It’s Not Preference, It’s Prejudice

You like things for a reason

What’s a preference? To have a preference for some thing is to like it, to want it, to enjoy it. To have a preference against something is to not like it, to not want it to, not really enjoy it. I have a preference for a vanilla bean ice cream. I have a preference against chocolate ice cream. Preferences carry a connotation of relative moral neutrality. If someone says they have a preference for some thing, there is often the expectation that such a preference is of little moral consequence. No one is going to die or be saved if I pick up a pint of vanilla ice cream at the grocery store instead of a pint of chocolate ice cream.

If you read the comment threads of many or any social media post about dating or deciding not to date trans people. You’ll probably hear someone at some point saying that a preference not to date trans people is OK. What this is actually saying on a more fundamental level is that internalized transphobia is fine actually, if it is expressed in a sufficiently neutered, non-violent and passive manner. While the preference one might have to not date, trans people is often expressed in the sense of implying that one otherwise is accepting or “fine” with trans people. The assertion of the preference highlights internalized transphobia. The preference against trans people does not exist in a vacuum or in the absence of transphobia.

The proposition that not wanting to date, trans people (in general independent of their body or anything else) is “mere preference“ carries with it a few basic assumptions:

1. Preferences are themselves not the result of any moral ethical or philosophical attitudes

2. Preferences are unchangeable facets of a true self, soul, real you, or some other presupposed, unchanging, eternal essence

3. Preferences simply cannot be changed or molded

4. Preferences are morally justified in their existence and should be respected as solid boundaries of who a person is

We can examine each one of these underlying assumptions that lead to the assertion that dating trans people is a preference, and at this preference is respectable and not transphobic. For the first proposition we need to immediately recognize that there’s an incredibly easy parallel in terms of interracial dating. I am certain all of us can imagine, or even know some white people who do not, or will not date a BIPOC. The result of this preference, and it is a preference, is due to racism. Preferences derive themselves from social cultural values and influences. Whether those influences are moral or philosophically correct is irrelevant in terms of their ability to create preferences within us. We might think of standards of beauty, which are incredibly culturally shaped.

I’m not gonna really waste time here disputing a soul or real you. Any attachment to a sense of an unchanging essence is essentially delusion that creates immense amounts of suffering. What we call the colloquial self is some thing we construct on a constant basis. It is never consistent and it always changes. It’s composed of form, feeling, perception, mental fabrications, and consciousness. It does not have an intrinsic essence and it does not contain platonic preferences.

Preferences can easily be molded and change over the course of our lives. For a personal example, I was not at all into jazz two years ago, nor did I particularly enjoy dissonant music. I had heard dissonant music before, in small spurts, because a friend showed me some sing and because I listened to college radio at 1am like a mad person. Two years later, I am deeply invested in jazz and enjoy sitting down to listen to an avant-garde free jazz album, which is incredibly dissonant. In the same way when I was a child, I hated the taste of coffee, now I drink coffee and straight espresso with great enjoyment. It’s no secret that we can learn to like something or come to enjoy something if our community or social life pushes us to do so. No one comes out of the womb with a preference for PC gaming.

Preferences in the abstract are morally neutral. Having an inclination or disinclination towards something in general only gains moral qualities in the context of our actual reality when the preference gains specificity. A preference to give 10% of your income to charity is a morally good preference. The preference to spit at minorities in contempt is an evil preference. Colloquially, society seems to reach a point where, in certain preferences reach a meaningful communal consensus of transcending moral irrelevancy. Or that they become morally meaningful in the eyes of most people. If you went to North American in the 1800’s a white man expressing the “preference“ to not marry a black woman would not be met with any accusations of racism. Where as now a white person expressing that they will not date black people is immediately understood by most people who don’t suck as racism. There are other social, cultural reasons why people choose to date in their “in group“ especially for reasons of experiencing habitual discrimination. I do allege that anyone expressing a “trans preference” does not do so out of trauma or oppression, or the fear that a white man is fetishizing you or the knowledge that a cis man might kill you if he found out you’re trans on the first date. But that to attest to a trans preference, a preference never to date, trans people, is only thinly veiled transphobia, attempting to masquerade as a morally neutral preference.

We cannot decide boundaries solely in terms of the individual’s preference or desire. We have to decide boundaries on broader systems of ethics, social and community values, and philosophical ideals. We must willfully disrespect the Nazi’s preference for an ethno-state.

In terms of the individuals who can acknowledge that what we might perceive as preference (or attempt to internally justifie as preference) itself stems from prejudice. What is to be done to fix it? i’m not gonna sit here and try to write a whole self-help article on overcoming your internal prejudice, there are people far more qualified to do that. But if nothing else, it starts with awareness and a concerted desire to be better.