Not Another Gender Binary: A Call For Complexity Over Cis-Readability

Why a nonbinary/binary trans dichotomy is counterproductive to gender liberation

Z Nicolazzo
Jan 15 · 9 min read

by T.J. Jourian and Z Nicolazzo

Part of Nonbinary Identities and Individuals in Research, Community, and the Academy: A Series Beyond the Gender Binary. Originally published by the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan.

Person tilts their head to the side curiously.

“We don’t reach gender liberation by prioritizing cis understandings of trans and gender nonconforming identities and experiences.”

What is Cislation?

Simply put, cislation is what happens when trans people feel compelled to create narratives about our transness in the simplest, most reductive of terms.

Person says, “Sometimes I feel like I’m not trans enough.”
Person says, “Being able to show up fully as who we are and do what we want to do.”

#1: The “Binary = Bad” Ascription

As we have articulated through some of our own scholarship, gender binary discourse — the archaic notion that gender consists of two and only two “opposite” genders, between and amongst which there is no movement, overlap, or fluidity — limits the livability of trans peoples’ lives. We and other trans scholars pose gender binary discourse as a negative ascription; a way of thinking that we should avoid and unlearn.

Our insistence that we avoid and unlearn a way of thinking turns into a suggestion that we avoid and unlearn a way of being.

#2: There is Nothing Not Radical about Moving Across Genders

Susan Stryker articulated that transgender “refer[s] to people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, people who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain gender.”

Person says, “I know who and what I am and I don’t need no validation from nobody.”

#3: What Even is “Binary” Transness?

In thinking about the cislation inherent in the creation of the nonbinary/binary trans dichotomy, we ask: who is assuming that “binary trans” is a mode of being in the world?

Person says, “These people are acting like trans people just got here.”
Person says, “So that we’re not stigmatizing, objectifying, sensationalizing, or criminalizing transgender people, but celebrating them.”

How are racism, ableism, classism, and settler colonialism encoded into notions of “passing”

#4: Transness Extends beyond Embodiment

Suggesting a nonbinary/binary trans dichotomy defines transness as being always and only about bodies.

Person says, “You can’t tell by looking if someone is transgender or not.”

#5: Trans is Both Capacious and Specific

There is no good, logical argument for segmenting off notions of transness. Yes, we all experience our transness differently, and everyone should be cautious not to create monolithic understandings of transness based on categorical claims.

Person says, “It’s about community, resilience, and love.”

Don’t Cislate Me Bro, Or a Call for Complexity Over Cis-Readability

Who we are as trans people is often complex, always beautiful, and infinitely boundless.

Person says, “It’s the way that God made me and I’m happy wit it.”
Person says, “Don’t compromise. Don’t compromise what you’re looking for. Don’t compromise yourself.”


PULP is a multimedia sex, sexuality, and reproductive…

Z Nicolazzo

Written by

Assistant Professor, Trans* Studies in Education, Center for the Study of Higher Education, University of Arizona



PULP is a multimedia sex, sexuality, and reproductive rights publication celebrating this human coil hurtling through time and space.

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