A feminist critique of “cisgender”

Consistent with common usage of the term “cisgender,” the graphic below explains that “…if you identify with the gender you were assigened [sic] at birth, you are cis.”

Another Trans 101: Cisgender webpage describes cis this way: “For example, if a doctor said “it’s a boy!” when you were born, and you identify as a man, then you could be described as cisgender.” [i] Likewise, girl-born people who identify as women are also considered cisgender. WBW are cis.

Framing gender as a medically determined assignment may seem like a good start to explaining gendered oppression because it purports to make a distinction between physical sex and gender. Feminism similarly understands masculinity and femininity (e.g., gender) as strictly enforced social constructs neither of which are the “normal” or inevitable result of one’s reproductive sex organs. Feminism and trans theory agree that coercive gender assignments are a significant source of oppression.

On closer inspection of the concept of “cisgender,” however, feminism and trans theory quickly diverge. Feminism does not believe that asking whether an individual identifies with the particular social characteristics and expectations assigned to them at birth is a politically useful way of analyzing or understanding gender. Eliminating gender assignments, by allowing individuals to choose one of two pre-existing gender molds, while continuing to celebrate the existence and naturalism of “gender” itself, is not a progressive social goal that will advance women’s liberation.  Feminism claims that gender is a much more complicated (and sinister) social phenomenon than this popular cis/trans binary has any hope of capturing.

First, “masculinity” and “femininity” are not monolithic, static concepts that are wholly embraced or wholly discarded. Socially assigned gender roles encompass entire lives’ worth of behaviors and expectations, from cradle to grave. Most people’s identification with their “gender” assignment is not a simple Y/N.  One may be aesthetically gender conforming, but at the same time, behaviorally non-conforming. Or vice versa. Or some combination of both. Most of us are not walking, talking stereotypes. It is unusual for a person to both appear and behave in unmodified identification with their assigned gender at birth. For example, a female-born person might wear pink dresses and lots of makeup, but behave in an assertive, detached, and highly intellectual manner. Or a female-born person might appear very androgynous, without any feminine adornment at all, but express herself gently, quietly, and with graceful concern for those around her. What about a female who is aggressive and competitive in her professional life, but submissive and emotional in her personal life? Who decides whether an individual is sufficiently identified with to be considered “cis”? Or sufficiently non-identified with to be “trans”?  “Cis” and “trans” do not describe discrete social classes from which political analysis can be extrapolated.

Additionally, one’s identification with their “gender” may change over time. Gender is not an immutable characteristic. While some people argue that “gender identity” is a deeply felt, unchanging personal quality;[ii] the existence and prominence of late-transitioning[iii] trans people drags this claim into very questionable territory. One may be gender conforming for many years, then slowly or suddenly reject the characteristics of their assigned gender. How an individual identifies in reference to their gender, whether it be masculinity or femininity, is not necessarily stable, nor should it have to be.

The cis/trans binary does not, and cannot, account for the experiences of people with complicated, blended, or changing “gender identities;” nor does it address people with hostile relationships to gender in general. As a woman-born-woman who rejects femininity as females’ destiny, I surely do not identify with my assigned gender in the way that “cis” describes. Indeed, no one holding radical feminist/anti-essentialist views about gender could be considered “cis” because, by definition of these views, we reject gender as a natural social category that every person identifies with. Feminists do not believe that everyone has a “gender identity,” or that we all possess some kind of internal compass directing our identification with “gender.”

Identifying with something is an internal, subjective experience. Self-assessments of gender do not equal self-awareness, nor do they provide insight as to how gendered oppression operates in the broader, external social sphere.

By using cisgender to describe the gender of those who are not trans* we break down structures that posit cis individuals as “normal,” when neither is more “normal” than the other.

See graphic, above. The cis/trans* binary does not break down any structures of normalcy because it doesn’t describe how such systems operate. It doesn’t explain how a person will be treated by society or what kind(s) of power they hold relative to others. External observers cannot reliably determine whether someone considers herself “cis” or “trans;” they simply pass judgment by categorizing superficial expressions of masculinity or femininity as appropriate or inappropriate. In reality, any person who significantly defies the gender norms for their apparent sex will be subject to negative social treatment because of their non-compliance. This will occur regardless of whether the individual applies the label “trans” to herself or not.  Under nearly all circumstances, stealth trans* people will be treated by society as if they were cis; and gender non-conforming cis people who do not disclaim their reproductive sex–including butch lesbians and feminine males–will be treated by society as if they were “trans.*” Framing the politics of gender as a matter of self-perception rather than social perception evades the feminist political inquiry regarding why gender exists in the first place and how these gender dynamics operate, and have operated, for hundreds of years.

“IT’S A GIRL!” (see graphic above) means something in regard to that baby’s life. Assuming she makes it to adulthood, that is.[iv]

For “It’s a girl!” to make sense, it must refer to a long string of gendered words that help the community understand what to expect out of babies called “girls.”

