Cis Privilege

A friend of mine goes to a local university and is an officer of their Queer Straight Alliance. She has told me this story, in little bits over time as she’s gotten to know me better. The club was big on safe space trainings about a year or two ago, and she wanted to see one happen.  Specifically, she wanted to see one happen on trans* and gender non-binary issues. She wanted to have it in place of a club meeting. The other officers at the time refused to consider it, calling the potential training “boring”. The meeting was to be cancelled one night, but the club still had the room, so my friend held the safe space training in the room, for her and a small number of members.

What followed were death threats.

Yes, death threats. So severe that the police had to intervene.

And yes, the irony was lost on these people.

The situation evolved into a hateful mess, but the basis for it all, in my opinion, was in cisgender privilege.

To be cisgender is when one’s gender identity matches their biological sex. To paraphrase from memory Melissa Harris-Perry, “I am cis. This doesn’t make me normal or superior, it just makes me cis.” Cisgender privilege, however, is based in general culture’s belief in the opposite of that sentence; as a whole, we believe that cis people are normal and therefore better. It can be in the little things we take for granted, or it can be an entitled mindset. Sometimes when it shows in the individual it’s based in flat-out bigotry, and other times it’s just based in ignorance.

So I want to talk about some of what cis privilege looks like. Awareness allows for change! I’ve also included some solutions that individuals can apply to their own life.

1. Bathrooms

They come in male and female, with gender neutral bathrooms being few and far between. And trans individuals are often forced to use the bathroom of their birth sex. Violence can be a consequence for those individuals if they insist on doing what’s right for their self, depending on the social environment (for example, the transgirl who was beaten in the McDonalds), though it can also just be an issue in a work or learning environment for just getting along.

Potential solution: if you notice that your place of learning or working lacks gender neutral bathrooms, speak up. It may seem like a small issue to you, but it’s really not, and it can actually lead into a much larger discussion on gender issues as a whole in your location.

2. Assumption that you know someone’s gender by sight

This can be a hard habit to break, one I even struggle with as an ally. Gender is something we learn incredibly young, mimicking what is and isn’t acceptable sometimes before we can even use the English language. And in our cis normative society, we are taught very, very strict rules about gender and how to pick up on it, without it ever really being directly stated to us. Not to mention, when one makes assumptions on being able to instinctively know someone’s gender, they usually leave the third option out.

Potential solution: When meeting new people, request preferred gender pronoun (usually shortened to PGP). If you are in an environment where introductions happen in groups (discussion circles or club meetings are good examples) request that PGP disclosure be mandatory. And, most importantly to these solutions, do these things even when it’s not a “queer” gathering.

3. Thinking that you don’t need to understand what it’s like to be gender variant

And now I bring it back to the story I started with. A leader needs to understand what it’s like to be his, her, or zir’s followers in any way, shape, or form they can. And anybody whose gender variant is experiencing some serious cultural hatred right now, and needs their leaders on their side as well informed allies. Maybe to you talking about gender neutral bathrooms, gender health clinics, hormones, safe houses for gender variant kids being kicked out by their families, PGPs, and a hundred other related issues is “boring”, but for them it’s their life and it’s arrogant of you to think that you don’t need to understand it.

Potential solution: read a book. Take a workshop. Pull your head out of your rectum. And ask your leaders to do the same. To put it nicely: educate yourself and be unafraid to put yourself in the shoes of another.

Now, being cis myself, there are experiences that I am missing and I am entirely pulling from my own opinion and observations. So what are examples of cis privilege to you? And what do you do to combat it?

– – –

I’ve become one of those people and I am insanely addicted to my Tumblr. It has much lower standards than my blog: I reblog things like crazy and I share random thoughts on a near daily basis. My queue posts quite a bit in a day, so it doesn’t get boring or die. I share, amongst other things, naked ladies, awesome tattoos, funny bits, social justice blogs, artsy pieces, and whatever fandoms currently interest me. (An idea of that level of geekery, I am a permanent Harry Potter fan, and I’m also currently very into Doctor Who and the Avengers. Hey, like I said, I’m one of those people.) I’m going to stick to a schedule for this blog of every other Friday, so please, check out my Tumblr. Oh, and I follow back!

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~ by Stefani Vonne on 05/11/2012.

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