Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Radical Profeminist Analysis of Cisgender Privileges (aka, "Cis", Non-Transgender, and Non-Transsexual Privileges)

image above is from here
NOTE: Some of this post was revised on 15 April 2013.

What is "privilege" and what different types of privilege are there, particularly in the U.S.? Here's a good resource to answer that question. Note that it is a PDF file and so needs to be downloaded or opened in something like Google Documents. It is concise and clearly presented. It does note that for privileges to be challenged, the social/structural systems of power that maintain them must be challenged.

Practically by definition, if one is socially marginalised from dominant cultures and groups, one will experience a loss of some privileges afforded to those who are viewed as normal, acceptable, respectable, "like us", "one of us", etc.

What follows later is one of the most prevalent lists of cisgender privileges, sometimes also termed "non-trans privilege" that I could find. There are others. *Here's one* that is far more extensive.

If you click on and read that list, ask yourself this question: who is the "I" that is the speaker? (It is written in first person, from the point of view of someone who is not transsexual or transgender?) As I read over the list, more and more people came to mind who do not have the privileges listed.

The list does not apply to most girls and women I know.
It does not apply to most people of color I know.
It doesn't apply to most poor people I know.
It doesn't apply to most queer and gender non-conforming people I know.

There's no way in hell, for example, that the "I" in the list linked to above, is an Indigenous North American woman who is not transsexual or transgender. There's no way the "I" is a fat woman. There's no way the "I" is anyone who doesn't have education privilege. Or who is poor. Or who doesn't speak English as a first language. This is to say, most people who are NOT transgender and transsexual also don't have most of those privileges, and the assumptions about what it means to be transgender or transsexual are tremendously bound up with having enormous privileges to begin with. I'll expand on that point throughout the rest of this post.

From the above list, the "I" appears to me to be only this narrow demographic of person; the "I" is almost no one else, beyond the narrow demographic. The "I" is someone who is a sexuality-privileged, class-privileged, size-privileged, gender-privileged, age-privileged, able-body-privileged, government status/immigration status-privileged, ethnicity-privileged, religion-privileged, education-privileged, person who is not an incest, rape, battery, pornography industry, prostitution, trafficking, or slavery survivor. Über alles (above all else), the "I" is someone who must possess and be structurally located to receive and benefit from white and male privilege.

The "I" who has most or all of those privileges is only a white het man with every other form of privilege imaginable. Put most simply, most of the privileges on that list are privileges that most non-trans women do not have

From that list, I'll note this last item:
My right to inhabit my currently chosen gender is universally considered valid, regardless of my gendered behavior as a child, or how I felt about being forced into the gender I inhabited then. If I require medical treatment to keep up an appearance that matches my gender, it will be granted immediately and without question.

There is a presumption there--quite a massively privileged one--that "gender" is chosen at all. This goes against what I know, see, hear, experience, and realise from almost everyone I know who is gendered, including transsexual, transgender, intergender, and what is termed 'cis' gender people. Gender is the following, for most human beings I am aware of in the West and many beyond the West: medically and governmentally mandated; culturally imposed and enforced from birth and at least until death--and usually after death; religiously and secularly bolstered; customarily assigned-at-birth; politically enforced; structured into interpersonal and institutional practices; enforced and regulated by CRAPs officials, including by the population "men" and also through these ideological and social forces: male supremacy, heterosexism, white supremacy, and capitalism.

What gender is not, usually and fundamentally in CRAP, is this: held primarily as a subjective experience. For most women I know, "gender" is a way of being treated, responded to, ignored, mistreated, abused. It is a way of being ostracised, degraded, humiliated, discriminated against, disenfranchised, marginalised, violated, subordinated, terrorised, and targeted for all manner of interpersonal and institutional violence and contempt. The way of understanding "gender" or "the gender I inhabit" (in italics above) is, to my way of thinking and in my experience, profoundly privileged. 

Building from this, and every other observation made thus far, it is appearing to me that the group which identifies itself as "transgender" or "transsexual" and who writes about their experiences, who claim to be the spokespeople for "the group", may well be a very, very privileged group of people: people with these privileges, at least: race, education, class, and gender. How can a group marginalised and misunderstood or utterly ignored by mass media and beyond also be privileged? I'd argue many groups with enormous power are not identified, described, or presented accurately or responsibly in the media and beyond. Among those groups are: the rich, the most privileged men, the most privileged whites, and the most activist among male supremacist and white supremacists. How often do such groups get identified as terrorists, genocidalists, rapists, and callous, inhumane criminals? How often do such groups get portrayed, because they are of that group, as dangerous, untrustworthy, threatening, tyrannically domineering, oppressively controlling, and largely responsible for the maintenance of enormous atrocity?

