What trans people mean when we say “misgendering is violence”

Content Notice: Dissecting hate speech, TERFs and transphobia

I’d like to introduce you to a concept, of which there seem to be multiple sources or authors. It’s often called The Violence Pyramid, or another derivative thereof. As would be suggested by the notion of a pyramid, each level facilitates movement to the one above it, the same way one builds a pyramid. In this case, reaching the top is not desirable.

Source: cindywatt

Also from cindywatt:

Psychotherapist Howard Halpern, in a brilliant New York Times piece in 1995, gave a spot on summation of gradual escalation of hate and violence.  He said, “ Social psychologists and demagogues have long known that if ordinary citizens are to be provoked to violent actions against individuals or groups of fellow citizens, it is necessary to sever the empathic bond with those to be attacked by painting them as different and despicable.   We are unlikely to harm a friendly neighbor because she has strong views about equal rights for women, but if we call her a “femi-Nazi,” she becomes “the other” — evil, dangerous, hated.  We are unlikely to harm the couple down the block who are active on behalf of protecting endangered species, but if we call them “environmental whackos,” they become “the other” — weirdos who must be vilified and suppressed as enemies to “normal” Americans. When our shared humanity with those with whom we disagree is stripped away, it becomes acceptable to blow them up. The answer is certainly not to censor such speech, but those who recognize this danger must challenge it wherever it exists, even in those with whom we politically agree.” 

Not to pull a Godwin, but the above proposed pyramid is practically a timeline for Hitler’s rise to power. He unified a particular demographic of Germans and whipped them into a froth over how unfairly they were treated, then he tapped into a pre-existing prejudice (antisemitism) and over the course of his election, and after it, gradually escalated his chosen boogeyman until at least some Germans–enough Germans–felt justified in state-sponsored violence against Jews.

When I react strongly to misgendering, this pyramid is what comes to mind. The bottom stripe mentions “insensitive remarks and non-inclusive language.” I have to wonder: This person is already denying me a critically important aspect of my identity–is there anything else they will take hostage?

Sheila Jeffreys: (emphasis original)

Criticism of the practice of transgenderism is being censored as a result of a campaign of vilification by transgender activists of anyone who does not accept the new orthodoxy on this issue.

Cathy Brennan:

transgender woman are in fact men using an artificialy [sic] constructed feminine apperance [sic] to exert patriarchy from the inside of feminism and believe it or not, to gain access to womans [sic] bathrooms in order to rape them.


If trans “women” wish to truly feel safe while respecting women’s need for safety and privacy, why don’t they create their own space, their own restrooms, their own rape crisis centers and shelters, their own changing rooms, etc.? The answer is clear: because (a) they don’t respect women and (b) they don’t want to be safe from men, they want what women have, they want to take over everything that woman is and that women have.

Bev Jo:

They expect we’ll be shocked to see statistics about them being killed, and don’t realize, some of us wish they would ALL be dead.

When I see someone misgendering me, I see not just that they already sit at the base of the pyramid–I see the possibility of them escalating. They’ve denied my humanity, which seems to be the prerequisite to discriminatory behaviour, and now I’m supposed to trust that they’re not going to creep up the pyramid the way the above comments do. And the best part? If I object to their misgendering, if I call out the insistence on using the male pronoun and tell them they’re denying my identity–they don’t fucking care. They flatly deny it. “No I’m not, stop being over-dramatic.”

That’s called gaslighting, and it’s a form of abuse.

We start with reducing trans people to an ideology, “transgenderism,” with Jeffreys’ comment. We move up to scapegoating and stereotyping with Brennan, who expressed a conspiracy theory (ala “Jews control teh banks”). Then we see mental acrobatics to justify denying women’s housing to trans women by ascribing motives to a group of people, as if we were a monolith, by Butch. We conclude with violence fantasies with Bev Jo. Brennan, fantastic human being extraordinaire and fake goth, assisted the Pacific Justice Institute in harassing a trans student so badly the student had to be placed on suicide watch, during a campaign that OPENLY FABRICATED CLAIMS THE STUDENT HAD BEEN HARASSING CIS GIRLS.

It’s easy to justify this kind of behaviour when all you’re attacking is an idea, a concept. You can say mean things about the colour blue all god damn day, because the colour blue isn’t a person.

The only reason gender variance is an idea, a concept to these people, is because they have conveniently stripped away the humanity that should not be divorced from it. They’re not harassing a kid, they’re “dismantling the patriarchy.” They’re not condemning trans women to death by turning us away from shelters, they’re “reclaiming women’s spaces.”

They’re not committing, plotting, or encouraging genocide, they’re “purifying womanhood.”

When I see someone misgender trans people, they’re at the base of the pyramid, on the first step to fully embracing gender variance as a concept divorced  from humanity. Physicists aren’t accused of hate speech when they debate how to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics, because those aren’t concepts intrinsic to human identity–yet this is the exact behaviour that is displayed when the respect of trans people is not observed in a discussion on gender variance.

You can’t talk about gender variance without us. To shut us out of our own discussion is to claim you know us better than we know ourselves. Sounds an awful lot like male politicians restricting abortion, no?

This is what we mean when we say “misgendering us is violence.” We are asked to be patient with those who knew us before we transitioned, and maybe we can do that at first. But as we proceed in our transition, we see a cohort of our community openly defy our identities, strip us of humanity, before describing or wishing upon or enacting acts of monstrous violence upon us. More importantly, we see another cohort of people that are apathetic to this behaviour, who do not reinforce how important it is to talk about trans people as if our identities are real, to invite us to have a turn at the microphone when we are the god damn topic of debate.

It is one thing to slip up on a pronoun for someone you knew before their transition. It is another entirely to make us speculate if you’ve begun crawling up the pyramid. There’s a reason I insist on correction, immediately, without hesitation. Because I can’t tell which one you’re doing. When my life expectancy plummeted by a few decades simply with the act of transitioning, the numbers tell me to play it safe and assume the worst.

This entire post goes through my head in the space of a second when I see or hear misgendering, so I hope you understand why my reaction is strong: That’s how it starts.