Not Your Mom’s Trans 101

There is a huge problem with the way that people are taught about gender in this society. Children are indoctrinated early to believe that there are two sexes, corresponding with two genders, which are both immutable and non-voluntary and completely beyond our control. This worldview is called the gender binary, and it has no room in it for us.

Trying to teach a new perspective to the victims of this extremely aggressive brainwashing can be daunting. In fact, the task can seem downright impossible. The temptation, therefore, is to “dumb things down” for the benefit of a cisgender audience. This situation has given rise to a set of oversimplifications collectively known as “Trans 101.” These rather absurd tropes, such as “blank trapped in a blank’s body” cause confusion among even well-meaning cis folks, feed internalized transphobia among us trans people, and  provide endless straw-man fodder for transphobic ‘radical feminists,’ entitled cisgender academics, and other bigots.

Near the beginning of my transition, I myself taught “Trans 101” this way. Because I didn’t know any better. Because I had been taught to think of myself in terms of these same useless tropes, as an “FTM,” as a “female man,” as somebody who was “changing sexes.” Eventually, through a lot of intense discussions and a lot of tough love from people who were more knowledgeable, more radical, and more politically sophisticated than myself, I came to see things very differently.

I haven’t tried to teach Trans 101 since extracting my head from my rectum. But I think the time has come for me to tackle the problem of explaining and defining what it means to be transgender without resorting to cissexist language. It strikes me as I contemplate this task that Trans 101 is generally not only dumbed-down, but also declawed. There are truths that I must speak here that are incredibly threatening to a cissupremacist worldview, that attack its very foundations. But I for one am willing to do that. I am not here to make cis people comfortable or to reassure them that they are still the center of the gendered universe. In fact, I am totally fine with doing the opposite.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

GENDER ASSIGNED AT BIRTH

Let’s start at the beginning. A baby is born. The doctor says “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl” based on the appearance of the child’s genitals. If the genitalia cannot be easily categorized according to binary standards– that is, if the child is intersex– the doctor makes a decision. Surgery is then generally performed on the unconsenting infant to render its body more socially acceptable.

Whether the baby is intersex or not, the child is then raised as whatever arbitrary gender the doctor saw fit to assign.

“Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

Transgender people cannot accept our assigned genders. We know ourselves to be something different than what we were told to be. We do not see the random gender scripts we were given by society as relevant to us. We know that there is a different way, a way of autonomy, self-creation, and self-definition, and that this is the way we must follow, because we can never be happy with the parameters that have been mandated for our behavior and our bodies.

THE BINARY

All cis people and many trans people are binary-identified. Given the options of “man” or “woman,” we who are binary-identified are able to be comfortable with one, even if it is the opposite of what we were assigned. For example, I am a man who was assigned to live as a woman, therefore I am a trans man. My father is a man who was assigned to live as a man, therefore he is a cis man. Both of us are binary identified, both men, even though he is cis and I am trans.

It is a mystery why so many people are comfortable being categorized in just one of two ways. Just as nobody knows why there are so many cis people, nobody knows why there are so many binary identified folks.

But there are many trans people who are neither male nor female. They cannot be categorized as “either/or.” These people may use terms for themselves like genderqueer, androgynous, agender, or neutrois. They often use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze/hir/hirs” or “they/them/their/theirs.” They can be both male and female, or none of the above, multi-gender, genderless, or something else completely.

In typical trans 101 discussions, right now I would probably be explaining to you that “gender is a spectrum” and drawing a cute little line graph labeled “m” at one end and “f” at the other. But this would be fallacious, as well as total bullshit. Gender is not a line, it is a huge three-dimensional space too big to be bounded by the concepts of “male” and “female.” Being trans is not always about falling “in between” binary genders, and as often as not, it’s about being something too expansive for those ideas to have meaning at all.

SELF IDENTIFICATION

The language of self-identification is often used to describe trans people. “George identifies as a man.” “I respect Judy’s identification as a woman.” “Chris just told me that ze identifies as ‘genderqueer.’ Oh dear, that pronoun is going to take some getting used to.” An organization I know, in an effort to be trans friendly, as posted little signs on their bathroom doors, underneath the “MENS” and “WOMENS” signs that we know so well, saying “Self-identified men welcome” and “Self-identified women welcome” and “please be respectful of diversity.”

