Dear clueless “allies,” please stop helping us


Content notice for mostly clueless cissexism.

With the recent surge in transphobic bigotry, there’s been an increase in (attempted) support for trans people as well. The problem is that a lot of this “support” is actually perpetuating transphobia.

First example will have no links, because it involves a young transgender girl and I’m not going to shine a spotlight on her Facebook for the hate shitstorm she’s already dealing with. Let’s call her Jane. Jane’s mom posts a photo of her young daughter in the style of a magazine cover–edited to all hell, airbrushed, enviable eyeliner and make-up to the nines. She’s even sporting a fantastic resting bitch face to match. She’s wearing a sort of country girl outfit, blue denim jeans and a stark white tank top. Her hair is long, half way down her back, curly and wavy like a shampoo model. All in all it’s a picture that screams high femme, unattainable without digital assistance as are most beauty standards.

Then the mom posts a caption along asking if it would be okay for you to send someone who looked like that into the men’s room.

The implication being that you should be comfortable sending your daughter in the men’s room if she doesn’t look like that.

Sorry, Jane’s mom, I know you want to support your kid, but that’s kind of a shitty way to do it. Particularly since you’re teaching Jane that anyone who doesn’t look as femme as her should be thrown under the bus in this pointless bathroom witch hunt.

Second example: (emphasis mine)

But this morning, I actually thought about transgender men and women and the use of restrooms. Now people have made their opinions very clear and are not the least bit shy about sharing them. Many simply are not okay with transgenders using the restrooms of the gender they identify with.

To this author’s credit, he responded well to someone in the comments pointing out his error. It’s still there in the post, which means he probably just missed this particular instance. Point is, this is still a stigmatizing way of trying to describe trans folk. You use the word “trans” in all the same way you use the word “short.” Short women are still women, after all, yet you would not call them “shorts.”

Third example:

Can ya fuckin' not?

Can ya fuckin’ not?

My reaction:

Basically me

My aesthetic as well as my expression in one cartoon.

Our very own PZ Myers actually changed the way I started to understand human sex determination with his coverage of a Nature article. Short version: The concept of “biological sex” is a bit of a moving target which encompasses a lot of parts, and the more determined you are to ram that complexity through a binary, the more people are excluded from your definition of male and female, despite having all the visible taxonomy that inspires people to believe human sex determination is an on/off switch.

What you mean to say is that a doctor looked at our genitals as freshly born babies and made an educated guess that we would grow up to be wo/men. The cool kids call this “assigned fe/male at birth.” This describes trans realities without minimizing them–someone else told us we were a boy or a girl who would grow up to be a man or a woman, and they happened to be mistaken, as is bound to happen eventually with guesswork. And make no mistake–it is guesswork, because children aren’t typically karyotyped and dissected to figure out whether there are any sex developments different from the most common correlations.

If this is the kind of help you’re going to offer, I’d rather you not.



  1. badgersdaughter says

    You are right. Nevertheless, clueless allies are allies who are clueless about how they are not helping. Telling them to “stop helping” is likely to come across as “stop being allies”. I had a younger person with Asperger’s tell me once that “you can’t understand what I’m going through so you might as well shut the fuck up about trying to understand”. Ironically I was later diagnosed with Asperger’s myself.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    The conservatives have proven that they are NOT interested in any kind of logic or nuance in the arguments they are making. Their entire strategy relies on creating an image in peoples’ minds, an image that they’re counting on lots of people finding disturbing: the oft-cited “man who feels like putting on a dress.”

    At an sf con that I used to attend, there was a guy who clearly enjoyed crossdressing, but was in no sense transgender. He had a collection of dresses and high heels that he liked to wear, but still kept a full beard, hairy legs, etc. I never had a problem with that, but conservatives are counting on people freaking out about the image, so that’s what they’re trying to scare everyone with.

    The way to counter an image isn’t with nuance, it’s with a counter-image, which is what those images you’ve shown above are trying to do. Sure, we all know that most trans folks are somewhere in between those extremes. But to get bigots to consider changing their worldview, you have to first shock them into questioning their assumptions, and I think those images do a good job of that. The nuance can come later.

  3. Siobhan says

    To badgersdaughter and brucegee:

    These attempts at support use the same misconceptions as TERFs. Trans men are not female, for fuck sake, and that idea has been the cornerstone of TERF bullshit for decades. You want to oppose conservative bigotry, that’s great, but if your strategy involves reinforcing TERF talking points, then you’ve just demonstrated that your perception of being helpful is more important to you than actually helping. TERFs have granted legitimacy to conservative fears by giving them a supposedly credible academic field to point to. Reinforcing their talking points is NOT. HELPING.

    They didn’t stop to actually see what kind of help the trans community is asking for and they absolutely deserve to be called out for it. Fuck their good fucking intentions, I care about the consequences, how the next TERF is going to have additional ammo to present transphobia as legitimate for policymakers because of these heavy handed attempts at activism. I care about the next person who is going to be targeted for looking a certain way because these supposed activists continued the conversation about trans folk as if appearances fucking matter instead of arguing that actual sexual predators DO NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE PICTURE ON THE BATHROOM.

    This is not a space where people are EVER acceptable losses. Not gender nonconformists, not trans women of colour, not NBs–no one is “nuance” who is left for “later.” That kind of bullshit is why we still have racist white feminists.

    I have let your comments through to make this point, but that mentality has no place in my space. We are all or nothing here, and it is the nonconformists and black trans women who need solidarity the most right now. They are taking the brunt of the heat for this transphobic bullshit, we should be more concerned about making them visible and important in our counter-campaign.

  4. Great American Satan says

    It’s good to get a feeling for the boundaries all the new bloggers have. I’ll remember this one. Also #downwithcis

  5. chigau (違う) says

    In your OP you quoted
    I googled that phrase and arrived right in the middle of the spotlight.

    Edit: Redacted the phrase that led back to the source. –Siobhan

  6. badgersdaughter says

    Yeah, OK, if you’re going to call me a TERF reinforcer and a bigot with something you characterize as “that mentality”, then you obviously aren’t interested in talking to me about any genuine wish to help or sympathy that I might have or any genuine interest I might have in correcting these grievous injustices. Have it your own way.

  7. Siobhan says

    Thanks chigau, I have changed it to be more generic, and my test search avoided the original source. Let me know if you can still trace it back. And I hope you don’t mind if I redacted your post–I really don’t want to make it easy for asshats to find this girl.


    OK, if you’re going to call me a TERF reinforcer and a bigot with something you characterize as “that mentality”, then you obviously aren’t interested in talking to me about any genuine wish to help or sympathy that I might have or any genuine interest I might have in correcting these grievous injustices.

    Your idea of help means putting out a fire on a submarine by poking holes in the hull. You aren’t so much missing my point as needlessly demonstrating it: You care more about being accused of reinforcing TERF talking points, than you do about not reinforcing TERF talking points.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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