cissexism

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: H is for “how do you have sex?”

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

H is for “how do you have sex?”

This question? It’s not even just relevant to trans people – it’s a common question  directed at LGBQ+ folks as well. The clearest answer in most cases (unless you’re planning on having sex with the person asking it, I guess?) is ‘um, none of your darn business.’ It is kind of amazing how simply being trans can open a person up to the kinds of invasive questions that they would never dream of asking in any other context. Suddenly we’re not people; we’re research subjects, or more often merely objects of fleeting curiosity.

But, even setting that aside, this question? It just depresses me, on so many levels. I do want to acknowledge upfront that for some trans people (as for some cis people) the answer is always simply going to be “I don’t have sex.” Because not everyone wants to , and not everyone has sex even if they do want to. But again, even setting that aside, I don’t understand how this is even confusing to people.

Because you know how I have sex with other people? [This is not going not be explicit, it’s ok!]

Me and the people I have sex with, we touch each other in whatever ways feel good to us. Or we try to, though it doesn’t always work out that way, I guess. But really, that’s it. And I really hope that’s how most people do it.

Just, like, if you seriously can’t think of ways that people with, I guess, different genital combinations than the ones you’re used to in your own sex life might be able to touch each pleasurably? You are seriously lacking in imagination, at best.

Because the thing is, genitals are somewhat important to sex, for most people, of course. But, so are so many other body parts that people possess regardless of gender or sexual orientation or whether they are trans. Most of us have hands, with fingers on them, or other appendages that can probably be used to do things.

Like, seriously? You can’t think of *any* sex acts you might participate in that the trans person in front of you is also capable of? Really?

Or are you just actually hoping for the dirty details, because you’re just that much of a creep? Which is it?


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

“Like everyone else, people who are LGBT start out as babies”: a book review

Cover of the book Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityYes, that is an actual quote, from the newly published children’s non-fiction book (copyright 2017!) Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It’s is just one book in a series from GLSEN under the banner “Living Proud!”

This book is hot mess, y’all. Such a mess that I need to rant about it.

Despite what the title implies, the vast majority of Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is very specifically focused on the topic of ‘homosexuality’. Which, that’s a perfectly fine topic for a book and all, but it’s not great for one that claims to be about sexual orientation generally, let alone sexual orientation *and* gender identity.

Gender identity is addressed only in the first chapter of the book, “The Origins of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. Right off the bat, we learn that the definition of gender identity is “A person’s self-image as either a male or a female, no matter what gender they were assigned birth”.

Oh, yes. We are off to a fabulous start, folks.

The book is, unsurprisingly, relentlessly binary in its discussion of both sex and gender, with the exception of a special text box acknowledging that intersex people exist. The paragraph on intersex people concludes that “many intersex people live happy and satisfying lives outside of the ‘normal’ female and male gender identities,” which is the only inkling we get that non-binary genders exist at all.

So much for “understanding gender identity” then. How about sexual orientation?

As I mentioned above, for the most part the book really only talks about homosexuality.

Outside of uses of the LGBT initialism, bisexuality is mentioned a grand total of four times:

  1. in the opening glossary, within the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ (which provides the options of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual (which, yay ace visibility for once, I guess!?))
  2. in the phrase “gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning”, shoehorned in suddenly at the end of a paragraph about the importance of the nature versus nurture debate around ‘what causes homosexuality?’
  3. in reference to Freud’s (*sigh*) theory that everyone is bisexual
  4. in the phrase “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”, in an image caption.

Asexuality’s only mentions are the two mentioned above. It doesn’t even merit an entry in the “Series Glossary” (a list of vocabulary words from the Living Proud! series, many of which do not appear in this particular book), or the index.

In fact, a full three out of the four chapters of the book are explicitly focused on homosexuality/being gay. First we have “Born Gay: Biological Theories of Homosexuality”, which concludes with a quote from Dr. Qazi Rahman, who states “as far as I’m concerned, there is no argument any more – if you are gay, you are born gay.”

