5 Trans* Feminist Words to Add to Your Vocabulary

So now that you know some of the more basic terminology about how to refer to or talk to a trans* person, let us get into some terminology that allows us to have discussions about the problems the trans* community faces in today’s society.

1. Transphobia

Transphobia is not a clinical phobia like arachnophobia, where you run away, scream, and have a panic attack every time you see a spider.

Scary Spider

Why don’t you love me?

Rather, it is a much different kind of fear, and can often be subconscious.  This type of fear fuels anger, prejudice, disgust, and hatred towards people who are perceived to be trans*,  just like homophobia does towards those who are perceived to be gay.


Cissexism can be fueled by transphobia, but not necessarily.  Sometimes people are just jerks.  Cissexism is the belief or mindset that cisgender identities are inherently better or more real than trans* identities.  So if someone is calling a trans* person’s identity “fake” or if they refuse to treat a trans* person in every way as the gender they identify with, then you are looking at someone who is being cissexist.

3. Cissupremacy

This is when a system or institution is set up to oppress the trans* community, while at the same time privileging cisgender people.  Cissupremacy is founded on cissexism.  It is the belief that cis identities are inherently better or more real than trans* identities.  For example, the whole institutional medical process of transitioning for trans* people is built on cissupremacy.  If a cisgender man or woman has a hormone imbalance, he or she can just go to a doctor and get a prescription with no problem.  If a cisgender man or woman wants to get plastic surgery, they just need to have the money for the surgery itself and do not need to explain themselves at all.  After all it’s their body and  they can make their own decisions and live with the consequences good or bad.

This entire mindset completely changes when it comes to trans* patients.  In order to get any kind transition related treatment if you are trans*, you have to get approval from a counselor, and sometimes two depending on the treatment (one was not discriminatory enough).  Seeing a counselor adds extra financial expense, and gender therapists are extremely rare so it also usually involves driving really far and limits your options to only one or two therapist to choose from.  These therapists can deny you approval for any reason, and I mean ANY reason.  If they think you are not feminine enough or not masculine enough, if  your parents are not accepting of your identity even though you are an adult, if you live in a bad area, if you are not pretty/handsome enough in the gender you identify as, etc.  Many counselors will deny or delay your treatment for arbitrary reasons and stereotypes they have of what makes a “real” man or “real” woman, and since there are very few therapists to choose between, you are pretty much stuck with them regardless of how incompetent they may be.

The worst thing about all of this is that NONE of it is meant to protect or help trans* patients.  All of these hoops we have to jump through are to protect cisgender people.  There is this paranoid notion that a cisgender person might think they are trans*, and regret going through the process later.  The idea is that, even if we delay or deny thousands of trans* patients treatment, it is worth it to protect the one cisgender person who might get treatment and regret it later.  So yeah…cissupremacy.

4. Cisnormativity

Cisnormativity is when the world is interpreted through a cisgender perspective.  Everyone is expected to to look through this lens and understand the world through it.  Cisgender identities are assumed to be the “normal” identity, and any other  is considered “different” or even “abnormal”.  Under cisnormativity, everyone is assumed to be cisgender, unless some kind of cue tells us differently.  In our culture, virtually all of our movies, t.v. shows, books, advertisement, etc. is told from a cisgender perspective.  That right there is cisnormativity at work.

5. Trans-misogyny

Trans-misogyny is a term that is hard to put into words.  It is the intersect between cissexism and misogyny.  It is completely based on the assumption that masculinity and maleness is in every way superior to femininity and femaleness, as well as the idea that cis identities are better than trans* identities.  When a trans woman comes out and starts transitioning and people around her start saying, “Why would anyone want to be a woman?  That’s crazy!” you are hearing trans-misogyny.  When you hear someone criticize a trans woman for being “too feminine” or “too masculine”, while thinking it is not a big deal for a cis woman to express the same levels of femininity and masculinity, you are hearing trans-misogyny.  When you see a feminist group allow and include trans men into their organization, but they then deny and belittle trans women, you are looking at trans-misogyny.

Voting While Trans*

If you have been paying attention to politics lately you have inevitably heard about the controversy surrounding voter ID laws.  In case you have not been keeping up with what has been going on, voter ID laws are being pushed into legislation in many states by Republicans who claim to be trying to fight voter fraud.  On it’s face, if you do not think about it, it sounds reasonable right?  The problem is that voter fraud is extremely rare.  Like so rare it is not even considered statistically significant.  It is nearly nonexistent.  In fact, it prevents WAY more legal voting than it does illegal voting.  It prevents people who do not have a government issued photo ID from voting.  This specifically targets young voters who have not gotten around to getting their driver’s license yet, minority voters, resource poor voters, and elderly voters who do not drive and do not have transportation.  This legislation specifically targets suppressing the vote of traditionally Democratic or liberal leaning U.S. voters in order to give conservative candidates an unfair advantage in elections.