The single utterance, “It’s a girl!” does not a baby girl make. The drama of gender is a repeat performance—it must be reenacted continually to form a pattern. Butler writes, “the body becomes its gender through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated through time.” 273 She explains, “[t]his repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established…[v]

The pattern of gender, constituted through gender’s repeated performance on the stage of life, demonstrates that males and masculinity are institutionally dominant over females and femininity.  Gender is not just a fun dress up game that individuals merely identify with in isolation from all contextual and historical meaning, but the most powerful tool of structural oppression ever created by humans.

Notwithstanding variations caused by intersecting factors such as economic class, national jurisdiction, and cultural differences; the collective female social location is consistently less than similarly situated males in terms of: (i) material resources received as an infant and child, (ii) respect, attention, and intellectual encouragement received as an infant and child, (iii) risk of being sexually exploited or victimized, (iv) role within the hetero family unit, (v) representation and power in government, (vi) access to education, jobs, and promotions in the workforce, (vii) property ownership and dominion over space.[vi]

Recognizing this, feminism understands gender as a powerful– but not inevitable– tool of organizing social relations and distributing power, including physical resources, between the sexes. The near-universal quality of life disparities enumerated above are created, enforced, and replicated through the enforcement of gendered difference and the meanings assigned to these differences. Being born with female appearing genitals and, as a direct result, being coercively assigned the feminine gender at birth, is clearly not a (cis) privilege, nor is it socially equivalent to males’ masculine gender assignment. Female-bodied people and male-bodied people are not similarly situated persons in regard to gender based oppression. Gender is not simply a neutral binary. More importantly, it is a hierarchy.

Cis privilege does not exist, man-privilege does.

Feminine gender conformity ala “cis” does not protect women (trans or not) from gendered oppression. While a man’s gender conformity with masculinity—both aesthetic and behavioral— will substantially insulate him from sex and gender motivated oppression and violence, a woman’s appropriate conformity to stereotypical femininity does not. The 2011 SlutWalk campaign (hopefully) served as a grave reminder that victim-blaming, woman-blaming rhetoric is alive and well in mainstream social discourse. The perception that women “bring it on ourselves” or “ask for it” when we dress in certain, undeniably feminine ways is very wrong, but also very real. Some predators are even documented as specifically targeting conventionally “attractive” women.

The first good-looking girl I see tonight is going to die.

Edward Kemper, serial killer.[vii]

As long as stereotypical femininity remains the controlling standard of beauty for women, feminine-appearing women (trans or not) will be eye-catching targets for misogynistic violence because of their perceived “beauty.” In other words, because they are feminine-conforming.

Further, socially defined feminine behaviors such as hospitality, care-taking, and a socially structured desire for male sexual attention contribute to women’s vulnerability to exploitation. When a woman’s social performance (trans or not) is consistent with feminine subordination to male authority, rapists and other abusers may target these women as easy victims on the assumption that they will be less likely to resist unwanted advances.

Rapists often select potential victims using gut feeling.  Subtle attempts to invade our personal space and to force conversation with us are tests of our boundaries used by rapists to confirm their gut feeling.  We send a strong message when we enforce our limits and preferences for touching, revealing personal information and feelings, and having people in the space that surrounds us.[viii]

Feminine socialization conditions women to be accommodating to others, listen politely and attentively, and express emotional concern for those who appear downtrodden. As a result, women still make up the majority of workers in underpaid “caring professions” such as social work, teaching, and nursing. This tendency towards altruism and giving of trust allow feminine-behaving people to be taken advantage of by those who recognize it as an opportunity to leverage their “feminine” generosity for personal gain.

As long as stereotypical femininity remains the controlling standard of appropriate behavior for women (trans or not), we will continue to struggle not only with setting boundaries against others’ predatory and/or exploitative intentions, but we are also doomed to walk uphill against the professional double standard recognized in the groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court decision Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins:

An employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait places women in an intolerable and impermissible Catch-22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they do not. [ix]

The behavioral characteristics of femininity are economically and intellectually devalued as compared to the traits of masculinity. Power is gendered. As a result, males continue to control almost all of the world’s resources and power, including the positions of institutional authority required to direct social reform.  Within this patriarchal context, women’s compliance with feminine behavioral norms simply does not result in social empowerment. It can’t. And it won’t. Because “gender” isn’t designed to work that way.

Eliminating sex-based gender assignments, while leaving hegemonic masculinity and femininity intact,isn’t going to rectify this imbalance. The cis/trans* binary is a gross oversimplification of the gendered dynamics that structure social relations in favor of male-born people. Gender is a socially constructed power hierarchy that must be destroyed, not reinterpreted as consensual, empowering, individualized “gender identities” that are magically divorced from all contextual and historical meaning. Such a framing invisibilizes female and feminine oppression by falsely situating men-born-men and women-born-women as gendered equals relative to trans-identified people. Though possibly unintentional, “cis” now functions as a significant barrier to feminism’s ability to articulate the oppression caused by the socially constructed gender differentiation that enables male/masculine supremacy. Cis is a politically useless concept because fails to illuminate the mechanics of gendered oppression. In fact, it has only served to make things more confusing.