This co-opting of the language of self-identification is not only condescending, it completely missed the point.

Cis people seem to think that self-identification is only for trans folks. They don’t have to “identify” as men and women– they just ARE! Their gender isn’t “self-identified,” it’s “self-evident!”

What they fail to understand is that self identification is the only meaningful way to determine gender. Any other method is wholly dependent upon what that doctor said way back when we were still wrinkly, writhing, screaming newborn messes, completely unformed as individuals and without any identity at all to speak of, too bloody and scrunchy-faced to even be called cute. The fact is that cis people self-identify too– they just happen to agree with what the doctor said all those years ago. Anybody who answers the question of “are you a man?” or “are you a woman?” with “yes” has just self-identified.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “but what about bodies? What about genitals? What about chromosomes? What about hormones? What about SEX? Doesn’t that have any bearing on gender?”

Be patient, my darlings. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

BODIES

Almost every Trans 101 will contain the truism “Sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears.”

Gag.

Or they may say “Sex is physical, gender is socially constructed.”

This simply isn’t true.

Sex is no more an immutable binary than is gender. There are intersex people who are born with non-binary genitalia, as I have already mentioned. There are people with hormonal anomalies. In fact, hormone levels vary wildly within the categories of cis male and cis female. Chromosomes, too, vary. If you thought “XX” and “XY” were the only two possible combinations, you have some serious googling to do. In addition to variations like XXY, XXYY, or X, sometimes cis people find out that they are genetically the “opposite” of what they though they were– that is, a ‘typical’ cis man can be XX, a ‘normal’ cis woman can be XY.

The fact is that the concept of binary sex is based on the fallacious idea that multiple sex characteristics are immutable and must always go together, when in fact many of them can be changed, many erased, and many appear independently in different combinations. “Female” in sex binary terms means having breasts, having a vagina, having a womb, not having a lot of body hair, having a high-pitched voice, having lots of estrogen, having a period, having XX chromosomes. “Male” means having a penis, not having breasts, producing sperm, having body hair, having a deep voice, having lots of testosterone, having XY chromosomes. Yet it is possible to isolate, alter, and remove many of these traits. Many of these traits do not always appear together, and before puberty and after menopause, many of them do not apply.

And what about women who get hysterectomies? Or who have had mastectomies for reasons related to breast cancer? Are they not women?

What about a soldier whose dick gets blown off by a mine? Is he not a man?

The fallacies of binding identity to bodies, which are fragile, changeable things, subject to injury, mutilation, maiming, decay and ultimate destruction, should by now be clear.

Sex is as much a social construct as gender, as much subject to self identification, and besides all that, quite easy to modify. Surgical and hormonal techniques are only becoming more sophisticated. If there ever was a need to consider biology destiny, that time is surely past.

The entire concept of “sex” is simply a way of attaching something social– gender– to bodies. This being the case, I believe the most sensible way to look at the question of sex now is this: a male body is a body belonging to a male– that is, someone who identifies as male. A female body is a body belonging to a female– that is, someone who identifies as female. Genderqueer bodies belong to folks who are genderqueer, androgynous bodies belong to androgynes, and so forth, and so on.

This is why I question the value of phrases like “man in a woman’s body” or “male to female.” Who is to say we ever were the “opposite sex?” Personally I will never again describe myself as “born female.” I was born a trans male and my years of confusion were due to being forcefully and repeatedly told that I was something else. This body is not a woman’s. It is mine. Neither am I trapped in it.

None of what I say here is to minimize the necessity of surgery. Many trans people do experience body dysphoria. Many of us do seek hormones, surgery, and other body modifications. But the point is that, while such modifications may be necessary for our peace of mind, they are not necessary to make us “real men” or “real women” or “real” whatevers. We’re plenty real right now, thank you.

OPPRESSION

This brings us, I think, the most important topic of all, and the topic which is most commonly left out of any Trans 101: transphobia and cissexism and how to avoid them.

