Whipping Girl

the blog with the trans feminine touch!

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Thank you for this, Julia. :) A couple of points....

The first's a query: when you talk about "people raised as cis girls" ("Similarly, I have no doubt that there are a lot of aspects about being raised as a cis girl that really suck. But there are also advantages (e.g., having people take your gender identity seriously, not being forced against your will into boyhood, etc.)"), are you talking about people who actually *were* cis girls, or do you mean people who were raised *as if* they were cis girls? Because the first of those 'advantages', at least, doesn't apply to trans men and FAAB genderqueer people....

Secondly, I agree that it's important to have a dialogue (hopefully an educational one for everyone) with cis people. But in your last paragraph - and particularly in your phrase, "Discussions of “privilege” should serve as a teaching tool" - you see to be saying that there's an automatic onus on us to educate cis people. This concerns me - I think that the work of unpacking cis privilege is something that cis people need to do themselves, rather than expecting us to spoonfeed them. The demand that people from oppressed groups "educate" people from privileged groups is another of the ways that the latter feel they have a right to the time and energy of the former!
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thanks for the questions, as I might not have been as clear as I could've.

1) When I said "raised as a cis girl," I meant cis girls. It was not my intention to suggest that folks on the trans masculine privilege experience cis privilege. Obviously, many folks on the trans masculine spectrum feel forced into girlhood and do not have the privilege of having their masculine/male identities taken seriously.

2) I was definitely *not* trying to suggest that it is the minority/marginalized group' responsibility to educate the majority. I think that it is the responsibility of those with privilege (e.g., cis allies, in this case) to do much of that education. Cis people need to educate themselves about, and speak out againt, cissexism, just as white people need to educate ourselves about, and speak out against, racism.

In that last paragraph, I tried to argue that "privilege" is a two-way street that requires us to both teach and learn. If I want the right to call out someone on their cis privilege, then it is my responsibility to also call people out on their white privilege, able-bodied privilege, and so on. That sentiment was directed at some people who I've met who only want to fight against cissexism/transphobia while simultaneouly ignoring racism, ableism, etc., because the latter do not affect them personally.
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and of course, it also applies to the white, middle-class, cis feminists who *only* want to talk about traditional sexism/misogyny while ignoring racism, classism, cissexism, etc...
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also, in my first comment, their was a typo'd sentence: "It was not my intention to suggest that folks on the trans masculine privilege experience cis privilege."

It should read: "It was not my intention to suggest that folks on the trans masculine *spectrum* experience cis privilege."

that's what I get for being hasty...
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"Cis is not meant to be an identity. Rather, it simply describes the way that one is perceived by others. "

Thank you for this - that's an explanation which would have been so useful on so many occasions!
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I've said as much to people in the past - it generally doesn't help.

Especially when, for example, you're trying to talk to someone who insists that "cis" means you're saying she's not a woman...but then again, that kind of extreme transphobia is going to be hard to deal with no matter what.
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I find it bizarre that some people assume that the label "cis" implies that they are not a woman, when in fact that label literally means that others view them as a "real" woman. It's almost as if they believe that trans is contagious, and that any word coined by trans people will give them the "fake" woman cooties...
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That's exactly it.

That same discussion introduced the notion that trans women have 'camp queen' voices, and that trans women are unable to figure out that cis people can sometimes see us as trans - that we go about our day in blithe ignorance as cis people realize that we're deceptive men.

This is why I don't even try to talk to transphobic radical feminists anymore.
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[in a deep, husky, breathy voice]: omg, that can read us! and here I thought I was passing as a real woman this whole time. sigh...

> This is why I don't even try to talk to transphobic radical feminists anymore.

yeah, I hear what you mean. I did a lot of that "front lines" sort of work between 2003-2005, where I would literally engage anybody, no matter how transphobic. But I can't do it any more. In fact, I almost never read the comments sections of trans-related blog posts (other than my own posts) for just that reason.