I call for trans* theorists, activists, and supporters to stop promoting the cis/trans binary, and instead, to incorporate feminist objections regarding gender-as-hierarchy[x] and the misplaced glorification of masculinity and femininity in the context of male supremacy into their explanations of “gender.”


up [ii] Levi, Jennifer L., The Interplay Between Disability and Sexuality: Clothes Don’t Make the Man (or Woman), but Gender Identity Might. 15 Colum. J. Gender & L. 90 (2006).

up [v] Clarke, Jessica A., Adverse Possession of Identity: Radical Theory, Conventional Practice. Oregon Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, 2005.

up [vi] Special thanks to Virginia Brown for articulating these disparities.

up [ix] Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (490 U.S. 228, 251).

up [x] [Here is an example of a trans woman listening, understanding, and incorporating feminist critique of gender into her work. It is possible. http://www.transadvocate.com/on-die-cis-scum.htm <<this link is dead.] Update May 2013: Here are links to blogs written by transwomen who listen to women: http://justjenniferblog.blogspot.com/ or http://snowflakeespecial.tumblr.com/ or maybe even http://auntyorthodox.tumblr.com/.

___________________

Download a pdf of this article here.

109 comments
  1. I am falling out of my chair in awe. And I want you to move to my state and be my lawyer. BRILLIANT is an under-statement.

  2. smash said:

    Great, great work!

  3. Brilliant in clarity 🙂 Thank you.

  4. hearthrising said:

    “Cis now functions as a significant barrier to feminism’s ability to articulate the oppression caused by the socially constructed gender differentiation that enables male/masculine supremacy. Cis is a politically useless concept because fails to illuminate the mechanics of gendered oppression.” Great article.

  5. Jodi said:

    Fantastic! Giving to my students to read!

  6. Great article, spot on

  7. KG said:

    This is a very well written and well argued post.

    Somewhat unrelated to the main point of your post: I think one point where we disagree is that I would say that the construction of femininity, not merely its devaluation, is patriarchal. The content of masculinity and femininity, and not merely the valuing of one over the other, is hierarchical (i.e. hierarchy is built into the natures of masculinity and femininity).

    The term ‘cis’ is rather useless, referring to people who feel comfortable with their own bodies and do not adopt this new identity (‘trans’). I don’t think we need a label referring to people’s not suffering from some problem. Not to mention that the dynamics of oppression just do not apply: there is no structural or material oppression involved, no division into classes. What you have is merely a deviation from a norm that results in punishment/attack at times, but then so does gender non-conformity among non-trans people.

    The queer theoretic approach is, if nothing else, at an explanatory disadvantage since it cannot account for the origin of gender, whereas the feminist approach is at an advantage in that it can account for the origin of gender in terms of patriarchy, and sees gender as a problem, not merely its enforcement without regard for individual deviation.

  8. Excellent

  9. Linda Radfem said:

    ” In reality, any person who significantly defies the gender norms for their apparent sex will be subject to negative social treatment because of their non-compliance.”

    Yes! Thank you! As a butch lesbian I am familiar with the range of micro-agressions that straight people wield against me every single day, because I do not comply with the gender rules governing appearance and behaviours of women. How am I “cis”??

    Thank you for picking this cis-trans discourse apart so meticulously and with such clarity. Re-blogging, with your permission.

  10. Yes, please REBLOG and SHARE everywhere!

  11. Mary Sunshine said:

    You’ll be happy to know that women are reblogging this paragraph by paragraph on Tumblr. Women are loving it!
    😉

  12. Grackle said:

    Such a great article, thank you so much!!

  13. Nice work. It has recently occurred to me that a group of young white males in the 80s could always correctly identify me as a dyke or lesbian and hurl it at me verbally and I’d congratulate them. At this point I am thinking of the same tactic used in a different way at fest next week.

  14. Yisheng Qingwa said:

    (APPLAUSE)

  15. I am posting a link to this most excellent article addressing the whole “transwomen” issue in a rad fem FB group. One or two of the women in that group came down rather hard on another veteran rad fem, and policed her language for calling these men “trannies” because it was “hate speech.” I disagreed. It is NOT hate speech. To the best of my knowledge, not one of these men with autogynophilia calling themselves “transwomen” have EVER opted for the full monte of what being a woman really means: The lack of access to education and jobs, and the very real sexual torture of forced pregnancy/childbirth. How many of these men with autogynophilia have pushed for artificial but working ovaries, uteruses and cervixes? How many would go for a VOLUNTARY transplant of real female reproductive organs knowing that they will then be as vulnerable to pregnancy and childbirth as women-born-women are for most of our lives, regardless if we are gender-compliant or not, and regardless if we “feel” like women or “think” we’re women. None of that matters. The pronouncement of “It’s a girl” at birth in a male supremacist society decides all of that for us. I, for one, will NOT let these men erase my reality as a woman. And I don’t care if their delicate sensibilities are mortally offended by that or not. I am sharing this blog piece far and wide 🙂

