On Being a Cisgendered Gender Non-conformist: What Privilege?

Holy Mayflowers, I’m so full of Feelings today. SO FULL. It’s like I consumed an entire Thanksgiving meal made up of Feelings and now I just want to put on sweatpants, slump over on the couch, and watch the National Dog Show. But instead, I’ll blog.

Last night, I attended the Boston vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. In case you didn’t know, this is a day when the queer community comes together to honor the memories of those who have been lost due to anti-trans violence and hate. It has its roots right here in Beantown, springing from the outpourings of grief and anger that surrounded the 1998 murder of transgendered woman Rita Hester, a much-loved veteran of the Boston rock scene. A year later, activists in San Francisco founded the Transgender Day of Remembrance in her honor, and it has grown to be an international event. Rita’s murderer – like the murderers of so many transgendered people – has never been brought to justice.

In Massachusetts, this year’s Remembrance Day came on the heels of an amazing victory – the Transgender Equal Rights Bill has finally passed both the House and Senate, and now only awaits a promised signature from Gov. Deval Patrick. This bill will give transfolk in the Commonwealth protection from discrimination in employment, housing, and credit. In a state where 20% of trans people report losing their jobs because of their gender identity, it couldn’t have come soon enough. Unfortunately, while an awesome first step towards full equality, the Transgender Equal Rights Bill isn’t perfect. The version of the bill that passed doesn’t include protection from discrimination in public accommodations – meaning not just bathrooms, but also libraries, hotels, and hospitals. While significant battles have been won, the war is far from over.

The Remembrance service itself was beautiful, including a candlelight vigil through the Common, a Reading of Names of the lost, and testimonies from members of the trans community and its allies. I loved being a part of that. It was the promotion of the Day itself – not just in Boston, but all over – that invoked so many complex Feelings. While most described the day as dedicated to transgender and transsexual people, others also included genderqueers and (here’s where I come in) gender non-conformists. The question that I can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer to is this: Do I, as a cisgendered gender non-conforming dyke, deserve a seat at that table?

It’s impossible to discuss the widespread discrimination experienced by the trans community without also discussing cis privilege. It’s also impossible to not acknowledge that I do indeed enjoy this privilege. My sex matches my birth certificate. I don’t have to deal with the legal mazes that come with changing names and identifying documents. And I don’t have to face painful and expensive operations/hormone treatments to make my body match my true self – though I have put thought into hysterectomies (I hope to have one someday) and breast reduction surgery (much less likely to happen). I don’t often have to deal with health care providers who are ignorant of how to treat me; I say “often” because I’ve had doctors who didn’t know what sort of STD tests a lesbian should be given (hint: all of them). I don’t have to answer humiliating questions about what’s in my pants or if I’ve had the “right” procedures done “down there” to satisfy somebody’s idea of how a person of my sex should look.

But then there’s the other stuff, the experiences I have lived and want to claim, yet feel I don’t have a right to. The stories about being glared at in public bathrooms. Of being hurt by family and friends who don’t understand the way I look or respect my gender expression. Of being mistaken for that which I am not, or being accused of being a fraud, not being a “real” woman while simultaneously not being a “real” man. Of wrong pronouns, of passing – intentional or accidental – and the terror that comes with being “found out.” Of not being able to relate to the things that people of my sex should be able to relate to. Of being afraid to shower at the gym. Of not being able to visit countries where my very existence is a crime and my appearance is punishable by death. Of taunts, of violence, of not feeling welcomed or safe in spaces where others of my sex walk freely and without fear. Of being an Other, an Outlander in a world where gender is so often contained in two padlocked steel cages.

I wanted to speak yesterday. I wanted to say that I understand, that I feel that too, that I’ve been there, that I survived that, that I have found some peace and am still searching for more. But I didn’t, because how could I? How can I check the “cis” box, yet relate so much to the “trans” box? And do I only claim cis for lack of a better term, because the language doesn’t really exist for what I’m trying to explain?

And then there’s this question, a question that is at once easy to answer and so very difficult: if a violent, transphobic bigot came across me or a trans person in a dark alley, would the outcome be any different?

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About Bren

I'm a self-identified butch lesbian geek Masshole with a passion for comic books, action figures, queer issues, flannel, and pretty ladies. Oh, and comments. I love me some comments (hint, hint).

9 thoughts on “On Being a Cisgendered Gender Non-conformist: What Privilege?

  1. You have pretty much eloquently written exactly how I felt yesterday at the Boston Vigil for The Transgender day of rememberance. I think the topic of Transgender can’t be divided into just two categories (are and are not) it has to be viewed in degrees of transgendered or something, there has to be room for variants who are content with their cisgender but not traditional gender expression. Or else where do we go?
    At least that’s what I think.
    Anyway, thanks for this post it’s nice to know there was someone else in the room thinking the same sorts of things too.

  2. To me “transgendered” is the catch all word for all of us. I’m transexual, you’re gender non-conforming, we are both transgendered. The game of who is more oppressed than whom is a tired one. To some extent, you have a harder road than I do. I may be a bit of a tomboy, but I present myself as strictly female. I think people have an easier time dealing with that.

    At any rate, don’t get too wrapped up in communities and tables. The only community you should care about is the one who cares about you, and tables are really cheap at Ikea! ^_^

    • It’s true – we as a community love playing the Game of Oppression, and it’s a game without winners. I love your way of thinking, Sarah.

      Also, anybody who can sneak an IKEA joke into my blog is A-OK by me. πŸ™‚

  3. Thank you, as always, for reading and for understanding, friend. Just knowing that others are wrestling with these crazy complicated questions makes me feel more secure and more ok with asking them. Butch family forever.

  4. Thank you! I recently stumbled onto this term and the more definitions I read the more upset I got. I felt it wasn’t fair that I was being told I couldn’t understand or that I should be thankful for all the privledges I receieved for being cis. I may have been born a girl and identify as a girl, but I also have the wonderful “privledge” of being an extremely masculine and hairy girl and was pretty much emotionally tortured for my entire childhood and more. Your blog entry expressed EXACTLY how I was feeling because at the same time I have trans friends and I do recognize that they struggle with issues and situations that I will never face. Yes I may have escaped some other forms of adversity but trust me I don’t feel I received anything positive from being CIS.

    • Thank *you* for reading! I’m very much against the Oppression Olympics; all of us in Outside the Mainstreamland have struggles and all we really should be doing is supporting and helping to heal each other.

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