Whipping Girl

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Whipping Girl FAQ on cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege
Note added August 2015: I have written several more articles on this topic - they are compiled in a recent post entitled Julia Serano's compendium on cisgender, cissexual, cissexism, cisgenderism, cis privilege, and the cis/trans distinction - I hope you find them useful!

Ok, so this is the fourth installment of my Whipping Girl FAQ, where I answer common questions and/or clear up confusion about what I said (or was trying to say) in WG. This FAQ discusses the “cis/trans” distinction and “cis” privilege.

The origin of “cis”

I have come across people who have assumed that I invented the terms cissexual and cisgender, but this is not the case. I reference “cissexual” this way in my book:

I was inspired to begin using the term “cissexual” after reading one of Emi Koyama’s Interchange entries (www.eminism.org/interchange/2002/20020607-wmstl.html). Apparently, the related term “cisgender” was first coined in 1995 by a transsexual man named Carl Buijs.

I don’t know much about Carl Buijs or why he coined the term “cisgender.” But as a scientist (where the prefixes “trans” and “cis” are routinely used), this terminology seems fairly obvious in retrospect. “Trans” means “across” or “on the opposite side of,” whereas “cis” means “on the same side of.” So if someone who was assigned one sex at birth, but comes to identify and live as a member of the other sex, is called a “transsexual” (because they have crossed from one sex to the other), then the someone who lives and identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth is called a “cissexual.”

As someone who was assigned a male sex at birth, but who lives and identifies as female, I may be described as a transsexual woman, a transgender woman, or a trans woman. Those women who (unlike me) were assigned a female sex at birth may be similarly described as cissexual women, cisgender women, or cis women.

(note: I discuss the terms “transsexual” and “transgender” more extensively in a previous WG FAQ)

Why use the term “cis”?

I suppose different people might give different answers to this question, so it is probably best for me to explain why *I* started using this terminology, and why I chose to include it in the book.

I began writing Whipping Girl in 2005, before I had heard of the “cis” terminology. A major focus of the book was to debunk many of the myths and misconceptions people have about transsexuals. Initially, I was kind of scattershot in my approach: In one chapter, I would critique the way the term “passing” is used in reference to transsexuals. In another chapter I would critique the use of the terms “bio boy” and “genetic girl” to describe non-trans men and women. In yet another chapter, I would critique the way that transsexuals are always depicted as imitating or impersonating “real” (read: non-trans) women and men. And so on. After a while, it became obvious to me that all of these phenomena were stemming from the same presumption: that transsexual gender identities and sex embodiments are inherently less natural and less legitimate than those of nontranssexual people.

I realized that it would make a lot more sense to write a chapter for the book that thoroughly exposes this double standard and describes the many ways it is employed in order to marginalize transsexuals. As I was contemplating this, I stumbled onto the aforementioned Emi Koyama post, where she discusses the usefulness of the terms cissexual, cisgender and cissexism. She said:

“...they de-centralize the dominant group, exposing it as merely one possible alternative rather than the "norm" against which trans people are defined. I don't expect the word to come into common usage anytime soon, but I felt it was an interesting concept - a feminist one, in fact - which is why I am using it.”

It was then that I realized that the double standard that I was writing about already had a name: cissexism. And the chapter of WG dedicated to debunking cissexism eventually took on the title: “Dismantling Cissexual Privilege.”

People sometimes freak out a bit when confronted with new terms/language. So when doing presentations, I often offer the following analogy to help people understand the usefulness of this terminology:

Fifty years ago, homosexuality was almost universally seen as unnatural, immoral, illegitimate, etc. Back then, people regularly talked about “homosexuals,” but nobody ever talked about “heterosexuals.” In a sense, there were no “heterosexuals”—everyone who wasn’t engaged in same-sex behavior was simply considered “normal.” Their sexualities were unmarked and taken for granted.

If you were lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) during this time period, there was almost no way for you to convince the rest of society that you were unfairly marginalized. In society’s eyes, nobody was oppressing you, it was simply your fault or problem that you were “abnormal.” In fact, it was quite common for LGB people to buy into this presumption of abnormality themselves, as there was simply no other obvious way to view their predicament.

But then gay rights activists began challenging this notion. They pointed out that all people have sexualities (not just homosexuals). The so-called “normal” people weren’t really “normal” per se, but rather they were “heterosexual.” And the activists pointed out that heterosexuals weren’t necessarily any better or more righteous than homosexuals. It was just that heterosexism—the belief that same-sex attraction and relationships are less natural and legitimate than heterosexual ones—is institutionalized within society and functions to unfairly marginalize those who engage in same-sex relationships.

Once one recognizes that heterosexism is a double standard, then it becomes clear that (whether they realize it or not) heterosexuals are privileged in our society. They can legally marry, engage in public displays of affection with their significant other without fear of being assaulted, their relationships are typically approved of, and even celebrated, by others, and so on. Like all forms of privilege, heterosexual privilege is invisible to those who experience it—they simply take it for granted. By describing and discussing heterosexism and heterosexual privilege, LGB activists have made great gains over time toward leveling the playing field with regards to sexual orientation in our culture.