Last year, when my AlterNet article about Michigan and trans-misogyny came out, I was really (and I suppose naively) blown away by how mean and nasty some of the comments were. (AlterNet eventually removed the nastiest threads). It was clear from most of them that they did not thoroughly read or understand the piece - they were just outraged by my suggestion that trans women experience misogyny. It really fucked me up emotionally. I just can't put myself in that position any more. I'll continue to write of course, but I can't deal with those transphobic insults anymore...
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Cis is not meant to be an identity. Rather, it simply describes the way that one is perceived by others.

I thought this was a great post, but I think the second sentence here needs a bit of unpacking. Obviously your main point is that "cis is not an identity", and I quite agree with that, if cis being an "identity" means that a person is only cis if they consciously identify as cis - especially as a good deal of cis privilege consists (as you point out) in not having to be conscious of it.

However, the second sentence, in trying to distance itself from the position of cis-as-identity, seems to me to fall into a different trap. If being cis is simply a matter of other people's perception, then a transsexual who "passes" (and is therefore perceived by others as cis) would actually be cis - and I assume that's not what you mean! (Of course, such a person might well benefit from some aspects of cissexual privilege, but that's not the same.)

Perhaps, rather than putting it in terms of either identity or of other people's perceptions, it might be simpler to put it in terms of a simple fact (in so far as facts are ever simple). An analogy: I'm left-handed. That remains the case whether or not I claim left-handedness as an identity, and whether or not I'm perceived as such by others - I just am.

Now, I know that it's not quite that simple with matters of gender identity, because (whatever about aetiology and the biological contribution) in practice it intersects with social constructions of gender and with self-awareness and self-image. In fact, I can imagine a continuum, running somewhat like this:

A chair cannot be a chair without consciously identifying as such.
A person cannot be left-handed without consciously identifying as such.
A person cannot be cis without consciously identifying as such.
A person cannot be trans without consciously identifying as such.
A person cannot be a feminist without consciously identifying as such.
A person cannot be a fervent admirer of Whipping Girl without consciously identifying as such.

As far as I can see, these statements start out nonsensical and run through to the fairly reasonable, as the degree of self-consciousness required by definition to be the thing/person in question increases. We might argue about where being cis belongs on that continuum, but I think we'd agree that it's nearer the chair end than the Serano-fan end! People's bemusement on being told that they are cis reminds me of the character in Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme and his amazed discovery that "I've been speaking prose all my life, and I didn't even know it!"
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At 52 when i first heard the term , i was clueless, but as a life long lgbtq activist and educator , upon reading Whipping Girl - Julia the term from my point of view is the gateway to expanding both queer justice and certainly helpful in sorting through the morass of information assembled to discredit our realities and hold us back. Its a great term and hopefully will become a household term , much like homophobia is - Your book , and thinking - your generation are taking us into the future , again thank you for expounding on the word and concept. - gotta laugh at myself , my first reaction when upon hearing the term , was defensive having spent a life time recognizing how willfully ignorant people are - i feared challenging them with this new concept. But , it must be done after all those who judge are steeped in well..a cisgendered perspective. Suddenly light bulbs go on - your work has shed so much light. And given lgbtq advocates, academics and everyday people just the concept to help those who would hate realize their own bias. .

much like the beginnings of gay lib - getting people to understand , that they did not choose to be heterosexual. Excercises in consciousness raising.

again , thanks for taking the time to write - i will be book marking this page for further study. very important work !

all blessings right back at cha - proudprogressiveTG
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thanks you for all the kind words! -j.
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Julia, do you mind if I link this in my trans 101 links?
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hi Lisa, feel free to do so! -j.
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(Deleted comment)
Thank you for writing this. It's vital for those of us who are cisgendered to recognize and acknowledge our privilege, and having a specific name to refer to ourselves is an important first step.

I've linked on my lj.
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Hi tekalynn, I'm glad you liked the piece and thanks for linking to it! -julia
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I was linked here by tekalynn and it's a really exceptional explanation not just of the cis/trans terminology but of privilege and how people experience it (and the lack of it) that really would be useful to so many disagreements I've run across on the Internet lately.

Just as my heritage includes PoC, my existence because of the shade of my skin means I have white privilege and I try to be mindful of the differences between my genetic and family identity and the reality of the social treatment I receive that rarely takes that background into account.

