Cis Privilege and the limits of Self Identification

The term “cis” is a hot potato in feminism.  As an adjective which stands in opposition to “trans”, one might think that it would be well received as an extension of language to describe something which previously had no name, but its use – particularly as a denotation of privilege is controversial.

The term cis, stands in opposition to the term trans – meaning someone whose gender is in line with their sex.  So, in short if you are female and identify as a woman, you are a cis woman; if you are male and identify as a man, you are a cis man.  Its a word, and in my opinion a useful one.  The more words we have the more accurately and precisely we can describe things.  Yeah – words; all the words! Moreover it sets up a neutrality between those who are transgender and those who are not – rather than the alternative of “normal woman” and “freak” which the subtle implication of prefixing trans women, but not cis women. But regardless, some take quite considerable objection to the term cis and its worth looking more closely at why this might be particularly in the ways in which it is used.

The Generation Gap

There is a generation gap in feminism, it is pointless to deny it – most older feminists tend to follow a primarily second wave, radical feminist analysis, while most younger feminists follow a third wave, intersectional analysis.  The cut off between likelihood of ascribing to one or the other, is around 40 years old – those born in early 70s, at the upswing of the second wave.  Those born pre-1970s will have had far more gender normative upbringings; while those born after will have had benefited from the influence of feminism throughout their lives, including the ability to be more gender variant rather than conforming to more rigid sex roles.

Moreover, the older the cis woman, the more time they have lived female, consequently the more likelihood that they will have had of experiencing not just experiencing life as a woman, but of experiencing life as a female.  The more chance there will be that they will have used contraception, become pregnant, had abortions, given birth, nursed a baby and experienced menopause.  Up until 2008, when Thomas Beattie became the first known man to give birth, at least in public consciousness if not in reality, only women had babies.  Consequently “female” and “woman” are etched together in the minds of most older cis women in a way that is perhaps not to for younger cis women who have not had so many specifically female life experiences, and consequently specifically female-sexed forms of oppression, nor see female reproduction only occurring within women.

Furthermore, as trans activism has developed new critiques of gender have emerged from within the trans movement.  Consequently many younger females who have no wish to transition or become men, none the less reject their gendering as women, becoming genderqueer (or a variant thereof).  Within the second wave, other than Whittig’s suggestion that lesbians had transcended the gender of woman by the act of refusing heterosexual relations, gendering was fixed.  So for older females, for all that you may not conform to the social imposition of gender, it was felt that you could not escape gender and self-declarative assertions of non-woman status were  in vain.

Cis and Gender Conformance

It is notable that some of the strongest criticisms of trans discourses coming from within the radical feminist community come  from within the Lesbian Butch community. Butch women have been one of the mainstays of the radical feminist movement and in particular the lesbian separatist movement.  Jeffries is among others who have suggested that the phenomenon of trans men is a form of lesbian erasure, whereby butch lesbians, rather than confronting the gender demands to become more feminine, acquiesce to them, transitioning to men to become more heterosexually normative and less gender variant, while others have criticised the phenomenon of “boi”, as “woman hating with a dyke face”.

For women who have grown up gender variant yet continue to identify as such, the transgression of those who refuse the designation of woman and adopt the persona of “man” instead appears a betrayal, evidence of conformity to gender roles and to the hetero-patriarchy which has seen butch lesbians cop the most flack for their refusal not only of male sexual access, but refusal even to be pleasing for the male gaze.  The label of “cis” for such women, and its assertion that in continuing to identify as women they are  exercising privilege in doing so appears to be a slap in the face for women who seek to expand the definition of “what a woman is”.

Refusing conformance to the gender of “woman” while accepting the identity is a transgressive course of action, but one which is not recognised in the assertions of cis privilege, under a narrative which takes gender self-identification to be the only valid marker of gender.  A trans woman who conforms to the expected gender role and appearance of woman contrasted with a cis woman who deviates in appearance and manner from what is expected, is likely to have less, rather than more ire, aimed at their gender presentation.  This is not to deny that this can change in an instant should a woman’s trans status become disclosed, but in daily life, a conformant trans woman may have less difficulty with acceptance of their gender presentation than a non conformant cis woman.

The Universality of Coercive Gendering

All women are coercively gendered at birth, not just trans women.  The increasing adoption of non-binary gender roles by younger feminists is a strong challenge to the destruction of this gendering, but it is an individual solution to a class problem.  A particular individual, female assigned at birth, may appear to the the world in a similar deviant gender position to another, yet one who identifies and affiliates with women is considered cis, while the other who identifies as genderqueer comes under the umbrella of the trans community and thus deemed not to be imbibed with cis privilege.  The trouble is that you are generally gendered not on the basis of consciously declared gender identity, but on the genderings that others ascribe to you.  Regardless of how you answer the question “What is your gender?”, you will be gendered in a binary fashion by wider society.

