cisgender

A positive book review for once!

I seem to only write about books on here when they annoy or anger me. (I do write good reviews when my librarian hat is on, for the record!) Today, you get a reprieve from my negativity!

Ever since I read the trainwreck of a book that was Understanding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, I’ve been lowkey on the lookout for a schoolkid-appropriate book that actually addresses transgender people in a thorough and respectful way.

And today I found one!

Identifying as Transgender, by Sara Woods, is part of Rosen Publishing’s “Transgender Life” series (it being part of a series on trans issues is mostly why the title is a little awkward, I think?), and I’m clearly going to need to check out the rest of the series, because this one kind of knocks it out of the park!

Things this book does that I love include:

  • Talking about being cisgender on the same level as talking about being transgender, so transgender people are not actively othered.

    Everyone, transgender and cisgender alike, has a gender identity. A cisgender person is a person whose gender identity is consistent with their assigned gender… Transgender people, on the other hand, have gender identities that do not match the genders assigned to them at birth. (pg. 7)

  • Actively and consistently acknowledging non-binary genders throughout (non-binary people are included throughout, and not just as a side-note which is thereafter forgotten).
  • Acknowledging the diversity of trans experiences generally.

    Some trans women come to identify as women after many years of life, while others identify as girls when they are toddlers. (pg. 8)

    The painful experience of dysphoria has many sources and impacts many transgender people. But it is not universal. Many find that they are comfortable with their bodies as they are. This fact does make them any less or more trans. (pg. 25)

  • Explicitly identifying the book’s primarily colonial North American perspective (it is the target market for the book), and acknowledging that many contemporary societies actively include more than two genders.

    Some contemporary examples of nonbinary genders include the muxe in Zapotec communities in southern Mexico, the waria in Indonesia, and the mashoga in Swhili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast – each of these identities carries its own specific attributes and meanings.

    Here in the United States, and Canada as well, many people fall outside of the binary. [Some explanation of different non-binary genders, genderfluid and agender identities.] In addition, many indigenous people are two-spirit, a term rooted in gender identities specific to some of the peoples indigenous to the continent. (pg. 11)

  • Discussing intersex people while also carefully differentiating between being intersex and being transgender (and defining dyadic alongside intersex in the same way that cisgender and transgender are discussed alongside one another).

    Most People are dyadic, but many people are intersex… Like dyadic people, intersex people are usually assigned male or female at birth. Because the concept of binary biological sex is so deeply ingrained in medical practice, many intersex people have been subject to nonconsensual treatments by doctors and surgeons (pg. 23)

    People often wrongly confuse the meanings of intersex and transgender. While some intersex people are transgender, many are not, identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth. Similarly, most transgender people are dyadic and do not have any intersex variations. (pg. 23)

  • Including inclusive definitions of sexual and romantic orientation (in a chapter intended to dispel the myth that all trans people are gay, and that transness and queerness are the same thing).

    Just like cisgender people, transgender people can be gay or straight. They can also be bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual, greysexual, aromantic, or polyamorous[*] (pp. 29-30).

  • Discussing intersecting experiences of marginalization!

    All transgender people are vulnerable to transphobia and cissexism. But there are groups of trans people who experience additional marginalization and mistreatment. (pg. 43)

    This section goes on to discuss transmisogyny, and some of the ways in which ableism and racism can combine with cissexism and transphobia to make life even more difficult for multiply marginalized trans people.

  • THIS:

    When it comes to nonbinary people, the dominant terms that we have for sexuality tend to not make much sense. Who, for example, would a straight agender person date? Would a genderqueer person only be homosexual if they dated other genderqueer people? What if they dated a gender fluid person? (pg. 31)

I am so pleased with this book, y’all. Check it out if you can!


*I mean, ok, you may object to this being included among orientations (I am extremely iffy about this myself), but in general the idea here is that trans people’s ways of forming relationships are just as diverse as cis people’s, so I’m giving it a pass.

Gender Perspectives Vol. 20

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

It’s been far too long since our last installation of Gender Perspectives, and I’ve been accidentally sitting on this draft for a while, so let’s get right to what I have for you today:

My Transgender Day of (in)Visibility | Wandering Aloud

Being trans is difficult; being middle-aged and non-binary doesn’t make it any easier. I know that there is ‘no right way to be trans’ and as a rule I’m proud to be out and visible. Still, sometimes I am left with the feeling that perhaps there is a ‘wrong way’

 

What I Want | THEMAGICSPACESHIP

I want to experience the relief and joy and affirmation my binary trans friends experience when they begin to transition and the world starts to read them correctly at last. Confusion is not good enough. Avoiding referring to me is not good enough. Being read half the time one way and half the time the other, and wrong all the time, is not good enough.