What follows next is the list I see most often online used to educate non-trans people about transgender experience, specifically by alerting the reader to non-trans privileges. It is from this URL, and others:

This is the contents of that posting. I will place in brackets, bold, and italics my own critiques of these passages.

Please read and re-post this list to make people aware of the hardships often faced by transgender individuals that cisgender people take for granted on a daily basis.
  1. Strangers don't assume they can ask me what my genitals look like and how I have sex. [I  am reminded of how many women are visually and physically accosted on the street, or street raped, or sexually harassed by people they don't know. This is a lack of privilege far beyond "being asked about what one's genitals look like." As for that, specifically, as a gay male, I can tell you that strangers, depending on situation, do feel entitled to ask me about the shape and size of my genitals and how I have sex. I've grown to avoid many places where strangers go, just to avoid having this experience. And this has nothing at all to do with me being intergender. Non-trans intersex people, if out as intersex, are vulnerable to being asked what their genitals look like and how they have sex. In my pornographised, phallocentric society, lesbian women are oppressively asked, "How DO you have sex?!" as if sex without a man-with-penis being present, or watching voyeuristically, isn't even "sex". To this day, it is still considered a heteropatriarchally valid if obnoxious question to ask a lesbian woman who has never had sexual intercourse with a non-trans man, "Are you still 'a virgin'?"
  2. My validity as a man/woman/human is not based upon how much surgery I've had or how well I "pass" as a non-Trans person. [In my experience of my working class and poor family members, who comprise "most people", economically, surgeries are not an option. No one in my family has had, for example, a face lift. One family member had the weight of her breasts lessened surgically, because she was experiencing back pain chronically. That was decades ago, when the relative cost of such procedures was less, and working and middle class people earned more, relative to the rich. This matter of "passing" as "non-trans" assumes a culture that is even cognizant of what being transgender is. And in my experience, the only cultures that are "studied" in such matters are education-privileged ones. Most of my family never went to college and would have no freakin' idea what "non-trans" or "cis gender" means. They've likely never utterly the terms and likely never will. This speaks to a thesis of this post: that the very phenomenon of "being transgender and transsexual" in the white West, in CRAP, is largely a product of being very, very privileged. That the identities and understandings and analysis depend on having those privileges. I am someone who is intergender-identified, and, I'd say, "who is intergendered". I'm a classic example of someone with the multiple privileges required to even make such a statement.]
  3. When initiating sex with someone, I do not have to worry that they won't be able to deal with my parts [I find this extremely disturbing, as the way it is phrased implies a profoundly disembodied, fetishised, or consumerist way of thinking about the human experience/body. "Won't be able to deal with 'my parts'?" That's such a male supremacist way to even identify oneself, imo.] or that having sex with me will cause my partner to question his or her own sexual orientation. [As a someone who has never been heterosexual, it is my experience that many of us who are not heterosexual have plenty of people question their sexual orientation when dealing with the prospect of being sexual with us. It's a commonplace occurrence. And the language "when initiating sex with someone" is also steeped in male supremacist experience, imo. The phrasing carries the entitlement to initiate and engage in sex with others.]
  4. I am not excluded from events which are either explicitly or de facto[2] men-born-men or women-born-women only. [In the U.S., which is not as much like many other places around the world, few places are organised to have places where women "meet" only with women, unless one is part of an orthodox religious community, or unless one is sex-segregated based on economic factors, such as working in textile sweat shops, or cleaning hotel rooms. Those are not places where women "meet" in the way that I hear the term being used. There's no willful, uncoerced, free experience of "being women together" in which women gather because it is what they prefer to do. The word "meet" here implies a kind of leisure activity, or non-work experience. In most cases, "women-only" spaces, if and where they exist, are a mandatory product of CRAP. Those spaces are, often, an enforced and reinforcing condition of heteropatriarchy. Such spaces aren't organised to provide participants with "gender privilege". They are, instead, the spaces in which one may be reminded one's gender is not privileged.]
  5. My politics are not questioned based on the choices I make with regard to my body. [This also falls into the category of having many privileges as a prerequisite for even approaching the topic. My family's "politics" are not questioned based on much having to do with anything other than "who did you vote for?" or statements like "I wish there could be peace and justice in the Middle East". The spaces where one's politics are understood to refer to daily interpersonal experience across many social hierarchies are limited to some academic and activist communities where my own family won't be likely to be found. Beyond that, most feminist women I know have their politics questioned depending on what they do with their bodies, in terms of attire, how they wear their hair, what size they are, what they eat, what they do sexually, what they do with regard to pregnancy or child-rearing, what they do that involves the medical establishment, and what they do professionally, as paid work, with their bodies. But the extent to which those actions are 'choices' or are, instead, following oppressive social directives, or are done under conditions of coercion, threat, and terrorism, is largely due to places of privilege. The choices my non-trans white female relatives make about their bodies are varied, but none violate the terms of white heteropatriarchy. If they did violate those terms, their 'political allegiances' to heteropatriarchy would be questioned, not necessarily in those terms. This would also be the case if boys in my family expressed an interest in doing anything with regard to their own bodies that is seen as girl-like.]
