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.

2.Cissexism

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.

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!!! ^_^