“Cissexism” can be defined as the system of oppression which considers cis people superior to trans people. Cissexism is believing that it is “natural” to be cis, that being trans is aberrant. Cissexism is holding the genders of trans people to more intense scrutiny than the genders of cis people. Cissexism is defining beauty and attractiveness based on how cis people look. Cissexism is prioritizing cis people’s comfort over trans people’s ability to survive. Cissexism is believing that cis people have more right to have jobs, go to school, date and have sex, make decisions about their bodies, wear the clothes they want, or use public restrooms than trans people do.

Transphobia is irrational fear and hatred of trans people. Transphobia is Silence Of The Lambs. Transphobia is referring to transgender surgery as self-mutilation. Transphobia is believing that trans people habitually “trick” or “fool” others into having sex with us. Transphobia is believing that we are out to rob you of your hetero-or-homosexuality. Transphobia is trans people being stared at, insulted, harassed, attacked, beaten, raped, and murdered for simply existing.

If you want to be a good ally, you need to start taking cissexism and transphobia seriously right now. That means getting our goddamn pronouns right and not expecting a cookie for it. That means learning our names. That means not asking invasive questions or telling us how well we “pass.” (Passing generally means “looking cis.” Not all of us want to look like you, thank you very much.) That means deleting the words “tranny” and “shemale” from your vocabulary. That means understanding the immense privilege you have in your legally recognized, socially approved, medically assigned gender.

That means realizing that this is just the beginning. and that you have a lot to learn. That means realizing that it would be intrusive and importunate to ask the nearest trans person to explain it all to you, as if they didn’t have better things to do. That means hitting the internet and doing all that you can to educate yourself. And once you’ve done all that, maybe you can call yourself an ally, that is, if you’re still genuinely willing to join us in the hard work of making the world a less shitty place to be trans.

This will be a work in progress. I expect to receive a lot of commentary on this piece. I expect that it will be edited and possibly revised almost beyond recognition. I am OK with that. As always, there is more work to do. Trans 101 is a huge deal. Revising the way that it is discussed and taught is not a task for just one person. It’s something the entire community must take on.

This is only a first step. But I still hope we learned something today.

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About Asher

Asher Bauer is fast becoming a fixture in the San Francisco kink community, and intends to stay that way. He has worked as a Queer Educator at LYRIC (Lavender Youth Recreation And Information Center), and since has taken his talents as an educator to a wider variety of audiences, teaching on subjects ranging from safer sex to BDSM to trans and queer identities. He is also one of the hosts and originators of Transmission, the new trans-centric party at the San Francisco Citadel, and Invasion, the Citadel's all-genders queer party. View all posts by Asher

455 responses to “Not Your Mom’s Trans 101

  • Russell Borogove

    Thanks for this. I’ve read a lot of your postings on FL that included something along the lines of “this isn’t the place for Trans 101″, so I appreciate you taking the time to educate this poor old nearlycisdude.

    • Asher

      Sure.

      Hey, as a cis person, do you feel there are any really basic topics that I missed? Because I do want this particular entry to be, you know, accessible at the 101 level.

      • Russell Borogove

        Hm, other basic topics are probably mostly “unknown unknowns”.

        Delving a little deeper, I’m curious how you’d like to see our society change to make this situation better. I’ve got a whole astrophysical analogy going in my mind right now. We all might start out as small rocks floating randomly in space but most of us are going to wind up being gravitationally attracted by one of two massive bodies nearby: planet HetCisMale and planet HetCisFemale. A few will wind up in stable nearby orbits as moons, most will hit the planets and add to their mass and gravity. A tiny minority are asteroids and comets in their own orbits around their sun, paths slightly warped and perturbed by two massive planets.

        Do you want the planets blown up, or do you just want easy interplanetary travel and trade?

      • Asher

        Haha. I love it.

        I don’t want the planets blown up. For whatever reason lots of people, both trans and cis, seem to be comfortable living on planets Male or Female. But yeah, an end of hostilities would be nice.

      • Russell Borogove

        Just to be clear, blowing up the planets means scattering the mass into other configurations, not actually annhilating everything.