Contradictorily, the next chapter (“Becoming Gay: Psychological Theories of Homosexuality”) concludes that “…human behavior is such a complex combination of mind and brain – the psychological and the biological working together – that it is nearly impossible to separate the two”, before segueing into the question for our final chapter: “Why Does It Matter?”

This last chapter provides a broad overview of the ways in which the question of choice with respect to sexual orientation has been rhetorically important to LGBT (or, since transgender people aren’t mentioned at all in this chapter, LGB) civil rights struggles.

I do want to be clear here; much of the content of this book is totally fine, and some is even pretty ground-breaking for a children’s book! But I have no idea how a book primarily focused on the nature/nurture debate about homosexuality wound up with such a misleading title.

Better yet, one of the other titles in the series is Being Transgender, which has the same authors as Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, because why bring in transgender people to write a book when demonstrably uninformed cis people can do it, I guess? I may need to review that one one I can get my hands on it as well.

LOL’ing at cissexist loopholes

Sometimes I amuse myself with pedantry rather than being annoyed at cissexism.

In this case, I finally actually sat down and read through my collective bargaining agreement at work. It is pretty dry, standard stuff for the most part. But there is some unnecessary gendered language I could potentially exploit some day re: pregnancy and parental leave.

Weirdly it’s not the pregnancy part, which is actually gender neutral:

Upon at least two (2) weeks written notice… a pregnant employee who has completed thirteen (13) weeks employment will be granted pregnancy leave without pay in accordance with the Ontario Employment Standards Act.

For some reason, though, they throw in an unnecessary “female” into the parental leave part:

The Parental Leave for a female employee who has taken Pregnancy Leave must commence immediately following the expiration of her Pregnancy Leave. For all other employees, Parental Leave must begin no more than thirty-five (35) weeks after:
i) the birth of the child, or,
ii) the child comes into the care and custody of the parent.

Apparently non-female employees taking pregnancy leave have more flexibility around when they take their parental leave. Rank discrimination against women, I tell you!

Dating while genderqueer: I’m torn

There is a thing I see a lot in dating-related online spaces and real life events that makes me uncomfortable. But I can’t decide whether I outright condemn the practice or not.

This concerns non-binary people and the ways in which we navigate the often overtly binarist mechanisms of organized date-finding spaces (for lack of a better term?) Again and again, I see (afab) non-binary people responding to ads from people explicitly seeking female partners or women (depending on how they choose to word it), specifying that they are afab and checking to see whether they count or qualify or whatever. It is possible that amab enby folx do this as well, but I haven’t really seen it so I can’t say.

And this icks me out. On more than one level, really, and the levels actually contradict each other. Because it feels like these people’s thought process may actually be “well, I have a vagina so maybe that’s must be close enough” or something. And that’s sad and fucked up in multiple ways.

On the one hand, I feel your pain, fellow enbies trying to figure out who might want to date you in a binarist world – OKC only tells me whether people are interested in men and/or women, and unless they make a point of mentioning in their profile (rare), there’s no way for me to know how they will respond to an enby like me.

But on the other hand, can we like, just *not* contribute to the idea that if someone says they are into women, that means they are into people with vaginas? Because that is cissexist on so many levels. It is flat out transmisogynistic to equate those concepts.

I know that a lot of the people who say they are into women really do mean they are only into vaginas, and that’s why you want to clarify. But here’s the thing: why the fuck would you want to date someone who is that cissexist? Do you really believe they won’t misgender you? Do you really want to enable someone else’s transmisogyny?

Because you really, really shouldn’t.

Online dating while genderqueer: I feel gross right now

[Content note: cissexism, genitals]

Every once in a while I will get a message from some dude on OKCupid who wants to know if he can ask me some questions, because y’know, he’s just a straight shooter, the kind of guy who lays all his cards on the table. He probably doesn’t mince words either, and maybe he just wants to get right to the point.

