cissexism

Gender Perspectives Vol. 21

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.]

My gender | Aut of Spoons

I don’t know what gender IS.

How can I know what my gender is, if I don’t know what gender is?

On Coming Out Day this year, I said that I was “less cis than originally advertised.” I don’t know what that means. Perhaps gender is the collection of attributes that are most important to you; your defining characteristics. Your core identity. Why have a word for it, if not your name? Gender Olivia?

Transition, trans becoming | The dancing trans

The process of transition is defined and controlled by cis people in a way that denies transness to many, many trans people. However, we are all still slowly becoming our genders and that, for us trans folks, is our transition, cis-sanctioned or not.

Carve Me Like a Pumpkin | The Junkie Comsonaut

I am preparing my body for surgery, and it is almost there. My brain needs some more time. Anticipating the damage and the aftermath still makes me queasy, but I’ll cope. I want this. I want what it will get me.

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: W is for “womyn-born-womyn”

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

W is for “womyn-born-womyn”

Womyn-born-womyn (sometimes just spelled women-born-women) is a category some radical feminists created in order to exclude trans women from their feminism. Those of us who don’t exclude trans women from our feminism sometimes refer to these exclusionists as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs for short.

The entire concept of womyn-born-womyn (in the ways that TERFs mean and use it) would be ridiculous if it wasn’t used to harm so many women every day.

“Womyn-born-womyn” was coined with the apparent intent of meaning the same thing as ‘cisgender women’, before the popularization of the word cisgender (although the people who use the phrase womyn-born-womyn generally consider cis to be a slur (we talked about that one a while back), and have not adopted it).

Of course, the use of the phrase “womyn-born-womyn” with the intent of excluding trans women is based on an incorrect understranding of trans women’s gender, since, just like most cis women, many trans women were born girls (no one is really born a woman – we talked about that already as well) – trans women simply weren’t assigned the correct gender at birth.

On top of this, the folks who use the phrase womyn-born-womyn aren’t just incorrectly including trans women from that category – very often events that are purportedly limited to “womyn-born-womyn” are actually welcoming to trans men and non-binary people who were assigned female at birth. This tells us what “womyn-born-womyn” is really meant to signify, which is quite simply “people with vulvas”.

I honestly hate everything about “womyn-born-womyn” rhetoric, but I am particularly baffled by the way trans exclusionary radical feminists, who do in theory have a problem with women and women’s roles being defined by their genitalia, who believe that we are so much more than a letter on our birth certificate, being so damn biologically essentialist about gender anyway.

So yes, although the phrase “womyn-born-womyn” does not seem like it necessarily has to be transphobic, know that it’s usage is very much actively and deliberately transmisogynist.


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

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.

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: U is for “unless/until”

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

U is for “unless/until”

Cis people often seem occupy this convenient malleable position vis-à-vis trans people. Although cis folks are quick to plead ignorance when they misstep or use damaging words to talk about trans people, at the same time they often like to hold forth as if they are the judges of who is and isn’t ‘really’ trans.

These rules aren’t constant, of course, but cis people really do love to set up goalposts for the conditions (usually related to medical interventions) trans people must meet before their identities become worthy of respect.

As in, “You’re not really trans *unless* you’ve had ‘the Surgery’”. As in, “I’m not going to call you by your correct name/pronouns *until* you grow your hair longer (or cut it shorter)”.

Among the many (many) things I have to say about this bullshit (there are often double standards in here that cis people don’t need to meet in order to have their pronouns respected, for instance), I am mostly just baffled and tired by it all.

If someone tells you they are a woman, or a man, or non-binary, or anything else, what harm does it do you to respect that? If someone doesn’t look like what you think someone of their gender *should* look like, so the fuck what? How is that your call to make anyway?

Let people be the boss of their own gender, for fuck’s sake. I promise it won’t kill you. Whereas being denied recognition of something so basic as their gender does regularly contribute to transgender people’s decision to commit suicide, so.

Make the right choice, y’all.


