Archives for posts with tag: cisgenderism

In 1988 Tory MP, Dame Jill Knight, a key supporter of Section 28 … yes, the lovely elderly person with some “delightful, very artistic” gay friends …  said of that shameful piece of legislation: “The major point of it was to protect children in schools from having homosexuality thrust upon them.”

Now Libby Purves … yes, the fine ally of trans people who even wrote a novel with a trans teenager as the main character … writes in the Daily Mail of “children coming under terrible pressure” to start down the road to gender reassignment. “How horrifying,” she writes “that anxious parents might be encouraging a child in that direction”.

Oh Libby 😦

“Alarmingly,” she continues, “some clinics seem willing to prescribe drugs that delay the onset of puberty because of the ‘distress’ of what is normal development” although she offers no hint of evidence for her alarm. The hugely cautious National Research Ethics Service certainly doesn’t seem to be alarmed, having imposed stringent conditions under which puberty blockers can be prescribed in the UK.  Indeed the Endocrine Society recently published a paper suggesting, far from careless prescribing, the medical needs of trans children are hardly even beginning to be met. And who does Libby cite in support of her panic? Only our old friend Ken Zucker, the doctor whose clinic has been closed following allegations that he has been practicing “conversion therapy” on trans kids  … something discredited by every reputable medical organisation in the world and which the Obama administration has announced it will now work to outlaw.

And then employing classic Daily Mail sleight of hand, after scaring the cissexist pants off us for the bulk of the article, Libby quietly more or less admits that the horrifying scenarios she envisages are not really happening … “The Tavistock clinic does not ‘generally consider it helpful to make a formal diagnosis in very young children’”.

When are these people … even otherwise sensible people like Libby Purves … going to get the message in the way that few other than bigots now dispute about being gay … YOU CANNOT THRUST TRANSNESS ON ANYBODY and nobody … literally nobody … is trying to do that.

Trying to thrust cisnormativity and heteronormativity on kids is a different matter entirely. We don’t even need to look up to see that. Call it cisgenderism or cissexism  or just plain prejudice … read about Leelah Alcorn here if you don’t know her story. They’re all at it … and with an incredible lack of self awareness …  including sadly it seems our ‘ally’ Libby Purves.

In her Op-Ed: Transgender Dinosaurs and the Rise of the Genderqueers, Riki Wilchins writes:

… in 10 years, the entire experience we understand today as constituting transgender—along with the political advocacy, support groups, literature, theory and books that have come to define it since transgender burst from its closet in the early 1990s to become part of the LGB-and-now-T movement—all that may be vanishing right in front of us. Our memories, our accomplishments, our political movement, will all seem to only be historic. Feeling transgender will not so much become more acceptable, as gayness is now doing, but logically impossible.

I hope she’s right because all the advocacy, support groups, literature, theory and books she describes occurred as a reaction to cisgenderism, defined by Y.Gavrial Ansara as: “the discriminatory ideology that delegitimises people’s own designations of their genders?”. Transgender as a state can only seem less while cisgenderism is embraced by society as being more … just as a particular race can only be perceived as less when another race is embraced as more … ditto gay/straight … female /male … disabled/abled etc. etc..

I think it is unfortunate that Riki takes as her starting point an idealised ‘lovely 13-year-old girl’ and then seems to fall victim to her own cisgender expectation by suggesting “She didn’t cross gender lines or even rub up against them.” At first sight the experience of children on blockers may appear straightforward but evidence from the children and families themselves suggests otherwise. Even with committed parental support there is still a social transition … for the parents too. There is a period of ‘sexlessness’ when their peers’ hormones are raging. There is the dilemma of concealment or not in adulthood. Danger may still accompany openness.

Intersex people seem often to suggest that the most difficult aspect is the concealment and the secrecy concerning their body sex which is so often imposed upon them from childhood. Concealment and secrecy have long gone hand in hand with being trans for the very good reason that opprobrium and danger may well accompany openness. A very large percentage of the ‘diagnosis’ which the American Psychiatric Association DSM has now formally labelled ‘Gender Dysphoria’ is clearly a direct reaction to ideological cisgenderism in society to the extent … as Riki acknowledges of herself … that it frequently forces us to compromise our own identities.

So perhaps the better question is not will transsexuality go the way of the dinos, but rather, are we entering a new age of “Born This Way” public genderqueerness that very much exists alongside it?”

