This is the first piece I have received e-mailed to me by someone! Enjoy!
THE PRESENCE OF CISSEXISM WITHIN THE QUEER AND FEMINIST COMMUNITIES
By: Taylor, CA
Cissexism is widely accepted within our culture, to the point that it is not even considered. The majority of cisgender people do not know the definition of “cissexism”, or even “cisgender”. In this way, cissexism permeates every nook and cranny of sociology, not with bravado as does the gender binary, but in silence.
Point of clarification: While it is not typically recognized as such, cisgender is the counterpart to transgender. It describes gender identities that are congruent with one’s assigned sex and assumed gender role. Cissexism is when cisgender people are given more credence within social, educational, occupational and political spaces than transgender people.
While the presence of cissexism in mainstream culture is to be expected, and is much too broad a topic for me to tackle coherently, the presence of cissexism within the queer and feminist communities seems like it is just narrow enough of a topic. It is also especially troubling, as both of those communities are generally tolerant and accepting of “alternative” identities, and are both involved in activism towards a more unified society. If such educated communities display cissexist tendencies, how will trans issues ever be successfully combated?
Research [I was deeply upset by this portion of the assignment; I have left out the personal quotes which appalled me most, but if you would really like to read them, I can link them to you]:
When I had decided to research the topic of cissexism, I first consulted my oculos et aures within the queer anarchist community. One of my contacts brought my attention to several radical feminists who attended a conference on Pornography as Sexual Violence. These individuals had apparently exhibited transphobic and cissexist viewpoints before and during the conference. Little did I know that my forthcoming investigation into a Miss Lierre Keith and a Mister Robert Jensen, would lead to investigations into many other vocal parties, all with very similar opinions on trans people.
Lierre Keith is not only a radical feminist, but is also a lesbian and a prominent writer on veganism and vegetarianism. As I am also a feminist and a lesbian, I was even more hurt and insulted by her response to a query about her transphobia, posited by one of the conference organizers. It is so expansive, and is so filled by what some have called “ideologically driven hatred”, that I cannot hope to touch on all of it.
By digging deeper, I discovered that an anti-trans hate screed had been discovered in a restroom during the conference, and found that Robert Jensen had personally challenged the identity of a trans woman speaker. This woman, named Joelle Ryan, found herself berated on full account of her trans identity, and observed as Jensen proceeded to lambast every aspect of transgender culture.
As aforementioned, this was only my first foray into the phenomenon of cissexism within queer and feminist society. I read a PDF on the history of trans exclusion from women’s music studios and festivals, with an emphasis on the predominance of white lesbians within those spaces. As I had when researching the Pornography as Sexual Violence event, I delved through pages and pages of deeply personal WordPress blogs and supposedly objective news stories. Surprisingly, I never once felt the need to explore Wikipedia, when such outpourings of passion and hate were much more compelling than raw information.
Names such as Katie Cook and Julie Bindel struck a chord with me. The latter is a trans woman journalist who was eligible for a major award in her profession, and the former is a radical feminist and lesbian who organized a protest against Bindel’s eligibility. Once again, Cook felt the need to write a response to those critical of her, and this response was filled with the same “ideologically driven hatred” I had read before.
Weary of cissexist opinions crawling out of radically feminist minds, I decided to turn my focus specifically to the queer community. Another of my oculos et aures informed me about the cissexism inherent within a legislative bill called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). While first proposed in 1994 to protect the occupational rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual employees, transgender and gender non-conforming employees were not encompassed by the bill until much later, in 2007.
In an appalling turn of events, the bill’s sponsors dropped transgender inclusion shortly afterwards, under the assumption that the bill would stand better chances of passing without such taboo legislation. My contact got me up to speed, but I turned to Wikipedia this time for the details, as I often do with political matters.
When I decided that objectivity could not sustain my research for long, I threw myself into the queer ring. There are many spaces on the Internet that are specifically tailored for gay, lesbian and bisexual posters, but not so much trans posters. Injecting myself into these spaces, I outed myself first as a lesbian, and then as a transgender individual to a number of queer posters, and observed the results. While primarily positive, the few negative responses that came up were striking in their similarity to those hate screeds which focus on “mutilation” and “appropriation” which I had read previously.
In short, I received a valuable insight into the reasoning behind cissexism in queer and (radical) feminist circles, through all of the research I conducted. The “ideology” of a cissexist is clearer to me than ever, and I will touch on it in my forthcoming paper.
What stereotypes come to mind in relation to this topic?
Trans people are almost entirely defined within the public consciousness by stereotypes, so many of these come to mind. Most prominent are the assumptions that trans people, especially trans women, are more akin to drag performers than is true in reality. From this assumption comes the confusion between those who truly possess gender identities incongruent with their assigned sex, and those who crossdress to derive sexual pleasure from the act, formerly referred to as transvestites.
This focus on attire, and thus expression of gender, also leads the public to regard trans women as garishly effeminate creatures who are heterosexual without exception. Contrary to what the gender binary implies, to be a woman is not to be effeminate, and assuming that anything different applies to trans women is not only transmisogynist, but misogynistic period. Moreover, to deny the existence of trans people who are not straight is simply heteronormative. For such misogynistic and heteronormative viewpoints to spurt from the minds of anyone, let alone “radical feminists” and “queer activists”, is nothing short of shameful.