  6. I don't have to hear "so have you had THE surgery?" or "oh, so you're REALLY a [incorrect sex or gender]?" each time I come out to someone. [This is in the same category of requiring pre-existing privileges to even be an issue one is dealing with. With regard to surgery, most especially, class-privilege. With regard to obnoxious interrogation about what gender one really is, this might apply to anyone who is intersex, or to anyone who is not gender conforming. I'm thinking now of particular butch white women who have endured that level of interrogation and insult.]
  7. I am not expected to constantly defend my medical decisions. [Same critique as above: multiple positions of privilege are usually required to this to even become an issue. It also demonstrates a woeful ignorance or lack of sensitivity to the fact that many, many women have surgeries performed on them, as do many intersex people, against their will. Does the person who wrote that realise whole populations of women have had sterilisation forced on them? The fact that for so many women "surgery" is forced or socially coerced ought to sound alarms for anyone who speaks of "surgery" in such a way as to assume it is only ever elective and wanted. I am reminded of how rich white folks speak of contacting the police, as if doing so will generally be a good experience where you will be respected, regarded, and not grossly interrogated, seen and treated only as a criminal, or tossed into prison for no reason at all.]
  8. Strangers do not ask me what my "real name" [birth name] is and then assume that they have a right to call me by that name. [I wish the person who wrote this would speak with Indigenous people, with immigrant people, with elderly people, with anyone for whom English is not a first, preferred, or unenforced language, who do not have the privilege of being called what they would prefer to be called. I wish the person who wrote that would recognise that most women do not get called what they prefer to be called. Most non-trans women get called all kinds of things, including, especially, b*tch, because and only because they are women.]
  9. People do not disrespect me by using incorrect pronouns even after they've been corrected. [This is also in the "lots of privileges already required" category. My family of origin frequently has called me "she" and "aunt" because they know I am gay, for example. Lots of men routintely get called "ladies" in the military, or "girl", or derogatory terms used against women, in order to communicate a general disdain and contempt for women, and a threat of rape or other punishments if they don't "man up" appropriately, according to utterly grotesque and horrifying military standards of what it means to even be appropriately human.]
  10. I do not have to worry that someone wants to be my friend or have sex with me in order to prove his or her "hipness" or good politics. [Same "lots of privileges already required" category. In what communities does this happen, exactly? In rural U.S. communities? In communities where there are no academic institutions of "higher" learning? Where does this person live? What's "hip" in most places is being  classist, racist, misogynistic, and homophobic. That's what's perennially "in" in most places in the West, in CRAP. And any place where that's not the case is a very elite and privileged space, and not one I have had much experience finding--liberal protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.]
  11. I do not have to worry about whether I will be able to find a bathroom to use or whether I will be safe changing in a locker room. [This is the case for most many gender non-conforming folks, many butch women, many feminine men, many androgynous-looking people, many genderqueer people, and it is not the case for most transgender people, because most transgender people "pass". So this "privilege" isn't accurately located with the right population, imo. I'm intergender/transgender and possibly transsexual--depending on how we define these things--and I am only at risk in men's rooms because men are in men's rooms and any place where there are men is potentially dangerous, such as in one's home of origin, if one or more men lived there. We need to distinguish between "feeling safe" and "being safe". And only the most privileged people combine the two into only one experience where what they mean is "feeling safe". Most women are not safe, regardless of whether they feel safe or not. Most women are not safe in their homes, on the street, in the workplaces outside of homes, etc. Most visibly transsexual people, who are a minority of people in the "trans community", do not get beaten up, threatened, or otherwise assaulted in women's rest rooms. And if I'm wrong about that, I'll own it and stand corrected. But, from what I hear from women, many gender non-conforming women who are not transsexual do feel unsafe in many places, including any place where there is lesbophobia, misogyny, and heterosexism, and they feel that way because they are systematically and systemically unsafe.]
