I’ve noticed a meme circulating in some of my conservative friends’ social media posts that is clearly intended to mock the plight of transgender people in view of transgender rights being in the news. It goes something like this:
“I’m Transfinancial. It means I am a rich person in a poor person’s body. Give me money to fix my disorder!!
I’d like to point out why this is a bad analogy for arguing that trans people either 1) shouldn’t have the right to be themselves like everyone else or 2) are pretending to be something they are not.*
The premise of this analogy is that being rich or poor is an identity in the same way that being a man or a woman is an identity. It’s not, but for the purposes of this argument, let’s say that being rich or poor IS an identity on par with one’s gender identity. Here are a few reasons why the analogy is not applicable:
1) You are born identified as rich or poor at birth. However, no one will suggest to you that you shouldn’t be able to change this.
2) If you identify and know yourself to be a rich person and work to align yourself with this identity instead of what society had assigned to you at birth—“being a poor person”–society will not generally mock you for doing so. You are very unlikely to be hated, beaten or killed by others for doing so.
3) If you work toward transitioning from poor to rich, the government will not take official action to intimidate you or to make it more difficult for you to do so. States will not make laws mandating that you stand in a poor person’s line at the bank your whole life so that others may see that you were born poor.
4) Some may see a poor person working to align their deep and personal understanding of themselves as a rich person as “pretending,” but among entrepreneurs, this kind of pretense is actively encouraged, and not shamed. Sometimes you feel that you ARE something inside that has not yet manifested outwardly. If you aren’t harming anyone, what is the problem with pursuing your truth? It is not the whole world’s business how rich or poor you are—it is only the business of yourself and people who are directly interacting with your finances.
5) People born poor who try to become rich will experience different outcomes in the world. Some may have an easier time than others, and once they are rich, no one may ever know that they were otherwise. Some people assigned poor at birth have a harder time aligning themselves with society’s expectations of what it means to look and be rich due to a number of circumstances, but that doesn’t change the truth within their hearts.
Another problem with this meme is the premise that transgender people are asking others to bear some personal burden in allowing them to exist as in the world as people. But they are not asking for money or special rights, or even for positive acknowledgement. They only ask to be able to peacefully exist in the world like everyone else.
And as I asserted previously, being rich or poor is not an identity in the same way as being one’s gender is an identity. In our society, we tend to hold as “identities” things that are somewhat inseparable from our own minds and bodies, such as our skin color, our religion, our gender, and our sexuality. We do also classify ourselves by the outer things we have or do, such as how much money we have, our professions, or our hobbies. Certainly we can “identify” as rich people, as physicists, or as golfers, but what we tend to hold most dear to ourselves, and protect in the form of rights in our country, are our mind/body identities. It doesn’t even matter if our identities are those we are born with or if they can change as a result of choice. You can change your religion as a result of choice and we protect the shit out of that. So comparing someone’s gender identity to someone being rich or poor misses the point of people’s rights being affected by their very identities.
Finally, please everyone stop using bumper-sticker-length arguments to be assholes to other people.
*Note to those already well-read on LGBT issues: I realize that the existence of this meme and my discussion of it is not the most consequential piece of writing on the subject of transphobia; a much bigger problem than the bad meme is the great danger transphobia poses in the actual lives of trans people. However, when bad logic is used to promote hateful ideology, I think it is helpful to deconstruct the bad logic to reduce its power, and that is one way I can contribute. Also, I realize my discussion of trans identity here is cursory and rudimentary, but I believe that most people who would entertain the validity of this meme have an understanding of trans identity that is cursory or rudimentary at best and non-existent or harmful at worst.