Transmisogny, the form of woman hating which is specific to trans women does not exist as a separate entity outwith the ordinary common or garden kind.  Earlier this year a woman was arrested in New York for “indecent exposure”, as – in the opinion of the arresting officer her top was too sheer and displayed her breasts.  When it was discovered that the woman was trans, she was thrown into a cell with men.  This makes absolutely no sense, for if the law considered that she was a man, there was no crime, for exposure of the chest region is only indecent exposure for women.  Despite the fact that women have good reasons to uncover that part of their bodies for breast feeding purposes, and that while natural modesty generally means that women tend to be discrete when doing so, laws  specifically target women, and only women, uncovering this area.

For cis ultimately works differently for women than it does for men.  Being female assigned at birth is a risk factor in and of itself, regardless of any future gender identity.  A baby who is female assigned in some parts of the world is at higher risk of infanticide and risks genital mutilation far beyond that which is imposed on any male assigned child – to the extent that a woman who is male assigned at birth has more chance to have a functioning surgically constructed vagina, than some women who were female assigned do as a result of their mutilation.

The concept of a universal cis privilege which all cis women enjoy over all trans women erases the specific risks of the female.  Better to consider gender, sex and gender/sex conformity as different axes of oppression, under which all women, all females and all trans people are necessarily at an intersections of.  As a concept, cis is both useful and necessary; as a label, it can be as damaging as others which are coercively assigned.

 

 

 

 

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33 comments
AlisonKazeNoKae
AlisonKazeNoKae

"A trans woman who conforms to the expected gender role and appearance of woman contrasted with a cis woman who deviates in appearance and manner from what is expected, is likely to have less, rather than more ire, aimed at their gender presentation. This is not to deny that this can change in an instant should a woman’s trans status become disclosed, but in daily life, a conformant trans woman may have less difficulty with acceptance of their gender presentation than a non conformant cis woman."

This assumes that almost all, if not necessarily all, gender conforming trans women are read as cis most of the time, which is clearly not true. It also ignores the fact that the more a trans woman is read as cis, the more she has to fear the possibility of her trans status being discovered (and circumstances in which its likely to be) even while she's passing because the fact of passing increases the likelihood of her being a victim of violence if it is. And as a critique of the concept of cis privilege, it also ignores the existence of gender NON-conforming trans women (the actual equivalent trans group to gender nonconforming cis women, not gender conforming trans women) and the fact that they suffer as much abuse as gender nonconforming cis women for their presentation even while being read as cis, and being read as trans will only add abuse based on trans status to that and often cause verbal abuse based on presentation to take on even more hurtful and potentially harmful forms

AlisonKazeNoKae
AlisonKazeNoKae

"A trans woman who conforms to the expected gender role and appearance of woman contrasted with a cis woman who deviates in appearance and manner from what is expected, is likely to have less, rather than more ire, aimed at their gender presentation. This is not to deny that this can change in an instant should a woman’s trans status become disclosed, but in daily life, a conformant trans woman may have less difficulty with acceptance of their gender presentation than a non conformant cis woman." This assumes that almost all, if not necessarily all, gender conforming trans women are read as cis most of the time, which is clearly not true. It also ignores the fact that the more a trans woman is read as cis, the more she has to fear the possibility of her trans status being discovered (and circumstances in which its likely to be) even while she's passing because the fact of passing increases the likelihood of her being a victim of violence if it is. And as a critique of the concept of cis privilege, it also ignores the existence of gender NON-conforming trans women (the actual equivalent trans group to gender nonconforming cis women, not gender conforming trans women) and the fact that they suffer as much abuse as gender nonconforming cis women for their presentation even while being read as cis, and being read as trans will only add abuse based on trans status to that and often cause verbal abuse based on presentation to take on even more hurtful and potentially harmful forms

Kosmogrrrl
Kosmogrrrl

mhairi_mcalpine Oppressive, ignorant nonsense - see my previous tweets.

cailin rua
cailin rua

I've read through some of your posts, including the one on sex linked to in this article.  I don't want to reply directly to the person who commented directly before me, Nyah Naanaa, because I have very strong reservations about the usage of the word cis, which I believe can be useful on a certain level but relies on a dualistic illusion, similar to the way sex/gender, male/female, us/them dichotomies do.  In your post on Sex you mention a sex continuum and you mention the 2%.  The 2% are used too frequently to make points about sex and gender, in my humble opinion.  Intersex and transsexual people, in discussions of sex and gender, have become the pawns of those who fit comfortably within the highest and broadest portions of both of Melanie Blackless' bell curves at the end of Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body.  Also, I wonder if notions of continuums are a little too neat.  It seems more than one axis is needed to describe things which probably exist along many different axes.  A continuum seems too linear to describe both sex/gender.

