Transphobia: It’s Internal, External, and Needs to be Addressed

lgbtq+ peopleDeja Nicole Greenlaw at a former Pride celebration circa 2012.
Photo: TRT Archives

Recent Trump actions against the transgender community and transphobia hurt this community

By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—

One of the major issues that trans people encounter is transphobia, which is the intense dislike and/or prejudice against transgender people. The trans person has to deal with both external and internal transphobia. External transphobia comes from other people while internal transphobia comes from within the trans person. Both can be very detrimental to the wellbeing of the trans person.

You can see examples of external transphobia just about everywhere. You can see it in discriminatory legislative bills, reports of trans people who were murdered, and within trans exclusionary groups. Basically, it comes from cisgender people who refuse to recognize trans and/or non-binary identities. Transphobia usually stems from ignorance and it may be taught through religion and/or social mores. Some of the ignorance is deeply-rooted and it may take a lot of rethinking and understanding to move past the ignorance.

A lot of external transphobia may stem from misogyny, which is the dislike of women. Women may be seen as second-class citizens and, to be a woman, may be seen as a step down from being a man. An example of this phenomenon is a football coach calling his male players, “ladies.” The coach is trying to shame the players. What’s so shameful about being a woman? Another example is people laughing when they see someone whom they perceive as male wearing female clothing. What’s so funny about wearing women’s clothing? Do they see this person as taking a step down?

Internal transphobia comes from within the trans person. The years of seeing discrimination, ignorance, and stigma are deeply ingrained in the trans person and they wrestle with the issue of being trans. There may be confusion, denial, shame, guilt, and self-loathing issues because of internalized transphobia. I cannot speak for others, but I wrestled with internalized transphobia for decades until I finally worked things out with myself. Just about every trans person I know has had to wrestle with internalized transphobia and some still do, even if these folks have transitioned to their true gender. Some of these folks may try to distance themselves from other trans people because they may perceive other trans folks as not female enough or not male enough. Some people won’t even associate with trans people who don’t meet their definition of gender. Over the past two decades, I have personally encountered trans women who plainly told me to my face to not talk to them in public because they don’t want to be publicly associated with anyone who is a trans person. I’ve also had other trans people refer to me as male because I did not reach their standards for being female. At first I was troubled by these folks, but after a while I understood that they may be insecure about their gender and that distancing themselves from me may have helped them to feel better about themselves. Nonetheless, this is transphobia.

Whether it’s internal or external, transphobia can do a number on you. One needs to work through transphobia. I’ve seen people work through external transphobia in different ways. Some folks may deal with external transphobia by raising their voice, calling out the transphobic person, and basically make a confrontational scene. Other folks may remain calm and use the opportunity to educate the transphobic person. Still others pick and choose their battles and may physically remove themselves from the situation. I personally try to use the education route, but depending on the situation I have often removed myself from toxic circumstances. I have done this because I simply may not have had the time to educate or I may have sensed danger. Other times, I have sensed that I cannot educate the transphobic person no matter what I say, so I just simply move on and away from the transphobic person. As far as working through internal transphobia, it’s basically just rethinking and accepting yourself as a trans person. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

One never stops dealing with transphobia when one is a trans person. I hope that at some point in the future transphobia will disappear and that we will be able to finally live our lives in peace.

*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is a trans woman who has three grown children and is retired from 3M. She can be contacted at

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