When I Was Transphobic

“But you can only lie about who you are for so long without going crazy.”
Ellen Wittlinger, Parrotfish

I watched Silence of the Lambs when I was eight years old. Perhaps I was a bit too young to watch such a horrifying movie. The part that scared me the most was when Buffalo Bill danced around to the god awful song wearing his human skin suit. Unknowingly, I then associated trans people with scary people and on I went in life.

I started college in 2000 and we were not talking much about trans folks at that time. I studied psychology and at that time it was still pathologized (meaning it was a diagnosable illness). This did not do my brain any favors in terms of developing an understanding or compassion for trans people. I then took a trip to New York City where I saw trans people in real life for the first time. I remember thinking about that scene in Silence of the Lambs and feeling a real fear and confusion around trans women.

This went on until I started seeing clients professionally. I believe that to be a good person and a good clinician we must be willing to learn as much as we can and extend as much love and compassion as we can at all times. This is when I started my journey to move past my transphobia.

How does one move past a phobia? One, they identify and accept that they have the phobia. Two, they expose themselves to the thing they are fearful of and do not understand. I did just that. I talked to trans men and women. I volunteered at a local Pride organization that allowed me exposure. I read and watched as much as I could about trans life and experience.

Then in 2007, I had my first trans client. This changed my outlook entirely and not because of anything this person said or did but because of how the other therapists talked about this person. It made me sick to hear how they talked about them. I was angry that they made fun of this person. This was just a person trying to move through the world as safely as possible and ignorance put them in real danger. I could not stand for this. I could not be a person that contributed to the pain of another person. I would hope that most people would not knowingly create pain for another person. However, that is not the case with trans people.

I’m not sure why people are obsessed with trans people’s bodies. I’m disturbed that it still seems acceptable to make fun of, physically harm, and even murder a person for being trans. It’s not politically correct to treat another human with respect and dignity, it’s the fucking right thing to do as a human. No two ways about it.

There are still a lot of things in the world I don’t understand but they surely do not give me permission to be mean, cruel, or harmful.

Let’s do better.


Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and everyone of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and for each other.


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