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15 Ways You Are Privileged as a Cis Person

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October 15, 2019

In my work at URGE and as a volunteer at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, it has always been common practice for everyone to ask for name and pronouns upon meeting a new person. Now that I’ve stepped outside these spaces to start my tech career, I’ve encountered people who aren’t familiar with this practice. People who have rarely been asked to rethink the ideas of gender that they’ve been taught growing up. They feel threatened by the idea that there may be more than two genders, that you cannot tell someone’s gender by looking at them, and that one’s genitals don’t determine their gender nor do they determine their life experience.

Additionally, while I’ve been living in southern Europe, I’ve tried to ignore most news about the United States (especially anything related to guns or healthcare because we as a country are screwed in those areas.) However, a few pieces of news were difficult to ignore. Actor Malik Yoba announced on the Breakfast Club that he is attracted to trans women and was immediately invited to speak as an expert on transphobia–specifically transmisogyny. This story clearly demonstrated the ways in which people with privilege are readily welcomed to the forefront of activist spaces for doing the bare minimum. (How does the joke go? A feminist man walks into a bar because it’s set so low?). 

Additionally, there was a Supreme Court case hearing for Aimee Stephens, a woman who was fired as a funeral director because she is transgender. And in the midst of all of this, Ellen DeGeneres, a promenent cis lesbian defended her friendship with George Bush, a President who opposed classifying crimes against LGBTQ+ folks (including trans folks) as hate crimes. 

These news stories, along with my experience in the tech industry, reminded me of how much soul-searching cis people need to do to stop being violent and harmful toward trans people. That means the trans folks we love. That means trans folks in our communities. That means the trans folks we don’t know and may never meet. The jokes we make. What we say. Our presence on social media. The cultural practices we perpetuate. The policy and employment decisions we make. They all affect trans folks. This soul searching especially applies to cis people with other forms of privilege (e.g. white privilege, wealth privilege, cis male privilege, etc.) 

In 1989, Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies professor at Wellesley College, wrote a piece titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” The article was essentially a list of ways that white people benefit from structural racism. The piece has been used as a tool in many anti-racism workshops and trainings I have been to.

I wanted to develop a list similar to Peggy McIntosh’s piece that helped cis people to recognize how we are privileged. Like white privilege, cis privilege is “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” And many cis people do remain oblivious—so oblivious that they don’t even know they are cis. In fact, upon being called cis, many people think they are being called a slur. Like white privilge cis privilege “is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” 

This is not an exhaustive list since every trans person does not have the same experience and the transphobia that some experience cannot easily be separated from the other forms of oppression they experience (misogyny, racism, misogynoir, classism, etc.) Additionally, there is some overlap with the experiences of cis women because they also experience discrimination based on their gender, so some cites of privilege are difficult to define without going into statistical detail.

Despite these challenges, I think that at the very least, this could be a useful list for cis people who want to do and be better.  This can be a resource for cis people who want show more empathy toward the trans people in their lives–and outside of their immediate world. 

As a cisgender person:

  1. You can go locker rooms, bathrooms, and spas (like Korean saunas or Turkish bathhouses) without having to worry or wonder if you will be welcome there or if your gender will be policed.
  2. You don’t have to visit a psychologist or doctor to convince them to affirm your gender experience so that you can do the many things that require identification documents (get a driver’s license, get a passport, find a job) .
  3. You don’t have to worry about gender markers on your legal documents.
  4. You can be pretty confident that without telling them, people will address you with the correct pronouns.
  5. And as a native English speaker, people won’t argue with you as to whether your pronouns are grammatically correct.
  6. If you are arrested, it’s very unlikely that you would be put in solitary confinement because of your gender experience and presentation.
  7. You can be sure that your gender experience is represented in most fiction and nonfiction (including but not limited to sex education)
  8. When your gender experience is represented in fiction, it’s not comfortably made the butt of jokes—well yes there are misogynistic jokes on TV but they don’t tend to be as deadly.
  9. You’re not portrayed as a liar if you don’t go into detail about your gender identity, expression, or experience with people whom you date.
  10. You do not have to do mental gymnastics in order to decide whether you should choose being your authentic self or choose safety as it relates gender identity, performance, or expression.
  11. You can be confident that your gender identity will be represented on most surveys and job applications.
  12. You don’t have to fear people arguing with you about your gender identity.
  13. When looking for information on your sexual or reproductive health, you don’t have to worry about your gender being represented or excluded.            
  14. If your parents  had a “gender reveal party” when you were in the womb, they would have been right about your gender.
  15. You don’t have to wear makeup or bind for safety.

While this list is definitely not comprehensive, it is a start. If you have any of ways that cis people benefit from or are privileged by cisnormativity, please comment below.