  12. When engaging in political action, I do not have to worry about the gendered repercussions of being arrested. (i.e. what will happen to me if the cops find out that my genitals do not match my gendered appearance? Will I end up in a cell with people of my own gender?) [The race and class privilege built into this statement ought to be fairly obvious, if not distractingly glaring. In what universe do poor women and women of color not have to worry about the "gendered" repercussions of being arrested? What part of being arrested, if you're a woman, is "ungendered" exactly? This statement shows a profound lack of awareness of what it means to be a woman.]
  13. I do not have to defend my right to be a part of "Queer" and gays and lesbians will not try to exclude me from OUR movement in order to gain political legitimacy for themselves. [In my current experience, this is far more the case for radical lesbian feminists, for radical activists, for radical gay males, for anti-CRAP queers, than it is for anyone who identifies only as trans within queer spaces. For the last many years--meaning ten, at least--there have been events and opportunities created to educate folks about what it means to be "trans" when there are no comparable events or opportunities to understand what being a lesbian is from any radical feminist point of view. There is little to no space made for intergender people, for bisexual people, and for asexual people in our movement. There is little space made for anyone at all who critiques liberal politics in our movement. And so, to summarise, all the radical lesbian feminists I know do not even feel like they have a seat at the table of our community. Speaking personally, I haven't felt welcomed in white queer spaces, in white queer movements, for at least twenty years, because I do not enjoy or welcome being in spaces that promote male and white supremacist practices and blatant misogyny. Radicals are purged from liberal movements in order to gain political legitimacy for themselves: that's a well-chronicled part of the history of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the Western Women's Movement.]
  14. My experience of gender (or gendered spaces) is not viewed as "baggage" by others of the gender in which I live. [Most women I know, who only exist in "gendered spaces", who never, ever exist outside of them, who systematically are made experience gender as something imposed and enforced, terroristically and tyrannically, and commonly and normally, are viewed as having gender-specific "baggage". That's partly why almost every woman I know is called "the b word" on a semi-regular basis. Isn't the definition of "being a woman" in CRAP, "someone who has waaaaay too much emotional baggage"?]
  15. I do not have to choose between either invisibility ("passing") or being consistently "othered" and/or tokenised based on my gender. [This applies to every woman of color I know who may be able to "pass" as white. This applies to every woman I know who may be able to pass as heterosexual, but who is not heterosexual.]
  16. I am not told that my sexual orientation and gender identity are mutually exclusive. [This is in the "you've already got to be very privileged" category. Who in society is told "the truth" about their sexuality and gender? Who in society is told that sexual orientation is what it is? That gender is what it is? Who in society is told the degrees to which both are constructed forcefully for us? The assumption here is that being told your sexual orientation and gender identity are not mutually exclusive is "a privilege". For whom is that a privilege? For girls and women who are raised to be het women who will likely experience rape and battery at some point in their lives from "the man or men who love them"? And in what sense are these things completely independent of one another, anyway? In what sense is being a heterosexual man independent from "being a real man", as CRAP-enforcers define such things? In what sense is being a heterosexual woman independent from "being a real woman", in CRAP? I've never, ever experienced "being told what it means to be a man" as something that is distinct or mutually exclusive from what it means to be gay.]
  17. When I go to the gym or a public pool, I can use the showers. [Again, this is true for most trans people. And the repeated assumption that "trans" means "visibly transsexual" is grossly stereotyping our community. Trans people are not gender non-conforming, necessarily. Trans people are not transsexual, necessarily. And trans people are not visibly transsexual even if they are transsexual, necessarily. A transsexual person who "passes" as the gender they identify as has far more public restroom and public shower and locker room privileges than women who are gender non-conforming by "virtue" of not looking the way "women are presumed to look in CRAP. This also shows a gross insensitivity to those of us who are child sexual abuse survivors, and those of us who are or were targeted as queer by hets. My experience of males who are survivors of child sexual assault or who are queer, or both, is that we do not use public rest rooms and showers and locker rooms with anything akin to "ease" or "with privilege". Can we? Yes, we can. So the fact that "we can" is a privilege, I suppose. But that's kind of like saying "Can a dark-skinned person walk through a predominantly white upper middle class neighborhood (including the one that person may live in) without ever facing discrimination and harassment from neighbors and police?" Yes, they can. Are they likely to be harassed by the police, or have white neighbors be alarmed if they do? Yup. Can women walk alone at night on city streets, or down country roads? Yes, they can, if physically able to. Can we assume women will be free from male supremacist threat and assault when doing so? No.]