  16. Hi Jacqueline, thank you for reading and sharing this post “far and wide.” I’m glad you like it so much!

    The purpose of the article is to highlight the inconsistencies in the concepts of “cisgender” and “cis privilege” as they are commonly used to shame WBW, and how “cis” serves to silence and invisibilize the mechanics of female oppression. No doubt, there are males using the “trans” identity to indulge fetishes and/or as a shield against their own misogyny. Still, I believe there are people who are deeply scarred by the tyranny of gender stereotypes (a pain I can relate to) and who do not understand the complexity of sex-based dynamics and female oppression. They sincerely believe that it is both harmless and necessary to their own survival to collapse physical sex into a subjective identity that they call “gender.” I vehemently disagree with this, but I do not wish to paint all trans *people* with the same brush. The ideas supporting “trans” politics are sloppy and cannot withstand rigorous analysis. That is what I am trying to expose here.

    Again, thank you VERY MUCH for the supportive comment and for sharing the post around with other people. 🙂

  17. I LOVE this, and I’m putting the link to this article EVERYWHERE, and will quote it on my blog as well! It says fairly succintly to the trans WHY we DO NOT want to be called “cisgender”, as a Butch Dyke, I do not identify with the term AT ALL, and feel it has never applied to me, cuz I’m proud to be Female, but have not ever been feminine, since age 7, when I rejected dolls, dresses at age 10, and ever wanting to get married to a man or have babies at age 12…hardcore tomboy grew up to be a Butch Dyke! So have NEVER fit in, to any stereotyped ‘feminine roles’ much to the chagrin of my family….

  18. Vicky said:

    I am a nurse midwife. It makes me crazy when couples are obsessed with finding out the sex of their babies before birth so that they know wether to buy pink or blue stuff, dolls or trucks. Today gender assignment and stereotyping begins in the womb!

  19. ebouros said:

    Brilliant, just brilliant.

    I was always a bit ambivalent towards the whole cis/trans binary because, as a feminist, I strive to eliminate oppressive and hierarchised gender roles, and I had this confused vague feeling that the use of cis/trans labels actually reinforced them. Reading stories about transmen or transwomen starting with “as a little girl, I always hated dolls” or “as a little boy, all I wanted to do was help my mom cook and play dress-up” always made me feel deeply awkward. When you think about it, to identify as trans or cis, you inherently have to believe two things: first, that sex and gender are two separate things (which is absolutely true), and second, that gender roles are rigid, binary opposites cristallized into the ideals “feminity” and “masculinity” (which is absolutely terrible).

    Now I understand where my gut feeling came from : seeing oneself as “cis” or “trans” is essentially a way of saying “I believe in gender roles, and my birth sex matches/doesn’t match the gender I identify myself with”. There’s no doubt that not fitting into your assigned gender role can cause unbelievable pain, rejection and hardships (I’ve been there myself), but the culprit is not cis privilege: it’s the very existence of gender roles to begin with!

    Also, I love how subtle this article is. Especially this: “First, “masculinity” and “femininity” are not monolithic, static concepts that are wholly embraced or wholly discarded. Socially assigned gender roles encompass entire lives’ worth of behaviors and expectations, from cradle to grave. Most people’s identification with their “gender” assignment is not a simple Y/N.”

    I mean YES. Exactly.

  20. Soren said:

    I’m a bit confused. I’m trying to understand (and it is a bit late), but something doesn’t seem right.

    I agree with almost everything in this article, except (and this is where I think I’m misunderstanding something) when it says there is no cis privilege.

    Is it saying that people who are assigned a gender with the gender they perform don’t have a privilege that transgender people don’t? Or am I missing something?

    I’m not trying to argue, I honestly think I must be missing something, I just need help figuring out what it is. While I understand it is no one’s responsibility to explain it to me, please know that I have read it over three times and I’m still having trouble figuring it out.

    Thanks!

  21. Soren, thank you for reading 3x; you did miss at least some of the points.

    1> Regarding “people who are assigned a gender with the gender they perform”: it is NOT a female privilege to internalize the constructs of “femininity.” It’s not really a privilege to have ANY set of complex behavioral expectations put on you. BUT. Masculinity and femininity are mutually exclusive concepts assigned to the male and female SEX for the singular purpose of creating and maintaining male supremacy over females. Females are not “privileged” to be on the lesser end of the gender binary.

