Monday, March 7, 2016

Am I Cisgender? Spoiler: If you have to ask, probably not

I found this article, called Am I cisgender? via the "Wipeout Misogyny" group on Facebook. (I'm not linking to the Facebook group, because of transantagonistic content like this article. I am linking to the article for context, but I wanted to give a warning for transphobia, including/especially internalized transphobia.)

In that article, the author seems to start decoupling gender assignment from gender identity. I spend a lot of time nodding along, as it seems like we've experienced a lot of the same things, including some pretty gross misogyny and a lack of dysphoria. I also spent a lot of time shaking my head, because there are things in this article that miss the mark just a bit, but the act of missing causes the article to go careering off into a land of transphobia and ick.

Today I want to talk about the central question of the article: Am I cisgender?

The author gives two contradictory answers for this.
I am a woman. This is something I have never questioned. It is something I know with almost complete certainty.
I don’t have an internal sense of my own gender. If you ask me how I know that I’m a woman, I have to make reference either to my female secondary sex characteristics, or to the social implications of being read as a person who has these characteristics. I don’t experience my gender as an internal essence, a deep and unalterable facet of my identity.
There's lots of ways to interpret these two statements, but interpreting it in the best possible light, I think that the second statement is a clarification of the first one - the author doesn't have an "internal sense" of being a woman, but is certain that the label fits because...

Well, I don't want to speak for her. Here is the "because":

...if you don’t have a deep internal sense that you are either a man or a woman, you can identify as “non-binary” or “genderqueer” or “pangender”... But I’m not one of them. Despite the fact that I endorse some bits of masculinity and femininity and reject others, I don’t call myself genderqueer or non-binary, because none of this represents a deep, unalterable essence or facet of my identity. So since I’m not trans, and I’m not non-binary or genderqueer, then I am told I must be cis, by default.
So the only option available to me, if I want to reject the label cis, is to pick some other gender identity. I am not permitted to deny that I have a gender identity at all.
If you're not already screaming it at your screen, the word that the author is looking for is agender. While agender is often tucked under the nonbinary umbrella (as "no thanks" doesn't exactly fit into either binary category), it can also be used to signify exactly what the author feels: a lack of an internal sense of gender identity.

There are two reasons why this might not have occurred to the author. The first is simple: ignorance. I don't mean that as an insult! I mean it as a neutral descriptor of not knowing a thing. The author might never have heard of the concept of "agender," and she might not be aware that she really is indeed permitted to call herself that.

The second reason, and the one that I fear is much more likely, is internalized transphobia. I say this in part because of all of the talk of "deep, unalterable essence"s, which brings up a whole mess of bullshit about the idea that someone needs to be "trans enough" to claim the label.

Because like, I'm genderfluid right? Fluid meaning my gender changes over time. So this idea of an unalterable inner sense doesn't really seem to apply. This misconception, that gender has to be a stable, deeply held, "I will die on this hill" "no I mean literally die have you experienced dysphoria it is the worst" kinda thing is NO DOUBT part of the reason I didn't opt out of the binary earlier.

My rationalizations over the years included: I don't really NOT feel like a girl/woman (at least most of the time)(as long as I'm not thinking about it too hard). I'm probably just a tomboy, or butch (even though I don't fit those stereotypes)(it's close enough right?) Misogyny is the only reason I could feel uncomfortable being a girl/woman (and if I bristle at womanhood that means I've internalized misogyny right?).

But a layer underneath all that, for me, was the fact that resisting the gender assignment that other people had put on me is just such a pain in the fucking ass, y'all.

Rejecting the binary doesn't have to be a huge production based on a deep, unchanging, central need that tears at your heart and soul on a daily basis. It can also manifest as a quietly dawning realization, as your mind circles the question over and over again, Am I cisgender? Am I really?

Because cis people generally don't spend much time wondering if they might not be cis.

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