Similarly, while I do not feel that it is accurate or appropriate to claim trans labels on myself, I also do not feel completely cis-gendered and often present as male. However, that I have mostly comfortable identity choice in this matter means that I often have cis-gender privilege, and like the racial issue, it's something I try to keep in mind while trying to be supportive of my trans friends as possible, having experienced people at their inappropriate worst when choosing to exist other than cis-gendered in non-safe spaces (which leads me to note that I wish there were a term for genderqueer, which I do happily use, that was less confrontational/more scientific).

Anyway, this is lovely. I learned stuff. Thanks!

Edited at 2009-05-16 03:21 am (UTC)
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hi rm, thanks for the kind words! and i really appreciate the fact that you are both gender-nonconforming in certain ways, but nevertheless acknowledge that you also experience cis privilege at times.

I think that because the term transgender is very broad, and includes feminine/femme men and masculine/butch women who are not crossgender identified, there is a tendency for some members of those groups to suggest that they can't possibly have cis privilege. I think femme men and butch women face real discriminiation/marginalization for their atypical *gender expression*, but they are still typically perceived as being legitimately male and female, respectively. Their gender expression may be viewed as questionable, but their *gender identities* and *sex embodiments* are not viewed as "fake" "unnatural" and "illegitimate."

In my experience (as someone who was viewed as a very androgynous/feminine man before I transitioned to female), I would say that our society tolerates atypical gender expression way more than it does crossgender identities and bodies that are deemed "incongruent" with regards to physical/anatomical sex.

I brought up this distinction in the Dismantling Cissexual Privilege of WG, but it often goes unnoticed and overlooked (as anything that can't be boiled down to a quick, witty sound-bite often is). One possibility that might help clear this issue up is by using the word "transphobia" to refer to the way in which atypical gender expressions and presentations are viewed as less natural and legitimate than gender-conforming ones, and to use cissexism to refer to how crossgender identities and sex embodiments are viewed as less natural and legitimate than cissexual ones. Just a thought. Admittedly it would take a while for this distinction to catch on. And perhaps there are caveats to this approach that I haven't thought of yet...

Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights about privilege!

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Here via tekalynn;Discussions of privilege are important and this FAQ goes a long way to explain why. Thank you so much for this, I've read "Whipping Girl" and felt it was such an important book not just on gender but on feminism that is rarely spoken aloud.
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For the record, I deleted a post because the person compared trans activism to a dictatorship, they made incorrect presumptions about my views about identity and then proceeded to called me a hypocrite for having those supposed views.

This is my blog (not a community blog) so I reserve the right to delete comments that I find inflammatory.

To the person whose post I deleted: Instead of presuming what I believe, I encourage you to read my book Whipping Girl, where I painstakingly debunk a lot of feminist myths about trans people, identities, issues and activism. After reading it, if you wish to engage in a respectful conversation about these matters, I would be open to doing that with you. -julia
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You know, I tossed up whether to say anything about this, cos you're *such* a hero of mine and the work is what's important, but.

I (Queen Emily @ Questioning Transphobia) did all the heavy lifting on the whole "cis is not academic" thing. Indeed, that'd be the name of one my posts on the subject at QT. Various writers at Feministing have been referencing me a lot lately, but mostly explanations with links - none really added very much in the way of new content. Which is fine as far as it goes, but occasionally it means that their voices (often cis and genderqueer) come to stand in for mine... and the openly trans woman gets erased from the picture..

I'm aware that blogging's different from academia, but cite the original where possible still seems like a good idea to me. I know it's a small thing, but credit where credit's due yeah?
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I might add that I have witnessed your speaking out on this issue much earlier too.

Trust me, the right ppl kno who pounds ground, and who is in the rear with the gear :D
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Hi Queen Emily,

First off, I should say that I’ve read several of your posts at Questioning Transphobia in the past, and I very much appreciate the writing/activism that you do.

From your message, it is clear that you feel that I have disrespected you for not citing you as the original source for the cis-as-an-academic-term discussion. To be honest, I hadn’t read that specific post of yours until this morning when I read the comment you left me (and btw, it is an excellent post). I only occasionally blog or read blogs during normal times, and when you posted that it was during a two-week period when I was out of town and/or otherwise too ridiculously busy to surf the web. So I simply missed it the first time around.