Now the fact that this is voter suppression is no secret.  Here is a clip of Republican Representative Turzai from Pennsylvania admitting that voter ID law’s are meant to ensure Romney would win the election.


Thankfully it did not work to well this election, but it is safe to say that these voter ID laws are a direct attempt to suppress voters and are still a danger to the integrity of future elections.

The one group that might be most affected by this, and yet is never mentioned in voter ID law discussions, is the trans* community.  If you are trans*, there are many legal and financial barriers to getting an updated photo ID that matches your current presentation.    For example, it was not until recently that Florida allowed transgender male or female identified individuals to correct the gender marker on their drivers license without having gender confirmation surgery.  I would not have been able to update my ID if it was not for this change.  There are still many states that will not allow you to correct your drivers license until you have surgery.  This basically causes trans* individuals to have about a $15,000-$20,000 fee (the cost of the surgery that the individual has to pay out of pocket), not to mention the pain and hardship of going through and recovering from major surgery, in order to simply get accurate identification.  It also prevents trans* individuals who do not want, or who are medically unable to have surgery from ever being able to correct their IDs.  This can be highly problematic because having a gender marker that does not match your presentation immediately “outs” you and can lead to harassment or discrimination any time you need to show it, including at the voter polls.  The same goes for updating your name on your photo ID.  First you have to get a legal name change, which is another financial barrier in many states ($500+ in Florida).  It may not be $15,000-$20,000, but it is still a significant barrier to those who are low income.  Not having a matching photo ID can lead to false accusations of fraud at the polls, and end up with a trans* individual from being denied the right to vote.

Even if someone is able to get proper ID that matches their presentation, this does not necessarily free one of potential harassment and discrimination.  If a prejudiced poll worker thinks your body does not hold up to cisnormative ideals for the gender you are presenting as, they might claim you stole someone else’s photo ID and try to prevent you from voting.  This is not mere speculation.  In fact, the Tea Party organization called “True the Vote” included transphobic material in a poll worker training manual this past election that specifically told them to not allow trans* individuals to vote in order to “prevent fraud.”


This is completely unacceptable.  Before they even knew tea party poll workers were being trained this way, NCTE estimated that about 25,000 trans* individuals would be denied the right to vote during 2012 elections.  Considering how tiny the trans* community is, that is a huge number.  In some tight elections, that number is more than enough to completely change the end result.  In the end, not matter what the number is, no one should be denied the right to vote because of their gender identity and presentation.

Gender vs. Sex: More Complicated Than Your Typical Trans* 101

“Sex is between the legs and gender is between the ears.”

If you have ever sat in on a trans* 101 course, you inevitably will have heard this phrase said at least once. For those of you who have never heard this before, it is meant to, in an extremely simplified manner, explain the difference between anatomical sex and gender.  Sex is ones biology whereas gender is a social construction that is created by the culture and the people within it.  When referring to sex, you would say, “male, female and intersex” while referring to gender, on the other hand, you would use words like, “man, woman, androgynous,” and so on.

Breaking the Sex Dichotomy

Usually when we hear “sex” we think exclusively “male” or “female.”  Or perhaps when you hear the word your dirty, dirty mind immediately jumps to the act of sex, rather than anatomical sex.  Don’t worry.  I’ll still be your friend.  I don’t judge ;).  Any ways, the reality is that many are born with genitalia that are between male and female, and there are even some born with both.  This would be more apparent if modern medical institutions did not try to “fix” those who are not born with exclusive hegemonic male or female bodies.

When we first think of anatomical sex, we usually focus on what is between the legs.  Our culture often sees it as the “trump card” of sex, and that regardless of how any other part of the body is sexed, the genitalia determine what someone’s sex is.  I see this as both superficial and  ignorant of how the body works as a whole.  Sex is also in our endocrinology, which in turn influences our secondary sex characteristics.  Regardless of what is between someone’s legs, if one has low levels of testosterone and high levels of estrogen, then they typically experience breast development, softer skin, greater olfactory sense, less upper body strength, but more lower body strength, etc.  Someone with high levels of testosterone and low levels of estrogen, on the other hand, will usually experience rougher skin, more body hair growth, more upper body strength and less lower body strength, etc.