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

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: Q is for “Queen, Drag”

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

Q is for ‘queen, drag’

The persistence with which cis society in general continues to conflate trans women with drag queens is infuriating. But also admittedly complicated. I am not even going to attempt a thorough cover of this topic. The purpose of having this post in this series is really just to say: trans women are not drag queens, (unless they are performing as such in a drag show.)

“Trans woman” and “drag queen” are entirely different concepts.

Trans women are women whose parents/guardians thought they were boys when they were born, and usually for quite a long time after that.

Drag queens are people who have developed a flamboyant lady persona for the purposes of (usually comedic) theatrical shows. The overwhelming majority of drag queens are cisgender men (so, neither trans, nor women!) And in fact, drag shows are often misogynistic,  anti-femme, and/or trans-antagonistic, although I don’t think they are inherently any of those things.

The vast majority of drag queens are not trans women. And the vast majority of trans women are not drag queens. Stop conflating these two, very different, categories.

Kthxbai!


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

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: O is for “Only two genders”

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

O is for “only two genders”

 

Can it be that I’ve gotten so far into this alphabet without covering this one? Yes, but only because I planned the alphabet out in advance to avoid being forced into repeating myself for some of the more difficult letters :P.

As with last week’s post, there is some overlap here with F is for “fake genders”, but calling some genders fake isn’t necessarily the same thing as claiming there are only two genders (even though most people taking the former stance are doing so because they believe the latter).

To be honest, the claim that there are only two genders is honestly just massively egotistical. In order to make this claim, you need to seriously believe that you know more about how this gender stuff works than every non-binary person who ever has and ever will exist. It’s also a culturally chauvinistic/colonial claim, given the huge number of recognized non-binary gender categories have existed and continue exist in cultures all over the world and throughout history.

Gender is not and has never been stable or static. No gender classification scheme is ever or ever will be definitive or objective. If you think it makes any sense at all to insist that there are only two genders, you’re just plain incorrect. Seriously.

 


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

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: L is for “Love”

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

L is for “Love”

This one has multiple sides. On the one hand, I want to take a moment to acknowledge here that there are cis folks out in the world who just love the trans folks in their lives, unproblematically and unreservedly. It’s not all bad! In fact, when I was originally mapping out this alphabet, I had intended for this post to be simply positive, for a bit of a break.

But, as it worked out after my unplanned break, this post is going up on Transgender Day of Visibility (I am coming out to the folks I work with today in fact! Expect to hear more about this soon), and I really don’t want to spend my TDOV post celebrating cis people.

And in any case, the word ‘love’ is actually used against trans folks at least as much as it is used to support us.

The classic example of this is one that applies to LGBT people generally, in the form of that good old (primarily Christian) adage “love the sinner, hate the sin”. More than any other ‘sins’, this rhetoric gets pulled out in attempt to demonstrate that it’s possible to hate LGBT people’s LGBT-ness without hating the people themselves.

This is, of course, a steaming pile of bullshit. I mean, I hope it’s obvious that it is inherently hateful to consider an uncontrolled, unchangeable part of a person’s lived experience and identity as a ‘sin’, as something that renders them incapable of being unsinful. Even if you only tie the ‘sin’ to actions rather than internal experiences (e.g. accepting that homosexual attraction simply exists naturally, but still believing that pursuing homosexual sexual relationships is sinful, or believing that trans people are fine as long as we keep to ourselves never actually express or present as anything other than our birth-assigned gender), it is still blatantly hetero-/cis-sexist to take this attitude toward LGBT people, not least because it’s not even a scriptural stance in the first place.

On top of all of that, even, ‘love’ is often used against trans people in other violent ways, as when a cisgender parent tells a trans man in the same breath as “ I love you” that “you’ll always by my little girl”, or when a cisgender friend insists that their trans friend will always by [deadname] to them. Because, y’know, love.

These sorts of sentiments are intensely selfish, as it suggests that these cisgender people really only love the idea they had of the trans person before they found out who that person really is. Bringing love into this kinds of violently invalidating statements perverts the entire concept of love, and turns it into a weapon by implying that trans people should accept bad treatment from their loved ones.

And I hope it is very, very clear that that is not how love works. That is, in fact, how abuse works. It is emotional blackmail, and it is not ok.


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

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.