My post was one that I had planned on writing for a long time (as I have received lots of feedback/critiques for using cis/trans and cissexual privilege in WG), but two things inspired me to write it when I did. The first was a conversation I had with a friend related to the is-menstration-a-cis-privilege? part of the post. The second was reading the comment section of the “cis as an academic term” Feministing post (that I did cite) which had just been posted. In that comment section, numerous clueless people made a lot of the same complaints about cis that we have all heard countless times in the past: that it is jargony/confusing/too academic/why can’t we speak plain English. etc. While I (like you) have dealt with those complaints many times before, they really stuck in my crawl that night. So when I woke up at 2am that morning with insomnia, I decided to write the post.

The main reason why I cited that Feministing post was not because it inspired me to write what I wrote (as my WG FAQ was sketched out well before then), but because reading the comment section triggered me to write it when I did.

I did see that they cited your posts (and described them as “great”). Like you said, outside of the blogosphere, it is commonly accepted for people to reference articles/books that are not the original source (but which cite the original source) and it is considered OK. Admittedly, this is what I am used to. But I can understand why this wouldn’t be considered OK with blogs, since many people who visit heavily-trafficked cis-dominated blogs like Feministing might only rarely (or never) visit a trans-focused blog like Questioning Transphobia, and thus their post in a sense invisibilizes or stands in for yours. While my post was not a response to what you wrote, or even what they wrote, I can understand why you might feel that my citation choice contributed to your erasure. That was not my intention, and I sincerely apologize for that.

Best wishes, -julia
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Thanks Julia.

I didn't ascribe any personal maliciousness to it, it just seemed a bit sloppy and unwittingly contributing to the larger erasure of trans women's voices.

But that makes sense.
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cool. btw, I really liked the link that leads to the googling of cissexual!
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You never really mention that the comment section triggered you to write when you did in the post though, and that isn't what you cited them for. It still seems to me that you aren't quite understanding the problem Em is describing. I'm a cis WOC and I understand what she is talking about from a POC perspective and think this quote might help:

This means that antiracist communities should not recreate this same hierarchy in which whites are authorities over people of colour. It is not the job of the white antiracist to extract the words of people of colour, “translate” them into his own words, and “interpret” them within his own framework to advance his thesis. When the white antiracist assumes that the words of a person of colour need to be paraphrased by a white person to count as human understanding about race and racism, it is a reproduction of white supremacy. The words of people of colour are not flora and fauna that need to be recorded and interpreted by a human observer. When people of colour write about race and racism, they are the human observers. White antiracists should not treat the words of people of colour as “raw data” that require intellectual processing.

This is from here: http://restructure.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/white-antiracists-appropriate-the-words-of-people-of-colour-to-advance-their-thesis/

In this case cannonball is a trans woman, but I think it's the fact that these words are on a cis-centered site, Feministing, that give them the "stamp of approval". Sort of like saying since the big cis blogger is taking this seriously (and ceding the soapbox to a trans woman) then maybe the rest of us cis women should listen. It's still making cis people the authority on trans lives and identities. The quote you did cite from Feministing, instead of referencing the things in comments that triggered you, is a repackaging or translation of Em's words for a cis audience, even if it is by a trans woman.
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hi dmj618,

you said:

"It still seems to me that you aren't quite understanding the problem Em is describing."

I assure you that I do understand the problem. in my reply to Emily, I said:

"I can understand why this wouldn’t be considered OK with blogs, since many people who visit heavily-trafficked cis-dominated blogs like Feministing might only rarely (or never) visit a trans-focused blog like Questioning Transphobia, and thus their post in a sense invisibilizes or stands in for yours. While my post was not a response to what you wrote, or even what they wrote, I can understand why you might feel that my citation choice contributed to your erasure. That was not my intention, and I sincerely apologize for that."

I agree with both you and Emily that it was sloppy blogging on my part. That's why I apologized.

Best wishes, -julia
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Well...if you really understood you would have either changed the link to cite QT, since that is what the Feministing post was based on, or at least also linked to QT in the post. Right now a cis-centered blog is still the authority instead of a trans-centered blog.