Another common stereotype is that most, if not all, trans people are unable to pass as an individual of the gender they identify with. This is not true, but it is a myth which perpetuates itself beautifully. A trans person who does pass, is less likely to out themselves as transgender due to the social stigma associated with such an identity. I discovered this is often referred to as “going stealth” in the online trans community.
How has this topic affected people’s lives?
It would be easy for me to say that cissexism is simply a detriment to the lives of trans people, another obstacle that makes life for them so much more difficult than it ought to be. Although this is true, it is not the whole truth. Cissexism affects cis people just as much as it affects trans people.
When an infant enters this world, there is already an expectation of what life they will lead, depending on whether they are “male” or “female”, and this is not only dependent on the gender binary. It is also dependent on the assumption that the child is cisgender. If the child does indeed grow up to be a cisgender individual, they have grown up, as Richard Rodriguez would say, “immersed in the public culture” from the time of conception.
This affects everything about how they act and perform in social, educational and occupational settings, without them even realizing it. In fact, this lack of recognition is fundamental to their having a “public identity”, in this case, that of the cis person.
How have opinions about this topic changed over time?
Warning: I am going to be surprisingly positive in my response to this question. As I researched this topic, I was delighted to see just how far the trans community has come since the early days of its public recognition. Traditionally, trans people have been exoticized as the “queerest” arm of the ever-controversial queer community. The unceasing popularity of drag performances, in the same interest of exoticism, did nothing to help portray trans people as who they really are.
Who are trans people, really? Well, what society is beginning to understand is that gender identity has nothing to do with sexuality. A trans person can identify as homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual or any other sexuality under the sun. Another facet of trans people that was consistently denied, but is becoming more accepted, is that exotic lifestyles are not inherent to a transgender identity.
In the modern era, the majority of trans people have “gone stealth”, and live within occupational and family settings that are not out of the “ordinary” by any standard. The fact that both this, and the wide variety of sexualities that are exhibited by trans people, are both receiving wider recognition by society, is of great pride to me. And as I have never been particularly proud of my identity, I mean that when I say it.
[Must do more research.]
What are the power relationships within this topic? Who, if anyone, controls whom and how?
I am having a difficult time in suggesting that anything less than hatred, pain and fear are responsible for “controlling” the parties involved in this dispute. In a way, I would be correct. However, for the purpose of humoring those who wish to assign living, breathing people to roles as you would observe on a chess board, I would look at the same patriarchy which radical feminism so abhors.
The gender binary which poses the first and foremost obstacle for trans people, is entirely to the patriarchy’s benefit. While sexual dimorphism evolved naturally in humans, defined gender roles were not associated with either sex until it was realized that this could serve as the ultimate tool of oppression. In my opinion, stripping the freedom of identity from a person is the vilest act anybody can commit, but it is extremely effective in its purpose: The oppressed eventually believe that they cannot but conform to their assigned role, playing straight into the oppressor’s hands.
The current oppressors in English-speaking cultures are predominantly played by Caucasian, heterosexual men. Naturally, this not only makes clear that the gender binary as it stands is beneficial to them, but also that heteronormativity and racism play key roles in their power play. I have already stressed that misogynism and heteronormativity are regurgitated by parties that attempt to combat those same values, in the process of opposing trans people.
In this way, the patriarchy is not only oppressing trans people, but is doing so through its own opposition, making an utter fool out of everyone involved. This process is so entirely deplorable that I am, once again, having a difficult time comprehending it. Why is the human condition not reduced to weeping when such atrocious acts are so often observed?
[Must do more research.]
Do people view this topic differently depending on their race, class or gender?
Yes and no. I have found that it is difficult to associate specific mindsets with specific races, classes or gender identities, perhaps for the same reason it is difficult for me to assign gender roles to biological sexes. In fact, I have found that it is easier to dichotomize people according to their tolerance of alternative sects. There are always the opposing forces that are driven by “conservativism” and “liberalism”, or as my queer anarchist contemporaries would hyperbolize, “fascism” and “anarchism”.
Unfortunately for me, none of those words truly describe what I am trying to convey, and I would be stricken dead before I stooped to use such terms as “bad” and “good”. Paulo Freire would refer to the opposing forces as “the oppressor” and “the oppressed”, and while these are perhaps the most accurate phrases I have at my disposal, they ignore the fact that the “modern oppressor” is often unaware that they are committing oppression.
On the other hand, I have already expressed my view of what role the patriarchy plays in this tragic reality, and it has become clear that those of “alternate” sexualities are often more educated and understanding of those with “alternate” gender identities. So, while I cannot speak for the exact niches that race, class and gender fills in this dispute, there are certainly niches that are more often filled by certain groups.
[Must do more research.]
I: Are the “ideologies” expressed by certain radical feminists and queer activists in opposition to trans people, legitimate? Or do they have more basis in biology than sociology? Is it possible to have a debate with these individuals, on the grounds that these ideologies are technically valid, which leads to a beneficial conclusion?
III: What can be done to increase the visibility of trans people as those oppressed by the patriarchy and heteronormativity, in solidarity with the feminist and queer movements as a whole?
I was coaxed into writing on the subject of trans issues, and specifically cissexism within groups that I am also a part of, by a close friend of mine. If not for hir, I would not have discovered how touched and how vehement I could become during my research. In a way, I have gone from exhibiting the tendencies of a conformer, such as Richard Rodriguez, to exhibiting the tendencies of an activist, such as Gloria Anzaldúa. Although I was severely triggered by several of the responses I read, I do not regret what I saw and what I wrote as a result.