sex equals gender!”
‘Girl’ and ‘boy’ or ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are terms that refer to gender identities, not biological sexes.
A gender is how a person feels inside (their gender identity) which is often shown by how they dress, their name and the pronouns they use (their gender expression.)
This is completely unrelated to biological sex, which is also a bit more complicated than your relatives might think.
“Why are you trying to get boys to be girls?”
No one is trying to make boys be girls, or girls be boys. We’re actually trying to let boys be boys and girls be girls.
Trans boys are boys, trans girls are girls. Some people aren’t a boy or a girl. Some people are more than that.
“Trans people didn’t exist back in my day!”
Oh yes, there were, they just didn’t tell you.
“I just don’t get why any man would want to become a woman.”
You know what? If you’ve thought about it and don’t understand it, that’s okay.
But four in ten young transgender people attempt to take their own lives, and at least 270 transgender people were murdered this year for being trans.
Trans people across the world are beaten, thrown out of their homes, arrested, put in the wrong prisons, murdered, and neglected by their governments and the police.
You might not be able to ‘understand’ why someone would be transgender, but you can do a very small thing to help those people, by keeping your thoughts to yourself and accepting them as they want to be.
“Transgender people will turn our children trans / why are they pushing it on our children?”
No one is trying to make your children trans, they just want trans children to be accepted.
Letting children talk about gender and sexuality in an age-appropriate way lets children be who they are, whether they’re cis or trans.
It’s not down to representation of trans people in media either. Think about the thousands of LGB people who realised that they were LGB despite only ever seeing straight people on television. It’s the same thing here.
Representation won’t make your children trans, but it does make it easier to have conversations about it.
“The trans lobby is turning society trans!”
Ah yes, that trans lobby that exists and is so powerful that all television hosts, judges, politicians, journalists and celebrities now have to be trans.
Oh wait. That’s not a thing. A little bit of representation and negative media attention doesn’t mean there’s a trans lobby.
Take off the tin foil hat, there’s no conspiracy.
“Chromosomes are what makes you a man or a woman!”
When it comes to trans people, suddenly everyone’s a biologist.
Gender is way more important, and biological sex isn’t really that binary either. Intersex people exist, and most people don’t actually know their chromosomes.
If you really want to get into some detail, biologists now usually say that there are actually five key parts of biological sex, most of which aren’t binary.
1) Hormone levels (how much testosterone and oestrogen a person has)
2) External genitalia (typically a penis or labia)
3) Chromosomes (a part of your genetic makeup, often XX and XY, though there are many, many other variations)
4) Internal genitalia/gonads (testes or ovaries)
5) ‘Secondary sex characteristics’ (for example- facial hair, breasts)
There are so many different combinations of these parts that it’s silly to think that everyone neatly fits into one of two categories.
“‘They’ isn’t grammatically correct for one person, you’re either ‘he’ or ‘she’.”
Chances are that your transphobic relative does already use ‘they’ when they talk about an individual.
“Oh, someone left their scarf on the bus. I hope they find it.”
If we don’t know anything about a stranger, most people will use ‘they’ naturally.
“Why does it matter? There aren’t that many trans people in the world!”
According to a 2016 UCLA study, 0.6% of the American population identifies as transgender. 0.6% might not sound like that much, but that works out to nearly two million people.
There are nearly as many transgender people in the US as people who live in West Virginia.
Transgender rights matter to trans people, to the people who love the trans people in their lives and to all of us who want a fairer and kinder society.
*Relative misgenders you*
There’s no way of sugarcoating this- misgendering is terrible and many people say that it is a form of violence against transgender people.
One suggested strategy to make the awfulness slightly less awful- pretend you’re a spy. Your alias is your deadname and the incorrect pronouns are part of your cover.
If possible, keep in touch with other people in your life who won’t misgender you and can offer a bit of support whilst you’re dealing with relatives.
“We said [offensive word] back in my day!”