 

Self-Expression After Coming Out | Queerly Texan 

My self-expression changed when I became comfortable with myself [as a lesbian], and I think that’s true for a lot of people. When you spend months, years, or even decades being uncomfortable the second you stop feeling even a tiny percentage of that awkwardness, you never want to go back.

 

Gender? I Don’t Know A Gender! | Sofhoney

What are you?

I’m me! I’m Sof. I change frequently – that goes for mood, attraction, appearance, & a whole lot of other things, too. It’s something I beat myself up over – a LOT. It’s something I’ve come to realize doesn’t matter. Not to me, anyway – some people identify very strongly with a gender or sexuality & that is great & amazing & I support & uplift those who identify that way…it’s just that I personally don’t!

 

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: R is for “Real”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

R is for ‘real’

The idea of realness is often levied against trans people. The misuse of the word ‘real’ by cis people is actually one of the reasons why we need the word ‘cis’, because without a word to identify the group of people who (basically) identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, people commonly default to describing such men and women as ‘real men’ and ‘real women’, thus implying that trans men and women somehow aren’t real (or rather, that their man- or womanhood isn’t real).

Cis people seem to think trans people(’s identities) aren’t real because they’re different from what some doctor announced when we were born, and even that our names aren’t real because we may not have the same name we were given when we were born (though we at least have that in common with a majority of married women (somehow), and they aren’t often asked what their real name is, or if their current name is their real name. I wonder why that could be?*)

I know that sometimes this misuse of the word ‘real’ (especially with respect to names) is fairly innocently intended – I know because on the occasions that I have questioned people’s use of the word in these contexts, they’ve  been clear that wasn’t what they meant and have fumbled for a more appropriate word.

For names, the phrase you want is “birth name”. Some trans people also refer to their birth name as their “deadname”; I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s never ok to ask someone what their deadname was, because when people use that term, it is giving you an idea of how they feel about that name, ok?

For people, if there is some reason why you need to specifically denote the subset of men and/or women who had their gender (basically) correctly identified at birth (and for the record, unless you’re talking about their privileged position relative to trans people, you probably don’t), the word you want is ‘cis’ (or ‘cisgender’ if you want to be formal about it).

Stop implicitly invalidating trans people in this way. And call out other people you see doing it, too.


*Rhetorical question. I know it’s because of cissexism. And heterosexism. And, to some extent, plain old misogyny. Triple whammy of nesting/intersecting oppressions!

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

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: K is for “kinky”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

K is for “kinky”

There is this thing cis people sometimes (often?) do, when faced with the idea of a cis person wanting to have sex with a trans person (and this applies especially when a cis man is into a trans woman): they see it as ‘kinky’.

I don’t know if it is immediately apparent that this is messed up, on a bunch of levels really, but it should be. On its face, it is invalidating of the trans person in question in more ways than one.

The most immediate reason for this is that if you see sex with a trans person as inherently different than sex with a cis person, that’s blatantly transphobic. If trans women are women, if you really believe that, then sex with a trans woman is just sex with a woman. Which may or may not be kinky depending on the people involved and what they do, but the kink isn’t because that person is trans.

Secondarily, though, when people jump straight from, ‘oh, Person A is into Person B’ to ‘Person A must be super kinky, otherwise they wouldn’t be into Person B’, that carries some pretty terrible implications about their opinions of Person B. If the only way you can picture someone being an object of desire is if they are someone else’s particular kink, then you must think really poorly of that person.

Or, as is more likely, you must be reducing the entirety of their personhood and what they have to offer down to a single aspect of their identity, as often happens to trans people in all kinds of contexts, and is never ok.

Sexual attraction is a tricky thing, and just because someone is into a person that you aren’t into, that doesn’t mean their attraction, different from yours though it is, is inherently kinky. I think most of the time people know this, but somehow that knowledge flies out the window when faced with people’s attractions to trans folks.

And it’s gotta stop, not just because it’s shitty on its face, but also because it is a symptom of a much larger form of cissexism, wherein cis people are seen simply as people, but trans people are mostly just seen as trans.


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

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: E is for “everyone feels that way”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

E is for “everyone feels that way”

…This is a strange one, to be honest. But it sometimes happens, particularly in more explicitly TERF-y spaces, that some cis person will try to argue that trans people aren’t really trans, we’re just misunderstanding what gender is like for everyone.