The person who commented before me raises the question of the so called sex/gender distinction.  This calls to mind chapter one of Sexing the Body - How Biologists Construct Human Sexuality.  The discussion is mostly about sexuality, which Fausto-Sterling was trying to come to terms with after leading what she describes as a happy heterosexual existence.  She references LeVay.  I cannot use the term "gender identity" to describe what I am thinking about how this relates to the discussion at hand but I think it does.  I cannot use the term gender identity because I have gone to see Fausto-Sterling lecture twice.  The last time she spoke on brain plasticity, the theories of Ansermet and Adrienne Harris, who I find interesting but Fausto-Sterling also used the term "gender identity disorder" and referenced the work of J. Michael Bailey.

But getting back to my point, I think Fausto-Sterling and Elizabeth Grosz have some very interesting things to say about the sex/ gender distinction, whether intentionally or not.  There are too many rich quotes to mine from that one chapter but this is the one that I think most perceptively describes the situation:

"In most public and in most scientific discussions, sex and nature, are thought to be real, while gender and culture are seen as constructed. But these are false dichotomies."  As far as "cis" and "trans" goes?  It goes but I think where it goes just leads to another dichotomous dead end.  I think it is a dichotomy that dehumanizes. 

cailin rua
cailin rua

I've read through some of your posts, including the one on sex linked to in this article.  I don't want to reply directly to the person who commented directly before me, Nyah Naanaa, because I have very strong reservations about the usage of the word cis, which I believe can be useful on a certain level but relies on a dualistic illusion, similar to the way sex/gender, male/female, us/them dichotomies do.  In your post on Sex you mention a sex continuum and you mention the 2%.  The 2% are used too frequently to make points about sex and gender, in my humble opinion.  Intersex and transsexual people, in discussions of sex and gender, have become the pawns of those who fit comfortably within the highest and broadest portions of both of Melanie Blackless' bell curves at the end of Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body.  Also, I wonder if notions of continuums are a little too neat.  It seems more than one axis is needed to describe things which probably exist along many different axes.  A continuum seems too linear to describe both sex/gender. The person who commented before me raises the question of the so called sex/gender distinction.  This calls to mind chapter one of Sexing the Body - How Biologists Construct Human Sexuality.  The discussion is mostly about sexuality, which Fausto-Sterling was trying to come to terms with after leading what she describes as a happy heterosexual existence.  She references LeVay.  I cannot use the term "gender identity" to describe what I am thinking about how this relates to the discussion at hand but I think it does.  I cannot use the term gender identity because I have gone to see Fausto-Sterling lecture twice.  The last time she spoke on brain plasticity, the theories of Ansermet and Adrienne Harris, who I find interesting but Fausto-Sterling also used the term "gender identity disorder" and referenced the work of J. Michael Bailey. But getting back to my point, I think Fausto-Sterling and Elizabeth Grosz have some very interesting things to say about the sex/ gender distinction, whether intentionally or not.  There are too many rich quotes to mine from that one chapter but this is the one that I think most perceptively describes the situation: "In most public and in most scientific discussions, sex and nature, are thought to be real, while gender and culture are seen as constructed. But these are false dichotomies."  As far as "cis" and "trans" goes?  It goes but I think where it goes just leads to another dichotomous dead end.  I think it is a dichotomy that dehumanizes.

ElizabethHungerford
ElizabethHungerford

"Consequently “female” and “woman” are etched together in the minds of most older cis women in a way that is perhaps not to for younger cis women who have not had so many specifically female life experiences, and consequently specifically female-sexed forms of oppression, nor see female reproduction only occurring within women."


There is no generational divide. Many, many women in their 20s and 30s (including myself) are rightfully critical of gender essentialism. Please stop dismissing us. This is not some old-fashioned ideology that only dinosaurs can understand! I realized at 12 or earlier that my body has both female-specific physical constraints AND social meaning far beyond my control. I think most women had similar pubertal awakenings. "Gender" becomes linked to "sex" at birth. The process of gendered socialization is not a matter of intentionally "linking" these things in one's mind with no external input(!); it is imposed from the outside. And constantly reinforced.
Reality is not completely constructed in one's own mind. Nor can it be if one hopes to interact with others in harmonious and productive social exchanges. This is part of the problem with a theory of "identity libertarianism" (ahem): people will *inevitably* keep getting mad at each other if they demand that others acquiesce unconditionally to their idiosyncratic world view (misgendering as bigotry, for example). If your worldview doesn't match *my* worldview, who wins? That's right. He who yells the loudest. Not a good theory.