One can easily understand the potential power of cis/trans terminology by simply replacing “heterosexual” with “cissexual,” “heterosexism” with “cissexism,” and “heterosexual privilege” with “cissexual privilege” in the above analogy.

Critiques of the “cis/trans” terminology

While cissexism and cissexual privilege are useful concepts, I have met many people (both cis and trans) who don’t like the cis/trans distinction. Here are my thoughts on some of the more common criticisms:

1) It sounds too academic/jargony; why can’t we speak in plain, simple English?

First, “cis” is not an academic term, it is an activist one. And it sounds like jargon simply because most people are unfamiliar with it. On a recent Feministing post on this very topic, cannonball put it this way:

“words that start with cis may seem esoteric, but how many times are words like “sexism” and “heterosexism” thrown back at groups who work to end oppression as too academic?”

(note: cannonball’s post was a response to two earlier excellent posts by Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia: Cis is not an “academic” term and Cis (2). In those posts, she goes more in depth into the cis-as-academic trope than I do here.)

To be honest, when people make the can’t-we-speak-in-plain-simple-English complaint, I just want to bonk them over the head with a stack of George Orwell books. Our ideas/thoughts/concepts/beliefs are very much constrained by the words available to us. If we didn’t have the terms heterosexual, heterosexism and heterosexual privilege, those of us who are LGB wouldn’t have the language to describe (and thus challenge) the marginalization we face because of who we sleep with. If we all just spoke “plain English” circa the 1950’s, where do you think we’d be these days with regards to sexual orientation-based discrimination?

2) comment often made by cis people: “but I don’t identify with the term cis.”

Cis is not meant to be an identity. Rather, it simply describes the way that one is perceived by others.

An analogy: I don’t strongly *identify* with the terms “white” and “able-bodied,” even though I am both of those things. After all, I have been able to navigate my way through the world without ever having to give much thought to those aspects of my person. And that’s the point: It is my white privilege and able-bodied privilege that enables me *not* to have to deal with racism and ableism on a daily basis!

In general, we only identify with those aspects of ourselves that are marked. For example, I identify as bisexual, and as a trans woman, because those are issues that I have to deal with all of the time (because of other people’s prejudices). While I may not strongly identify as white or able-bodied, it would be entitled for me to completely disavow myself from those labels, as it would deny the white privilege and able-bodied privilege I regularly experience.

3) comment often made by trans people: "I don’t like the distinction between cis/trans because I don’t think that I am any different from a cis woman (or man)."

I can relate to this sentiment. After all, I don’t believe that I (as a trans woman) am inherently different from cis women. Such a view point would be essentialist/universalist, as it would assume that all cis women are the “same” as each other and entirely distinct from trans women. This ignores the large amount of variation amongst, and overlap between, cis and trans women.

When I use the terms cis/trans, it is not to talk about *actual* differences between cis and trans bodies/identities/genders/people, but rather *perceived* differences. In other words, while I don’t think that my gender is inherently different from that of a cis woman, I am aware that most people tend to *view* my gender differently (i.e., as less natural/valid/authentic) than cis women’s genders.

Here’s how I put it in WG:

[Some people] might dismiss much of this language as contributing to a “reverse discourse”—that is, by describing myself as a transsexual and creating trans-specific terms to describe my experiences, I am simply reinforcing the same distinction between transsexuals and cissexuals that has marginalized me in the first place. My response to both of these arguments is the same: I do not believe that transsexuals and cissexuals are inherently different from one another.  But, the vastly different ways in which we are perceived and treated by others (based on whether or not we are trans) and the way those differences impact our unique physical and social experiences with both femaleness and maleness, lead many transsexuals to see and understand gender very differently than our cissexual counterparts.  And while transsexuals are extremely familiar with cissexual perspectives of gender (as they dominate in our culture), most cissexuals remain largely unfamiliar with trans perspectives. Thus, to ask me to only use words that cissexuals are familiar with in order to describe my gendered experiences is similar to asking a musician to only use words that non-musicians understand when describing music.  It can be done, but something crucial would surely be lost in the translation.  Just as a musician cannot fully explain their reaction to a particular song without bringing up concepts such as “minor key” or “time signature,” there are certain trans-specific words and ideas that will appear throughout this book that are crucial for me to precisely convey my thoughts and experiences regarding gender. In order to have an illuminating and nuanced discussion about my experiences and perspectives as a trans woman, we must begin to think in terms of words and ideas that accurately describe that experience.

The limitations of cis privilege:

A friend recently told me of a trans woman she knew who complained that other women were exercising cis privilege over her whenever they complained about their periods. This is what I told my friend:

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 (e.g., that cis people’s legal sex & gender identities are taken for granted and considered valid in a way that trans people’s are not). In those cases, there is a blatant societal double-standard at work, and cis folks should be made aware that they are taking something for granted that others cannot.

