So You Just Said Something Cissexist in the Name of Feminism

You apparently just said something cissexist on your feminist blog. Now a bunch of people are angry at you. They’re posting nasty comments. Some of them might even use ALL CAPS. You don’t understand why they have a problem with your pro-choice rally. Don’t they care about abortion? Are they so selfish that they can only think about themselves?

Or maybe you were angry after a horrible breakup. Maybe your ex did something typically horrid, and now you’re on a “misandry” kick. But why are those trans women so upset? All you did was make a bunch of posts about chopping off dicks to get the anger out of your system. Don’t they understand the patriarchy?

Here’s the thing: we know how the patriarchy works. Not because we’re secret double-agents working to undermine feminism, but because patriarchy has us in its sights at every opportunity. We have a lot less privilege than you, and we have to navigate a minefield of potentially dangerous situations as trans people in addition to the minefield of womanhood. It’s possible that, sometimes, we just might understand patriarchy a little better than you do.

Insistence on cutesy but essentialist language like “the XX Factor” completely misses the point on how patriarchy functions. Men don’t run around with genetic test kits when they want to assault someone. They look for markers of femininity. (That’s not even getting into the other problems with equating chromosomes to gender, which yes, harms everybody.) Every time you equate “misandry” to “chopping off dicks”, you tell an entire group of women that they’re really men. I get that it’s upsetting and confusing to question the body of feminist language, but that doesn’t justify defensively lashing out against trans women, whether intentionally or not.

I’m pro-choice–I want you to hold that rally. I just recognize that we shouldn’t exclude people who can get pregnant (trans men), nor should we draw boundaries of inclusion hypocritically (welcoming infertile cis women with open arms while turning away trans women). I don’t care about the “misandry”–I care about how your version of misandry implicates me and countless other women. I don’t care about the pun you used as a blog title–I care about how it shouts to large number of feminists “YOU DON’T MATTER TO US!”

It’s the feminist version of when bashers call me a “faggot”–I’m bothered more by the inaccuracy of your language than the bigotry behind it. I’m sick of getting it from both sides. I’m sick of both sides shouting at each other without noticing all the people they’re silencing in the process. Feminism shouldn’t be a game of Pickle in the Middle.

I know it’s not easy, questioning problematic language. It takes work. It disrupts your daily flow. It makes you have to think a little more before speaking. That’s a good thing, though. I understand it seems like an endless process that’s impossible to win. There are more isms out there than the cissex variety. We are all imperfect, we all make mistakes, we all have privileges we don’t even know about. That is going to make other people angry. They’re going to post angry things on our blogs. Shutting them down isn’t the answer, nor is smiling and nodding condescendingly while continuing the status quo.

I have good news: the awkward transitional phase doesn’t last forever. I know firsthand; I was brought up with the same cissexist language you were. I still slip up sometimes, but I have a much better sense now of how to not hurt trans people when speaking. Cissexism is the air we breathe, nobody can escape it completely. But admitting to the problems with traditional feminist language isn’t the end of the world. It really isn’t.

It doesn’t mean you can’t hold pro-choice rallies. It doesn’t mean you can’t speak out about medical misinformation regarding vaginas. It doesn’t mean you can’t fight rape culture. It doesn’t mean you can’t make feminist porn. It doesn’t mean you can’t rage against the patriarchy via “misandry”.

This isn’t cis vagina-having women versus those evil trans women who want to take your feminisms away. This isn’t a pissing match. This isn’t an either/or game. It’s both-and. It’s power with, not power over. I’m appalled at how often this subject is turned into a stereotypically patriarchal zero-sum game. Cissexist language doesn’t make our message stronger. It is divisive, creates distrust, and weakens solidarity. It’s also, above all else, inaccurate. Any theory is only as strong as the assumptions it rests upon. If those assumptions are shaky, you want them to crumble. That’s how real progress is made.

