Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Transgender discrimination

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While racism, sexism and homophobia are no longer tolerated by thinking individuals, it seems there's still quite of bit of work to be done on our attitudes towards members of the transgender community. Photo / Thinkstock
While racism, sexism and homophobia are no longer tolerated by thinking individuals, it seems there's still quite of bit of work to be done on our attitudes towards members of the transgender community. Photo / Thinkstock

Back in June a furore erupted at thehandmirror.blogspot.com, New Zealand's leading feminist website.

It's a space dedicated to airing concerns about abortion, pay equity, political representation of women, sexual abuse and violence against women.

More frivolous topics such as cupcakes and transcripts of mother-preschooler discussions also feature.

This particular controversy centred on comments made in response to a post about a Queer the Night march and how these comments were moderated and how the moderators themselves were biased about the subject at hand. It wasn't pretty.

It's not easy to figure out exactly what was said since the moderators ended up hiding a lot of the debate for fear it would attract rubber-neckers - people lured by the promise of feminist infighting and girlie fisticuffs.

While the writers and those who regularly comment on the posts are characteristically unflinching in their critiques of others, it seems they're not quite so fond of being judged themselves.

Amidst all the bickering, anger and righteous indignation, emerged a world obsessed with perceived privilege.

If you happen to be heterosexual and Pakeha, it seems you're expected to feel a little guilty for belonging to such a mainstream mould.

There's a general consensus that the privileged cannot and will not ever understand the discrimination endured by other groups; that there is some sort of kudos to be gained in belonging to a somewhat marginalised sector of society.

It's a culture founded on the if-you-think-you've-got-problems-think-again-girlfriend principle.

This phenomenon is sometimes known as the Oppression Olympics; the term is explained at Wikia: "Competing in the Oppression Olympics attaches something like a moral dimension to oppression, in which the most oppressed are worthier."

It seems the recent fracas at The Hand Mirror may have had its genesis in this very model.

Evidently a bit of "transphobia-enabling moderation" had been going on which made transgender people feel uncomfortable.

That's when I discovered a new word: cis-gender: the opposite of transgender, it refers to people who happen to be comfortable with their assigned gender.

And in this particular debate at The Hand Mirror, cis-women were accused of failing to understand the difficulties inherent in being a transwoman.

Things deteriorated when someone used the word "guy" - which, far from being an inoffensive gender-neutral label, happens to be a confronting term when applied to a transwoman.

There were calls to appoint a trans-moderator to the site to help curb the cis-sexism.

Yet the ensuing hoo-ha had at least one positive spin off. It highlighted the plight of transgender people who are routinely discriminated against in a number of ways.

Supposedly straightforward activities such as applying for jobs, obtaining passports and even using public conveniences may be fraught with complications.

"[L]iving day to day as a transgendered person can be a huge struggle; depression and drug and alcohol dependency can result," says the website transgender.co.nz.

According to agender.org.nz, which offers confidential support groups throughout the country, the transgender definition "can include anyone who crosses gender boundaries, regardless of whether that crossing is permanent or intentional; anyone who exhibits characteristics of a gender that does not match their apparent physical sex".

It paints a picture of a boutique group of people experiencing dissonance with their assigned gender.

And if the robust debate at The Hand Mirror is anything to go by it seems that while racism, sexism and homophobia are no longer tolerated by thinking individuals, there's still quite of bit of work to be done on our attitudes towards members of the transgender community.

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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