A few weeks ago, in comments on my post critiquing the term “sex class,” Lisa Harney and Sunflower both prodded me to think and write more about transgender issues. While I feel like I need to keep offering disclaimers that I’m no expert in this area, I just read something that’s so obviously disrespectful toward trans people that I’m going to stick my neck out and say: hey! this is plain wrong.
6. You don’t describe yourself as being “cisgendered” and you are a woman who hasn’t had and doesn’t plan to have sex-reassignment surgery, hormone injections or a double mastectomy for cosmetic reasons.
Although I realize that the “10 reasons” format is intended to mark the post as humorous, I’m going to succumb to the old humorless-feminist stereotype and say: That’s not funny!
As Lisa Harney writes at Questioning Transphobia, the term cisgendered is intended to shake up the norm and highlight a privilege that often goes unnoticed (by those who are privileged enough to do so, that is):
Cis is a neutral term applied to people who aren’t trans. It’s intended to decenter the notion that not being trans is the natural, default state for human beings and that being trans is a deviation, and that trans people are other.
I don’t describe myself as being “cisgendered” every day, but I realize that the term describes what I am and so I’m happy to claim it. I was born with female organs, I’m comfortable with being called a woman, I appear reasonably feminine despite my incompetence with nail polish, and so I don’t experience any dissonance between my anatomy, my gender presentation, and the way the world views me. That’s a big ole privilege.
Now, back to redmegaera’s list. Just to clear up any possible misunderstaning, the term “fun feminist” is not a compliment. It’s a term that some self-described radical feminists use to question the seriousness of people whose flavor of feminism differs from theirs. I suspect I qualify as a “fun feminist” by dint of being an unapologetic heterosexual who paints her toenails, however sloppily. I don’t much care if someone wants to impugn me for being too fun. Still, I can afford not to care only because I’m privileged in multiple ways. I’m white, middle-class, heterosexual, educated, and yes, cisgendered. More importantly, my relative imperviousness doesn’t change the intent behind the term: to denigrate and insult.
Similarly, calling sex-reassignment surgery “cosmetic” trivializes the embodied experience of trans people. Those who pursue such surgery aren’t just trying to conform to some beauty ideal. They’re hoping to achieve some congruence between body and self – perhaps greater integration of body and self. However far this particular form of embodied dysphoria may be from my personal experience, I can still understand and empathize with the need to feel at home in one’s body. This seems like such an obvious point that I’m almost sheepish about making it. Yet it obviously needs to be said.
Also: Surgery, for whatever purpose, is never fun. Mocking people for needing it? Not my idea of fun, either.
Finally, here’s yet another ought-to-be-obvious point: Trans people’s rights are one facet of human rights, and they’re important to defend because every human being matters equally. However, on a more selfish level, feminists who reject the trappings of traditional femininity also have a personal stake in trans people’s rights, whether they recognize it or not. A world in which trans people can be murdered on account of their gender is also a world where “a fat, ugly, unfeminine, hairy-legged man-hating dyke” (#7 on redmegaera’s list) is also at physical risk. Radical feminists who feel no fellowship with trans people should still be able to see how transphobia harms their own interests. And maybe – just maybe – that could stir the beginnings of real empathy. (I’m not holding my breath, though.)