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Transphobia affects everyone

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Dating a trans person does not change their partner’s sexuality

In 2019, 16 trans women have been violently killed in the United States alone. On Aug. 21, Reese Willoughby, a cis man, committed suicide as a result of bullying based on his relationship with a trans woman. After posting a defense of his relationship on Facebook, videos of other men throwing slurs at Reese flooded the internet. Reese was 20 years old. 

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the average life expectancy of black trans women is 35 years. By contrast, the average life expectancy of their cisgender (people whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex) counterparts is 78. Reese’s death indicates that transphobia doesn’t only impact trans people, but also their partners. 

The reason Reese was bullied so profusely was because it was assumed that his girlfriend’s genitalia does not match her gender identity. In his initial Facebook post, Willoughby stated, “I don’t care if she wasn’t born a woman, she is a woman to me.”

Trans women are women. To say or insinuate otherwise is an act of violent transphobia. Straight men can date trans women and still be straight. 

When will society move past genitalia-centric sexual practices? When will the gender binary stop determining how people choose their partners?

Canonically speaking, sex is often viewed from a heteronormative perspective: penis plus vagina equals sex. According to a 2010 study conducted at Indiana University, 95 percent of people consider penile-vaginal contact to be “sex.” But there’s so much more than that. What triggered bullying towards Reese was his sex life, which underlines the fact that many people still equate genitalia to gender. 

“Sex” refers to “the biological and physiological differences between males and females,” according to Tim Newman with Medical News Today. Gender, however, has a much more fluid definition. The World Health Organization defines gender as “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men,” which often relates to how people perceive and define themselves. 

In 2016, a study conducted by the University of California Los Angeles estimated that 1.4 million people in the United States identify as transgender, which is double the estimate made a decade ago. More people are openly identifying as trans than ever before. Yet in the last three years, the Trump administration has rolled back most transgender protection policies. With these policy changes, transphobic ideologies have continued to spread and to reinforce the idea that existing outside the binary is wrong, as is having a partner whose gender identity doesn’t match their genitalia. 

With such a high violence rate, trans people are faced with an extensive list of safety concerns every day, many that cis people typically don’t consider. Where they can safely be out, when to reveal their operation status to their prospective partners, where and whether it’s safe to use the bathroom. Other concerns can include relearning how to shop for clothes, adjusting their body language, and training their voices. Every single day spent in the public eye as a trans person is a precarious balance between overperforming and underperforming. 

In 2015, Laverne Cox said, “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.” Four years later, the epidemic of transphobia continues to impact both trans people and their partners, like Reese. 

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