ElizabethHungerford
ElizabethHungerford

"Consequently “female” and “woman” are etched together in the minds of most older cis women in a way that is perhaps not to for younger cis women who have not had so many specifically female life experiences, and consequently specifically female-sexed forms of oppression, nor see female reproduction only occurring within women." There is no generational divide. Many, many women in their 20s and 30s (including myself) are rightfully critical of gender essentialism. Please stop dismissing us. This is not some old-fashioned ideology that only dinosaurs can understand! I realized at 12 or earlier that my body has both female-specific physical constraints AND social meaning far beyond my control. I think most women had similar pubertal awakenings. "Gender" becomes linked to "sex" at birth. The process of gendered socialization is not a matter of intentionally "linking" these things in one's mind with no external input(!); it is imposed from the outside. And constantly reinforced. Reality is not completely constructed in one's own mind. Nor can it be if one hopes to interact with others in harmonious and productive social exchanges. This is part of the problem with a theory of "identity libertarianism" (ahem): people will *inevitably* keep getting mad at each other if they demand that others acquiesce unconditionally to their idiosyncratic world view (misgendering as bigotry, for example). If your worldview doesn't match *my* worldview, who wins? That's right. He who yells the loudest. Not a good theory.

Ellenor
Ellenor

Thanks for an interesting post Mhairi. I think the points about Butch Lesbians and alleged lesbian erasure are relevant. I always find that interesting. Older people finding the way younger people understand their own identity- to be a threat to their own identity and lifestyle. Which it may well be. But then lifestylism (and seperatism is a form of lifestylism in my view) is not an especially useful form of struggle in any case. It tends to be liberating for those involved in the lifestyle but lack a strategy for liberating those outside of it- other than the idea that the lifestyle will grow to encompass more and more people, eventually becoming the mainstream or leading up to some kind of revolutionary tipping point. I just don't think that's a viable strategy for social change.  So when I see separatists and political lesbians complaining that trans and gender queer people are a threat to their scene, I find myself thinking yes that's probably the case but on the other hand, does it matter? 

I mean I'm a heterosexual cis woman so perhaps this isn't my argument- but then the majority of women are both heterosexual and cis and we badly need a feminist movement that isn't riven down the middle to the point of utter ineffectiveness. (Its like our very own Stalin-Trotsky split!) Particularly by the irreconcilable concerns of two separate life-stylist strategies. And by the way I'm not for a moment trying to argue that people shouldn't be lesbians or shouldn't transition. Its just that, once you start imbuing those personal choices with a political significance they don't deserve- you've strayed into lifestylism. And that holds just as true whether you consider your lesbianism to be contributing towards women's liberation or your decision to transition to be attacking the gender binary. 
I agree that gender is a class problem. The solutions need to be collective and based in materialism. 

Ellenor
Ellenor

Thanks for an interesting post Mhairi. I think the points about Butch Lesbians and alleged lesbian erasure are relevant. I always find that interesting. Older people finding the way younger people understand their own identity- to be a threat to their own identity and lifestyle. Which it may well be. But then lifestylism (and seperatism is a form of lifestylism in my view) is not an especially useful form of struggle in any case. It tends to be liberating for those involved in the lifestyle but lack a strategy for liberating those outside of it- other than the idea that the lifestyle will grow to encompass more and more people, eventually becoming the mainstream or leading up to some kind of revolutionary tipping point. I just don't think that's a viable strategy for social change.  So when I see separatists and political lesbians complaining that trans and gender queer people are a threat to their scene, I find myself thinking yes that's probably the case but on the other hand, does it matter? I mean I'm a heterosexual cis woman so perhaps this isn't my argument- but then the majority of women are both heterosexual and cis and we badly need a feminist movement that isn't riven down the middle to the point of utter ineffectiveness. (Its like our very own Stalin-Trotsky split!) Particularly by the irreconcilable concerns of two separate life-stylist strategies. And by the way I'm not for a moment trying to argue that people shouldn't be lesbians or shouldn't transition. Its just that, once you start imbuing those personal choices with a political significance they don't deserve- you've strayed into lifestylism. And that holds just as true whether you consider your lesbianism to be contributing towards women's liberation or your decision to transition to be attacking the gender binary.  I agree that gender is a class problem. The solutions need to be collective and based in materialism.

Esanne
Esanne

"Cis" is only a contentious word in a small group of bigoted radical feminists who call cis women who accept trans as their sisters as "Handmaidens of the patriarchy", and older feminists who don't read books any more. Jefferies is an bigot. Now saying one is "cis" is no different from saying one is white, or middle class or employed. Intersectionality, sister, please.

Esanne
Esanne

"Cis" is only a contentious word in a small group of bigoted radical feminists who call cis women who accept trans as their sisters as "Handmaidens of the patriarchy", and older feminists who don't read books any more. Jefferies is an bigot. Now saying one is "cis" is no different from saying one is white, or middle class or employed. Intersectionality, sister, please.

