The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: B is for ‘Born a man’/’Born a woman’

Welcome to another episode of the “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet. Today:

B is for ‘Born a Man’/’Born a woman’

Sometimes, when cisgender people are talking about a trans person, they will try to explain their trans-ness in simple terms, by explaining that a trans woman is a woman who was ‘born a man’, (or that a trans man is a man who was ‘born a woman’). I would like this wording to die in a fire, to be perfectly honest.

I cannot stress this enough: no one in the history of the entire world – cis, trans, or otherwise – was ‘born’ either man or a woman. We are all born as babies, and in most cases adults then make a guess at what our gender is and generally call us either a girl or a boy.

For some people, it may very well be true to say they were ‘born a girl’ or ‘born a boy’ (other people – trans, cis, and otherwise – don’t really see their gender as something they were born with, but rather as something that developed after they were born). The thing about that, though, is that trans men are just as likely to have been born boys as cis men are – trans men who are born boys are just much more likely to have the adults in their mistakenly think that they were born girls, is all.

Certainly there are trans men out there who feel that it is accurate to describe them as having been born girls, and trans women who see themselves as having been born boys, people who feel their gender has shifted over the course of their life, starting in one place and winding up elsewhere. But that is far and away not the only, or even the most common trans experience.

So, cis people, just stop it already with talking about people of any kind being born as men or women. We aren’t, any of us. And, more importantly, stop saying trans people were born in a gender other than the one they tell you they are – most of us weren’t.


Check out the rest of “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

9 comments

  1. then what is the proper explanation, if the situation arises? I’m a transpartner, so I see both sides, but pointing out a problem and not offering an alternative to educate and inform isn’t helpful, respectfully.

    1. It is more accurate to describe a trans person’s experience according to the gender they were *assigned* at birth, not what we were supposedly ‘born as’. A doctor declaring “it’s a boy” after looking at a baby’s genitals doesn’t mean that baby was born a boy, if you get me.

      Also generally, the difficulty in trans people’s lives is better framed as a misidentification perpetuated by society than as something being wrong with us and our bodies.

      1. Do the phrases “designated male/female at birth” fall under that framing of misidentification? I see dfab/dmab in use a lot online but wasn’t sure whether they were accepted terms or not.

        1. Designated is essentially the same thing as assigned yeah! I actually think designated is better (as in, more accurate to what actually happens), but I see assigned used more *shrugs*

          1. For me, I prefer “assigned”, because to be assigned means you’re given a job to perform or role to carry out – you didn’t pick it, it was given to you. “Designate” on the other hand, has “design” at its root, which implies that some master plan knows better than I do what I’m supposed to be doing and “made me” be the way I am.

            It’s the difference between being burdened with a task and being intended for a task. The gender I was assigned is a burden – i strongly feel that this gender is not what I am intended for.

  2. I understand what you’re saying here but I think saying a baby is a boy or a girl is usually just referring to sex, not gender. Where it goes wrong is when people start assuming sex means anything else than just biological differences, that somehow sex defines who we are and what role we have in society… so in that sense we assign a baby a gender based on their sex I guess, but I feel like that has mostly to do with gender in the sense of gender roles (or gender as the social construct of what it means to be a certain sex, which is how I usually encounter it in academic writing).

    But if I’m being really honest… I’m actually still confused what exactly defines someone’s gender if not gender roles. I mean, I know that gender roles have nothing to do with someone’s internal sense of gender – one can fit into certain gender roles but be a different gender or not fit into certain gender roles but still be that gender. But then what *does* define gender? I always kind of assumed it’s something you’re born with, and which might or might not align with your sex. But if gender is something that is developed over time instead of something you’re born with, then how exactly does it develop?

    I’m sorry if these questions come across as rude or anything, but I’m just trying to understand so I’d like to hear your thoughts on it :) (although I would understand if you’d just refer me to google – I’m sure many people have written about it, maybe I just need to google better to find it). I personally do not really have any internal sense of gender, I identify as female only because of my sex, not because I “feel” female or whatever. So it can be kind of hard to wrap my mind around what gender is.

    1. Hi! Thanks for taking the time to write all this out – you’re definitely not the only person with these kinds of questions (to be honest, pretty much anyone who spends much time at all thinking about gender winds up wrestling with this stuff.) I probably don’t have the most satisfying answers for you, to be honest, but it’s something I have thought a lot about and written about.

      This post is probably most likely to get at your questions directly:
      https://valprehension.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/i-dont-know-why-i-identify-as-genderqueer-i-just-know-that-i-do/

      But, since I don’t pretend to be the ultimate authority here, I also recommend you take a looksee at some of things I’ve posted in my Gender Perspectives series (https://valprehension.wordpress.com/tag/gender-perspectives/) – getting a sense of lots of different peoples’ perspectives and experiences is the best way to get a sense of the different kinds of meanings that gender takes on for different people!

      Also tho, Re: people calling babies boys and girls referring to their sex: I mean yes, technically that is true. But the things people do with that information tend to be very gendered pretty much immediately, so the distinction falls apart pretty quickly. There’s also a specific reason that the post is about the wording “born as man”/”born a woman”, though, because I find it particularly egregiously absurd to refer to babies as men and women (as opposed to boys and girls) :P

      1. Thanks for replying! I really like that post – it seems kind of obvious that gender is probably determined by a lot of different factors, but it’s still confusing (especially when so many trans people *do* define it as some internal sense of gender you’re born with, which might be true for them, but not for everyone). The idea of not strongly identifying with your gender but not disidentifying with it either is definitely true for me, too. I just stick with female because it’s what I’ve been for the past 23 years and it’s good enough. The only thing I feel slightly uncomfortable with is referring to myself as a woman, but I’m not sure whether that has anything to do with gender. I suspect it might have to do with being on the ace spectrum and somehow associating being a woman with being sexual, or maybe it’s just because “woman” sounds so old and I still feel very young.

        I’ll check out the gender perspective series sometime later, if I don’t forget (my memory is terrible sometimes).

        You’re definitely right about the baby thing. Somehow especially with babies people tend to gender everything, when babies are probably the only age category where gender does not, and should not, matter at all. But my point here was more that I believe this is mostly connected to gender roles and people assuming that your sex defines who you are. Although that is connected to trans issues too I guess – people assuming that sex and gender are the same or that your sex is who you “really” are.

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