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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=87NN5sdqNt8

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.”

http://transgenderequality.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/tea-party-group-targets-trans-voters/#more-1976

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.

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.

Cisgender

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.)

Cisprivilege

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!!! ^_^