But once we get into issues of biology or bodies (rather than the rights and entitlements associated with them), things become more fraught. For example, I have white privilege, not because my skin has less pigment than people of color, but because my whiteness enables me to not have to face racism on a day-to-day basis. I have able-bodied privilege, not because I can see or walk "just fine", but because (in a society that presumes that everyone can see signs or walk up a flight of stairs if necessary) I don't face the same obstacles or barriers in my day-to-day life that differently-abled people do.

Sometimes, when other women I know are bitching about their periods or pregnancies, I get really sad. While I certainly don’t doubt that those experiences are painful and difficult, I feel a sense of loss about not having the opportunity to choose to bare a child if I wished. (I’m not sure that I would want to do that if I were able, but it would be nice to have that option available to me). I have a cis female cousin who had very irregular periods her whole life and who was distraught to find out as a young adult that she couldn’t bare children (she & her husband eventually adopted after years of infertility treatment attempts). While we’ve never talked about it, I’m sure we both relate to our similar situations in very different ways. For me, it’s wrapped up in my sadness about not having been born female. For her (being socialized female), it’s more likely tied to her having imagined since she was a child that someday she’d become pregnant and have her own children.

Both of us are biologically unable to have regular periods or get pregnant. Both of us experience sadness and loss at the fact that we have been denied something that other women take for granted. But to say that people who properly menstruate have cis privilege, or menstruation privilege, plays into a kind of pathologizing mentality. It plays into the idea that my (and her) body is intrinsically “wrong” while other bodies are “right.” I know some trans people see things that way, but I find that disempowering. I wish I had been born female and that I could menstruate, just like I wish that I didn’t have skin cancer two years ago, or that I wasn’t hypothyroid, or that I wasn’t on the verge of needing bifocals (and I’m only 41 for Christsakes!), etc. But I don’t feel like I was denied any privileges because my body isn’t the way that I wish it was. It only becomes about privilege when I am deemed inferior or less legitimate than other people because of my body and situation.

My cousin and I share some similarities, but also some differences. She was able to qualify for adoption despite being infertile. It is very likely that if I applied for adoption (on the grounds that I am infertile because I am transsexual) that I would be denied because of my trans status. If I were denied for that reason, that would be a clear case of cis privilege. And while I don’t consider it cis privilege when other women are bitching about their periods, I have had cis women tell me that I am “lucky” that I don’t have periods. I know for a fact that they would *never* tell someone like my cousin (an infertile cis woman) that she is lucky for the same reason. In that case, I would definitely say cis privilege is at work (because of the double standard).

I am glad that WG helped to popularize the usage of cissexism and cis privilege. But it is important to keep in mind that all of us are privileged in some ways and marginalized in others. As a trans person, I am very sensitive to cis privilege, but not so attuned to my own white privilege or able-bodied privilege. In the past, I have presumed that someone was exercising cis privilege over me only to find out later that they didn’t even know I was trans. And I have had people (rightly) call me out when I have inadvertently said something that was steeped in my own white privilege or able-bodied privilege without being conscious of it.

This is especially important to keep in mind in feminist settings, where both cis and trans women are marginalized in largely overlapping, albeit sometimes different ways. Being forced against my will into boyhood overall really sucked for me, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t experience *some* advantages as a result. For instance, I was given more freedom in many ways than my sisters growing up. And I honestly can’t say whether or not I would have become a scientist if I was raised female. 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.).

I want to be a part of a feminist community where we can talk about cis woman-specific issues *and* trans woman-specific issues without the former group being automatically called out for exercising cis privilege and the latter group automatically being called out for supposed male privilege. To achieve this, it is important for us to challenge oppression/privilege when it occurs. But it is also important for us to listen to what others have to say, to give people the benefit of doubt whenever possible. Some people are stubbornly prejudiced and repeat offenders, and they of course should be taken to task for it. But most of us (I hope) genuinely want to both understand *and* to be understood. Discussions of “privilege” should be about teaching (and learning) how we each see and experience the world differently; how we each have blind-spots; how we each make incorrect and undermining assumptions about other people. Discussions of “privilege” should serve as a teaching tool, not a weapon to wield.

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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!
(Frozen) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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...
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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...
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

"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!
(Frozen) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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...
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

[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...
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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!"
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Julia, do you mind if I link this in my trans 101 links?
(Frozen) (Thread)

hi Lisa, feel free to do so! -j.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

(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.
(Frozen) (Thread)

Hi tekalynn, I'm glad you liked the piece and thanks for linking to it! -julia
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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)
(Frozen) (Thread)

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!

(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Thread)

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
(Frozen) (Thread)

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
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

cool. btw, I really liked the link that leads to the googling of cissexual!
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.

(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Thread)

Re: the limitations of cis privilege:

oops...all trans *folk*
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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.
(Frozen) (Thread)

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.)
(Frozen) (Thread)

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