Why Humanists Should Fight for Transgender Rights

Brynn Tannehill, a writer, advocate, veteran, and Director of Advocacy at SPART*A, a national LGBT Service-members organization, has a guest post in Chris Stedman’s column at Religion News Service about the need for humanists to stand up for transgender rights. I could not agree more.

Two of the core principles of Humanism are the value of the individual and rational, evidenced-based thinking. Our culture is failing miserably at both when it comes to the transgender community—which is why Humanist voices are greatly needed.

Hostility towards transgender people usually comes from a literalistic reading of two biblical verses, which then gives people justification for denying gender identity. When anti-transgender justifications come from pockets of atheists, they also ignore the evidence that contradicts their perspective. This denial of identity effectively “un-persons” transgender people.

The individuals and groups that attempt to push their religious or secular anti-transgender ideas on everyone else in turn reject over 120 peer reviewed journal articles showing the biological origins of gender identity. As a result, they continue to push transgender people towards discredited reparative therapies—which are no more successful at changing gender identity than sexual orientation, because the two have similar and related biological origins.

Nowhere, though, is the effect of dehumanization seen more clearly than in statistics surrounding violence against transgender women, particularly transgender women of color. According to 2012 statistics from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, most anti-LGBT hate crimes murders (54 percent) were against transgender women, and 87 percent of those women were people of color (TWOC).

In relative terms this means that transgender women as a whole are four times more likely to be killed in a hate crime than a gay man, and TWOC are 32 times more likely. Most frighteningly, transgender women weren’t more likely to be attacked than gay men— but they were far more likely to be hospitalized or killed when they were.

In short: when we are attacked, whatever part of the attacker’s mind that tells them to stop before they kill a person is countered by the barrage of messages that transgender women are sexual predators, pedophiles, perverts, deviants, and abominations.

This is why the transgender community needs the voices and values of Humanists; we are not seen as human, and it is literally killing us.

Over the last few years I’ve learned a great deal about transgender people. Despite having been a vocal advocate for gay rights for a very long time, I had mostly just ignored the T in LGBT. That changed when I met Dr. Julie Nemecek here in Michigan. She has taught me much that I did not understand, as have Zinnia Jones and Natalie Reed here at FTB. And I totally agree that humanists should take the lead in defending equal rights and answering the torrent of hate and bigotry faced every day by transgender people.

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  • Crimson Clupeidae

    I wouldn’t think this would need to be spelled out, especially for humanists.

    But thanks!

  • otrame

    What is so bloody hard about “If a person is not actively hurting anyone, leave them the fuck alone.”

    I don’t care if transgender is “real” (I have heard so many claim it is not). I don’t care what is “really” going on in the heads of transgender folks (though naturally, they do and studying the phenomenon is fine and dandy).

    I don’t care. It is none of my business. You were born with male genitalia and prefer to be considered a woman, fine. You’re a woman. You don’t quite know whether you are a man or a woman and prefer to remain as genderless as possible, fine. I support you. I’ll call you what ever you want to be called. It is quite literally no skin off my nose and if it makes your life better it costs me nothing.

    In fact, even if it cost me something and I walked around with skin off my nose all the time I would still support you, because damn it you are human and I am human and we should look out for each other.

  • cptdoom

    Every single human trait, physical or psychological, exists on a continuum. Why would it be so strange that gender does too?

  • hunter

    cptdoom: anyone who stops to think about it realizes that the universe is a series of continua — unless, of course, they’ve been conditioned by a mode of thought that casts everything as dichotomies: male/female, gay/straight, good/evil, light/dark.

    (And it’s interesting to note that the majority of the world’s religions/mythologies see history as cyclical, while the the “desert religions” see it as linear, with a definite beginning and a definite end. Same way of thinking.)

  • naturalcynic

    I woul hazard a guess that most of the violence against transwomen is perpetrated by fans [or would-be fans] of MRA sites. A transwoman is more of a “gender traitor” than a gay man to a hypermasculine way of thinking and acting, wo they are perceived as a greater threat. Those transwomen on hormone regimens [testosterone blockers and estrogen analogs] will also be disadvantaged in a physical confrontation due to decreased strength.

  • leni

    …A transwoman is more of a “gender traitor” …

    This creeps me out so, so much. I don’t want to oversimplify, but I strongly suspect that a lot of these people don’t care about the politics of it. They don’t *really* care about gender policing, although they’ll be happy to pretend that they do when it suits them. Or they’ll make noises about it to give cover to violence. Mostly I think they just have just correctly identified a group of vulnerable people that they can attack and abuse with near impunity and do so simply because they can. And we’ve all provided them with a culture that helps them get away with it.

    I thought the same thing when I saw those videos of Russian thugs beating, torturing and raping gay men. And I think it again when I see videos of men harassing women on the street. We all agree to turn a blind eye to it and the most violent, predatory assholes among us rightly perceive it as a green light. I don’t think they see transgender women as a threat, I think they see those women as an opportunity.

    This is why I am all for “call out culture”. It is one small way to let the assholes know that we see what they are doing and that their opportunities are shrinking. It’s a little like the god in the gaps. Except it’s the violent asshole of the gaps. Ok, maybe it’s a lot like god of the gaps. Anyway, it isn’t thought policing. It’s letting the worst among us know that they don’t have safe harbor anymore. (I don’t mean to imply I think that’s enough, just that it’s better than nothing.)

    Anyway, I definitely don’t need a god to tell me I’d rather live in a world in which murderers and rapists don’t feel like like have my tacit approval.

  • John Pieret

    Now that they have all but lost the fight against gay marriage, transgender people may be the next target of the wingnuts. They are an even smaller minority and most people probably don’t know any or, at least, don’t know they know them. Average Americans will be confused by them, just as they were at first by gay marriage and the wingnuts will tell egregious lies about them (RWW just had the story of a newspaper ad that claimed that 14 yo girls might lose their spot on sports teams and their chance for a scholarship to a male or be forced to shower with them) and otherwise decent people may become afraid. I’m afraid this will get uglier, especially for young transgenders, before it gets better.

  • Mobius

    Why should humanists care about transgender people?

    Because transgender people are human too.