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.

How has your relationship with the cisgender people in your life changed? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge Part 24

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: How has your relationship with the cisgender people in your life changed?

This is a really big question, and I’ll try to stick to generalities in answering it, although obviously the answer is different for each person.

In general, my relationships have not been significantly impacted by my coming out as genderqueer. I am fortunate that most of the cisgender people in my life took my coming out as an opportunity to demonstrate their care and respect for me, in various ways. Coming out about things like this has the sort of back-handed advantage of really making it clear to you who is in your corner, who will fight for you, who will take up some of the emotional labour involved in dealing with people’s various reactions, and many other things.

And I’ve been very lucky in that regard, though I’ve also managed to avoid unnecessary damage to relationship by choosing my method of coming out carefully.

This is clearest with respect to my parents; I came out to them in an email, specifically because I knew their initial response was likely to involve a lot of emotional ugliness, and it seemed like a kindness to myself and to our relationship to allow them to have those responses when I wasn’t there looking at them. It definitely helped.

I don’t really know what else to say to this. Obviously, as I’ve become more aware of trans issues in general, cissexism and trans erasure have become things that I am always aware of, and I often find myself exhausted by cisgender people, in the same way that I feel exhausted by people who are uneducated on and/or unaffected by other forms of oppression that I am keyed into.

I guess in general, coming out has not drastically impacted my relationships with individual cisgender people, but it has made me more wary of cis folks in general, and less enthusiastic about forming new relationships with cis people, unless I know they are already aware of non-binary genders, and pretty good on trans stuff in general. Cis people have to come with trans references basically :P

Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

March 2016 Carnival of Aces Roundup

Here is the roundup of posts for this month’s Carnival of Aces, on the topic of gender norms and asexuality! I loved being the host this month, and I have enjoyed reading all of your submissions so much; there has been much squeeing with joy, so thank you all who contributed! Without further ado, here are this month’s submissions, in the order I received them:

Passive vs. Active Femininity: Does Asexuality Affect It? | the notes which do not fit
Sara examines the ways in which her femininity is often the result of passive conformity to female norms rather than an active gender expression, and considers whether her approach to femme-ness is related to her asexuality.

(a)Gender and (a)Sexuality: Chickens and Eggs | darkmetineknight
Maris considers the ways in which kyr dysphoria contributes to kyr sex-repulsion, and vice versa, and the way these things feed back into kyr agender and asexual identity, concluding that they are so deeply related they can’t possibly be pulled apart.

Female Stereotypes and Asexuality | aroacelennie
Lennie writes about how, despite their agender identity, other people often try to frame the aro and ace aspects of their identity through common female archetypes.

When Dudes Talk Gender & Asexuality | The Ace Theist
Coyote unpacks some of the oversimplifications and other problems with the ways some asexual guys talk about the tensions between their gender and their asexuality.

Gender and Asexuality | quizzicalsloth
Amber explores potential explanations for asexual people’s tendency to not feel a strong connection to binary genders, from a personal perspective, and considers how gender plays a role in their experiences of platonic and aesthetic attractions, and relationships.

Do gender roles serve any purpose for asexuals? | It’s An Ace Thing
Dee questions the purposes gender norms serve, and concludes that many gender norms simply don’t serve asexual people.

Genderqueer and demisexual: two sides of the same coin for me | Valprehension
I wrote about the ways in which my genderqueerness and my demisexuality are inextricably tangled up with each other, and fundamental to my overall identity and sense of self.

Sexism at work | A3
The author of A3 relates their experiences of sexism (and heterosexism) in the workplace, as an agender aro ace who is not out about those aspects of their identity, and who is perceived as a woman.

Gender, Or Why I’m Glad I’m Aro/Ace | Grey Is My Favourite Colour
Mara explains why they’re glad to be aro/ace, because of the potential complications of parsing gendered attractions (and sexual/romantic orientations) as a non-binary person.

The Healer Role | Prismatic Entanglements
Elizabeth considers her tendency to take on healer roles in video games, and considers how this role relates to her identity as a cisgender woman, and the ways in which this tendency is reflected (and not) in her asexual activism.

By nature of being asexual, I’m defying gender norms | From Fandom to Family
luvtheheaven unpacks some of the interactions between gender norms, (especially heteronormativity) and asexuality, and how those norms can make it difficult to come to an asexual identity, and even more difficult to get others to understand it.

Gender Norms and Asexuality | Aro Ace Gin
Gin considers the ways in which her asexuality has impacted her relationship to her gender as a cis woman.

Asexual E-Dating Diaries #1 | la pamplemouse
The author of la pamplemouse talks about her early attempts at online dating as an asexual cis woman.