    From the article:

    While a man’s gender conformity with masculinity—both aesthetic and behavioral— will substantially insulate him from sex and gender motivated oppression and violence, a woman’s appropriate conformity to stereotypical femininity does not.
    ….
    Feminine socialization conditions women to be accommodating to others, listen politely and attentively, and express emotional concern for those who appear downtrodden. As a result, women still make up the majority of workers in underpaid “caring professions” such as social work, teaching, and nursing. This tendency towards altruism and giving of trust allow feminine-behaving people to be taken advantage of by those who recognize it as an opportunity to leverage their “feminine” generosity for personal gain.
    ….
    The behavioral characteristics of femininity are economically and intellectually devalued as compared to the traits of masculinity. Power is gendered. As a result, males continue to control almost all of the world’s resources and power, including the positions of institutional authority required to direct social reform. Within this patriarchal context, women’s compliance with feminine behavioral norms simply does not result in social empowerment. It can’t. And it won’t. Because “gender” isn’t designed to work that way.

    Females are NOT “privileged” to be “women” in a society that HATES women. That is the point.

    2> Regarding “there is no cis privilege”: correct. The term CIS assumes that males and females experience gender conformity in the same way. Yet as discussed above in #1– “Female-bodied people and male-bodied people are not similarly situated persons in regard to gender based oppression.” Therefore, lumping males and females into the SAME social class for the purpose of analyzing gender “privilege” MAKES NO SENSE. It belies an ignorance of the reasons WHY gender is so strictly enforced to begin with. It is frustratingly simplistic and ignores ALL of the many ways in which females have been physically and emotionally enslaved by males throughout history.

    Further, in regard to describing “trans” people as a unique social class that is exposed to UNIQUE FORMS OF OPPRESSION (i.e., “transphobia”):

    External observers cannot reliably determine whether someone considers herself “cis” or “trans;” they simply pass judgment by categorizing superficial expressions of masculinity or femininity as appropriate or inappropriate. In reality, any person who significantly defies the gender norms for their apparent sex will be subject to negative social treatment because of their non-compliance. This will occur regardless of whether the individual applies the label “trans” to herself or not. Under nearly all circumstances, stealth trans* people will be treated by society as if they were cis; and gender non-conforming cis people who do not disclaim their reproductive sex–including butch lesbians and feminine males–will be treated by society as if they were “trans.*” Framing the politics of gender as a matter of self-perception rather than social perception evades the feminist political inquiry regarding why gender exists in the first place and how these gender dynamics operate, and have operated, for hundreds of years.

    CIS is an ineffective and misleading concept that ultimately harms the ability of females to articulate and address the inherently unequal nature of “gendered” difference.

    PS. I just checked out what appears to be your blog– I think you’re getting it.

  22. Sam Loy said:

    Just saw your comment and link over at SociImages.
    Great piece!

  23. Erin said:

    Thank you a million times for writing this article! I always thought something was off about the cis/trans analyses, but could never articulate it. I’ve actually been afraid to have discussions about male domination and sexism because the cis/trans pieces seem to derail every effort to focus on the huge, systematic oppression of women. Huge sigh of relief.

  24. faye said:

    I entirely disagree with the premise of this article. I see this perspective as transphobic and has very little understanding of trans and gender theory. I wish I had more time to articulate all of my points, but perhaps I will have to come back later.
    1. The underlying argument that trans/cis is a mutually exclusive binary is false. There is a whole spectrum of gender queer identities in between these two labels. These terms are used to describe the difference between those who, upon being referred to as their assigned gender, do not feel an uncomfortable and uneasy sense of identity and those who do. That is to put it very simply. Of course many people feel feel themselves all over the gender spectrum when it comes to presentation (many people identified in the comments here as butch dykes) but the underlying difference that makes one cis is that they still feel comfortable with their perceived genitalia defining their pronouns. If anyone reading this article and agreeing with it has ever had a conversation with a trans* person, you might have a less fucked up perception of these terms.
    2. This article seems to believe that by acknowledging cis-privilege, this is erasing male privilege. Once again, THESE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. The idea of intersectionality understands that there can be different types and levels of oppression that overlap. It’s complicated! That’s okay! Yes, women in this society are at a disadvantage to men. But this fact does not negate the struggles that trans* people face every day as well. To not be recognized as being the gender they identify with, and have to read fucked up articles like this, is a constant struggle. So even though cis-women don’t have the same privileges as cis-men, being cis is still a huge advantage over being trans*, where people are constantly telling you that your identity DOES NOT EXIST. Transwomen still face disadvantages in terms of privilege as opposed to transmen.
    3. That whole tangent about sexual violence is completely missing the point. Do you realize how much sexual violence trans people endure? From strangers asking about what’s in their pants to rape. Don’t assume that sexual violence is a “woman” thing.
    3. Don’t even get me started on the fucked up comment “Jacqueline S. Homan” made above. Really? You’re going to hate on transwomen because they have the wrong biology to you? Can you even understand what it’s like to be told the way you want to be referred to and how you want to present isn’t a valid identity?
    I am a queer cis-female. I don’t have the same background as someone who is trans* to properly articulate that experience, but I’m not about to read shit like this and let it slide. Who the fuck are you to police other people’s identities?