So, the thing is, I think it is definitely true that every single person alive has, at some point, had an unpleasant run-in with the norms imposed upon their gender. Not one of us can possibly get through life without being on the receiving end of gender policing, be it implicit or explicit.

All of us, in other words, have moments of discomfort with our genders. The thing that the cisgender people making this argument don’t seem to grasp is that there are different kinds of gender-related discomfort. And, the kind of gender-related discomfort that all people experience (the one that stems from being called out for failing to conform to the arbitrary standards that are applied to your gender) is distinctly different from the kind of gender-related discomforts that comes with dysphoria – these are the discomforts of being explicitly misgendered (which may happen to people both cis and trans, and is sometimes a form of gender policing), or of being judged for one’s failure to conform to the standards of a gender that you don’t identify with in the first place (this experience is far more common among trans people than cis people.)

Look, it’s not as if trans people feel that we are perfect fits for our genders (by which I mean, our actual genders, not our birth-assigned ones) any more than cis folks do. It’s just that we fit better into them than our birth-assigned ones. It’s just that our birth-assigned genders aren’t our genders.

And though the difference in how it feels as a cis person to be judged for failing to fit that birth-assigned gender with which you identify, versus how it feels to be a trans person judged for failing to fit a gender that was wrong to begin with is probably impossible to articulate – people generally only feel one or the other of these in their lives, so they can’t really be compared – I promise you it exists. All I know for sure is that the difference is what causes trans people to identify with a gender other than their birth-assigned one (or with no gender at all), while cis people don’t.

Which is to say: no, not everyone feels the way trans people feel about their birth-assigned genders. I can tell, because an awful lot of you aren’t rejecting those assignments.


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

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: C is for “Cis is a slur”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

C is for “Cis is a slur”

Ok, this one is admittedly a little complex. First and foremost, cis (which is short for cisgender) is a descriptor – saying that someone is cis just means that they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, simple as that! For the most part, it is just a word that means “not transgender”. It’s creation and original intent and usage were definitely not slur-like.

I admit that is not sufficient evidence that a word isn’t a slur, though. So, I want to take the claim that it is a slur seriously enough to probe at what makes people object to the term.

When people object to being called cis or cisgender, it usually comes with one of a number of reasons (and if you drill down, it’s usually not actually that they think cis is a slur). I’m going to try to address the ones I’m aware of here, though if I miss some, please let me know!

There doesn’t need to be a word for that! That’s just normal

It is true that an overwhelming majority of people are cisgender. But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or important to have a word that encapsulates that particular aspect of gendered experience. Most people are also heterosexual, and in fact we didn’t get around to making a word for that until we had already come up with the category of homosexual – it is a function of categories that if as long as you are assuming everyone is the same, you don’t need a word for that sameness.

It is only when one begin recognizing and naming different experiences that it becomes apparent that there needs to be a word for the ‘sameness’ against which those differences are being identified. The only way to truly make linguistic room for the idea that all of these experiences are equally valid is to have words for all of them, not just the rare or ‘weird’ ones. We all have a relationship to the gender we were assigned at birth (if we were assigned a gender at birth), even if it’s a relatively uncomplicated one that we haven’t ever really thought about, as is often the case with cisgender people.

But I *don’t* really fit the gender I was assigned at birth!

I never quite know what to do with people who don’t like being called cisgender because (of course!) they don’t perfectly fit into the box associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. The thing folks making this claim seem to miss is that cisgender absolutely does not mean ‘conforms to the gender they were assigned birth’, it just means you identify that way. It is totally fine and great to be a gender non-conformist cis person. It just doesn’t make you not cisgender.

But If you really don’t identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, then that’s another thing entirely, because then you would be trans. And then you’d be right to object to being called cisgender, because it would be inaccurate. But continuing to claim you’re not cis while simultaneously living a dysphoria-free life in the gender you were assigned at birth – and benefiting from the privileges that come with that – isn’t going to fly.

You don’t get to decide what labels to use for me!

So, most of the time when I see this one get pulled out, it’s straight-up trolling – the person making the argument doesn’t believe in their own premises in the first place and it’s pointless. But I’m going to go ahead and assume someone somewhere has made this argument and meant it and address it anyway.

I guess the major thrust of this argument is that it is hypocritical for a group of people who have fought – and are continuing to fight – very hard for the right to define the words that are used to describe them, to then turn around and choose words to describe other people.