Second Council House of Virgo
Second Council House of Virgo

Thanks for your response. I am aware that other feminists, both radical and libertarian, consider that sex and gender are necessarily aligned, but as a Marxist, I consider sex a political category which denotes the relationship to the means of reproduction, and gender an ideological function which is built on the back of [assumptions about] that future relationship and serves to regulate social interaction with the world. I am aware that some trans people use the term sex to denote an internal sense - what Serano calls "mental sex", however I would consider it "innate gender", that is - the gender that you naturally have without the effects of coercive gendering, which is a mashup of lots of different forms of sexuality (sexual attraction, sexual preferences, sexual presentation and probably a good few others as well). I think one of the problems is that the term "sex", has connotations of both reproductive status and also fun squishyness. Under heteropatriarchy, they are effectively the same thing. fun squishiness = PIV; PIV leads to pregnancy - so having sex (fun squishiness) "as a woman properly should" leads to pregnancy, which is a sexed (relationship to reproduction) function. I think gender is construct in as much as "man" and "woman" are constructs, which we are all shoehorned into,not only at birth, but daily in tonnes of little micro-interactions, but at the same time I think there is an innate and unique gender that people have as an expression of themselves as a sexual (fun squishiness)-being-in-the-world. Similarly I think sex is biological but not necessarily binary or fixed. If you use "sex" in Serano's sense of "mental sex" what you are losing is the relationship to the means of reproduction, in which reproducers are distinguished from non-reproducers. These are political categories and they are critical.

Second Council House of Virgo
Second Council House of Virgo

Thanks for your response. I am aware that other feminists, both radical and libertarian, consider that sex and gender are necessarily aligned, but as a Marxist, I consider sex a political category which denotes the relationship to the means of reproduction, and gender an ideological function which is built on the back of [assumptions about] that future relationship and serves to regulate social interaction with the world. I am aware that some trans people use the term sex to denote an internal sense - what Serano calls "mental sex", however I would consider it "innate gender", that is - the gender that you naturally have without the effects of coercive gendering, which is a mashup of lots of different forms of sexuality (sexual attraction, sexual preferences, sexual presentation and probably a good few others as well). I think one of the problems is that the term "sex", has connotations of both reproductive status and also fun squishyness. Under heteropatriarchy, they are effectively the same thing. fun squishiness = PIV; PIV leads to pregnancy - so having sex (fun squishiness) "as a woman properly should" leads to pregnancy, which is a sexed (relationship to reproduction) function. I think gender is construct in as much as "man" and "woman" are constructs, which we are all shoehorned into,not only at birth, but daily in tonnes of little micro-interactions, but at the same time I think there is an innate and unique gender that people have as an expression of themselves as a sexual (fun squishiness)-being-in-the-world. Similarly I think sex is biological but not necessarily binary or fixed. If you use "sex" in Serano's sense of "mental sex" what you are losing is the relationship to the means of reproduction, in which reproducers are distinguished from non-reproducers. These are political categories and they are critical.

Second Council House of Virgo
Second Council House of Virgo

Thanks for your response. I am aware that other feminists, both radical and libertarian, consider that sex and gender are necessarily aligned, but as a Marxist, I consider sex a political category which denotes the relationship to the means of reproduction, and gender an ideological function which is built on the back of [assumptions about] that future relationship and serves to regulate social interaction with the world. I am aware that some trans people use the term sex to denote an internal sense - what Serano calls "mental sex", however I would consider it "innate gender", that is - the gender that you naturally have without the effects of coercive gendering, which is a mashup of lots of different forms of sexuality (sexual attraction, sexual preferences, sexual presentation and probably a good few others as well). I think one of the problems is that the term "sex", has connotations of both reproductive status and also fun squishyness. Under heteropatriarchy, they are effectively the same thing. fun squishiness = PIV; PIV leads to pregnancy - so having sex (fun squishiness) "as a woman properly should" leads to pregnancy, which is a sexed (relationship to reproduction) function. I think gender is construct in as much as "man" and "woman" are constructs, which we are all shoehorned into,not only at birth, but daily in tonnes of little micro-interactions, but at the same time I think there is an innate and unique gender that people have as an expression of themselves as a sexual (fun squishiness)-being-in-the-world. Similarly I think sex is biological but not necessarily binary or fixed. If you use "sex" in Serano's sense of "mental sex" what you are losing is the relationship to the means of reproduction, in which reproducers are distinguished from non-reproducers. These are political categories and they are critical.

Nyah Naanaa
Nyah Naanaa

This article is built upon the definition of cis as laid out in the first paragraph. This definition is built on the assumption that sex and gender are separate - gender is constructed while sex is "natural", biological and fixed. The original use of the term cis was to get away from such a distinction between sex and gender and by doing so get away from terms such as "biological". This separation, and the claims that follow ("females ... becoming genderqueer), serves to reinforce cissexism - that is a privileging of assigned sex at birth. Again this is what the term 'cis' originally functioned to get away from. The arguments brought up later in the article also fall flat on their faces. Please, authors, go talk to some trans people and learn what cis means.