  25. Faye, you significantly failed to engage with my critique.

    Identity. A subjectively claimed and constructed IDENTITY is not an entitlement. This is the fatal error in the framework of your presumed “political correctness.”

    I am not ENTITLED to be treated according to my IDENTITY as Miss Piggy. Otherkin are not entitled to a space at the animal shelter; males in dresses are not entitled to enter sex-segregated space for females. White people who love fried chicken, watermelon, and rap music are not ENTITLED to have their “trans black” narratives privileged by the NAACP or to airtime at Black Panther meetings. Do you get it yet? Association with stereotypes DOES NOT EQUAL authenticity.

    No individual is ENTITLED to membership in a group that society does not coercively place them in.

    As I carefully explain in the post, oppression is a function of EXTERNAL (not internal) PERCEPTION. Plenty of transwomen PASS AS STEALTH. Many more butch dykes and gender non-conforming females get treated NO BETTER than non-passing (as “target sex”) “trans” people. CIS is a useless concept for describing social dynamics.

    Transwomen still face disadvantages in terms of privilege as opposed to transmen.

    Yeah. I agree! Again, another place you are missing the big picture. The “disadvantage,” as you call you it, is created BECAUSE the sex-roles of “man” and “woman” are NOT EQUAL. Transwomen are LOSING social status by moving from the male TO the female social class. Transmen GAIN social status by escaping the female caste and moving to the male social class. This is basic: “gender” is a HIERARCHY.

    No one is forced to read this article.

  26. This is utterly brilliant. This is something I’ve been wanting to write but couldn’t have. Thank you so much.

  27. Reblogged this on Pass the Flaming Sword and commented:
    This is a must-read. It explains what gender really is and why it isn’t a binary but a hierarchy. Most brilliant piece I have read in a long, long time. If you’re going to run around namecalling feminists who refuse the ‘cis’ label, you should at least read this first.

  28. loveangellove said:

    Reblogged this on loveangellove.

  29. Marie-France Lesage said:

    “Gender is not just a fun dress up game that individuals merely identify with in isolation from all contextual and historical meaning, but the most powerful tool of structural oppression ever created by humans.”

    Exactly. Gender is not a continuum, it’s a hierarchy. No feminist should ever doubt it.

    Gender facilitates the enslavement, rape and murder of women and girls.

    Gender is NOT a game — it’s a war.

  30. Marie-France Lesage said:

    @faye: “Don’t assume that sexual violence is a “woman” thing.”

    Nonsense. According to nation-wide FBI statistics, 95% of rape victims are FEMALE and 98% of rapists are MALE.

    To deny this reality is just as irrational as denying that 99.9995% of people are NOT suffering from gender dysphoria.

    To pretzel-twist feminist theory and feminist action around the experiences of .0005% of the male population who “identify” as women would be completely irrational and destructive to woman-kind.

    In REALITY rape is very much a women’s issue. Oppression based on sex is very much a women’s issue.

    Feminism’s job is liberating women from oppression based on our sex.

  31. i think where i disagree with this post is in the idea of there being no such thing as cis privilege. im going to have to call bullshit, at least within the united states. cis privilege is not being denied housing/jobs/medical care/a whole slew of other important shit because of a perceived/identified/presented difference in gender. i totally buy the op’s points about a gender hierarchy being a main issue that creates oppression, but hierarchies require categories, and cis and trans* are categories. and i totally agree that the next step in trans*theory discourse could be towards the necessity to do away with a gender hierarchy, and the ways to go about doing that.

    i just know from my experiences and the experiences of other trans* folks i know that there are definitely privileges that belong to those perceived/identified/presented as cisgender. its a real thing. and its always dependent on more things than just gender — yall, racism is still a thing and it totally hits trans* and non-trans* folks hard.

    perhaps we disagree on the idea of what a privilege is? im left feeling like im out of the loop of discourses that matter to me. interesting read, though, and definitely a lot of thought put into it. just not sure if its really a thought process i want to subscribe to.

  32. Dixon Irene, I think you should read the post again at least once. I know it’s dense, but it’s not bullshit and I’m not convinced that you really understood it.

    “Knowing” from personal experience that there are “definitely privileges” without being able to specify them or even define what is meant by “privilege” is a huge part of the problem. I am being a LOT more specific that you are (intersectionality is also addressed in the post where I list 7 ways in which females are UNIVERSALLY, MATERIALLY (not just fweelings) degraded compared to similarly situated males). Trans rhetoric needs to step up its game if it wants to survive my deconstruction.

    I’m glad this is important to you, but please be more discerning in your comments or I will not be able to publish them. Thank you.