Non-Binary Gender Norms and (A)Sexuality: Yeah, No | Queer As Cat
Vesper talks about why they just don’t see any connection between gender norms and sexuality for them, given that there are no gender norms that apply to their gender (maverique) in the first place, and much more!

On Gender and Asexuality | conasultingamadman
Bonnie explains how embracing her asexuality helped her understand her relationship to both femininity and androgyny, describes her journey toward a panromantic identity, and considers her feelings around others’ perceptions of her as a cis het white girl.

My Gender Aesthetics are All Kinds of Ace | The City of Cuova
S. Knaus unpacks the ways in which their asexuality has freed them up to explore their personal gender aesthetics without regard for whether they are attractive to others, and many other things.

Asexuality and Gender Presentation | [A] Life of Experiences
Jeremy writes about his experience in trying to subtly play with his gender presentation, how his asexual identity helped him find the confidence to do so, and both his struggles and enjoyment in pushing back against being seen as just another straight dude.

Obscure lines: agender and asexual comes together | golden weasel
golden weasel writes about the ways in which their agender-ness and asexuality are inter-related.

What Are You? A Question of Mixed Race, Gender, And Asexuality | Halfthoughts
The author of Halfthoughts explores the relationships and parallels among their Hapa/mixed race, asexual, and non-binary identities.

Gender in Space | Becoming a Person
elainexe explores her general lack of any strong gender identity, and her attempts to understand what gender is, linking some of her observations back to her asexuality.

No | Aros and Aces
Roses considers a wade range of influences – from Purity Culture to Megan Trainor – on their developing identity, and the ways in which coing to an aro ace agender identity has freed them from a lot of the baggage they were handed growing up.

I don’t know why I identify as genderqueer. I just know that I do.

One of the interesting things I’ve found in writing about my experience of genderqueerness is the sheer number of cisgender (or currently-cisgender-identifying) people who relate strongly to a lot of what I have to say, despite not identifying as genderqueer themselves. If you’re one of these people, then this post is for you!

The idea that it is possible to have very similar feelings about gender in general, and also in relation to our selves, but to have different gender identities, is a really complicated one that raises many questions, and I’m going to be my best to address some of them.

The most common response I get includes something along the lines of “So maybe I’m a little genderqueer” or, in question form, “If I feel this way also, does that mean I’m genderqueer?”

The short answer is, of course: I don’t know. I have no magic powers to divine other people’s genders for them – hell, I can barely make heads or tails of my own sometimes! But there’s a lot of other things going on here as well, around what it means to be genderqueer in the first place, and also what it even means to be cisgender.

So, what does it mean to be genderqueer, then?

More than anything else, it means that you identify as genderqueer. Circular, but true.

Most genderqueer people you find talking about their gender will probably have similar things to say around themes of discomfort within the gender binary, revolving around some combination of things like social roles, body parts, and/or experiences of gender policing. But none of those things are definitive of the genderqueer experience. I know they’re not, because these feelings are shared by many cisgender people, and by many binary trans people.

And it even turns out that not all genderqueer people experience these sorts of discomfort or gender dysphoria. Beyond the fact that we must have spent some amount of time actively examining the gender binary and come to the conclusion that it is flowed, there really isn’t any clear unifying characteristic of genderqueer people other than that we all identify as genderqueer.

Which, to be honest, this just makes the the category “genderqueer” the same as the categories of “man” or “woman”: there aren’t any unifying factors that define womanhood or manhood other than that the members of those groups identify as such.

So, what is the difference between someone who identifies as a man, someone who identifies as a woman, and someone with a non-binary identity? The only thing we know for sure is that they have different gender identities.

This is the point at which gender starts to look pretty meaningless. But I don’t actually think that it is. It’s pretty clear that some proportion of the population (though definitely not everyone) experiences a very strong sense of themselves as one gender or another, so something called gender certainly exists.

The thing that makes it impossible to parse or explain a definitive difference between the genders is not actually that mysterious: it’s simply that our gender identities (or those of us that have them) arise from the combination and confluence of countless variables, including (but not limited to:

  • our internal sense of self, outside of any cultural influence
  • our relationships to our bodies
  • society’s relationships to our bodies, and our feelings about it
  • the cultural messaging we received about gender growing up
  • the cultural messaging about gender we’re receiving today
  • the interactions between the messages we received (and are receiving) about gender and our own internal sense of self
  • …um, magic, probably?

All of these things contribute not only to our own understandings of ourselves and our genders, but also how we feel about ourselves within that gender (do we fit the archetypes of our gender? and how do we feel about the ways in which we do and do not meet the cultural expectations placed on us?) And no two people have exactly the same way of doing the (largely instinctive and unconscious) calculus that leaves us with a sense of what our gender is.