Anyway, the point is, he wants to know about my junk. And what kind I have.

Mostly I don’t super care about these questions – my standard response is “None of your business, since if it matters to you, then I’m not interested anyway.”

But sometimes they manage to be extra creepy about it. The most recent dude, for no apparent reason, made a point of letting me know that he had scoured my profile and all of the photos I included, but that he had not been able to determine on his own what my genitals looked like.

I suspect that this is because I, shockingly enough, have not included and photos of my genitals on my OKC profile. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed to even if I wanted to. Nor do I describe my genitals in any of the written sections of my profile. Go figure.

But more to the point, my PSA of this day is:

Unless you are looking at a person’s genitals, or a picture of their genitals, no amount of searching their appearance for ‘clues’ or whatever will allow you to tell what genitals they have. The fact that so many people think this is possible is because they are cissexist douches.

That is all.

Institutional failings: universities and trans folk

Universities in North America are, by and large, massively failing to support and create a safe environment for their trans students, at even the most basic level.

Most universities will only register students under their legal names, and while I’m sure there are some that do, I don’t know of a single one that also records students’ preferred names and has a way of communicating those to the professors. I actually know of at least one university that insists that your university email address must directly reflect you legal name as registered in the school, as if that’s an unproblematic thing to require.

As it stands, if a trans student doesn’t want to go through pain and potential humiliation of explaining that yes, that name that was just called on the roster, which is at clear odds to their gender presentation, does represent them, but also, no it is not their name, they are 100% responsible to reaching out to each of their professors, individually, every semester in the hopes that if they ask the professors to call them by their preferred name, that those professors will actually remember and do so. Sometimes even that doesn’t work.

Let me put this another way: trans students who have not yet legally changed their names have to choose between outing themselves to every professor they ever have, being outed to each of their classes on the first day, or being mis-named throughout their entire time at the school. Starting university is stressful enough as it is; imagine having to take the risk of discovering that one of your professors is anti-trans, by having them attack you personally, before you even go to your first day.

This shit needs to be fixed. By failing to have preferred name policies in place, universities are inflicting violence on trans students.

But it doesn’t even stop there.

My spouse-person changed their name at some point before starting grad school last September, but after they had applied for the program. This means they were initially registered under their birth name and had to try to get their records changed, and we got to witness first hand what a shit-show that turned out to be.

Even with a legal name change certificate in hand, they never managed to get their name completely changed in the system. They informed four different offices/departments who all changed their name in various places, and yet their birth name continued to pop up all over the place, like playing whack-a-mole.

Their name was never changed in Blackboard (a system through which online courses are accessed, and where professors sometimes ask students to post reading responses or discussion forums), which meant they couldn’t post there without revealing their birth name. They was fortunate in that their professors were understanding about this and allowed them to submit those assignments directly via email, but this shouldn’t be something that individual students have to negotiate solutions to. This should be something that the university has a procedure for handling.

For them this simply was frustrating and annoying, but for someone else it could just have easily been painful, humiliating, and even triggering. Nothing about it was ok.

Trans people are, more often than not, made solely responsible for making sure we are called by the correct names and pronouns, but it shouldn’t be that way. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that people are treated with a basic level of respect, and that includes respecting what they want to be called. It is universities’ (and all other institutions’) responsibility to make sure that they have policies and procedures in place to create spaces where their students can attend classes without facing violence from those institutions and the people who work for them.

Universities can’t guarantee that trans students won’t have bigoted classmates, but they sure as shit can make sure that they at least honour those students’ names, consistently and with minimal effort required on the part of the students. All students should be proactively asked if they have a preferred name for class rosters – this would honestly just save time on first roll call, for everyone, but also it takes the burden off of trans students of actively outing themselves at any level or seeking ‘special’ treatment.

This isn’t even difficult. How is it 2015 and this isn’t already standard procedure?

Fuck.