“Wait, you’re trans?!” a voice in the viral sound bite asks.
“Yes,” the subject of the video replies.
“But you don’t look trans!” the first voice exclaims.
“That’s actually the whole point,” the subject says back.
Although the sound is mostly being used in a tongue-in-cheek manner by trans content creators, TikToker Jamie Pandit (@justjamiepandit) recently hopped on the trend as an opportunity to educate viewers on why saying “you don’t look trans” isn’t the compliment some often well-intentioned people believe it to be.
“This is not a compliment,” Pandit, a transgender content creator from Canada, wrote in her video. “Trans people do not all look the same, just like cisgender people do not [all] look the same.”
In the comments section of her video, Pandit continued to explain that it is a “misconception” that all trans people have the desire to be passing — that is, to present themselves in such a way that they may be perceived as cisgender, instead of the sex they were assigned at birth.
“Many feel forced to pass like I did in the past, and it’s not a way to live,” she explained. (In The Know has reached out to Jamie Pandit for comment.)
There are approximately 1.4 million transgender adults living in the United States alone, according to a 2016 analysis by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. That number is double the previous and widely accepted estimate of 700,000 by the same institution. The real number is suspected to be even higher, as fear of discrimination still prevents many trans people from disclosing their authentic selves.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told In The Know that the idea that there is “one way to ‘look’ trans” is damaging and also wildly misinformed, especially considering the sheer size of the trans community in America alone.
“Saying that someone ‘doesn’t look trans’ as a compliment implies that ‘looking trans’ is wrong, or worse, that there is something wrong with being trans,” he explained. “Most people love compliments, whether they are transgender or not, but we should all be thoughtful about how words can be hurtful — intentionally or not.”
As Heng-Lehtinen said, there are countless ways to exist as trans, and applauding someone for not “looking trans” diminishes the experiences of those who do not seek to conform to heteronormative beauty standards.
The backhanded compliment also dares to presume that the main reason a trans person strives to “pass” is solely for aesthetics or for praise when, in fact, a trans person’s desire to blend in with the cisgender population is often driven by far direr societal consequences.
As trans activist Brynn Tannehill wrote for Slate, not passing — or blending, a preferred term meaning simply not being seen or known as transgender — is not an option for some transfolk whose need to “blend into the gender binary stems from personal safety, job security, family concerns and more.”
A transgender man named James told Tannehill that a harrowing brush with police was the final straw in his decision to begin hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) in order to be able to blend in more.
“One night, while in ‘girl mode,’ I was out with a group of friends and was forcibly removed from the women’s restroom,” James told the writer. “The cops were called, and I was kicked out of the place in handcuffs. That was my real ‘turning point.’ After that, I started HRT … It was a matter of safety.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, this year has already seen at least 46 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means, making it the deadliest year on record since the group began tracking these metrics in 2013. Of those 46 victims, 29 were Black, and eight were Latinx.
The organization, which strives to end discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people, also notes that the actual number of fatalities might be even higher, as crimes against the trans community often go unreported or are misreported.
Every year, Nov. 20 marks the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the transgender people whose lives were cut short because of their identities. The day also serves as a reminder for allies to educate themselves on the issues still plaguing the trans community, such as high rates of discrimination, poverty and homelessness.
As violence against the trans community continues to rise, it is now more important than ever to fight to end the stigmatizations against transgender and non-binary people.
Trans people do not need your reassurance that they “don’t look trans” — they need you as an ally who actively fights for a world where they can safely exist.
If you or someone you know needs support after experiencing anti-trans violence or bias, contact a trans-identified counselor through the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. You can also contact the Anti-Violence Project at 212-714-1141 or connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Find a local therapist well versed in trans identity and liberation through the Inclusive Therapists directory.
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