Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dealing with my latent transphobia

Most people who know me know I have little tolerance for bigotry, or bigots in general. I've become somewhat of a pariah in the "new atheist" movement for calling out the anti-religious bigotry of some of the main leaders of said movement. I regularly battle with homophobes and sexists both online and off, I have made a few blog posts against racism, and I had a brief twitter fight with noted transphobic misandrist Cathy Brennan (one of the few people I'd use the word "misandrist" on in a non-ironic fashion). However, I very recently realized that I still am holding on to a lingering amount of transphobia, much to my shame.  

For some time now, I've followed Jeph Jacques' excellent webcomic Questionable Content. There was a time when I was a huge webcomic fan, reading 20+ every week or so, and QC was one of the first I truly fell for. Most of the comics I read during that time have either ended or lost my interest, but QC is one of 5 that I still read.* If you aren't familiar with the comic, it's a humourous slice-of-life comic focused mostly on the relationships (romantic and otherwise) of Marten Reed and his friends. While it does have a few fantastical elements, such as the AnthroPCs and the sentient space station that Hannelore was raised on, it's a pretty realistic and true-to-life strip. Despite the name, there is little content that is questionable in Questionable Content. There is swearing, yes, and some conservative sexual taboos are broken (mostly off panel) but otherwise it's pretty tame. When I say "conservative sexual taboos" I mean that there's a good representation of "alternative" relationships in the series.** My old conservative self would freak out at a comic with lots of sexual relationships where the only married couple was gay. 

Which brings me to Claire. Claire is one of three new interns at the library Marten works at. The other two have received little characterization (one of them seems level-headed, the other is WEIRD in a zany way and possibly insane, and aside from their appearance that's all we know about them) but we've gotten a decent chance to get to know Claire. She's shy, kind, level-headed, smart, and socially awkward. She was also born male. From what we've been told, she still has male genitalia but is on hormone replacement therapy and self-identifies as female.

The interesting thing is that if someone revealed to me that they were trans, I'd probably have basically the same reaction as Marten did: acceptance without making a big deal about it. This in and of itself is a major progression for me, as there's no way I would have been as cool with that a decade ago, or even a few years ago. 

However, during QC's most recent story arc, there was some hinted romantic tension between Marten and Claire...and I wasn't OK with it. In fact, I was mildly disgusted by it. At first I told myself this was because it was so soon between relationships, but then I realized that Marten's last relationship was with Padma, and that ended more than a year ago in real time. In fact, his last flirtation that almost turned into something (but didn't) was last summer. Then, I tried to tell myself that Marten went through this sort of thing with every female character, and I was tired of it...but that isn't true either. QC's cast is very female-heavy and Claire is the fifth female character (out of 17 listed on the cast page that are not related to him, underaged or homosexual) that Marten has had any real romantic chemistry with.+ Eventually I came to the unsettling realization that I was not ok with the concept of a pre-op trans woman having a romantic relationship with a cisgendered man. 

The weird thing about this is that in most other areas I've been an ally to the trans community for some time. I'm in favour of letting trans people use whatever washroom they want, I've petitioned against disqualifying trans beauty pageant entrants, I've publicly defended at least one transgendered person from bullies who were verbally harassing her. I almost hired a trans woman (I was only stopped when a more qualified individual came along) and once even asked a post-op transwoman out on a date. She said "no" but that's beside the point. The point is that this revelation surprised me. But it probably shouldn't. 

Even though I've pretty successfully thrown out all notions of traditional gender roles that I once held on to, I don't think I ever tried to throw out the traditional idea of gender that I was raised with. "Men are men, women are women, anything in-between isn't natural." It wasn't hard to find space for "some men like men, some women like women," but it was hard to move anywhere positive regarding transgendered people. I did know one transgendered woman I asked out was trans, but if she didn't tell me that, I'd have not known. She was physically 100% woman, having completed the hormone therapy and the operation. My reasoning for why trans women should be allowed in beauty pageants is, well, they're women now, regardless of what they were born as. As for the other cases mentioned before, those were all cases divorced from sex, sexuality and romance. The reason I'm telling you this, dear reader, is so that I have some incentive to work to change myself. As minor as this bit of transphobia in me is, I want to get rid of it. 

*In case you're wondering, the other four are Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Order of the Stick, Jesus & Mo and Comic Critics. The latter three of those have semi-regular schedule slips, so I normally catch up on them once every week or so, but I check QC & SMBC almost every day. 

**Marten's mother is a dominatrix, Marten's father just got married to a man, Dora and Tai are in a lesbian relationship, and the few interracial relationships in the comic (Marten & Padma, Tai & Dora, Marten's DEATHM0LE band mates Amir and Nat) are all portrayed as mostly normal relationships. Also, Hannelore is asexual by default, as she finds the thought of sex to be repulsive, and I'm fairly sure Raven was polyamorous before Jeph quit using her. 

+Most of the strip's early narrative was driven by Marten and Faye's unresolved romantic/sexual tension, until they both realized that Faye was incapable of any sort of relationship and Marten got together with her boss, Dora. Marten and Dora lasted quite a while until they broke up, and Marten started a relationship with Padma on the rebound, which ended when she had to move across the country. The only other time Marten had any sort of flirtation was shortly after Padma, with Lt. Potter on the aforementioned space shuttle, and that went nowhere.


  1. At least now we know you're a bigoted fuck, Ben.

  2. Why don't you admit that you just want to suck some cock

  3. I Dont think anywhwere it says Claire has a wee wee...

  4. Well it has moved on since original update - looks like they are starting a relationship now

    I'm happy for the fictional characters ;)

  5. It's hard to be honest about this stuff but you're doing good work by not shying away from the things you don't like about yourself. Eradicating bigotry in ourselves is a long and complex journey. I thought I was tolerant and then my sibling came out as trans. I was in a furious and betrayed tailspin for months. The important thing is that we don't stay where we are, we work to move forward and become more tolerant, accepting and vocal in our support of those that don't share our privilege. Thank you for sharing this.