What is truscum? (And is it bad?)

The word “truscum” refers to a group of people who believe there are true transgender people and fake transgender people. It’s pronounced “TROOscum.” Their criteria for who they believe do and don’t count as real transgender people can vary.

They’re proponents of a concept known in the trans community as gatekeeping, which means creating hoops for people to jump through before they’re allowed to qualify as transgender, and not allowing them to identify as trans if they fail to jump through the hoops.

The origin of the word truscum

This word was created as a combination of the words “true” and “scum,” in reference to this group’s desire to dictate who counts as a true transgender person, and who doesn’t.

Even though it’s not the most flattering word, people who proudly hold these beliefs use the word truscum as an identifier. On the other hand, there are many folks who hold truscum beliefs that have never even heard that word.

Whether you agree or disagree with truscum ideas, the word isn’t considered to be an insult (there’s an article about hurtful language here if you want to know more). It’s more of a matter-of-fact label that describes people with a certain set of beliefs. A label that the people who hold those beliefs are comfortable using for themselves.

What do truscum believe?

The beliefs of truscum can vary on the finer points, but typically, they believe these two things especially:

  • Being transgender is contingent on having body dysphoria.
    Body dysphoria is a profound sense of discomfort with your body—specifically relating to the idea that your body expresses sex characteristics that don’t match your gender. People who believe you must have body dysphoria to be trans are also called transmedicalists (a word that is sometimes abbreviated to transmeds).
  • Nonbinary people don’t have valid gender identities.
    Usually truscum folks believe there are just two genders, and if you’re transgender, you must be either a transgender man or a transgender woman.

Truscum beliefs gave rise to the slur “transtrender,” which asserts that people who don’t meet certain criteria for what it means to be trans are just trying to be trendy.

Truscum beliefs can be held by both transgender and cisgender people. For many cisgender folks, they hold truscum beliefs simply because they don’t know any better.

It’s often the same for transgender people. It might be surprising to learn, but some transgender people are very skeptical that nonbinary folks exist, and are also adamant that all trans people must have body dysphoria or else they don’t count.

Are truscum beliefs harmful?

You might think that—other than blocking a good portion of trans people from being able to receive transgender medical care (which is a pretty obvious issue)—truscum beliefs aren’t too problematic. At least truscum believe that trans people are real!

But there are several other issues with these beliefs.

For one, truscum exclude and alienate a lot of hurting people who could easily be welcomed and accepted instead.

For example, there are many people who can’t medically transition for any number of reasons, from finances to safety to health. Truscum scrutinize whether these people are “transgender enough” (sometimes going so far as to mock and scorn them for not being a real trans person—especially in online settings).

Trans people already get mistreated enough for not conforming to gender norms—it’s awful that we would also subject them to mistreatment for being nonconforming in the wrong way (whatever arbitrary way that might be).

Not only that, but a person with a health condition or financial situation that prevents them from being able to get surgery or hormone therapy shouldn’t constantly have to “prove” that they are who they are. It’s important that we do our best to allow them to live as themselves, whether or not their body looks “enough” like their gender.

The truscum way of thinking makes these people more vulnerable to pain and hardship, either directly (through cruelty) or indirectly (with pressure to only express themselves in a way that betrays who they really are if they’re going to be included).

Another problem with truscum has to do with context. Truscum beliefs center around an outdated binarist context—a context that assumes all people are strictly men or strictly women—instead of recognizing that there’s a bigger context that requires us to change how we think about gender as a society.

Often this means that truscum beliefs enforce a concept called respectability politics: an idea that people should police what they do and say according to what the people in power are most likely to respect. (Even if that means compromising on who you are.)

For the time being, we live in a society that is very rigid and narrow-minded about gender, and truscum beliefs uphold this rigidity instead of rejecting it. If you prioritize being respected and understood by people enforcing the binary gender system, it’s a lot harder to be kind to the people whose gender expression doesn’t fit within it.

Gender is complicated

Ultimately, truscum try to put gender in a smaller box than it can really fit in. It’s a massive, beautiful, complex thing that we humans are barely just starting to understand.

This doesn’t mean you need to understand gender in order not to be truscum. When people describe a gender experience you don’t relate to, it’s OK not to relate. I mean, look at me: I’m agender. I barely relate to anybody’s experience of gender, because I don’t experience gender at all.

The key is to give people who have something different to say about their own gender a chance to be heard. There’s a lot about being human we don’t understand—so just try listening, instead of being quick to write it off as impossible.

It’s a diverse world. We can learn a lot from each other.

Other resources to check out:

5 comments

  • This whole ideology is not only beyond confusing and pointless to me, but extremely harmful and destructive. It’s underlying currents are found creeping insidiously everywhere, from religions (“We are the ‘REAL’ followers” or believers, or whatever)to the medical and psychiatric professions(“We are the ‘TRUE’ experts”), to parents (“We are the ‘TRUE’ authority over you”), etc. This is the clearest sign of a hierarchical, authoritarian belief system or philosophy, and always has the component of someone putting themselves as judge and decider of the “TRUTH” and all that comes with that. It is the dynamic of an abusive relationship, plain and simple. It is so amazingly disturbing how it is everywhere—and how easily we get pulled into believing this as truth, when our own experience of the world and ourselves says something different…how easily we defer to others’ thoughts and ideas, and take it.

      • People with invisible disabilities (such as myself) deal with this nearly every day as well. My question is this: Why do we (or I) take on or accept these distortions of the truth? Why do we allow ourselves to put others’ perspectives and superficial judgements on OUR experience and knowledge above our own?

        • That’s a big question. I think with enough invalidation our ability to even see ourselves and our own pain as valid gets undermined. Our pain becomes a source of shame that we pretend doesn’t exist. We’re taught that being accepted is contingent on being different than who we really are. And being the “right” sort of different means not feeling the pain we really do feel. Our pain shows our differences, and it’s often unsafe to express those differences.

          It’s complicated stuff—I’m definitely still learning about how it works.

          • Right there with you. Thank you for putting words to these things…it puts a tangibleness to the swirling and never ending wonderings that I observe daily. It is truly appreciated.

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