Sex is also in ones chromosomes  Unlike what you are told in your high school biology courses, chromosomes are not limited to just XX and XY.  Just to name a couple more, you can be XXY or X with another partial X.  You can predict pretty well which chromosomes someone has usually by their body, but this is definitely not universal.  You can never know for sure what chromosomes you have unless you get genetic testing.   You can be XX even though you were born with hegemonic male organs, or XY  even though you were born with hegemonic female organs.  This does not make you any more or less of a man or woman.  This is why the term “genetic girl/woman” or “genetic boy/man” when referring to cisgender people is misleading because we do not even know for sure what most peoples’ chromosomes are to begin with.

Is Sex Between the Ears Too?

But what about the brain?  Talking about sexed structures in the brain always brings up controversy.  The assumption is that if there are sex differences in the brain, then it validate stereotypes that women and men natrually think and behave differently, and in turn validates sexism.  I used to make this assumption too.  Before I came to accept myself, I used to argue that there are absolutely no differences between males and females outside of reproductive organs and physical secondary sexual characteristics.  I used it as a way out of having to accept myself.  If males and females are exactly the same in every way, then I could somehow overcome this internal sense of being female.  As you can see, that did not work out very well and I had to accept myself for who I am.

Differently sexed brain structures do not necessarily mean that males and females are by nature vastly different opposites. For example, some studies show that females have slightly smaller brains, but this does not mean that females are somehow less intelligent.  What this could mean is that females are generally smaller bodied, because they have not been exposed to male levels of testosterone, and as a result their brains are proportional to their bodies.

Another problem is that people tend to generalize studies that show trends to every individual in an entire population.  Studies show that females, in general, have a larger corpus callosum, which is the connective structure that facilitates communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.  This does not however mean that ALL females have a larger corpus callosum.  In fact, it does not even necessarily mean that MOST females have a larger corpus callosum.  It just means that if you are female, you are more likely to have a larger one.  To assume that someone you are talking to has a larger corpus callosum just because they are female is just ridiculous.  Also, the assumption that brain structures are static and stable from birth is completely inaccurate. If people labeled female are socialized in a way that makes them use their corpus callosum more than males, then that part of the brain could actually mold and become larger or more complex from the use, even if they were the same size as males at birth.

English: Location of the corpus callosum, the ...

In my opinion, the only universal trait between all females is the part of the brain that makes them self identify as female, and the same goes for males.  Not the rest of their bodies, their endocrinology or their chromosomes.  After all, that part of our brain cannot be changed by human hands, and if it makes us identify as female, male, or something else all together, then it does not matter how our body, or even the rest of our brain is structured.

In the end, sex differences in the brain are relatively minute, and by no means are they even remotely universal.  There are vastly more similarities between male and female brains than differences.  The problem is that our culture hones in on these tiny differences and completely exaggerates them to a ridiculous level.  For the most part our culture just makes stuff up.  Female individuals are not somehow inherently more likely to love pink and playing with dolls, and male individuals do not inherently hate pink and love cars and sports.  These are all socially constructed ideas of what it means to be a girl versus a boy and a man versus a woman.  It has nothing to do with sex.

Sex As a Social Construct

Now here is something that you probably will never hear about in your typical trans* 101 course:  The idea of sex also being a social construct.

“But how can sex be a social construct, when it is rooted in biology?” you ask.

Well that is a good question.  Because biology itself IS a social construct that we, as human beings, use to understand the world around us.  It is an extremely useful tool to categorize and classify the living creatures, and how they survive and function.  We can use this information to improve on our quality of life.  By getting a better understanding of how human bodies function and survive, you can create better medical techniques that extend and improve upon the quality of human life.  By understanding the delicate intricacies of an ecosystem, we can better protect it.  But in the end, none of these categories and classifications have any meaning beyond what we give them: including sex.  Just because something is socially constructed, though, does not mean that its impact or effects are somehow any less real.

Biology, just like any other science, is meant to gather information about the world to either support or provide evidence against a given hypothesis.  Often when new information is discovered that challenges existing ideas, we will modify our understanding of biology to better fit this information.  For example, a mammal is typically defined as a placental animal with mammary glands that gives live birth.  With the discovery of egg laying mammals, like the platypus and echidna, we created a new category of mammals called monotremes.

Echidna short beaked

An Excuse to Post a Picture of a CUTE Echidna 🙂

The problem is when this process does not happen.  It is much easier to move around and reclassify our understanding of other species, but when it comes to reclassifying our understanding of human categories, i.e. sex, this process does not happen.  We are quite strongly attached to our cultural ideas of sex.  Rather than allow for the existence of intersex individuals, the Western world pathologizes anyone who falls outside of what the medical establishment considers “male” or “female.”  We ignore the fact that, while some want medical intervention, other people with intersex bodies do not want any medical intervention and do not see their bodies as being pathological.  In fact, many feel violated for the rest of their lives after having their bodies surgically altered at birth in order to “fix” them.

