Is it possible that what some people call “transphobia” involves a fear that if you deal with transpeople (or even the topic of transness in general) something will rub off on you? I’d like to take a few paragraphs to play around with this concept of the transfer of unsavory characteristics on others. We might playfully spell it trans-fer and treat it like cooties, which everyone knows that kids of the opposite sex can give you if you touch them.

Even though I’m not condoning various phobias about groups, some of the stereotypical origins of these fears is fairly easy to imagine.

Xenophobia is a fear of strangers, and I suppose these strangers might steal your stuff or hurt you. Or they’ll overthrow your ways and make you adhere to new customs, foods, and languages. In any case, like the saying goes, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” and I would imagine you can extend the idea of “being with” to “looking like.”

Homophobia is a fear of homosexuals, and I suppose the most obvious stereotypical fear is that they might jump you and make you do unnatural sexual things. If it’s not about sex, but about gay culture, then we’d be back in the xenophobia camp, wouldn’t we?

I’m not sure what sort of threat trans-people pose to “normal” folk, whether it’s real or imagined. I think, though, it has to do with a combination of the xenophobia and homophobia mentioned above. Trannies are foreign, with foreign ways. They do not adhere to the norms of bi-gendered society, and thus threaten those who live by this code. Like gays, they do unnatural things to their bodies, but even go further to surgically alter their bodies. Furthermore, they’re like foreign spies — they dress deceptively and fool you into thinking they’re something they’re not, and no one likes to be made a fool, right?

Broadly speaking, transsexuals don’t live up to the man/woman binary that everyone else supposedly does. Not only that, but they willingly violate these norms of dress or manner or body.

Ok, good enough. But how would that affect a “normal” person? I think what’s at the root of this trans-fear is the possibility of a trans-fer of loose sexual identity to others so that they might become sissies, or they might want to learn about these freaks, or they might reveal a tiny weakness in themselves that they find transness interesting, and if they opened themselves up to inquiry, there would be a social trans-fer so that everyone else would think they weren’t normal. I keep typing the word “normal,” and I think that what xenophobia and homophobia and transphobia have in common is that normal people feel assaulted — their local/national identity is under attack, their strong sense of sexual orientation is under attack, and their very clear understanding of what’s male and female, or masculine and feminine, is under attack.

It’s the dogma of normalcy itself that’s under attack, and if you believe it and have been indoctrinated into it and you know that God ordained it, then it doesn’t surprise me that you feel attacked. And I’m sorry you feel that way, because being under attack, physically, mentally, or emotionally, is no fun.

But here’s my problem. If you are that certain of your dogma, what are you afraid of? Meeting a transgendered person shouldn’t rock your faith. Shaking hands with a foreigner with different voice, skin color, religion, or dress shouldn’t rock your faith. Having a homosexual colleague or friend shouldn’t rock your faith.

And yet well-meaning people in news stories and blogs and books repeatedly describe a slippery slope brought on by the onslaught of undesirable people and their ways. If we allow a “man in a dress” to use the ladies’ restroom, it will be the undoing of all gender norms. If we let the Arabs into our country, it will be the undoing of the Christian society. If we allow gays to have their way, it will be the undoing of straight society.

It’s an easy step from phobia to hate, it seems to me. And once you’re there, it’s not about getting cooties, but about eradication.