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Checking our Cisgender Privilege


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.


My response to Julia R Johnson's article "Cisgender Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Criminalization of Cece McDonald: Why Intercultural Communication Needs Transgender Studies". And why to check cisgender privilege.

Julia R. Johnson wrote an interesting think piece on cisgender privilege, intersectionality, heteronormativity, and heterosexuality. In her article, "Cisgender Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Criminalization of Cece McDonald: Why Intercultural Communication Needs Transgender Studies". She urges cisgender people to explore their privilege and challenge their understanding of sex and gender. She also argues why it's necessary to intertwine the studies of gender, sex, and heteronormativity in an intercultural communication framework. She believes that one cannot be studied without the other, and when doing so it will deepen our understanding of transgender persons. 


Privilege Checklist

Heteronormativity is the belief that there are only 2 categories of people, man and woman and that these two people align with specific (and restricted) identities. I'm still challenged by this because of how conditioned I am. I can't fully process heteronormativity because this belief is deeply injected into everything that I know.  My father being a pastor and me being raised on the bible, I was heavily influenced on the strict rules of gender and gender roles. Heterosexuality is easier for me to swallow because even as a young girl I had progressive ideas about sexuality.  


"As Nakayama and Krizek (1995) argued, the dominant norm against which otherness is measured must be named in order to disrupt normativity (p. 292)". This quote from the article is a great example of why the concept of outcasts is ridiculous. I find it weirdly comfortable to refer to myself as cisgender and to implement the term into my vocabulary. As a woman of color I know very well what it feels like to be an "other". There's normal and there's "not normal" and both are toxic. It allows someone to assume a position of power because of their title that's more socially acceptable.  


"Cisgender privilege is given to persons whose morphology aligns with socially-sanctioned gender categories." This means a person is rewarded for abiding by societal norms. Even if said expectations work against a person's self-interest. This is important to point out because we behave in a way without questioning if we actually agree. We're like zombies going by rules that conflicts with morals and beliefs. These rules are ingrained like their our morals and beliefs. In return, cisgender folks never experience discrimination and violence like those who are not.


 It's interesting to attempt to apply new ideas when they directly conflict with my own belief system. And no matter how forward thinking and progressive I may think I am, fundamentally it seems impossible and feels quit "unnatural". I find it exhausting because I have to question everything that I do and say. I'm also fully aware that my belief system and what I was taught to see as natural can be summed up to lies, someone else's imagination, or toxic ideologies. I feel this learning curve makes it harder for me to comprehend what I'm reading, despite my ability to regurgitate the information. 


In class we have continued to unpeel the layers of conditioning in areas I didn't know

I was conditioned. we all agree that we do not live in I think our classroom makes up open-minded people who have a basic understanding of racism and sexism. It seems a post-racial society. However, there seems to be a reach when discussing gender. I don’t want to project my own challenges onto the entire class. But I can feel the tug of war between a collective belief system regarding heteronormativity. The classroom space leaves lots of room for dismantling those belief systems. YouTuber, and trans woman of color In her vlog, Diamond Stylz, walks through the etymology of the word cisgender in her vlog, "Let's Talk About Cisgender". In her attempt to reassure a person who express their offense of the word cisgender and why they reject being called it. Stylz clarifies the historical context in which cisgender was created, its usefulness and necessary presence within and surrounding trans people. This article expands on the unlearning because it takes it even a step further, similar to what Judith Butler texts did. 


 Defining Cisgender 

Cisgender describes someone who identifies with their assigned gender at birth. Cis is a derivative of the Latin prefix cis, which means "on the side of". The word gender "comes from the Latin word; genus, which means birth." (Diamond Stylz) In addition to its actual meaning, contextually, cisgender also rejects trans people not being normal.

The word transgender creates a category of other, hence cisgender coming to fruition. Cisgender is mostly used within the LGBTQ and trans community. However, it's used widely in conversations of feminist, gender, women, and africana studies.   