For example, I know two different intersex individuals.  They both had similar situations.  They both had some kind of surgery done to them downstairs when they were born because the area fell outside of the male/female binary we created.  No one in their family knows, or is willing to tell them what kind of surgery was done to them or the circumstances of their birth.  All medical records of what happened have been discarded over the years so they cannot even go back and investigate their own medical history.  They both have to live with medical problems as a result of whatever surgery was done to them, and they were both assigned male at birth.  The main difference is that, while one of them identifies as male, the other one identifies as female and has to live the rest of her life with what was done to her in order to construct what the surgeons considered ” more appropriate” organs.  We make the false assumption that by looking at ones genitalia and seeing what they more closely resemble, that we can somehow know for certain how they are going to identify.  The reality is that even if someone’s visible body completely falls into one of our constructed categories of male or female, we still cannot know for sure how they identify until they are old enough to figure out for themselves and tell us.

What is Cisprivilege?

So you may have come across my blog and been like, “What the heck is ‘cisprivilege’ anyway?”  Well that’s a good question, because whenever I say this around one of my friends or colleagues for the first time, they almost never know what it means, so DON”T WORRY you are not alone!  Most people do not have the opportunity to become educated on trans* issues in general so it would make sense that many would not know the language behind them too.


Before we get into what cisprivilege is, first we need to look into the prefix cis-.  Cis- is short for cisgender, which refers to someone who’s assigned gender also aligns with ones internal sense of gender or gender identity.  A crude way of putting it is that a cisgender person is someone who is “not trans*”.  A transgender person on the other hand is someone who’s assigned gender does not match their internal sense of gender or gender identity.  The way these are worded is very important: especially the word “assigned,” which shows how the gender role was ascribed to people against their will.   Avoid replacing the word “assigned” with the words “actual” or “real” because this says that the persons identity is not real.

Right:  “A transgender person is someone who’s ASSIGNED gender does not align with their gender identity”

Wrong: ” A transgender person is someone who’s ACTUAL gender does not align with their gender identity”

Phrasing it the second way is a BIG no-no!!! As you can imagine, to say that one’s identity is fake can be extremely offensive.  Whether you agree with a person’s identity or not, it is important to at least respect their identity if you want to continue any sort of amicable relationship with them.  So if you care about the person please put away any negative feelings you have about their identity and respect them.  This includes using proper pronouns too (he, she, they or zie depending on what they prefer) and other gendered language (Sir, Ma’am, Son, Daughter, etc.)


So now that you know what cisgender means, we can talk about cisprivilege, i.e. cisgender privilege.  Cisprivilege is the privilege one receives in society for being cisgender.  For example if you are cisgender, you can expect that all of your identity documents show the correct gender on them, and that if it is incorrect you do not have to go through a long and rigorous medical process that excludes those who do not have $20,000 on hand, or those who do not want, or cannot get, major surgery for that matter.  Also, you can expect everyone to use the correct pronouns (he or she) in reference to you.  In the rare instance one makes a mistake and uses the wrong pronoun, you can expect an immediate and sincere apology.  Any anger you may have for being misgendered is considered a legitimate emotional response.

Cisprivilege permeates through pretty much every interaction in life, and for the most part goes completely unrecognized by those who have it.  A trans* person can have cisprivilege temporarily extended to them if they “pass” as the gender they identify as, but it is extremely fragile and can be taken away at any moment once someone realizes that they are indeed trans*.  For example, if I am applying for a job, the employer might not know that I am trans* by looking at me, but once he looks down at my application and sees that my former legal name is male (which I am required to put on every application), it could tip him off and lose me the job opportunity.

You can even be experiencing cisprivilege and never know it happened.  For example,  it took me 6 months to find a place to live one time because every time the owner or one of the roommates found out I was a trans woman they would not let me move in.  A cisgender person would have been able to move into the first match they found without any objection to their gender identity.  They would never know that the person might have rejected them if they had been trans*.  The same thing applies to jobs, friendships, and dating as well.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to examples of cisprivilege.  Like I said it is EVERYWHERE and seriously affects our lives in dramatic ways.  It is impossible to cover all the examples of cisprivilege in one article, so I will continue to explore it throughout this blog.  I also will delve into other topics too, like the relationship between feminism and the transgender community, the intersectionality that comes with being both trans* and a racial minority, body image while being a trans woman, and more about language when referring to trans* individuals.   This is the first of many, so I hope you enjoyed and come back for more in the future!  Thank you for reading!!! ^_^