10 Ways to Deny Cisgender Privilege

Feel uncomfortable being called cisgender? Want to win an argument against a well-informed trans person? This article outlines 10 ways cisgender people attempt to deny their identity.

Trans people actually appreciate it when cisgender people acknowledge their cis privilege and use that identity to uplift trans lives. Whenever I see someone list themselves as a cis man/woman on Facebook, I am more confident that they are politicized and prepared to support our community. However, it’s increasingly common for cis people in queer, women’s, and social justice spaces to deny this privilege due to discomfort, wanting access to trans spaces, or feeling the need to participate in transgender discourse. Here are 10 examples of rhetoric cisgender people to try to escape their privilege with explanations of why these excuses are wrong.

1. Why do we need all these labels? We’re all human!

Cisgender was created to describe people whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity align. Deeply reflecting on institutional power you may have is crucial in order to support communities that you may not belong to.

2. Gender is a social construct and doesn’t matter

If it didn’t matter, why does the trans community have one of the highest rates of violence of any group in the U.S.? Why do 80% of trans students feel unsafe in school and why have over half of us been physically assaulted? Every identity is a social construct but is still real and has a tangible influence on our lives.

3. Conflate gender identity and expression

Gender nonconforming people can be cisgender. “Cisgender” is referencing gender identity, not gender expression.

4. I’m genderfluid because I wore my boyfriend’s shirt once

Thanks to Vogue for this one! That’s not how gender works. Genderfluid may be a gender expression (there are cisgender genderfluid people) or gender identity (where someone is less likely to be cis). Wearing clothing designed for another gender doesn’t make someone non-cis or necessarily even gender nonconforming.

5. Queer people can’t be cis

Yes they can. In fact, the majority of queer people are cisgender. Terms like “bisexual” reference sexual orientation, while “cisgender” references gender identity.

6. I don’t “feel” cis

That’s because being cisgender is so normalized. There are people who don’t feel cis who may very well be trans but with the vast majority of the population being cisgender, cis experiences are ingrained in us as normal since the day we’re born (“it’s a boy!”). Not feeling cisgender may simply mean that your experiences are being validated by society. Cisgender people aren’t monsters or inherently harmful to the trans community: cisgender simply means your gender identity matches what you were assigned at birth.

7. I’m a trans ally

You’re actually a cisgender ally (but not doing a very good job being one). Allies are not part of the community they’re allies to. Rejecting cisgender as a label isn’t allyship, it’s avoiding the work that needs to be done for our community.

8. Cis is an invented word/slur

“Word” is an invented word. Cisgender was created simply in contrast to “transgender” due to the latin prefixes: trans means “across/beyond” and cis means “on the side of.” It’s also used to describe isomers in chemistry among other historical uses.

9. I took a gender studies course once

There is no way to theorize away privilege or power. You may be very well informed on trans issues but still can be cisgender.

10. I belong to X marginalized group and therefore I can’t be cisgender

Yes, gender roles are a colonialist construct and a rather recent invention. Gender is deeply affected by race, ethnicity, disability, and other areas of marginalization. In Jewish Talmudic tradition, we even had six genders that fell from popularity due to Christian colonialism. However, that’s not what makes me non-cis, being trans is. Recognizing this history while also working to undo the harm of gender roles through using institutional power is much more important than using history to deny one’s identity.

Have you used any of these excuses before? Perhaps consider identifying as cisgender and using that platform to protect trans lives.

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