      • Asher

        Yeah, I think I more or less got that. Fact is, lots of people seem to be comfortable identifying as “male” or “female,” including myself, nothing I can say will or should change that, and no matter how much the image of myself as Luke Skywalker blasting two genderiffic Deathstars into smithereens may appeal, I think gender will always exist in some way, including the big two.

      • Laura

        HI Asher,

        A friend of mine, Aydin shared your link on Facebook and that is how I found this site.
        I really appreciate your honest, awesomely raw approach to this topic.
        I just happened to have been a participant in a ‘Trans 101′ workshop, if you will and while I didn’t hear some of the things you had said, I have heard them before.
        I am a cis person but I really have been thinking since my “education” on a few topics…I feel your blog was really helpful. I did think about my gender, social assignment and what “being” female even means to me. Including what it shouldn’t mean for me. I always felt guilty not liking dresses and HATE dressing up for work…why should I feel guilty? That is just plain stupid but because I’m supposed to be a “girl” I do-DID.

        Oh, and one more thing. I took your advice and made a proclamation on my page about what it means to be not a good but hopefully a GREAT ally!

        Thanks again!

    • Midnightblue Auld

      Another thing that would be nice to include in this (to help out the really 101 people) is that gender and sexuality aren’t the same thing. As sad as it sounds I often have to explain to people just learning that someone who is trans, genderqueer, etc can be straight, bi, gay, asexual, etc. just like anyone else. They often think that if someone doesn’t fit within the “gender norm” then they must not fit into the “sexuality norm” (i.e being straight) either. So yeah, I’d include something to encompass that. =) Thanks for this article. Some interesting points that aren’t always brought up in discussions about the trans community and how talking about gender is relevant to all, not just trans people. Pretty awesome timing too since I happen to be leading a “trans 101″ discussion tomorrow, so I’ll definitely take some of your points into account.

  • Sarah Mac

    Wanted to say that this is definitely the best Trans 101 I’ve read so far (compiled in one place at least).

    Also that I absolutely love your writing and hope you keep it up. Hopefully random compliments are good :)

  • Lilith von Fraumench

    Nicely done. And things I need to bear in mind, because I still goof when it comes to non-binary gender.

    Do you think gender is three dimensional, exactly? And if so, what are the axes? I haven’t tried to identify any particular axis at this point but I once wrote something about political dimensions and came up with five dimensions, and came up with a philosophical method for defining political orthogonicality. I’m sure that kind of thinking could be extended to gender analysis.

    • Dreki

      I came up with this wheel that is somewhat decent: http://rdeis.deviantart.com/#/d313qv5 But it DEFINITELY needs work. I’m not sure what you could define the axes as.
      You have to take into account a few things:

      -Genderless people, and people who are near genderless but not quite, and the entire gradient, which could be an axis in and of itself.

      -Multigender people which includes, but is not limited to: bigender, trigender, quadgender, pangender all of which (except pangender which includes all) can include various genders. Ex. Bigender can mean male and female, male and androgyne, female and androgyne, male and neutrois, female and neutrois, androgyne and neutrois, male and genderqueer, female and genderqueer, androgyne and genderqueer, neutrois and genderqueer, and so on.

      -Genderfluid people who fluidly switch between any number of genders.

      -The fact that there are monogender people who are a mix of any two+ genders. Which is why a bigender person who’s both male and female is different from a monogender androgyne who’s a mix of male & female.

      -EVERYONE has been raised with the idea that the [cis]gender binary is undeniable fact, so we are still working with heavily internalized binarism. The more we detangle ourselves from that oppressive system, the more gender identites we’ll discover, and the more we’ll have to add to the model. (for example, in my gender wheel, what I called “genderqueer” could very easily be 2+ distinct genders that we don’t yet have the words to express)

      And this is without getting into whether or not we want to include presentation, dysphoria (bodily, social, or other), sex, or anything else into the mix.

      It’s pretty difficult to determine what qualifies for an axis. There could be one for “number of genders” (genderless, monogender, bigender, trigender, quadgender, …, pangender)- but then what about people with a non-specific or fluid number of genders? There could be several for specific genders (male, female, genderqueer, neutrois, etc) that people rate where they are on each one- but that could conflate being bigender and being a mix of two genders and could make it difficult to communicate being on the edge of two unless each one touches the other.

