If you have been around the feminist sphere long enough to know what “cisgender” means, you’ve probably been around long enough to hear the phrase “cis privilege.”
There are many fantastic blog posts made by some brilliant women who unpack problems with the term cisgender and the concept of cis privilege. Throughout my writing in this blog, I’ll discuss and drool over some of them from time to time.
Right now, though, I want to take on some of this cis privilege checklist that I keep seeing pop up all over the place.
Cis privilege is the claim that people are privileged on the basis of having an internal gender identity that matches their external sex. It presupposes that all people have an internal gender identity and it also asserts that women can be privileged on the basis of gender.
The rest of this post analyzes the first 10 of the 30-some examples in the cis privilege checklist. As will become apparent, all examples of cis privilege are really male privileges that are not afforded to women, or are instances of resistance to trans politics. I call it patriarchy privilege when something like an unwillingness to redefine one’s own sexuality to include males is seen is labeled as offensive.
This list is the second google entry for the search term “cis privilege,” sitting just below Wikipedia’s article on “cisgender.” And in case you couldn’t tell, it was written by a middle-class heterosexual white man:
1. Use public restrooms without fear of verbal abuse, physical intimidation, or arrest
2. Use public facilities such as gym locker rooms and store changing rooms without stares, fear, or anxiety.
These are not privileges afforded to women, which is why spaces like restrooms and public facilities are sex segregated in the first place.
Secondly, gender nonconforming individuals experience intimidation, stares, fear, and anxiety. Masculine appearing women get double glances, pauses, and stares, which can and do make the bathroom and locker rooms an uncomfortable experience. They must suck in their gut and push out their breasts to assure everyone that they are female because gender nonconformity is invisibilized in society and especially in trans politics. Masculine women are often mistaken for men; one wonders how many transfeminists have misidentified a woman as trans because they are more receptive to the idea of someone transitioning gender than they are someone transgressing gender.
3. Strangers don’t assume they can ask you what your genitals look like and how you have sex.
This is male privilege, not cis privilege. Women are not afforded the benefit of having their bodily and sexual boundaries respected. Women are groped in dance clubs and on the streets. Women politicians are asked provocative and irrelevant questions about their sexual interests. Pregnant women are regularly touched without consent by friends, acquaintances, and strangers, who want to know more about the fetus than the person/incubator carrying it. Lesbians (and also gay men) are asked in inappropriate contexts who “wears the pants,” both inside and outside the bedroom.
4. Your validity as a man/woman/human is not based on how much surgery you’ve had or how well you “pass” as non-transgender.
Patriarchy privilege: The ability to redefine the definition of gender away from the social construct it was originally defined as for the purposes of highlighting the social consequences of sex-based categorization into a personal identity that affects everybody, even those 99.7% of people who do not experience gender as a personal identity.
5. You have the ability to walk through the world and generally blend-in, not being constantly stared or gawked at, whispered about, pointed at, or laughed at because of your gender expression.
Women, as a group, are positioned in society as decorative objects relegated to the role of sexual pleaser to men, the group positioned in society as the power holder. Women are assigned to their role , and men assigned to theirs, on the basis of sex (the impregnatable/fuckable/dominated, the impregnator/penetrator/dominator).
Women go throughout life being stared at, gawked at, and leered at. Females, whether celebrities, politicians, or teenage girls, are scrutinized for their appearance. Bosses looking down their shirts, strangers making crude gestures at them on the street. Women don’t have the luxury of blending in because they are perpetually put on display.
6. You can access gender exclusive spaces such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, Greek Life, or Take Back the Night and not be excluded due to your trans status.
Access to Michfest is not a privilege anymore than scholarships for black people are a POC privilege. Women-only events provide a space for women to unite as an oppressed people, oppressed on the basis of sex (gender being the socially sanctioned manifestation of sex-based oppression).
Patriarchy privilege: The ability to declare femalehood as an invalid platform on which to unite as an oppressed group.
7. Strangers call you by the name you provide, and don’t ask what your “real name” [birth name] is and then assume that they have a right to call you by that name.
This isn’t a cis privilege because cis people don’t regularly change their birth names. You can’t assert with confidence that a person who changes their name from “Jill” to “Purple” is going to have their name change respected because it happens too infrequently.
If a white man named John changes his name to Jamal and people continue to call him John, is this transethnicphobia?
If I ask you to refer to me as Your Royal Highness from here on out, will you?
8. You can reasonably assume that your ability to acquire a job, rent an apartment, or secure a loan will not be denied on the basis of your gender identity/expression.
Male privilege. I really shouldn’t have to cover the ways in which women are discriminated against in the business world.
9. You have the ability to flirt, engage in courtship, or form a relationship and not fear that your biological status may be cause for rejection or attack, nor will it cause your partner to question their sexual orientation.
Patriarchy privilege: The ability to declare that sexual orientation is not a choice up until the moment it involves the exclusion of males. When this occurs, a
person’s woman’s* sexual orientation must be “reframed” at least enough to include whatever males presently feel left out.
* It should be noted that there is no male equivalent for the cotton ceiling. At least, there are no male-target-focused workshops similar to those that help trans males overcome lesbians’ sexual boundaries.
10. If you end up in the emergency room, you do not have to worry that your gender will keep you from receiving appropriate treatment, or that all of your medical issues will be seen as a result of your gender.
Again, male privilege. Women’s problems are very often overlooked or dismissed. Women more than men are sent home from the ER with a missed diagnosis of a heart attack or angina, an error with highly fatal results. Male normativity means that across science and medicine, male physiology and symptoms of illness are better understood, as men have, throughout history, been the typical subjects of medical research. However, another problem is that women’s complaints are often not treated seriously on beliefs about their oversensitivity and overemotionality. While men are seen as competent in their assessments of their own bodies, women’s symptoms are written off as anxiety or minor ailments.
Secondly, hormones and chemicals that are not naturally created are often used by transgender individuals. Hormone therapy requires introducing multiple chemicals into the body that are not normally present. Chemicals to suppress the creation of some hormones and synthetic hormones introduced alter the body’s natural hormonal makeup and produce irreversible changes to the body. These chemicals and hormones may have interactions with other medications, exacerbate illnesses, or impact the body’s ability to function in other ways. Genital surgery often creates major complications, incontinence and bladder infections being common problems. Emergency room visits are, characterized by urgent, dangerous, and abnormal changes in the body. In finding a solution to the problem, the doctors look to the most physiologically atypical factors first.