Nyah Naanaa
Nyah Naanaa

This article is built upon the definition of cis as laid out in the first paragraph. This definition is built on the assumption that sex and gender are separate - gender is constructed while sex is "natural", biological and fixed. The original use of the term cis was to get away from such a distinction between sex and gender and by doing so get away from terms such as "biological". This separation, and the claims that follow ("females ... becoming genderqueer), serves to reinforce cissexism - that is a privileging of assigned sex at birth. Again this is what the term 'cis' originally functioned to get away from. The arguments brought up later in the article also fall flat on their faces. Please, authors, go talk to some trans people and learn what cis means.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine moderator

@AlisonKazeNoKae 

You make a good there, A woman will generally be assumed to be cis, just as people are assumed to be straight in the absence of other evidence, but yes, you are right - the stronger that assumption is then the greater danger there is in being outed.

I'm slightly confused by your last sentance..but, in essence there are four groups
 - gender conformant cis women
 - gender conformant trans women
 - non gender conformant cis women
 - non gender conformant trans women.

What I am saying is that all three of the latter groups will face difficulties because of their gender orientation.  There are two elements - gender conformance and trans status.  Although you are cis, you can still be targeted for your gender orientation if you are non-conformant.

Being cis, you are identifying with the gender that you were allocated at birth, but by being gender non-conformant you are rejecting the construction of that gender and that puts you on a collision course with your gendering, despite it being the one that was allocated to you.  There is a mis-alignment between the gender that you identify with and the gender that society seeks to impose upon you, despite them both being called "woman". 

I also think this is less a critique of the concept - the concept I think is sound, the problem is the application of it 


mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine

AlisonKazeNoKae  You make a good there, A woman will generally be assumed to be cis, just as people are assumed to be straight in the absence of other evidence, but yes, you are right - the stronger that assumption is then the greater danger there is in being outed. I'm slightly confused by your last sentance..but, in essence there are four groups  - gender conformant cis women  - gender conformant trans women  - non gender conformant cis women  - non gender conformant trans women. What I am saying is that all three of the latter groups will face difficulties because of their gender orientation.  There are two elements - gender conformance and trans status.  Although you are cis, you can still be targeted for your gender orientation if you are non-conformant. Being cis, you are identifying with the gender that you were allocated at birth, but by being gender non-conformant you are rejecting the construction of that gender and that puts you on a collision course with your gendering, despite it being the one that was allocated to you.  There is a mis-alignment between the gender that you identify with and the gender that society seeks to impose upon you, despite them both being called "woman".  I also think this is less a critique of the concept - the concept I think is sound, the problem is the application of it

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine moderator

@cailin rua 

Thanks for your comment

I've written a short series on gender, sex and the cis/trans binary - to summerise, I think that sex and gender are different things; sex is a continuum (M <->F), but gender is a unique individual trait of you as a sexual-being-in-the-world, forced into a binary of "man" and "woman"  which has a whole load of cultural baggage.  Cis/trans can be best thought of as how well your unique gender identity fits with the one which has been ascribed to you on the basis of your sex.

I think sex is constructed to the extent that we label bodies male or female by a construction, usually involving genitalia, but I think its a material  difference between people which is based on relationship to reproduction and genitalia are an imperfect but obvious marker for those reproductive differences

I think gender is constructed in the sense that we are shoved into boxes of man or woman (whether cis, trans or indeed genderqueer/genderfluid), but psychologically real in the sense that we have a feeling of ourselves as a sexual-being-in-the-world, which isnt (or at least is less) to do with reproduction than with pleasure and desire.

I agree with you that cis/trans isnt best thought of as a dichotomy, and I think that it is its use in this manner which causes a lot of the problems with its usage.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine

cailin rua  Thanks for your comment I've written a short series on http://www.2ndcouncilhouse.co.uk/blog/2013/03/26/reflections-on-gender/, http://www.2ndcouncilhouse.co.uk/blog/2013/03/29/reflections-on-sex/ and the http://www.2ndcouncilhouse.co.uk/blog/2013/05/01/reflections-on-the-cistrans-binary/ - to summerise, I think that sex and gender are different things; sex is a continuum (M <->F), but gender is a unique individual trait of you as a sexual-being-in-the-world, forced into a binary of "man" and "woman"  which has a whole load of cultural baggage.  Cis/trans can be best thought of as how well your unique gender identity fits with the one which has been ascribed to you on the basis of your sex. I think sex is constructed to the extent that we label bodies male or female by a construction, usually involving genitalia, but I think its a material  difference between people which is based on relationship to reproduction and genitalia are an imperfect but obvious marker for those reproductive differences I think gender is constructed in the sense that we are shoved into boxes of man or woman (whether cis, trans or indeed genderqueer/genderfluid), but psychologically real in the sense that we have a feeling of ourselves as a sexual-being-in-the-world, which isnt (or at least is less) to do with reproduction than with pleasure and desire. I agree with you that cis/trans isnt best thought of as a dichotomy, and I think that it is its use in this manner which causes a lot of the problems with its usage.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine moderator

@ElizabethHungerford 

I regard both your position (if I understand it correctly) - that gender is necessarily linked to biological sex, and the position of some trans theorists who similarly equate gender and sex, but simply situate sex as being neural rather than biological as essentialism.  It is the existance of trans wo/men that proves that gender is non-essential.