      • Asher

        I like it. It may not be perfect– is it really possible to map this stuff? But it does provide a nice alternative way of thinking about things. I’d much rather try to plot my gender on something like this than on a line.

      • Dreki

        @Asher- I really don’t think it’s possible to perfectly map this stuff. Have you seen this graph of sexual attraction? And I can think of ways to add about 10 more levels of complication to it. Gender is probably at least as complicated.

        I do like such things as an alternative way of thinking about it, though, especially because it doesn’t make male and female as any more or less important/central than any other gender.

      • sillyolme

        What’s wrong with the term “tranny”? I’ve used the word most of my life… and the word, “transie” before that, when that was the more common term, since 1975, when I ‘came out’… before the term “transition” become popular… it’s like queer, a word that can be self-empowering, not disempowering. “I’m tranny, and not ashamed of it.” would be the way of it.

      • womandrogyne

        @sillyolme, I think it’s perfectly fine for anyone to call themselves anything – but it’s not fine to call someone else something without finding out first if they’re happy to be called that. This especially applies to labels that have been (and are still) used as weapons, like “tranny” and “queer”.

  • irene

    Well said. I just have something else to add: the way people are currently taught about gender doesn’t just create transphobia among cis people–it screws up trans people, telling them that their own perception of gender is a delusion, and that they should be happy with the dysphoria they experience.

    • November Howard

      YES!! Thank you! I cannot agree more. I hate being told something along the lines of, “Are you sure you’re just not happy with your rigid gender roles?” Its like, I’m sorry, I’m not thinking about presenting gender at all while I’m ASLEEP and there have been many nights, weeks, etc where I felt so uncomfortable sleep was entirely impossible, and days where all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball under a blanket, naked, with nothing touching me, especially when I was in my teens, for whatever reason, it was really bad then.

  • TalieC

    Awesome 101. Definitely going to show this to people.

    A few comments:
    Gender is not a line, it is a huge three-dimensional space

    Maybe it’s the pedantic math geek in me talking, but, only three dimensions?

    Many trans people do experience body dysphoria.

    Might want to add that modifying one’s body in response to social dysphoria isn’t wrong either (as long as the modification doesn’t cause body dysphoria). I have social dysphoria about being read as male, because I’m not. As I feel it right now, that’s as severe as my body dysphoria, and I’ll happily change around body parts I’m not particularly attached to to deal with it.

    If you want to be a good ally

    I’ve been recently convinced not to like the word “ally” (reading Dreki’s archives on Binary Subverter had a lot to do with that; there was probably something somewhere else, too, but I can’t recall where off the top of my head). It’s not something people get to self-identify as. Maybe it’s okay as something to aspire to (like it is in that sentence) and as a term of praise, but I’m not sure if I like people calling themselves allies. Just like transphobia is something people do rather than something they are, pro-trans work is something people do rather than are.

    • Asher

      “Might want to add that modifying one’s body in response to social dysphoria isn’t wrong either (as long as the modification doesn’t cause body dysphoria). I have social dysphoria about being read as male, because I’m not. As I feel it right now, that’s as severe as my body dysphoria, and I’ll happily change around body parts I’m not particularly attached to to deal with it.”

      Too true, you’d think I would put that in considering I’ve always had more social dysphoria than body dysphoria.

    • Unexpected Press

      I SO agree with this statement about the term “ally”. Being a reasonable and supportive person doesn’t earn you a special label- in fact giving someone a special label separates it from an aspired norm. As a gay FTM, I get some labels, because they help me understand myself. My friends who see me as male and like to go clubbing with me and always use the right pronouns don’t get a cookie (thanks Asher!)- or, in other words, a fancy label- just for not being a jerk.
      As a white person and a hearing person, not being a douche to my non-white/Deaf/Hard of Hearing friends doesn’t earn me anything more than my own internal self-respect.
      I like what you said about aspiration, however, because I think that “ally training” can be a really useful thing to inspire people to go off on their own and do their own learning.
      Hopefully all that made sense, I’m still kind of sleepy.