Based on your relative’s age, you could say that ‘back in their day’ they didn’t have indoor toilets, vaccines, or the internet. Many things that were once seen as okay are now socially unacceptable.
Also, the offensive word was still probably offensive back then, it’s just that no-one felt comfortable or safe enough to say.
“It’s a mental illness?!”
Ah, this old chestnut.
Homosexuality was also classified as a mental illness at one point. We’ve all hopefully moved past that.
“Trans people always regret ‘the surgery’ in the end.”
Gender confirmation surgery (your relatives might know it as the outdated terms ‘gender reassignment’ or ‘sex change’) is often in the news, sometimes with dramatic stories of people who regret medically transitioning.
After all, the stories of the hundreds of thousands of trans people who do not regret their transition are far less interesting to some people.
In reality, the process of accessing medical transition services is years long and filled with many hoops to jump through, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.
The vast majority of people wouldn’t go through all of that without being completely sure.
“My son likes football but his school want him to wear a dress!”
No one is doing this.
Schools aren’t forcing children to wear dresses, or giving ‘trans classes’ to toddlers.
If you son wants to wear a dress, let him wear a dress.
“They’re making children have surgery to be trans!”
Despite what your relatives may have heard, children are not having gender confirmation surgery. Children and teenagers don’t have irreversible treatment.
When a child or teenager is more able to make a decision (usually between the ages of 10 and 13), treatments known as ‘puberty blockers’ may be prescribed.
Some parts of puberty (such as growing breasts) require invasive and expensive surgeries to reverse as an adult or are mostly irreversible (such as voice deepening.) These blockers stop some of the changes associated with puberty and allow the person in question to become an adult without puberty physically occurring.
Sounds a lot more reasonable when you put it like that, doesn’t it.
Surgeries on children’s genitals are happening, but it’s actually surgeries performed on intersex babies under the assumption that assigning them a binary gender will help them grow up ‘normal.’
These unnecessary surgeries actually can cause “catastrophic” harm to the children as they grow into adults.
“They’re just rapists who want to prey on women and children in bathrooms!”
The gender sign on the front of a toilet isn’t a force-field. It doesn’t ‘scan your gender’ and stop you going into a bathroom if you don’t match the drawing. If someone wants to go into the women’s toilet to attack someone, a drawing on the door probably won’t stop them.
There are no recorded incidents of someone pretending to be transgender to go into a bathroom and attack women or children.
However, there are numerous reports of transgender people being harassed and attacked in bathrooms, with most trans people likely experiencing harassment in public bathrooms.
Trans people are far more likely to be victims of violence, especially trans women of colour, and 2017 was one of the most violent years on record for transgender people in the US.
Also by trying to stop ‘men’ going into women’s bathrooms, people are actually putting men in women’s bathrooms (trans men have to use the bathroom too!)
“It’s all too confusing!”
They might have half a point here. A lot of people can find gender confusing, especially if they’ve not encountered trans people or issues before.
However, just because learning new things about the world is confusing doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, especially when it’s this important.
There are parents and grandparents across the world who, even if they don’t quite understand everything, still support their trans children and the trans partners and trans friends of their children.
It’s not too much to ask for your relatives to not be transphobic.
*Other general transphobia*
Bring out the sherry!
Hearing these nonsense arguments is particularly harmful if you are transgender.
It’s likely that despite any reasoned arguments, you might have relatives who cling stubbornly to their transphobic ideas.
Many helplines and support services are open over Christmas.
If Christmas does turn sour, bear the following tips in mind!
1. If you are immediate danger call the police
2. Talk to a friend or someone you trust. It helps to share your problems.
3. Remember the violence or abuse is not your fault no matter what excuses you are given
4. Plan for your safety with an exit strategy – think about worse case scenario; if you had to leave in a hurry, what would you take with you (money, ID, and other important documents). Pack a bag with a change of clothes. Where would you go to be safe and get help? Remember you can always go to the police for help.
5. Keep your mobile fully charged and handy.
6. Your wellbeing and safety are far more important than getting the last word in.