    From the post:

    External observers cannot reliably determine whether someone considers herself “cis” or “trans;” they simply pass judgment by categorizing superficial expressions of masculinity or femininity as appropriate or inappropriate. In reality, any person who significantly defies the gender norms for their apparent sex will be subject to negative social treatment because of their non-compliance. This will occur regardless of whether the individual applies the label “trans” to herself or not. Under nearly all circumstances, stealth trans* people will be treated by society as if they were cis; and gender non-conforming cis people who do not disclaim their reproductive sex–including butch lesbians and feminine males–will be treated by society as if they were “trans.*” Framing the politics of gender as a matter of self-perception rather than social perception evades the feminist political inquiry regarding why gender exists in the first place and how these gender dynamics operate, and have operated, for hundreds of years.

    And

    The cis/trans* binary is a gross oversimplification of the gendered dynamics that structure social relations in favor of male-born people. Gender is a socially constructed power hierarchy that must be destroyed, not reinterpreted as consensual, empowering, individualized “gender identities” that are magically divorced from all contextual and historical meaning. Such a framing invisibilizes female and feminine oppression by falsely situating men-born-men and women-born-women as gendered equals relative to trans-identified people. Though possibly unintentional, “cis” now functions as a significant barrier to feminism’s ability to articulate the oppression caused by the socially constructed gender differentiation that enables male/masculine supremacy. Cis is a politically useless concept because fails to illuminate the mechanics of gendered oppression. In fact, it has only served to make things more confusing.

  33. Frankly, I resent being redefined in order to help the confused people feel more comfortable. I am a woman, love being a woman, and refuse to give up my naming of myself to another! Naming has power.

  34. Bia said:

    EDIT: eHUNGERFORD REPLIES IN CAPS.

    I understand where you’re coming from [NO, I DON’T THINK YOU DO], and I don’t agree with the attitude of some of the people that have posted here, but the premise of your argument and thus your conclusion are false [NO, *YOUR* PREMISE IS FALSE: SEX AND GENDER ARE NOT THE SAME].

    “Eliminating gender assignments, by allowing individuals to choose one of two pre-existing gender molds, while continuing to celebrate the existence and naturalism of “gender” itself, is not a progressive social goal that will advance women’s liberation.”

    This is true, but this is also a misunderstanding of Gender Theory, and a misunderstanding of why Cisgender as a term exists. Cisgender is simply a term with the intention [INTENT IRRELEVANT, STAY WITH REALITY: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES ARE STILL CONSEQUENCES THAT CANNOT BE IGNORED MERELY FOR YOUR COMFORT AND/OR CONVENIENCE] of recognizing the lived experiences of Trans* individuals and not making an “other” out of them [THE TERM “CIS” *DOES* OTHER TRANS PEOPLE EVEN IF YOU ASSERT THAT IT DOESN’T]. Cisgender and Transgender are just two terms used as descriptors [VERY BAD DESCRIPTORS]. If you don’t have a very real need and desire to have your mind match your body, you’re likely Cisgender [THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “MATCHING” YOUR MIND WITH YOUR BODY, THAT REQUIRES RELIANCE ON STEREOTYPES AS THE MEASUREMENT OF “MATCHING.” IT IS SCIENTIFICALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE]. If however you were assigned female at birth, and understand that your mind is not that of a woman you would be Transgender [“MIND OF A WOMAN” IS NEUROSEXIST BULLSHIT THAT HAS NO PLACE IN THE DISCOURSE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE].

    That masculinity and femininity are not static, is irrelevant. There are Butch Transwomen, as much as there are Femme oriented Transmen as well as people that have never experienced any form of gender identity and do not identify as masculine or feminine [LOOK, NOT TO BE ENTIRELY RUDE, BUT NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT YOURSELF IN YOUR MIIIIIND. I THINK I’M A CAT, BUT LET’S STAY WITH REALITY HERE. SOCIAL OPPRESSION IS NOT IN YOUR MIND. IT IS A MATERIAL REALITY. OPPRESSION IS THE RESULT OF *EXTERNAL* PERCEPTION, NOT *INTERNAL* SELF-LABELING].

    “Cis privilege does not exist, man-privilege does.”

    Let me state that sentence another way, in a way that I think should make it very clear why this is a nearly meaningless statement:

    “White privilege does not exist, man-privilege does.”

    [OMG. WHOA. DO YOU HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT SEX AND RACE ARE ANALOGOUS? THEY ARE NOT. THIS REFLECTS A FUNDAMENTAL MISUNDERSTANDING AND/OR IGNORANT OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF THE MECHANICS OF OPPRESSION. HERE, LEARN ABOUT SOME SHIT: Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real: Anthropological and historical perspectives on the social construction of race. SEX IS A BIOLOGICAL REALITY; SEXISM IS ALSO A REALITY. BIG DIFF.]