The thing is, though, that there is a false equivalency going on here. In terms of questions like the general rejection of the word ‘transsexual’ in favour of ‘transgender’ is a question of the words’ accuracy to what it is describing. While transsexual is a word that some trans people find to be an accurate description of their experience, many of us experience our trans-ness as specifically related to our gender and may have little or no dysphoria around or desire to change our sex/sexual organs. I, for example, am transgender, but I am distinctly *not* transsexual. ‘Transgender’ is simply a better descriptor for most trans people’s experiences.

Cisgender meanwhile, as I said above, is simply a word that arises naturally as the linguistic ‘opposite’ to transgender, and it really does just mean ‘not transgender’. As I said in the previous, if a person is NOT not transgender (i.e. is they’re not cisgender according to that definition), then of course they can object to being called cisgender, because they’re not.

However, barring an actual objection to the word’s accuracy in describing he people it is applied to, this argument is pretty facetious.

But the word is used as a slur!

So, here’s the thing. A slur is a word that it used to oppress or dehumanize marginalized people. A word used to describe those in a position of privilege can’t be a slur in that sense – it simply doesn’t work that way.

I do understand that sometimes trans folks use the word ‘cis’ as a sort-of insult, though more particularly it is usually in an exclusionary way (as in ‘you’re not one of us’ – which, for the record, is true.) I am honestly not really sure what to say about that though. I think that most people understand that when, for instance, a straight woman who is dealing with heartbreak gets her lady friends together to talk about how all men are trash, that is just perfectly reasonable and understandable venting, and that no matter how many times it happens “man” isn’t going to become a slur. To be honest, I think the reason this same venting use of any of the other markers of privilege (white, rich, cis, etc.) doesn’t get as easily read that way is that people in general are less understanding of the very real pain and frustration that various marginalized people are dealing with.

And listen, I’m not going to pretend that no one has ever actually wanted dehumanize and eradicate cis people. It’s just, that’s such an irrelevantly small number of people with – let’s face it – no power whatsoever, that it just doesn’t rate.

Cis isn’t a slur. It is sometimes used in a way that is meant to discredit people, but it’s level of insulting-ness is more along the lines of something like calling someone ‘weird’. Weirdness is often considered to be something that discredits people, but it can also just be a true description of a person, as long as their comfortable with their weirdness. If you just understand that you are cis, and that’s ok, then being called cis shouldn’t be an insult to you, really, even when it is meant as such.

And honestly, if it makes you uncomfortable to be reminded that your relationship to your birth-assigned gender isn’t the same as everyone else’s, that’s actually a manifestation of your cis privilege. So deal with it.


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

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 17

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

A Portrait of the Artist as a Queer Femme | Radically Queer

…my gender exists somewhere between squishy shy alien creature and calm, helpy robot. It’s not really something I can represent in physical space. I am drawn to things coded feminine and to queering them, so I experience delight in the color pink, in spoonie communities of care, in fannish frivolity. Many of the things I love can most easily be interpreted through a femme lens—except, I sometimes fear, for me.

One Year Out: Of course I was trans | Gender: Awesome

…when it comes to gender especially, I have found it very difficult to verbalize my feelings at all with anyone. I can WRITE about it for days, and I’ve done that: blogging, Facebook posts, published articles, spoken word poems – some people might see that as me being open about my transition, and sure, it totally is.

But writing, performing, and posting on social media are different from actually saying something to someone directly.

Femme, Adjective or Noun? | Femme Feminism

I’m a dyke who wears dresses and skirts 98% of the time, who almost never leaves the house without makeup, who has her shoe collection in a display case and her boot collection hanging from racks on her walls. But “femme” as an identity has always puzzled me. I don’t object to it, I totally support people who use it — it just doesn’t resonate with me. I’ve often said that I’m “femmey, but not a femme.” For me, femme is a description, not an identity; an adjective, not a noun. And part of the reason is that I don’t really grasp, intellectually or instinctively, what that identity means.

What My Body Means | themagicspaceship

(CN: discussion of body shape, and ~curves~)

Today I put on a dress and it made my boobs look good. It fit perfectly on my waist and hips, as if designed for my body shape. I had not internalised the fact that clothes are supposed to fit. The last time I tried a dress it did not fit and left me convinced of my failure as a woman. Today it fit, and I no longer cared about being a woman. In that moment, in the fitting room, trying, purely for fun, a dress I had no intention of buying, the dress wasn’t a performance of femininity. The dress had nothing to do with femininity. It was an ungendered piece of clothing that fit my body, and made no demands of it. My chest was an ungendered body part that for once, somehow, didn’t seem to stick out awkwardly. My curves were an ungendered body shape that is how MY body happens to be shaped. And it felt… nice.