This kind of thing has happened so many times with WOC, where one of us will write a post full of our ideas and arguments, it's discovered by a white blogger who writes up a review, and that in turn is discovered by the big blogs who then source back to the white blogger. The original is forgotten in the shuffle as other blogs link to the big blog etc. Or worse, our ideas are stolen and we aren't cited at all, some white blogger rewrites it like it's their original anti-racist thoughts. So we are very sensitive to this type of thing. I wanted to be sure I explained why I am here and commenting, but of course the most important reason is because I adore Em and think every blog in existence should cite her just because.

I don't like to see you on the defensive and just wanted to give you some things to consider. Right now I am very uncomfortable with the idea of a cis woman schooling a trans woman on a trans-centered blog and feel I should bow out.
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Your cis-ness does not exclude your correctness. Sometimes being right transcends identities.

And this twoc agrees completely, actions, not words demonstrate understanding. Julia does not share the background in anti oppression that you do, and does not bring the experience you and I share in navigating this world as a woc, so it is not surprising that she acts like the cis feminists she blogs with.

This twoc thanks you, dmj618, again for speaking ur truth here, and bringing woc wisdom to an otherwise rather masturbatory online book reading by a respected author.

Julia, I leave you to your conscience and your admiriers. Do or do not do the right thing- others here have spoken a truth that you would be well advised to listen to, and act on.

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You were not the only woc to notice this. Julia's style in this post and comments reminds me of so many encounters with cis white feminist appropriation, right down to apologizing for Em's feelings, another Feministing white / cis feminist staple of interacting with more oppressed group members.

Thanks for pointing out the cissupremacy here. It made an otherwise disturbing post and commentary readable.
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RE: the limitations of cis privilege:

i would like to address this specific part of the post.

I understand where the person is coming from, but I would be hesitant to call that cissexual privilege. I try to only use the term with regards to social and legal legitimacy

no. you're missing something big here and i'm really kind of startled, given your previous writing.

1) please don't speak for me and tell me what is cis privilege or not. i'm a bit surprised i have to tell this to another trans person, but i don't like having my experience and reactions overridden by a trans person any more than by a cis person. if this definition works for *you* that's great, but don't universalize it to all trans fold.

2) in my book, this example is privilege. i have been in women's groups where i'm the only trans women, while the cis women talked about periods and tampons and babies and who's pregnant, etc. i am left out, othered, unwomaned. it doesn't matter to them if this is hurtful to me, it's no skin off their back, they don't even have to think about this. how is this not privilege? and how is it not privilege that they don't even have to think that maybe they can stow this discussion for the TWO HOURS A MONTH that a trans women is in their presence? and if i bring it up? i don't bother, i know the firestorm that will follow.

3) quite frankly, this section reads as a tone argument. it reads as "be nice to the cis ladies and don't challenge them TOO much." it sets what is "reasonable" and "unreasonable" for trans folk to get angry about, and does so through a cis lens.

julia, your book "whipping girl" was a revelation to me. i'm sorry, but i have to say that between (a) failing to acknowledge the person who DID THE WORK regarding cis is not an academic term in favor of a cis blog's appropriative "reinterpretation" and (b) what i discussed above, this post is rather a fail.
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Re: the limitations of cis privilege:

oops...all trans *folk*
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Comment thread terminated

So I will no longer be taking any comments on this thread. Too much hateful speech, both from people on the "left" (who have called me a "cis supremacist") and from the "right" (cis women who've called me stupid, etc.). If you want to talk shit about me and/or the concept of cisgender, take it somewhere else. -j.
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Cissexual vs Cis-gendered

So I am a trans-woman. I have over the past several days seen the term cissexual, which I have never been exposed to. I have known the term cisgendered for some time and I am curious as to what exactly cissexual means. If a transgendered person elects not to pursue surgery as a trans-woman, my understanding is that would make them cissexual, which makes a great deal of sense on one hand, and seems remarkably dangerous with regard to delegitimizing peoples gender on the other. Especially once terms such as cissexual privilege start being used (as opposed to cisgendered privilege.)
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