Transphobia and Cisgender Privilege

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 Some initial definitions:

Transgender or trans* is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity and gender expression/behavior does not conform to that which is typically associated with their birth-assigned sex. This term can include people who identify as transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens, drag kings, genderqueer, masculine-identified females, feminine-identified males, MtFs, FtMs, transmen, transwomen, androgynous, and other differently gendered people.

Cisgender refers to a gender identity that matches a person’s birth-assigned sex (and the sex’s typical gender expression). 

Cissexual refers to biological identification with one’s birth-assigned sex. 

Transphobia is the discrimination of transsexual and/or transgender people. 

Cisnormativity is the assumption that everyone one comes into contact with is cisgender; such an assumption prevent the creation of respectful and positive environments for trans* people. Cisnormativity also refers to the discrimination or prejudice against transgender people on the assumption that being cisgender is the norm. 

Trans-bashing is the practice of victimizing a person because they are transsexual and/or transgender. Unlike gay-bashing, this type of violence is associated with the individual’s gender expression and/or gender identity rather than their sexuality.

The Breakdown:

Transphobia can be described using Blumenfeld’s 1992 study of homophobia, which states that homophobia (or transphobia) functions on four distinct levels: personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural. These four levels can be defined as follows:

  • Personal level: associated with an individual’s belief system.
  • Interpersonal level: associated with an individual’s expectations of others around them.
  • Institutional level: associated with laws, government policies, religious and educational organizations.
  • Cultural level: associated with the social cognition and concept of gender which pre-exists in society.

Discrimination from outside:

There have always been challenges associated with the larger heterosexual cisgender community regarding transphobia. Certain individuals, organizations, institutions, and religious groups view transgender folks as different, confused, or even as a threat. Individuals who discriminate against transgender people tend to have very rigid concepts of gender—biological male and biological female, with no room for identification in between. Many trans* folks fit in-between these two categories while others undergo a long transition experience from one gender to another. Trans*gender activists and allies work very hard with members of the heterosexual and cisgender community to build support and acceptance; their work has made headway in challenging transphobia in larger society.

Discrimination from within:

Some members of the gender and sexually diverse (GSD) or queer community are uncomfortable with transgender folks. An example of this is when male-to-female (MtF) individuals or transwomen are denied access to women-only spaces. Some people within the community feel that transgender individuals belong in their own category apart from gay men and lesbian women. Such exclusion is not limited to trans* people, however; people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, queer, and questioning can also feel left out of the gay and lesbian community. Further, many trans* folks identify as gay and lesbian—among many, many other sexualities!—and deserve the same respect and acknowledgment from their cisgender brothers and sisters. Indeed, other community members feel it is more important for everyone to stick together rather than dividing them based on (cis)gender identity; there are many folks out there who are very accepting of trans*gender individuals, believing that being trans* is a vital part of being GSD or queer.

Performing gender:

On occasion, drag queens and kings find themselves the targets of transphobia; this stems from others’ discomfort with the ways in which drag performers step outside of and play with rigid gender roles. For instance, traditional forms of gender are challenged when we see a female-identified perform as a man (kinging). Whether or not the drag performer considers themselves transgender, they are engaged in gender-bending and, as a result, are sometimes the targets of transphobic slurs and violence. As well, people within the GSD or queer community who fail to distinguish a person who is in transition from a drag performer perpetuate transphobia.

Cisgender privilege:

Identifying as a cisgender individual carries a lot of privilege which is easy to take for granted. Many people who are cisgender don’t think about the challenges a trans* person faces on a daily basis as a result of their gender identity and/or expression.

Here are some examples of cis privilege from Sam Killermann:

-          Use public restrooms without fear of verbal abuse, physical intimidation, or arrest.

-          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.

-          Strangers don’t assume they can ask you what your genitals look like and how you have sex.

-          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.

-          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.

-          Your identity is not considered a mental pathology (“gender identity disorder” in the DSM V) by the psychological and medical establishments.

-          You do not have to defend you right to be a part of “Queer,” and gays and lesbians will not try to exclude you from “their” equal rights movement because of your gender identity (or any equality movement, including feminist rights).

-          Being able to purchase clothes that match your gender identity without being refused service/mocked by staff or questioned on your genitals.

-          Having your gender as an option on a form.

-          You don’t have to convince your parents of your true gender and/or have to earn your parents’ and siblings’ love and respect all over again.

-          You don’t have to deal with old photographs that did not reflect who you truly are.

(Find the whole article at:

It is important to recognize and own this privilege; indeed, owning one’s cisgender privilege is just as important as owning male privilege, white privilege, and class privilege. Doing so will help us to take care of each other, in turn building a better society for everyone.

What can I do to combat transphobia and cis privilege?

The best and simplest way to fight transphobia and cis privilege is to refuse to be a part of it. Do not resign yourself to the stereotypes and learn more about what it means to be trans*gender; there are many resources out there that will help you!  There are many people out in the world who are in transition and they deserve to have just as much respect and dignity as folks who aren’t in transition. Choose to treat others with respect instead of with suspicion and malice. Like homophobia, transphobia is an unfortunate reality in our society; however, challenging each instance of transphobia means another step towards dismantling it completely. Say “NO” to transphobia and encourage others to do the same.

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