In my exploration, not in the meaning of cisgender but in the reaction people had to it. The reviews were split between cisgender women and people of color who embrace the terminology and respectively educate their audience on what it means.

The former are those who are white or men who find the term offensive. The irony is that the opponents who reject being labeled cisgender is their points sound identical to the feelings of trans people. In his article "I Am NOT Cisgendered", Nelson Aviance say, "What is perhaps most disturbing in being called “cisgendered,” is that it imposes an identity on me. Doing so invalidates my complicated experience of gender. " A simple YouTube or Google search of "cisgender" or "transgender",  Aviance  may find that trans people feel the EXACT same way. Diamond gracefully empathizes with cisgender viewers that she understands the feeling of being called something she doesn’t like. 


There's a moment when listening to anyone, specifically, someone who looks different than us, that we should momentarily renounce our personal opinions, beliefs, and experiences. This may seem counterintuitive and a lot to ask from anyone. But think about what it was like entering a formal educational system for the first time. Aside from family interactions, school is the first place we're introduced to those of different experiences as us. At the tender age of 5 or 6 we learn that our peers do not see things the way we do. This begins the assimilation process. From grade school into intermediate, and high school, we learn to respect and accept our differences, but ultimately understand that we see things differently because we come from different homes.   


Up until exiting our home environment, it was about introducing "how things go", of course in the language in which our families spoke. We eat these kinds of foods because this is what our parents fed us. We're Catholic so we read these texts, follow these religious rules. We grew up in this part of the world so we wear this. It's an almost fascinating discovery but we eventually get the hang of it. I find the conflict interesting in accepting that a transgender person has a different, more likely harsher reality than someone who's cisgender. 


Adam Carolla showcases his cisgender privilege by conveniently avoiding it. In an interview titled "Adam Carolla on Being a Straight, White, Cisgendered, Upper-Class Man" on YouTube show The Rupin Report, Dave Rupin says, "speaking of the elephant in the room, you are a straight, white, cisgender, upper-class man, pretty much the most hated thing in America. Just so explain yourself, apologize if you want to talk directly into the camera. How do you want to deal with this? Let's just go." Carolla responds, "well I have this great benefit that I find that I have a lot...I have a couple approaches to this. I always said that I can be an asshole because I'm not an asshole. I can say things that are asinine because I'm not a bad guy. Like if you're a bad person you can't say bad things". He then begins to compare Rosie O' Donald and Ellen DeGeneres on camera personas to their off-camera real personalities. He explains that their on and off-camera personas are so different that you must assume who they present to us on-camera is a lie. Like what? What type of horseshit is that?   

It seems that some cisgender people cannot even see their own privilege because they're so use to checking and judging everyone else, cues their privilege. The simple act of listening seems to be the most challenging while denial is so ingrained. I suggest a momentary renouncement of all personal opinions, beliefs, and experiences for the sake of accepting and understanding cisgender privilege.  


“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

– David Gaider





Aviance, N. J. (2014, July 18). I Am NOT Cisgendered. Voices. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/j-nelson-aviance/i-am-not-cisgendered_b_5598113.html  


Finch, S. D. (2016). 130 Examples Of Cis Privilege in All Areas of Life For You To Reflect On and Address. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/02/130-examples-cis-privilege/


FISCHER, M. (2016). THINK GENDER IS PERFORMANCE? YOU HAVE JUDITH BUTLER TO THANK FOR THAT. Nymag. Retrieved December 19, 2016, from http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/06/judith-butler-c-v-r.html


Johnson, J. R. (2013, May). Cisgender Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Criminalization of CeCe McDonald: Why Intercultural Communication Needs Transgender Studies. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 6(2), 135-144. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from John Jay Digication.  


Rupin, D. [The Rubin Report]. (2016, June 9). Adam Carolla on Being a Straight, White, Cisgendered, Upper Class Man. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYKw4tRuSHg&t=868s


Stylz, D. [Diamond Stylz]. (2016, August 10). Lets Talk About Cisgender. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxkf8lbKZdM

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.