Maybe there is a paradox in Riki’s conclusion which we should embrace. But I do not believe now is the time for us to be looking to define or justify new identities in reaction to cisgenderist expectation. It is for the rest of society (including the APA) to truly embrace diversity and equality and accept us whoever/however we are.

Is transition TRAPPED IN THE WRONG adult ‘before and after’ narrative by the media and/or by trans people themselves who comply with cisgender ideology?

I’ve never really been a political activist until I accepted and addressed my trans experience which has become something of a single issue for me and which this blog has been exclusively about. I’ve tended to keep my professional and social life in a rather separate box which is the way I prefer it for now anyway.

As a previously more or less apolitical and pragmatic person I’ve been amazed since I began proselytising for teh trans at the rigidity of certain people’s ideologies … whether this is religious, political or cisgenderist. I’d always tended to stay clear of the religious and the political because my experience suggested and still does that trying to change people’s beliefs in these areas is unproductive and thankless. The only message I would really wish to convey is that both religious and political ideology become stultifying if they are ever embraced as ‘the only way’’ and I do not believe history is on the side of those who do so. A respect for basic human rights and an open mind make for a happier, more innovative and more efficient society.

In this analysis I think I would more or less agree with Steven Pinker’s as expounded in his book The Better Angels of our Nature . This in itself is a demonstration of quite how pragmatic I am because, in respect of the unexamined cisgenderist ideology he espouses, I view Pinker as being pretty close to the devil 😉

Cisgenderism however is an ideology which I feel must be confronted if future generations of trans people are ever to be allowed to flourish from their earliest childhood. I do not propose any ideology to replace it other than granting all people freedom from the oppression of gender expectation.  While making my modest contribution to this mission, what constantly strikes me is how even potential allies with the very best intentions … and I would imagine Stephen Pinker to be one such … find it so hard to get their head around this unless they are offered an alternative ideology. If this is not forthcoming they frequently take it upon themselves to identify the destruction of the binary as the new threateneing ideology and then become upset because they feel themselves under attack.

One common symptom of this is the way the trans experience is often referred to as ‘gender confusion’. I would maintain it is anything but and that it is cisgender inability to embrace diversity in gender which is the source of confusion. I sympathise with this blindness for perhaps poignant reasons. All my life I knew I was trans, then I transitioned and found myself at last able to embrace heteronormativity. I love the binary. It makes my world go round and brings a smile to my face every morning when I awake. I frequently experience a shiver of schadenfreude when I imagine what kind of a blinkered cisgenderist asshole I might have turned out had I not been born trans … yet upon entering the world of trans activism I found myself beset by pesky genderqueer/bigender/androgynous/other people (pace the inestimable CN Lester for this, I hope, fairly inclusive list). At one point I even found myself raging against the venerable Kate Bornstein when I attended a performance she gave because she insisted that I and my partner, as part of her audience, were also part of her ‘neither-a-man-nor-a-woman twibe’. I still feel it’s a mistake to engage with this kind of cis terminology when whether you are a man or a woman is irrelevant to personal wellbeing if you are comfortable in the way you present your gender. I’ve got to say also that I still think back to her performance as having the atmosphere of a revivalist meeting or a radical political rally.

And this is where the error so often lies to my mind. Gender is not political. The only reason for it to become political is to the end of making it not so. And it’s certainly not a religious belief. It’s an experience. My trans experience is different to the experience of others. Mine happens to meld rather nicely into our existing binary culture but when I think back to the years I spent trying to find the courage and resources to move from one side of the binary to the other, I can only see that binary as oppressive when we impose it onto those it does not fit against their will.

I love Susan Stryker’s analogy of gender being a sea we swim in. We all swim differently and we all must learn to swim as best we can … but there is no excuse for pushing others under in our own efforts to stay afloat or for the herd to stampede in blind panic because some people have found themselves drowning if they continue to swim with the same stroke or in the same direction as the majority have always insisted.

I should perhaps make clear, if it is not already so, that there is a world of difference between an individual experience which is cis or trans and espousing a cis (or even a trans) ideology. The best explanation, which I know of concerning Cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege is Julia Serano’s and can be found here 

Y. Gavriel Ansara also writes brilliantly on the subject of cisgender ideology in a number of publications available here

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