I called it a “persistent, sustained, and uncoordinated gaslighting,” this idea that readily observable bodily characteristics necessarily trumps a person’s experience of those characteristics with concerns to trans rights and gender variance. Julia Serano has typed up one of her lectures on the phenomenon, dubbing it “trans invalidations,” and describes at length the psychological damage these invalidations cause.
Read about it here. A short sample below:
(paragraphs added for readability)
This dualism—that if one’s physical sex is “real” and “primary,” then the mind must automatically be “secondary” and “faulty”—implies that anything that a trans person says about their own experience, or about gender more generally, is inherently suspect. It effectively ensures that anything that any cisgender person says about gender or trans people automatically trumps what we have to say about ourselves. In effect, it positions cisgender people as de facto experts on gender variance by virtue of the fact that our minds are supposedly faulty while theirs are not. And in my experience, many cisgender people seem to relish in this supposed expert status.
I cannot tell you how many times that I have interacted with people who know little to nothing about transgenderism, yet who felt entitled to speak down to me or act intellectually superior to me with regards to the subject; people who repeatedly referred to my “gender confusion” in order to emphasize my presumed mental incompetence; people who have insinuated that I must be delusional because I don’t conform to their common sense; people who have dismissed my perspective and experiences on the basis that they are tainted by my supposed mental sickness. To such people, it doesn’t matter that I’ve had unique and enlightening gendered experiences that they have not shared. They don’t care that I have a Ph.D. in biology, or that I’ve written a book, and occasionally give keynote talks about, gender and transgenderism. To them, anything I say is viewed as a mere byproduct of my “mental affliction” and is immediately deemed invalid.
To me, this is the heart of the problem. Words simply cannot convey how intensely frustrating and infuriating it is to be routinely invalidated in this way. Simply talking about it gives me an adrenaline rush. You could call me all sorts of names or profanities, make fun of virtually any other aspect of my body or personality, and it wouldn’t even come close to eliciting the anger and outrage that I feel when somebody dismisses my gender identity or insinuates that my gender-related knowledge and experiences are mere figments of my imagination. There is simply no more effective way of hurting me than trans-invalidating me.
Trans-invalidations based on mental inferiority are especially triggering to me for three reasons: First, they happen to me repeatedly. Second, they play on the profound shame that I felt back when I was a child when I really did believe the cissexist premise that, since the rest of the world was supposedly “normal,” there must be something very wrong with me. Third, those who perpetrate trans-invalidations invariably refuse to acknowledge their own cisgender privilege and how it enables and exacerbates these incidents. After all, while I have had to fight my entire life to have my gender identity be taken seriously, my cisgender detractors simply take theirs for granted. This is the uneven playing field upon which every debate about gender identity and transgender rights plays out. Cisgender people can pretend to have abstract, objective and purely theoretical conversations about whether gender identity exists, or whether trans people should be allowed to transition, because their identities and life choices are never on the line. But for those of us who are trans, such discussions automatically call into question our identities, our autonomy and our mental veracity. They literally put our entire personhood up for debate.
Unfortunately, in this culture and at this point in time, dealing with, and overcoming, trans-invalidations is central to the trans experience. And I would argue that any person who does not understand or acknowledge how injurious these transinvalidations are to us, simply does not understand transgenderism. I’ll repeat that: any person who does not understand or acknowledge how injurious these transinvalidations are to us, simply does not understand transgenderism. Period. I further contend that any medical or mental health provider who is sincerely concerned with the health, happiness and well-being of gender variant people must make challenging and eliminating these trans-invalidations, both within their professional fields and in society at large, a top priority.