I agree with you, most people have an understanding of the capabilities of their bodies as children, that is reinforced at puberty, but it is also reinforced in adult women the more specifically biologically female experiences they undergo.

There are two genders - man and woman.  These are social constructs that on the basis of our biological sex we are forced to conform to.  But I also think that Monique Whittig was onto more than she realised when she declared that lesbians were not women (because part of the gender of woman is that which is fucked by men).

I think there is an underlying sense of gender - in the sense of "a sexual being in the world", which is unique, but which has traits, similar to personality.   Into that interior unique and individual gender goes a whole heap of things which are put either into the boxes of man or woman.  One will fit us better than the other, and most people can accomodate their deviences from the normative "man" or "woman" within that gender.  Some however cant.  The gender that they have been assigned is so far away from their internal sense of themselves as a sexual-being-in-the-world, that the way that others gender them sits at odds with their own internal gender, transitioning better aligns their internal sense of "who am I as a sexual being" with what the world sees, and consequently the expectations that the world has.

Some trans theorists (again, if I understand them correctly) call this "sex", but its not.  It *is* related to sex (fun-squishiness) but not sex (reproductive marker), the problem is that our language conflates fun-squishiness with reproduction.

So [Sex=man and woman= penis in vagina = male+female = baby]

But its only because of the centrality of PIV, which links fun-squishiness, with cuddly smallthing, that leads to this confusion.

Gender as we recognise it is socially constructed.  Internal gender is unique
Sex as we recognise it is genital, but its essence is reproductive and reproductive technology is advancing all the time.


mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine

ElizabethHungerford  I regard both your position (if I understand it correctly) - that gender is necessarily linked to biological sex, and the position of some trans theorists who similarly equate gender and sex, but simply situate sex as being neural rather than biological as essentialism.  It is the existance of trans wo/men that proves that gender is non-essential. I agree with you, most people have an understanding of the capabilities of their bodies as children, that is reinforced at puberty, but it is also reinforced in adult women the more specifically biologically female experiences they undergo. There are two genders - man and woman.  These are social constructs that on the basis of our biological sex we are forced to conform to.  But I also think that Monique Whittig was onto more than she realised when she declared that lesbians were not women (because part of the gender of woman is that which is fucked by men). I think there is an underlying sense of gender - in the sense of "a sexual being in the world", which is unique, but which has traits, similar to personality.   Into that interior unique and individual gender goes a whole heap of things which are put either into the boxes of man or woman.  One will fit us better than the other, and most people can accomodate their deviences from the normative "man" or "woman" within that gender.  Some however cant.  The gender that they have been assigned is so far away from their internal sense of themselves as a sexual-being-in-the-world, that the way that others gender them sits at odds with their own internal gender, transitioning better aligns their internal sense of "who am I as a sexual being" with what the world sees, and consequently the expectations that the world has. Some trans theorists (again, if I understand them correctly) call this "sex", but its not.  It *is* related to sex (fun-squishiness) but not sex (reproductive marker), the problem is that our language conflates fun-squishiness with reproduction. So [Sex=man and woman= penis in vagina = male+female = baby] But its only because of the centrality of PIV, which links fun-squishiness, with cuddly smallthing, that leads to this confusion. Gender as we recognise it is socially constructed.  Internal gender is unique Sex as we recognise it is genital, but its essence is reproductive and reproductive technology is advancing all the time.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine moderator

@Ellenor But both lesbianism and transitioning are necessarily political choices - they cant not be.  Because cisnormative heteropatriarchy demands that females are women and women are available for male sexual access.

So by adopting one of those "lifestyle choices" you *are* making a political decision to defy dominant demands, your very existance is a threat to the political order.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine

Ellenor But both lesbianism and transitioning are necessarily political choices - they cant not be.  Because cisnormative heteropatriarchy demands that females are women and women are available for male sexual access. So by adopting one of those "lifestyle choices" you *are* making a political decision to defy dominant demands, your very existance is a threat to the political order.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine moderator

@Esanne While I do agree with you that's where the "there is no such thing as cis" brigade comes from, and that its a useful and necessary term, the problem is that the way that its used can be problematic.

mhairimcalpine
mhairimcalpine

@Esanne While I do agree with you that's where the "there is no such thing as cis" brigade comes from, and that its a useful and necessary term, the problem is that the way that its used can be problematic.

cailin rua
cailin rua

@mhairimcalpine @cailin rua 

I will have to read more of what you have written.  I just happened to stumble upon your blog a few days ago.  I will also have to look into what you have written on other topics beyond sex and gender.  You seem to have an interesting point of view which has caused me to gravitate here.