      • Dreki

        I like the idea of an aspiration- but I don’t like that it’s subject to abuse. I’ve seen a lot of people who get this idea that by “being an ally” they’re doing the people they’re “allies” of a favor to the degree that they get to treat them however they want and end up with an over-developed sense of entitlement.

        Sometimes the “ally training” can add to that. I really think that my school’s “How to be an ally”, because it was led by a person who’s made it clear that he considers his ally-hood to be a protection from calling him out on privilege & transphobia. So basically it’s a workshop to produce more people who use the label ally to further oppress the people they claim to fight for. :/

        I know my experiences aren’t 100% true for everyone- but from my experiences, the people who are best able to teach people how to be an ally are those who are least likely to feel that they should because they know enough to get that they don’t know everything. The whole thing seems nervewracking.

      • platedlizard

        I agree with you about the word ally. I’m CIS, and don’t like the word ally as a label. It’s like saying “I’m deliberately not being a dick to you, aren’t I nice?” when not being a dick should actually be the default response to anyone. It doesn’t make me special. It doesn’t make anyone special, any more than holding the door open for someone else makes us special. You shouldn’t need a cookie to treat other people decently.

    • Wolf

      “I have social dysphoria about being read as male, because I’m not. As I feel it right now, that’s as severe as my body dysphoria, and I’ll happily change around body parts I’m not particularly attached to to deal with it.”

      Wow–that nails it for me. Born into one of the most cis-defined cultures in the US, the Mormon Church, I never wanted to “be a boy.” But I had severe social dysphoria about being a girl in that society, because of how hated, powerless, and oppressed womyn were. And because I was stuck with a damned uterus.

      And I also fit into three-dimensional gender-space–physically I wasn’t off the gender “line” by a great deal, I just hated the fact that I was considered to be the reproduction-bound side of the cis-world. I didn’t want my body held hostage to someone else’s genes because I just happened to be born with the machinery for pregnancy.

      In fact, I had a baby and have raised her reasonably well, but it was very much a “hostage” situation. (Thanks for the undesired obligation, cis-society–and thanks, also, for the hundred ways in which I was assumed to have all of these motherly instincts, apparently inborn along with the uterus. In fact, I made it all up the best I could as I went along–it was NOT instinctual, easy, or even what I really wanted to do.

      I wasn’t truly happy with my body for so long as the potential existed that I might have a baby–and no matter how well a womon is protected or can protect herself from rape, as long as she has ovaries and a uterus all hooked together, that potential exists. My body didn’t even wait for the hysterectomy to start rejecting the unwanted organ–my doctor took it out when it had grown into a 2-pound tumor (benign). And at last I was myself! Safe, free, not really androgynous but a little bit, attracted mostly to (not cis!) womyn but occasionally to cis-men, and all the body-parts I now have, I love!

      • Louis

        I’m happy for you in getting away from that. I was born a Mormon baby-maker as well, with such a lack of gender identity I started tuning church out almost as soon as I left Sunday School and hit puberty.
        Fortunately my social awkwardness and my understanding parents didn’t force me into marriage and childbirth. I’m currently petrified at the thought of winding up pregnant.
        I’m parental enough once they’re adults, but my gender is still in the works – somewhere fluid male-to-female and happy as both. The best explanation I have come up with is ‘man reincarnated as woman to try it out this time around’.
        I’m happy to find out all the convolutions of life, and I wish everyone had more options with it. I hope one day society will stop sucking so bad. People like this help make it so.

      • LazyJay H

        Making it up as you go along for parenthood? You need not feel guilty about that. I think we all do it, both trans and cis.

        It’s really frustrating, though, when you feel that you’d manage far better if society allowed you to play the role of father, despite being the one with a uterus.

  • Emm

    Wow. Thank you. This post did so much to open my mind about all of this. I first became aware of the issues surrounding trangender and transphobia while trying to understand the argument surrounding the Reclaim the Night march.

    You said above that cissexism is believing cis people have more right to use public restrooms than trans people do. That really resonated with me because I still do not understand why trans women are made to feel unwelcome on the march.

  • Peg

    Proofreading:
    as if they didn’t have better things to go.

    Might that be intended to say do?