15 thoughts on “So You Just Said Something Cissexist in the Name of Feminism

  1. I wish we could all see past our own traumas & heart breaks just long enough to recognize that other pair of eyes, looking back at us, has stuff, too. I wish we could love each other better.

  2. Well said.
    I also thought inchoaterica’s recent post on this topic was also very on point – this sort of “feminism” is basically a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  3. Yes, yes, and yes. Especially the part about being divisive. Oppressed people can fight back more successfully when they build broad coalitions.

    This sounds like it was inspired not only by a certain kind of blog post, but by a particular recent one. Care to share which?

    • It wasn’t inspired by any one blog post. I wrote it after a string of really taxing interactions with friends and then expanded the scope to apply to things I’ve commonly seen elsewhere. Thanks for reading!

  4. I found your blog on a friend’s facebook post, haven’t read you before. I’m a cis woman with several trans friends. I appreciate most of the points you’re making. And. Why do I get to the end of your post feeling like I’ve just been lectured by a man?

    • That would be because you’re engaging in the age-old tactic of shooting down trans women by comparing them to men, in an underhanded attempt to dismiss what they’re saying.

    • Why do I get to the end of your post feeling like I’ve just been lectured by a man?

      Maybe because you’ve internalized the sexist belief that only men are entitled to stand up for themselves?

      • @Maggie – Just as a point of reference, not all trans women consider themselves to be exactly like cis women, with no remaining trace of the male privilege they were socialized with. Amy will probably not like this on her blog 😉 but I’m a trans woman who owns my history of male privilege. By recognizing it, and acknowledging that it is part of what has made me who I am, I hope to be more aware of how I interact with others. Even if awareness doesn’t lead me to perfect behavior, at least I’ll have a context in the event someone says something to me similar to your comment above.

        • If you were socialized male and have had to work at unlearning male privilege, then I appreciate you doing so. However, many trans women don’t listen to the messages aimed at boys growing up; we listen to the socialization directed at our gender. Being force-masculinized wasn’t empowering for me, it was humiliating and isolating. See my other response to you below.

    • Probably because women are discouraged from making definitive statements or expressing concrete opinions, so instead of calling the author a man, you passive-agressively phrased it as a question. I bet your trans friends love you!

      • Pretty much that.

        On that note: I’ve had to fight hard to speak as confidently as I do now, and I still do it with a nervous tremble and a mountain of second-guessing. I really don’t appreciate being called a “man” (passive-aggressively or no) for fighting my way through the same insecurities any woman does. It’s a ridiculous double-bind trans women are placed in: if we’re too demure, then we’re acting a caricature of womanhood; if we’re too confident, then we’re acting like men and exerting male privilege.

  5. I would add this: I don’t think comparing degrees of privilege/oppression among oppressed people is helpful in building solidarity or in fighting the oppression. Nor do I believe it can be done accurately or fairly. So I’d take exception to the statement, “We have a lot less privilege than you.”

    • It is up to every trans woman to figure out how male privilege has or hasn’t affected her life. Nobody else can do that for her. The way male privilege has/hasn’t affected me will be different than how it’s worked for you. There are many reasons for that. Not all trans women identify as female their whole lives; some come to it later in life. That can affect how someone internalizes the gendered messages around them. Not all male-assigned trans people identify as female or as women, either. It’s more complicated than an on/off switch.

      This range of experience with privilege isn’t unique to trans people. Privilege effects everybody differently. Not all cis women receive the same upbringing. Not all cultures express their bigotry the same way (and I mean “cultures” in the broadest sense, from the family circle to different countries across the globe). An individual’s personality can also impact how they internalize/deal with privilege.

      Trans people have a lot less privilege than cis people, on that particular axis. Trans/cis is a different axis of privilege than male/female, which is a different axis of privilege than binary/non-binary, and so on. Axes of oppression aren’t really comparable to each other in a way that’s useful, but yes, on that particular axis, cis people have more privilege by definition. That doesn’t cancel out other axes. For example, trans men still have male privilege, and white people–whether trans or cis–still have white privilege.

      Thanks for your comments.

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