Fighting back against transphobes (as well as other sexists) is the right thing to do. But you need to do it strategically and make it clear for the average person to understand. Right now, the bigots have the upper hand because they can just raise common sense, even though the reality is more complicated for trans people. Unfortunately, a lot of trans people and allies are pulling out a bunch of 102-level postmodernist arguments that confuse Joe Schmo—and get conservatives, so-called rationalists, and TERFs to howl that because the pro-trans arguments are circuitous and incomprehensible, they must be right. And this leads to more bathroom bills, more athletics bans, and other attempts to enforce gender normativity by law or social custom.

Here are a few tips, for what they’re worth:

  • Transphobes are sexists. A sexist is anyone who uses one’s reproductive or chromosomal configuration to determine people’s social role. Sexists do not care what what you think, how you view the world, what matters to you. All they care about is your organs and chromosomes. They are dehumanising you by doing so. A sexist is equivalent to a racist in repugnance, and their arguments are little different. Whenever you argue against transphobia, tie it to all other sexisms, including misogyny and homophobia. (And when you examine this further, all sexisms are misogyny, since they are all centred on restricting the role of women, punishing people assigned male at birth for being too close to women, punishing people assigned female at birth for wanting to leave the restrictions enforced on women, punishing cis men for being too womanly if they show feelings… all of it, ALL of it, is about diminishing, policing, and controlling women.)
  • Referring to sex (however defined) as “socially constructed” will merely make transphobes double down, since their normative arguments are easier to understand to the average person. It goes over people’s heads. Instead, you’ll want to point out that people’s recognition of their gender precedes their perception of their reproductive organs. Like trans people, cis people learn their gender identity from observing same-gender adults and peers, but they never learn about a dissonance between their gender identity and assigned sex at birth. Everything is simple for them. Trans people, on the other hand, learn this as soon as they are taught about sex. For our social species, gender precedes sex. I repeat: Gender precedes sex. This is why trans people know who they are at a young age.
  • On the other hand, the TERF/conservative argument that “sex is real” or that being trans “denies biological sex” is sophistry. No trans person is denying what their reproductive organs are. That is the very definition of gender dysphoria. If trans people were actually “denying biology,” they’d say they were cis. They are questioning the idea that they have to fill a social role that aligns with their reproductive organs. TERFs and conservatives are pushing for gender conformity. Pronouns, documentation, clothing, bathrooms, and hairstyles are all gender, not sex. Enforcing gender roles based on biology is called sexism. Once you say that sex must determine gender roles, you are being a sexist, since nobody but a sexist would treat biology as destiny. And never fall for the canard of “sex-based rights.” (See the previous point.)
  • Transphobia, like all other sexisms, is the “radical idea that people don’t have brains.” (See the first bullet point.)
  • Avoid truisms and platitudes. Yes, trans women are women, but simply saying that won’t convince the other side. You need to tell a coherent story.
  • Acknowledge that trans people are a relatively small minority, but that oppressing that minority is still wrong, and there should be procedures in place to support trans people should you come across one. The same goes for other small minorities. There may be very few Jews and Muslims in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that you exclude Judaism and Islam on a census. Only about 1% of the population has an intellectual disability, but schools still offer special education classes for students who learn significantly slower than the average.