    That’s the sort of thing a spellchecker won’t catch, but it’s easily changed, once you see it.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    At 57, I feel old. I have seen too much of hate in the world. I want to see less of that for everybody. And I do mean everybody. Whatever shape our bodies are, it is where we all live. And we all deserve to live in our bodies without pain or fear or mockery.

    I’ve seen my country go from segregation of black and white, when I was a child, to integration of black and white, and the election of the first biracial identifying as black president of the United States of America. This gives me hope. And I speak as someone born white.
    Because my black housemate and I live together in a comfortably creative apartment, in a college town in southwestern VA, and we could not have done that when I was a kid. Now, nobody thinks twice about it, here. Yes, I know there are still places where bigotry is actively practiced, and we have a long way to go still. Yet at the same time, progress has been made.

    So I have seen change for the better in my lifetime. And I hope to see more. I hope for, and work for, the days to come, when trans people live comfortably wherever they wish to, and nobody thinks twice about it.

    I know there is a terribly long way to go for that. Yet I want to see it.
    I want to see an end to abusive behavior towards everybody. I am an abuse survivor myself. I do understand what I am wishing and also working to see stopped.

    Yes, I hear your anger, and I know you have reason to feel angry.
    Change happens too slowly – we lose beautiful, bright, creative, talented people, young and old, because the cruelty that was done to them made it not possible to live. That is a terrible loss, and an appalling injustice. We must increase the actions we take and the work we do, to create safe refuges for those at risk, to help them survive and heal. I am a part of that action – I am an online resource person for gay and trans youth in Bangladesh, through a private network of friends, to get them positive role model information,
    that they are not getting in their culture, that has very restrictive attitudes towards trans and gay people. So I tell them about Alexandra Billings and Little Light and this blog right here. I do what I can to give them something better than silence, or cruelty.

    Locally, I am part of a social group that is welcoming. We have more gay and trans members than cis. I joke that I am the token old person, since I am 3 decades older than the average age of the others. I appreciate that they accept me, even so.

    Part of what I can do in support of change is, read here, and sit down in LGBT gatherings beside you, and listen. And also vote in favor of legislation granting equal rights to everyone. So, I am doing that. Because what you are saying matters to me.

    Regards, Peg

    • Asher

      Thanks so much for the proof-reading. I am incredibly prone to that kind of mistake, especially when I am in a rush to get a Friday post up on time.

      Thanks also for sharing your experience and perspective.

  • L

    tl;dr, everybody’s different, don’t be a dick.

    That includes you. Your whole writing in this piece is incredibly trans-sexist. When you preach about equality you’d better damn well practice it.

    • Y U SO MAD, BRO?

      If you didn’t read it, then how can you say he was being trans-sexist…? He actually wasn’t. And he didn’t say anything against cisgendered people at all. He just gave a Trans 101 lesson that’s more…legitimate than what is normally taught to people.

      Don’t make comments on things you haven’t read. Don’t be a hypocrite, either.

      • Christina

        LOL, “Trans-sexist”? Is that like “reverse racist”? Trans people can’t discriminate against cis people – we’re not the privileged group

      • Kek

        Technically, yes you can. It’s just that in most cases it’s the priveledged group assuming discrimination becasue they’re used to discrimination in their favor.

        For example: my father once had a coworker who refused to get a drink with him because my father is white, and according to said coworker: “I just don’t feel comfortable around white guys.”

        That being said, as a cis-person, the only part I found weird was the ” it’s a mystery why so many people are cis” thing. And that was only until I thought about it.

  • Unexpected Press

    Greetings!

    I plan to read more of your writing- but for the time being I just wanted to invite you to read my blog as well. A friend of mine, upon reading my current entry, passed your blog on to me. So maybe we can be blog buddies!

    ALSO:
    I fucking love the phrases
    Cis people seem to think that self-identification is only for trans folks. They don’t have to “identify” as men and women– they just ARE! Their gender isn’t “self-identified,” it’s “self-evident!”

    and

    That means getting our goddamn pronouns right and not expecting a cookie for it.

    I might quote you in my own blog, if that’s alright with you.

