I used to be prejudiced about trans people, literally prejudging them before I know any trans people personally. One source of my prejudice was Christian thought: not anything specific about male and female sex roles, but a more general belief that you should accept yourself as God made you. This was combined with a belief that trans people couldnt “pass”, would always visibly still be part of their assigned sex.
The other source of my prejudice was old-fashioned feminism: seeing trans women, in particular, as accepting and reinforcing gender stereotypes of masculinity and femininity rather than challenging them. The one book by a trans person I (partially) read: Jan Morris Conundrum, tended to reinforce this prejudice.
What changed my views was knowing a couple of trans people; I didnt know them very well, but it still made an impact. The first was a trans man whom I didnt realise was trans until after Id known him for several years. That rather put paid to any ideas I had about the inability to “pass”; he was a man living a happy Christian life. If I believed (as I do) that “by their fruits you will know them”, I had to acknowledge that his transitioning had been the right thing for him to do.
The second person I met was a trans woman at what I presume was a fairly early stage of transitioning. I did realise she was trans rather than cis right away. She was also studying for a PhD in chemistry, which hardly fits with stereotyped views of femininity. But what really caused me to rethink my prejudices wasnt something purely intellectual. The college we were both attending at the time was organising self-defence classes for women. She and I went along to those and during general discussions, she mentioned having been attacked several times. I cant remember if she said specifically it was connected to her trans status, but I suspected at the time that it was. And that made me face my own prejudices at a whole new level. If I was saying that transitioning or expressing your trans identity was wrong, was I to some extent encouraging hostility or even violence towards trans people?
I suppose its just about intellectually consistent to say “I disapprove of trans people, but they shouldnt be treated badly”, but I wasnt able to separate those factors out emotionally. If I did not accept trans people, I was contributing to a world in which people I knew and liked were being placed in danger. My intellectual arguments did not outweigh their lived experience and most trans peoples lived experience is that to live as a particular sex makes them happy and to live as their originally-assigned sex makes them profoundly unhappy.
I suspect it’s more important to respect trans people at that practical level rather than to try and theorise the whole matter, speaking as someone whose normal response to everything is to try and theorise it. I don’t know why trans people feel this profound disconnect with their assigned/biological sex, but my not understanding it doesn’t mean that sense doesn’t exist or is invalid. There are lots of experiences I haven’t had or find difficult to understand. The nearest I can get to imagining it is the down mood I experienced when my first period started a day or two after the first time I wore a bra. I felt I was never going to be comfortable again. I didn’t want to be a woman (indeed, my imagined alter ego for many years was a blond, Californian superhero, which I’m sure reveals other disturbing things about my psyche).
But although I didn’t particularly want to be female or a woman, and I often fail at performing femininity, I’ve never doubted that I was a woman or had the profound sense of cosmic wrongness that many trans people had about their own bodies. It’s in that sense that I’m willing to call myself (or be called by others) “cis”: I do not experience the conviction that my sex was wrongly assigned at birth. While a lot of feminists reject this label, I don’t have a problem with it.
This is because, while “cis” is not a label I would instinctively use for myself, I can see the usefulness in discussions of trans issues. It distinguishes between someone who may have a characteristic to some extent and those who have it to an extent that it affects their whole life. Thus, while I wouldn’t think of myself as “neurotypical”, I am neurotypical enough to be able to cope with most social situations in a way that an autistic person couldn’t. Similarly, I tick the “not disabled” box on job application forms, even though without my glasses my effective range of vision is probably about two feet away. “Cis” can be misapplied or used as a term of abuse, but then so can practically any other word in the English language, so I don’t want to reject it for those reasons.
I’m not trying to set myself up as some PC heroine: Im probably still prejudiced or insensitive towards trans people at times. But what my experiences show is that people can change their views, and also that this isn’t necessarily done via activism. I hope that, as with gay people, once cis people know more trans people, and a wider variety of trans people, transphobia and prejudice against trans people will gradually become less common and more socially unacceptable. It probably won’t be quick, but I think from my own experiences, that it can and will happen.