  18. If I end up in the emergency room, I do not have to worry that my gender will keep me from receiving appropriate treatment nor will all of my medical issues be seen as a product of my gender. ("Your nose is running and your throat hurts? Must be due to the hormones!") [This applies to all women, as far as I can tell. If you're experiencing heart attack symptoms you won't be as readily identified as having that problem unless you're a man. If you're experiencing "mood" or mental health issues, you will not likely be diagnosed free of gross forms of sexism. And this is exponentially worse of you are a woman without class, education, language, size, age, ability, and race privileges. What I find racist and sexist in much of this list is an assumption about non-trans females of color. If one is Black, Brown, Asian, or Indigenous, the racial categorisation and stereotyping by social dominants impacts how one is treated as a woman in the medical world and beyond. This is also true for non-trans females who are white. How many non-trans women, with access to the medical world, are told their medical symptoms are "in their head" or that their complains are a product of their hormones?]
  19. My health insurance provider (or public health system) does not specifically exclude me from receiving benefits or treatments available to others because of my gender. [This is also privilege-dependent, as many women do not have access to health care, period. Many women don't  have health insurance (or are not part of a public health system that regards them as human).]
  20. When I express my internal identities in my daily life, I am not considered "mentally ill" by the medical establishment. [Mentally ill, mentally disabled, psychiatrically ill, and intellectually, cognitively, emotionally, mentally, and psychiatrically marginalised people cannot speak about our experiences with internal identities without being labeled as "mentally ill" either; so the statement is grossly able-ist to me, as someone who is disabled, in assuming that there are spaces in the psychiatric and mental health care worlds where people are judged in an unbiased, non-stereotypical, non-judgmental, non-oppressive way, if we speak about our inner lives and mental health struggles in any way (not just with regard to issues of gender dysphoria or transgender experience). For what women is it safe to speak about such things? For poor women? For women of color? For many white women? Who gets treated fairly and humanely by mental health systems? So, in conclusion, this is not "a privilege" that non-trans women have, in my view. Not most non-trans women, anyway.]
  21. I am not required to undergo extensive psychological evaluation in order to receive basic medical care. [This is also very problematic. Most people who are not class-privileged undergo lots of extensive self-critical scrutiny, and may allow medical conditions to get to very dangerous points in their progression, before even approaching "basic medical care". Most poor people don't even have adequate access to "basic medical care". And when they get "care" it isn't usually life-enhancing. When many women of many classes, ethnicities, races, and backgrounds, seek medical care, the experience can be triggering and trauamatic for all kinds of reasons. The writer of this list seems unaware of the realities of being poor in the U.S. And there is a particular vulnerability that comes with being a woman who have been female-bodied their whole lives, because of the risks--the lack of privileges--of living as a female-bodied person one's whole life. Trauma accrues and intensifies. Abuses collect and the impact multiples as one gets older. Living in what is termed "a female body" for one's whole life cannot reasonably be understood to be "a privilege" in CRAP. Not with any appreciation or regard for what women and girls experience and too often endure, anyway.]
  22. The medical establishment does not serve as a "gatekeeper" which disallows self-determination of what happens to my body. [Bullshit. The medical establishment has a gross and atrocious history of violating girls and women, of forcing some groups of girls and women--most notably Indigenous, Black, and Brown women, and mentally and physically disabled girls and women--to be sterilised, experimented on, and so forth. The medical establishment has a far more atrocious history of sexually abusing intersex children than non-intersex males. The medical establishment impacts the lives of poor girls and women in incalculable ways, in part by not providing health care, through medical neglect when seen by medical professionals, by doing procedures and assessments that are inhumane or otherwise oppressive, or by ignoring this population when it calculates risk and remedies for various conditions that never included poor women, but instead focused all of its research one middle class white folks, assuming that was a "universal" sample.]
  23. People do not use me as a scapegoat for their own unresolved gender issues. [This may be the most outrageously gender-ignorant statement of the bunch. In what social world do boys and men not use girls and women, individually or collectively, as "a scapegoat for their own unresolved gender issues." What do you call "rape" and "battery" and "sexual harassment"? If that's not evidence of men's perpetual state of needing to shore up their political/structural male supremacist/misogynist identities and "communise" male supremacist power through practice, practice, and more practice, pray tell, what it is it? This, along with many other statements, demonstrates gross ignorance and denial about what women experience in CRAP.]
My analysis brings me to conclude that the many, but not all, of the political origins and effects of the term "cis gender privilege" function to reinforce male supremacy, misogyny, and CRAP in ways its most privileged proponents won't or don't yet own. My conclusions thus far are that the social construction in language of a way of "being privileged" or "not being privileged" is mostly being used against non-trans women, and is strategically designed--consciously or not, to further oppress non-trans women as a class of human beings, and to subordinate that class to people who have had or currently have male privileges, among others.

I welcome readers to draw their own conclusions about this list of "cis gender privileges" as it applies to most non-trans women on Earth.