Does the “Trans Community” Even Exist?

The trans “community” is only a community in name.

The nature of online discourse makes it especially conducive to attracting ire it does not warrant, and in the case of a recent story by VICE writer Diana Tourjée, this took on a tone that highlighted an aspect of the trans community that no one is really willing to acknowledge, but is there despite continued denial of its existence.

To provide some context, Tourjée argues that cis straight men are part of the trans community solely through their active involvement in it. They’re the ones who set the narrative, it’s to their whims and desires that the buck stops — both politically and socially — and the active shunning of their experiences with trans women, even in the absence of what some might consider to be the traditional run of allyship that almost comes as a package deal when dating anyone who’s not cisgender and heterosexual, can come at the expense of the trans community, Tourjée also argues.

Some have taken issue with the headline, even though the body of the article does a pretty good job of describing the day-to-day experiences of (straight) trans women in a model that encompasses their lovers as part of their own community–but what if that assessment was taken even a little further. What if the “trans community”, as is traditionally referred to, doesn’t actually exist? What if it’s just a hodgepodge of different cultural sways, emulating function and appearance, but donning none of what would actually make it a real “community”?

When communal ties tend to be traditionally described, they’re often bound by geographical proximity. In the absence of such an encompassing space for the majority of trans people who live outside of highly-populated demographically-dense areas, online spaces on social media substitute them, and create the illusion of a “whole” even when by all traditional terms, there’s no single unifying structure that could get the trans community qualified as an actual community beyond the convenience of referring to it as such.

The reason why newly-wrought skepticism of the existence of such a construct warrants examination, is due to a recent round of internal turmoil between different wings of the trans community, for reasons that range from different classifications of how gender identity and expression should be maintained and performed socially, to cut cloth trans individuals finding themselves incredibly disillusioned by the tendency of the trans discourse to be dominated by individuals whose pseudonyms are consistently followed by some form of radical leftist imagery. If some measure of ideological conformity was necessary to propose forth a desired course for social reform, the youngest especially in the trans community see that as a legacy of the old guard, and a way to posit their experiences as being the default.

Is the presence of a communal consensus necessary for organized work to occur and for trans people to be afforded further levity? Of course not. That’s at least in the subtext of Tourjée’s argument in the first place–the existence of trans-amorous men who are closer to certain trans women in tangible and immaterial terms than even remotely-assiduous trans people is proof that to be a part of a community, is not to necessarily exude the physical or emotional traits that said community is recognized for. Ergo, if the community is built on a thesis that defines being part of the trans community as only being trans, that will inevitably alienate a lot of people who feel like the next trans person doesn’t fulfill their desired ideal for what being trans is, or what it should be. That, has the collateral effect of making some cis people more trans than some trans people are, at least in communal terms.

This happens to be the core of a similarly-borne contention in the larger queer community too–if the experiences of being queer are all-encompassing, such as they include even those who are not traditionally thought of as queer, how do we cogently define who’s queer and who’s not? The answer is you don’t, because if you do, that will bring along with it the baggage of group identity-based conflict, which has been the foundation of all human discord for millennia. What you can do however, is redefine the paradigm of community such as it doesn’t live or die by opinion uniformity. When that diversity of thought is allowed, even if a community doesn’t nominally exist, would-be members of it thrive, the need to keep a cohesive narrative running together diminishes, putting it a safe distance away from the perpetual conflict usually caused by petty identitarian discrepancies.

I’m non-binary, so I’m fairly-aware of what a united front of untamed hatred can do to a community’s fabric. What I’ve come to realize over the years, being part of the non-binary, queer, and Muslim community, is that no matter how our concerns are atomized, they’ll always end up privileging some over others. To avoid that, maybe what is needed is the move to a model of community that puts into consideration above all else its well-being–not a measure of who’s the “realest” or most “authentic”, but a useful measure of what an individual’s existence within community is likely to result in. In that way, bad actors like Blaire White and Jessica Yaniv — who’re definitely not cis — can have their actions contextualized whilst not putting their “transness” credentials in peril, and cis people who are showing of uttermost admirable allyship can exert influence that is laudable, led by empathy, and not firstmost reliant on who to exclude rather than who to include.

The issue is far from settled, and while disputing an antiquated and long-standing notion of community is as unlikely an outcome as ever, it’s worth considering that in an age where our differences are more-than-ever under the limelight, the traditional tenets of what binds us together could be a fatal detriment to a desired progressive model of pluralism. The trans community is in some ways a perfect showcase of what happens when the emphasis on consensus-building is so big, that it consumes everything in its way–including the crucial ingredients of a functioning community.