Thursday, December 17, 2009

Transphobia and Homophobia: Communicating Fear as Hatred

And this would be my communications paper...Here it is formatted, with reference pages...

Defining Transphobia and Homophobia

Basic definitions for trans, and homophobias are really quite simple. Phobia comes from the Greek word “phobos,” meaning an intense fear of. In the field of modern psychology, phobias refer to an intense, abnormal or irrational fear of something (Stedman's, 2009). So transphobia refers to an intense, irrational fear of trangendered people, while homophobia refers to an intense, irrational fear of homosexual people. It is especially important to note that these fears are irrational. Transphobia and homophobia do not describe someone who is afraid of transpersons or homosexual persons because they were somehow victimized by a person or people who fit one of those categories.

It is also important to define the impact of transphobia and homophobia. At their worse, transphobia and homophobia lead to violent confrontations and even murder. Short of the very worse, transphobia and homophobia can lend themselves to feelings of isolation, anger, depression and self-loathing (Gordon & Meyer, 2007; Hill & Willoughby, 2005). At the extreme, these feelings are responsible for a significantly higher rates of suicide among LGT1 people (Hill & Willoughby, 2005).

A Fear of Differences
A primary motivator for transphobia and homophobia, is basic xenophobia, or fear of people who are different from oneself (Gordon & Meyer, 2007; Hill & Willoughby, 2005). The more significant the perceived differences, the more intense the phobic expression can become. It could be as simple as choosing not to engage in an interpersonal relationship with someone, or as intense as lashing out in violence against the person with the perceived differences. Quite often, the more intense forms of phobic expression require the phobic person to dehumanize the target of their phobic expression based on the substance of the perceived difference. They will ignore everything else that defines a person, focusing entirely on that one factor.

The xenophobia factor alone, is particularly intense with regards to sexuality, gender expression and religion. These tend to be less about superiority, fostering a more passionate response to the differences alone. With regards to gender expression and sexuality, men tend to have a much more aggressive, impassioned response than women (Nagoshi et al., 2008). While women with authoritarian or fundamentalist religious tendencies tend to have a negative response to homosexuality and transgenderism, they do not tend to feel the same threat to their own identity that men seem to experience.

Fear of Introspection or Transference
Men generally seem to find the mere existence of people who do not fit within a relatively strict gender construct a threat to their own gender and even sexual identity (Patel et al., 1995). Far more than women, men seem to consider the gender and sexual identities of others, especially other men or male borns2, in the context of their own lives. They engage in a sort of transference that forces them to perceive the sexual identities of other men and sometimes women, as a clear and definite threat to their own personal identity. Women do not seem as prone to this type of identity threat, likely due to a general tendency towards empathy. Rather than perceiving transgendered women borns as a threat, they are far more likely to perceive their gender identity as a betrayal (Nagoshi et al., 2008).

Men are not always guilty of this response, any more than women are always immune to it. This tendency is generally more prevalent with men, because of the nature of men to avoid addressing their feelings or psychological well being (Levant & McMillan, 2005; Fischer & Good, 1997). Because men tend to be less capable and even afraid to address their feelings and mental health, being forced to consider gender and sexuality from a non-traditional archetypal perspective often garners an aggressive response.

Measuring Transphobia and Homophobia

Because of the nature of transphobic and homophobic expressions and their impact on transgendered people and homosexual people, it is important to try to understand not just what trans and homophobia is, but also how strong these tendencies can be and how they can manifest. It is very easy to define what these phobic expressions are and where they come from. It is not as easy to define the real world impact of these expressions. To understand that impact and attempt to change the negative consequences of transphobic and homophobic expressions, it is necessary to measure and even categorize transphobic and homophobic responses.

Types of trans and homo phobic expression
There are two major types of phobic expressions. These actually relate to the treatment of all outgroups3 and are basic categories of measurement (Gordon & Meyer, 2007). There is the more overtly bigoted and even hostile phobic expressions who are identified simply as overt transphobes, and/or homophobes. Then there are people who engage in latent phobic expression. These expressions are almost entirely unconscious, engaged in by people who do not consider themselves phobic or bigoted. An example would be expressing surprise at being exposed to a homosexual male who tends to express themselves in a traditionally masculine fashion. Another would be referring to a transgendered person by their birth sex, even after they have asked that you not do so. Or simply treating a gay or transgendered friend a little differently than you would treat other friends, based on their sexual or gender identity (Wentling, 2007).