    Do you honestly believe that minority males are afforded the same privileges in American society that Caucasian males are? White males in America are the most privileged people in this society, to deny that is to erase the lived experiences of millions of ethnic minorities. [DID YOU JUST ANALOGIZE FEMALES TO WHITE MEN? LOLOLOL!! IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A RACIAL ANALOGY, LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW INCREDIBLY UNACCEPTABLE IT WOULD BE FOR A WHITE PERSON TO DEMAND THAT BLACK PEOPLE ACCEPT THEM *AS BLACK* MERELY BECAUSE THAT WHITE PERSON HAS DONNED BLACK FACE AND LIKES WATERMELON. IDENTIFICATION-WITH-STEREOTYPES-AND-COSTUMING-AS-THE-SUM-OF-REALITY IS OFFENSIVE.]

    Not to mention that when any Trans* transitions, they give up certain privileges. [NO, FEMALES DO NOT GIVE UP “PRIVILEGE” WHEN THEY TRANS-ITION TO PASS AS MEN. MANY MANY MALES RETAIN THEIR MALE PRIVILEGE, INCLUDING THEIR FAT SALARIES, WHEN THEY TRANS-ITION.]

    It’s not the intent or desire [AGAIN, INTENT IRRELEVANT] of Trans* or Queer Theory or the Trans* and Gay community as a whole to ever imply or erase the fact that women have been systemically oppressed for thousands of years [THEN STOP CONFUSING SEX WITH GENDER– GENDER IS A PRIMARY TOOL OF FEMALE OPPRESSION]. But the fact is in America especially, and in any society with a majority, the majority benefits from privilege in a way that minorities don’t. [BUT *WHAT*? DEFINE PRIVILEGE.]

    Try imagining yourself in the shoes of a minority, especially a minority Trans* person and I think this will become more clear to you. [I *AM* A SEXUAL MINORITY. “STANDING IN SHOES” IS NOT AN ARGUMENT. FEELINGS ARE NOT ENOUGH. “Human beings can be miserable without being oppressed, and it is perfectly consistent to deny that a person or group is oppressed without denying that they have feelings or that they suffer.”]

  35. rari said:

    ” Transwomen still face disadvantages in terms of privilege as opposed to transmen.

    Yeah. I agree! Again, another place you are missing the big picture. The “disadvantage,” as you call you it, is created BECAUSE the sex-roles of “man” and “woman” are NOT EQUAL. Transwomen are LOSING social status by moving from the male TO the female social class. Transmen GAIN social status by escaping the female caste and moving to the male social class. This is basic: “gender” is a HIERARCHY.

    No one is forced to read this article. ”

    I just want to say that this doesn’t change the fact that trans men are female, and as they (depending how they pass) won’t have to face gender based oppression (masculinity versus feminity) they could face sex based oppression (male versus female), if they still have vagina and so on

  36. Yes, sex-based oppression and gender-based oppression can be analyzed separately. They usually accrue along the same axis to the same person (because gender is socially assigned by physical sex), but in the case of “trans” people, it is essential that we are able to differentiate between the effects of sex and the effects of gender.

    That’s what this discussion, this article, and radical feminist critique of GENDER is ALL ABOUT: advanced analysis of sexual politics.

  37. N said:

    Cisgenderism is about identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth. That’s it. It’s not about masculinity and femininity, gender roles, or anything else.

  38. N, did you read the article? Cisgender does not explain how the politics of gender operate. I have carefully, pain-stakingly analyzed the meaning of the word. Your 3 sentence “explanation” is a rather insulting response.

    In fact, if I may parse what you said, gender-assigned-at-birth is fundamentally about being socialized to role-play masculinity or femininity. So to say that personal identification with gender-assigned-at-birth (cisgender) is NOT about those roles is internally inconsistent.

  39. Isabelle said:

    I don’t think your articles are transphobic at all, but certain arguments are deficient. You mentioned trans women that pass as stealth and thus would be deemd as cis. But what about official documents? What if she haven’t name and sex changed in it? When that trans woman need to show her document to a employer for exemple, her trans condition will be unveiled. I am a feminist myself, the same people, culture, religion, etc that oppress genetic women oppress us as well, and even worse. I hope you publish my comments and you can express your opinion on it. Best wishes to you.

  40. Isabella, I’m glad you like our site, but I am concerned with some of your comments. Doing your documentation is part of being trans. Overriding biological sex on a legal basis requires legal documentation. It’s like becoming an American citizen, you have to do your paperwork or isn’t enforceable. Further, male-born persons cannot be oppressed by female-born persons on the axes of sex or gender. This is political analysis 101: reverse racism does not exist. Neither does reverse sexism.

  41. Isabelle, this is not a democratic space, it is a women’s space. You may comment on my personal website at sexnotgender.com. Please do not leave any more comments at Liberation Collective– this is a shared space for women born female.

    Using preferred names and pronouns for a trans person is quite a different matter than the documents you asked about yesterday. Please don’t move the goal posts like that.

    Finally, BRAIN SEX DOES NOT EXIST. It is not a scientific fact by any measure.

    http://sexnotgender.com/brain-sex-does-not-exist/

    See also: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/12/brain_science_low_power_junk/

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