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Friday, October 17, 2014

Wait... what's cisgender?

by Taylor Holmes

So let’s get one thing straight: there are more than two genders. To complicate things even further, there are actually more than two sexes as well. Some of you may be asking yourselves…wait, aren’t sex and gender the same thing?  Don’t worry, that’s what I thought for a long time too so I don’t blame you if you are already confused. One way I like to think of it is that sex is between your legs and gender is between your ears which may be a little simplistic but sometimes the visual helps.
Let me explain.

Sex is determined by biological differences such as internal and external sex organs, hormonal profiles and chromosomes and generally people are assigned male, female, or intersex at birth. Gender on the other hand is determined by how you personally identify which is why I said that gender is between your ears. No one other than you can decide which gender you identify with and because it is entirely up to each individual there is a wide array of genders that people can identify with. To put this into perspective, there are about 7 billion people on this earth and that means that there are actually about 7 billion gender identity possibilities. Unfortunately society seldom recognizes more than two or maybe three genders on a good day.

Whenever you fill out a form at a doctor’s office, have to decide which bathroom to use, determine which department you want to shop in at a clothing store or attempt to sign up for a gender specific sports team, more often than not you are forced to decide between identifying as either a man or a woman. This is called a gender binary system and while this happens to work for most people in our society, the fact of the matter is that it simply doesn’t work for everyone.

You see, gender is actually a spectrum. Sure, there are plenty of cisgender men and cisgender women, but there are also people who identify as trans* which is often seen as an umbrella term and can include people who identify as transmen and transwomen as well as many other folks who don’t fit into the binary system.  There are also many other genders and depending on who you ask they may or may not be seen as falling under the trans* umbrella. Some examples of these gender identities include: genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, gender non-conforming, androgynous, bigender, gender variant, pangender, two-spirit, and many others.

If your mind is blown right now, don’t worry! Mine was too when I first learned about how many gender identities there are and how ignored they are by our society at large. For many of us who identify as cisgender (meaning our sex assigned at birth matches up with our gender identity) we never give a second thought to which box to check on the doctor’s form, which bathroom to use, which department we want to buy our clothes from or which sports team to try out for. This is called cisgender privilege and unfortunately because of the way our society is set up we are never forced to think about our own privilege.

Now that you have potentially been made aware of your own privilege for the first time ever, what can be done about it? I know for me at least, I was caught in a pretty long phase of guilt. I just couldn’t get over all of these things I was just given simply because I was assigned female at birth and also happen to identify as a woman. How on earth is this fair? As my mom always says, life just isn’t fair.

While I recognize that life isn’t fair, I know that there are plenty of things that I and everyone can do to narrow the gap. Here are a few examples:

1.       Don’t assume gender.
Often times we feel a need to put people in boxes and determine how one identifies when in reality it really doesn’t affect us at all. Just ask yourself, do you really need to know?

2.       Use inclusive language.
Instead of saying, “Hey you guys!”, “How can I help you ma’am?”, “How are you sir?” drop the gendered phrases and se general greetings like “Hey everyone!” or simply ask “How can I help you?”

3.       When creating forms or surveys avoid making people only decide between “male/female” or “man/woman”.
To give people more freedom to self identify you can always just leave a space for people to fill in their sex or gender if they choose to do so.

4.       Ask for preferred gender pronouns.
If I were greeting someone new and wanted to know what pronouns they were comfortable with I could say, “Hi, my name is Taylor and my preferred pronouns are she and her. What’s your name and preferred pronouns?”

5.       Check your privilege and be aware of things that you do which can be exclusionary to non-binary folks.
Here is a link to a great list of Cisgender privileges that you may not be aware of:

1 comment:

  1. This was very well written! Nice transitions- you keep the reader on a steady path that helps if they are reading this for the first time. Also, very personable.