Depth of Phobic Tendencies
The depth of phobic tendencies is a little more complicated. The more overt bigotry ultimately tends to be more superficial. Overt bigotry is generally based entirely in xenophobic tendencies. While it is difficult to change those attitudes, regular exposure to people who have that trait that is so feared will generally slowly change that attitude. The problem lies with the latent bigotry and phobic tendencies. These tend to be very deep seated and as they are unconscious, those who have them are usually entirely unaware that they even have them (Hill & Willoughby, 2005).

Latent phobic expressions have a fundamental basis in cultural and social conditioning. Rather than being based so firmly in a traditional fear response, they are vestigial reactions to people who have factors that traditionally garner a specific response socially. Because the basis for the response is shaped by social conditioning, rather than conscious fear and prejudice, it is harder for people to even be aware of their phobic expressions. It is also harder for people to understand that the simple fact that these expressions are the result of social conditioning, does not mean they are any less bigoted for their lack of conscious expression (Wentling, 2007; Lindsey, 2005; Hill & Willoughby, 2005). They most certainly are. Latent phobic expressions are no less hostile and no less damaging for reflecting social and cultural norms. The easy use of such expressions reflects both the privilege and sense of social superiority of the speaker. When someone expresses surprise, for example, at being exposed to a homosexual male who doesn't fit the effeminate stereotypical gay man, they are essentially expressing the belief that being a homosexual is all that defines a gay person. That somehow homosexuals are not defined by all of the innumerable labels that define every person, that their sexual identity is the only label that means anything.

Ending Transphobia and Homophobia: Deconstructing Gender

Transphobia and homophobia are largely based in archetypal social gender constructs (Lindsey, 2005; Nagoshi et al., 2008). The stronger any person, man or women, identifies to traditional gender constructs, the more likely they are to have transphobic and homophobic tendencies and the more intense they will be (Gordon & Meyer, 2007; Nagoshi et al., 2008). The blatant gender nonconformity of transgenderede persons and the perceived gender nonconformity of homosexuals are perceived as a threat and/or a betrayal of the traditional gender norms. Gender norms that are so important to, intrinsically a part of some people that the mere existence of people who fall outside those roles, is perceived as a threat to their identity.

Even people who do not fit firmly within traditional gender constructs are nonetheless shaped by those constructs (Berger, Levant and McMillan, 2005; Nagoshi et al, 2008). Those constructs are a fundamental aspect of culture and society. Because of this, they are also a fundamental part of individuals within culture and society, even perversely, transgendered and homosexual people. The decisions people make and the way that they treat others are fundamentally grounded in a patriarchal worldview, driven by traditional gender constructs (Berger, Levant & McMillan, 2005; Wentling, 2007).

The abuses these gender constructs perpetuate are not only foisted upon transgendered people and homosexual people either. Traditional gender constructs are also damaging to men and women who live within their confines (Berger, Levant & McMillan, 2005; Tremblay & L'heureux, 2005). They are inherently abusive, due to their natural inclination for staying strictly within specific confines.

The solution for these problems is obviously to deconstruct gender stereotypes. This is not to suggest that men should not follow traditional masculine gender roles and women should not follow traditional feminine gender roles. Rather, it means that society as a whole learns to accept people who do not fit within those confines. It means accepting that there is nothing inherent to being a man or being a women. It means deciding that an individual should not choose a course of action based on their sex, but rather base those decisions on what they want as an individual.

Following this course, it would seem impossible for transphobic and homophobic behaviors to be sustained. The additional benefits would likely be a similar lessening of misogynistic and sexist behaviors, as well as improved mental and emotional health for men. Strict gender conformity does not seem to provide any benefit, while it seems to sustain a lot of destructive and unhealthy behaviors and tendencies. Deconstructing gender seems an obvious solution.

1Lesbians, Gays and Trangendered persons

2Male borns and women borns implies someone who was born male or female but who later chooses to identify as either the opposite sex, or as neither male nor female.

3Outgroups are people who are in some sort of minority, whether it be based on ethnicity, skin color, national origin, religion or any other cultural trait. Outgroups are inherently social constructs.

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