This is a pet hypothesis of mine, nothing more. There is absolutely no empirical data to back this up. But I think it explains my observations fairly well.
One of the big things we talk about, in trans feminism, is the concept of “gender identity”– the subjective internal sense of oneself as male, female, or nonbinary. Trans people are people whose gender identity doesn’t match their gender assigned at birth; cis people are people whose gender identity does.
But the thing is… I think that some people don’t have that subjective internal sense of themselves as being a particular gender. There’s no part of their brain that says “I’m a guy!”, they just look around and people are calling them “he” and they go with the flow. They’re cis by default, not out of a match between their gender identity and their assigned gender.
I think you could probably tell them apart by asking them the old “what would you do if you suddenly woke up as a cis woman/cis man?” If they instantly understand why you’d need to transition in that circumstance, they’re regular old cis; if they are like “I’d probably be fine with it actually,” they might be cis by default. (Of course, the problem is that they might be a cis person with a gender identity who just can’t imagine what gender dysphoria would feel like. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to stick random cis men with estrogen and find out how many of them get dysphoric.)
(I’m noticing some similarities, as I write this, to what I’ve read about what being agender feels like– although of course agender people are not cis. If my agender readers could confirm or deny the similarity, that’d be helpful.)
I think this would explain a lot actually. There are a lot of cis people who feel the need to come up with absolutely ludicrous explanations for why trans people (particularly trans women) are trans. The “trans women are self-hating gay men.” The “trans men want to gain male privilege.” The “trans women fetishize themselves as female.” The “nonbinary people are making it up for attention or for queer streed cred.” The “trans women are agents of patriarchy appropriating womanhood in order to invade women’s spaces.” These explanations aren’t just dumb, they’re obviously dumb. Very, very few people would put up with everything from gatekeeping to violence for the sake of their boner.
However, if you don’t have a gender identity, and you assume that your lack of a gender identity means other people don’t have a gender identity, then trans people’s behavior is ludicrous. Why the hell are all these people deciding they’re women or men or something else? And when people appear to be doing something for no readily apparent reason, other people tend to grasp at straws to explain it, including obviously dumb straws.
Obviously, this doesn’t excuse the blatant transphobia of those explanations. Generally, when people are doing something for no reason you can understand, it’s safe to assume that they have a good reason that you just don’t know about. Ask them why they’re doing the thing they’re doing before you conclude it’s about whatever ludicrous thing best fits your prejudices.
Nevertheless, if my idea is correct, then it offers some hope in combating that sort of transphobia. We simply have to explain to cis-by-default people what a gender identity is and that they don’t have one but other people do before they get lured in by the fuckwitted explanations.