Cisnormativity: A Letter to the Editor

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Hi.

Recently, I read an article by Taylor Terreri about Planned Parenthood. Taylor, I really appreciated your guts to write an article about something that is really confusing, but I do want to call you out on one thing – the article was deeply rooted in cissexism.

Cisnormativity and cissexism are basically the same thing – assuming that everyone is comfortable and identifies with the gender they were given at birth, which is based on their genitalia. If you identify with the gender you were assigned when you were still in the womb, you’re cisgender.

There are a lot of people who are a part of the LGBT+ community. The statistics state that one person out of every ten people, according to the Guardian, are LGBT+. The trans community is a branch of this. The people who associate with the trans community come from a wide range of genders, to being transgender (one who identifies with the opposite gender than they were assigned at birth) to genderfluid individuals (people who feel their gender is fluid, or shifts). The people here are as diverse as you can get, and yet are severely underrepresented and persecuted for existing.

Assuming people are cisgender affects a large part of the world. I mean, from before you were born, you were supposed to have a certain gender, then grow up with certain talents and preferences according to your genitalia. Cisnormativity affects how you raise a child, how you perceive the world, how you perceive other people, how health care and statistics affect people and even how facilities are designated – male and female bathrooms. If a trans person walked into a bathroom that isn’t “correct,” they’re going to be in potential danger.

As everydayfeminism.com points out, it is considered “normal” and “natural” to identify with the gender some doctors assigned to us before we were even able to speak or live outside of our parent’s womb. With this mindset deeply ingrained in our society, trans people are considered “abnormal” and “unnatural” because they’re simply different from societal norms. And you know what happens to people who aren’t “normal enough.” They get attacked, bullied, abused, abandoned, and forgotten.

Cisnormativity is harmful because of how it erases and hurts trans people. For example, a common phrase (referring back to you, Taylor Terreri) is that anyone who is pregnant is a mother-to-be, or saying that because men can’t get pregnant, they have no say in what women do with their bodies. An FTM (short for female-to-male, a term for someone undergoing transition) person could possibly get pregnant. And an MTF (short for male-to-female transition) trans person can’t get pregnant, therefore eradicating the idea of all women having “female genitalia.”

I understand if you accidentally say something cissexist, because we’ve all been raised in a cissexual society, and it’s hard to unlearn. The thing is, it’s harmful. It damages trans people’s self-worth and sometimes forces them to out themselves, to explain why she/her pronouns aren’t ideal and why they/them pronouns are really the only options that makes them feel comfortable, and, no, technically it’s not grammatically correct, but it’s easier to have some funky-sounding sentences than breaking down in a public bathroom due to the weight of being misgendered.

And, on another front is a group of people who are biologically neither male or female – intersex people. Intersex people are people born with androgynous genitalia. In this cissexist world, intersex people are often left feeling confused by the world. If you have breasts, but also “male genitalia,” which bathroom do you use? Intersex people usually go with whatever bathroom they relate to most. However, there are still evident dangers with that.

Then you get to people who identify as non-binary (a gender that is neither male nor female) and agender people (someone who feels no gender at all). Often, people immediately assume their gender is either male or female, and use pronouns and terms associated with those genders without qualms. Trust me, one of the worst feelings is having someone call me “lady” or “young woman” when I did not correlate at all with feminine genders, coupled with not being able to speak up because circumstances would leave me in a bad situation. There are a few things that are worse, such as being told you’re “unnatural,” “wrong,” and a freak, but you get used to that after a while, although it’s no less painful. Cissexism creates a toxic atmosphere where people of the trans community, either transgender or genderqueer (a gender that is atypical, such as non-binary and genderfluid), are constantly afraid. There are many reasons to be.

One example of blatant transphobia and cissexism is Transgender Day of Remembrance (tdor.info), a day that honors murdered trans people, killed because of their gender identity. The fact that there are so many hate crimes against trans people that a day of remembrance is needed is shocking. People who are not cisgender live in constant fear of having their name on that list, of being a news story that misgenders us, uses our incorrect pronouns, or uses our dead names (names that trans people left behind, such as a FTM trans man called Robert might have a dead name of Robin) with no care for the names we chose for ourselves. No matter what you look like, being trans or genderqueer means your life is on the line. If you won’t be killed for your gender, however, there’s a whole slew of hate to get used to.

Let me give you an example. Before I realized I was genderfluid, I thought I was non-binary. My parents accidentally discovered a text from a friend that I was coming out to as nb. They asked me about it, and I came out to them. There were a lot of tears, and when I told them my pronouns were they/them, it was “too weird.” It was painful, and I spent weeks afterward feeling utterly hurt. That day, I lost a lot more than just acceptance at home. I learned a lot about the home I live in, that they refused to accept that calling me their daughter was heartbreaking.

I am lucky for the way they took my coming out. I am lucky. A statistic I often bring up is that 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, according to National Coalition for the Homeless. I could have been one of them. I could have been disowned, isolated, pulled out of school, or even abused. I could have even been murdered by a family member, or become a victim of emotional abuse. I’ve heard stories of people who had to run away from their homes, of trans people whose families moved out of the state to try to isolate them from support. I am undeniably lucky, and yet I was still faced with something that I know I will never forget, even if my parents pretend to or already have.

Cisnormativity is a toxic, toxic thing, Taylor. I appreciate your opinion on Planned Parenthood, but please – next time you speak about problems that affect people who can carry children, make sure you’re not just talking about mothers.

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