It’s clear that many of my feelings about gender, and about not fitting into the womanhood to which I was assigned at birth, are shared by people who nevertheless identify as (and therefore are) women. The fact that I took those feelings as a starting point and landed on a different gender than they did doesn’t invalidate any of our experiences. It just tells you that we’re different people, (and that there were other factors involved in our identity formation).

Which leaves me with just one final issue to address: very often, the people who read my own thoughts about my gender, and relate to it, and begin to wonder if maybe they’re genderqueer too, do share one trait. Every person who has ever talked to me about this has admitted that they don’t particularly strongly identify with the gender they were assigned at birth; it’s more that they just don’t not identify with it. Er, they don’t actively disidentify with it, anyway.

For many cisgender people (and probably also some trans people), their gender identity doesn’t feel wrong exactly, but there’s nothing about it that feels particularly right, either. It just… is. And it’s fine.

And I’m writing this to tell you that it’s ok to feel that way. It’s normal, even! If I’ve learned anything from talking to people since coming out as genderqueer, it’s that most people who have spent much time seriously thinking about gender have at least a little bit of reason to think they aren’t really, totally, exactly the gender they identify with.

And to be honest, that’s just because we’re all also individuals. And genders are just broad-strokes categories that will always miss the details that really make you the amazing and interesting person you are. In that sense, most of us are at least a little bit genderqueer. And that’s totally ok.

So, if you feel a desire to change the gender you identify with, by all means do it! And if you don’t really see a point, then don’t. And if you’re not sure, then it’s ok to play around and try things on in safe contexts and see how it makes you feel. You don’t need to have the answer right away, or ever. But I honestly believe that if you find a quiet space, and pay attention to your heart, and your gut, that your answer is right there, in you. I can’t give it to you.

Gender Perspectives vol. 12. Special Edition: Perspectives on trans allyship

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.]

For this special edition of the Gender Perspectives series, I’ve pulled together a bunch of posts that highlight what it means to be an ally to trans folx, and especially how to be a good one. I’ve deliberately included both the voices and perspectives of trans folx, and some examples of good allyship from cisgender people.

I’ve written very basically about the first steps toward becoming an ally, including how allies can be important, because they can use their privilege to accomplish things that those facing oppression cannot:
What to do now that you’re aware of your privilege(s) | Valprehension

Commonly, the refrain from someone who has their privilege pointed out to them is “So, what, then? Should I feel guilty about being [white/thin/straight/etc.]?” The answer to this question is, of course, no. Feeling sorry for your advantages in life does no one any good. But being aware of your privilege is important for a whole host of reasons. And there are things you can do with your awareness of your privilege.


Raye takes a very personal approach to describing ally behaviours that have had a positive impact in their life:
Five Ways Cis People Have Supported Me As A Genderqueer Person | Gender: Awesome

Some of the most meaningful forms of support I’ve encountered are moments where a cis person takes it upon themselves to do the work of educating other cis folks. Again, it’s important to first ask, then act. In one case, I was experiencing repeated misgendering from someone in one of my communities. It was hard for me to correct this person because I knew they weren’t doing it on purpose and I didn’t want to make them feel bad. But it was frustrating! When I vented to a friend, he volunteered to talk to that person if I wanted him to. I said yes, so he did. It was a perfect example of allyship and a huge relief to me.


Vincent discusses the problem of false allyship, and the problem of people who claim to be allies but then offer no support to those with whom they claim to be allied:
Allies: How to Tell False From True | Becoming Vincent

This shit is literally a matter of life or death for a lot of trans people. We often face much harsher words and attitudes just while trying to go about our day-to-day lives. There are, it seems, a great many people who want to jump on board the ally bandwagon without being fully aware of exactly what that entails. And so, mostly for the benefit of my fellow trans people but also for any cis person who is interested, I present my personal ‘true ally vs fake ally’ lists.


The author of genderrolling examines her own cis female privilege in a way that exemplifies the kjind of awareness that is vital for good allyship:
Females, and cisness, and privilege- oh my! | genderrolling

Explaining trans identity to cis people as a cis person, rather than as a trans person is like the difference between a man explaining feminism to a man compared to a woman explaining it. The man automatically has more respect because of how we privilege a man’s experience and opinion in society. Likewise, my cisgenderness is a privilege that transwomen simply do not have.


Finally, the Cisgender Privilege Pledge is a good starting point for anyone who wants to start actively thinking about being a cis ally to trans people. Please consider doing your own, and let me know in the comments!
Example 1
Example 2