As far as genitalia are concerned, it is the gonads that function or do not function or partially function to form not only new life but also function to form the full person in possession of said genitalia.  Gonads can also function in ways that are paradoxical, e g, testosterone producing gonads  producing abundant estrogen in certain people through the process of aromatization.  Adrenal glands are also capable of producing abundant testosterone in people with functioning ovaries.  The effects on sex differentiation and sex characteristics, both primary and secondary can be more or less profound, sometimes very profound and sometimes paradoxical.  As I said, I haven't read that much of what you've written but I would bet this isn't news to you, judging by what I have read so far.

I also think presence or absence of secondary sex characteristics are underestimated in terms of their importance to surviving in a day to day existence.  My mother had eight children but I have to say reproduction is a rare event in most people's lives these days.

I think gendering goes deeper than sex and gender.  I think gendering is a function of the human tendency to classify in an attempt to make order out of a very chaotic reality.  I've read a little of what Duana Fullwilly has written about race.  I think gendering functions in a similar way to the way racial classification works.  Unlike race,  sexual reproduction does work in a dichotomous way.  I understand that but when you get to the people involved it's a lot more complex than that.

I won't dispute that gender can be horribly oppressive, especially the way it is used in a patriarchal society and is so obviously oppressive to women.  At the same time, I see power differentials in abstract terms.

I don't know if it is such a good idea for me to preface so many comments with "I think" but these are my perceptions.

cailin rua
cailin rua

mhairimcalpine cailin rua  I will have to read more of what you have written.  I just happened to stumble upon your blog a few days ago.  I will also have to look into what you have written on other topics beyond sex and gender.  You seem to have an interesting point of view which has caused me to gravitate here. As far as genitalia are concerned, it is the gonads that function or do not function or partially function to form not only new life but also function to form the full person in possession of said genitalia.  Gonads can also function in ways that are paradoxical, e g, testosterone producing gonads  producing abundant estrogen in certain people through the process of aromatization.  Adrenal glands are also capable of producing abundant testosterone in people with functioning ovaries.  The effects on sex differentiation and sex characteristics, both primary and secondary can be more or less profound, sometimes very profound and sometimes paradoxical.  As I said, I haven't read that much of what you've written but I would bet this isn't news to you, judging by what I have read so far. I also think presence or absence of secondary sex characteristics are underestimated in terms of their importance to surviving in a day to day existence.  My mother had eight children but I have to say reproduction is a rare event in most people's lives these days. I think gendering goes deeper than sex and gender.  I think gendering is a function of the human tendency to classify in an attempt to make order out of a very chaotic reality.  I've read a little of what Duana Fullwilly has written about race.  I think gendering functions in a similar way to the way racial classification works.  Unlike race,  sexual reproduction does work in a dichotomous way.  I understand that but when you get to the people involved it's a lot more complex than that. I won't dispute that gender can be horribly oppressive, especially the way it is used in a patriarchal society and is so obviously oppressive to women.  At the same time, I see power differentials in abstract terms. I don't know if it is such a good idea for me to preface so many comments with "I think" but these are my perceptions.

ElizabethHungerford
ElizabethHungerford

@mhairimcalpine Lesbianism and transitioning are not analogous. Lesbianism and gender non-conforming *behavior* are analogous. They both have political meaning, yes, but only because of the social context in which they occur, not because the acts are *inherently* political in themselves.

Reparative therapy for lesbians to become heterosexual and "normal" is analogous to "transitioning" to become cis-appearing and "normal."

Ellenor
Ellenor

Yes and no. They are choices taken in a political context so they have a political meaning certainly. I don't think anyone, by their own choices is a threat to the political order though. Gender roles are set by material conditions- i.e: men own the majority of wealth, are paid more for their work and benefit from the unpaid work of women.  It is these conditions that need to change in order to change the status of men, women and trans people. Nobody is able to make personal choices, in their own life capable of having this effect, surely.

ElizabethHungerford
ElizabethHungerford

mhairimcalpine Lesbianism and transitioning are not analogous. Lesbianism and gender non-conforming *behavior* are analogous. They both have political meaning, yes, but only because of the social context in which they occur, not because the acts are *inherently* political in themselves. Reparative therapy for lesbians to become heterosexual and "normal" is analogous to "transitioning" to become cis-appearing and "normal."

Ellenor
Ellenor

Yes and no. They are choices taken in a political context so they have a political meaning certainly. I don't think anyone, by their own choices is a threat to the political order though. Gender roles are set by material conditions- i.e: men own the majority of wealth, are paid more for their work and benefit from the unpaid work of women.  It is these conditions that need to change in order to change the status of men, women and trans people. Nobody is able to make personal choices, in their own life capable of having this effect, surely.

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