    Lovely to meet you!
    Tristan Sparrow

  • Crystal M. Trulove

    Awesome post. Thank you. I’m one of those that needs education, and this helps so much.

    The challenges you describe can transcend gender and sex, and I identify with what you’re saying even though, well, I can’t identify. (wink) In other words, ditto for my religion, my parenting, and my partnering.

    This is well written with none of the tiresome arrogance I have heard from others. I’ll pass this on to my daughter, and anyone else who’ll listen.

    • NatalieF

      “Awesome post. Thank you. I’m one of those that needs education, and this helps so much.”

      Seconded. I am 43 but trying to learn to be a better, more understanding, less discriminatory and less critical person. I read a number of blogs and livejournals of people that are genderfluid, many of whom I came across through fandom and other shared interests. I want to understand how to not insult people without meaning to and am attempting to do that by reading blog posts like this.

      Thank you Asher and all commenters (except the trolls, of course) for your explaining and sharing. I have no right to ask for youe explanations and stories, yet the more you share and explain, the more people might learn to understand.

  • Dreki

    I’m still reading it- but on intersexed, it should be intersex the same way that transgender is better. Intersexed makes it sound like something done to the person (non-consensual surgery doesn’t make someone intersex) rather than the person is naturally.

    For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender role in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

    *love*

  • Tim C.

    This piece has a lot of good content and I wish I could pass it along to cis people I encounter who are in need of educatin’. Unfortunately, I can’t do that because of the language you use that suggests to me that you see some trans identities as better, cooler, more radical, and more progressive than others:

    —-
    It is a mystery why so many people are comfortable being categorized in just one of two ways. Just as nobody knows why there are so many cis people, nobody knows why there are so many binary trans folks.

    But there are many trans people who are neither male nor female. They cannot be categorized as “either/or.” These people may use terms for themselves like genderqueer, two-spirit, androgynous, agendered, or neutrois. They often use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze/hir/hirs” or “they/them/their/theirs.” They can be both male and female, or none of the above, multi-gendered, genderless, or something else completely. Their genders are highly individual and often don’t fit a set mold.
    —-

    As a binary-identified trans person, I am “highly individual” and “don’t fit a set mold” too; if I wasn’t, I would never have been able to question the gender I was coercively assigned at birth. We don’t need more reasons to think that some trans people’s identities are politically superior to other trans people’s identities.

    • Asher

      Well, actually, I’m binary identified too. I included that line to try the same sort of decentering of binary identities that I did with cis identities when I suggested that it is a mystery why so many people are cis.

      However, with regard to the “highly individualized” bit, I can see your point. There is probably a better way that I can put it so that I don’t sound like I am making no-binary folks out to be “more radikewl.”

      • Qwin

        You could just add a section on subversivism and how big of a problem it can be in queer and feminist spaces. Living in the Bay Area and spending most of my time in LGBTQ spaces I feel like the biggest problems I face are how widespread bullshit trans 101 is (so, thanks for writing this!) and the “gender doesn’t exist, trans people reinforce the gender binary” mentality.

      • Dreki

        I don’t like specifying “why there are so many binary trans folks” in that context. I don’t think that the only non-binary folk are trans folk, there are non-trans non-binary intersex people out there. I’ve also seen a few non-binary people say they don’t feel comfortable with trans* terms because the terms feel binarist.

        I did like the way you decentered, but there definitely is a problem that some people (particularly trans-exclusive feminists) will fetishize and appropriate and objectify non-binary & genderqueer identities, so decentering binary genders is a bit more delicate than decentering cis identities.

        Although I’m not sure how to feel that a person with binary privilege is complaining about decentering binary identities…

      • Asher

        Did I specify that? *looks* Shit, I did. Whoops. Will fix. My computer is running slow though so my responses may become slower for awhile.

  • Dani Cailin

    Another great post. Every time I read one of these and the associated comments I am exposed to concepts and ways of looking at things I had not seen before. It helps me to learn, grow and become more enlightened. Thanks!

  • Grace

    I wanted to say thanks for this post. I’m a fairly uneducated young something-or-other, and I was under the impression I had to choose between male or female. But now.. maybe i can just be something-or-other.

  • Crystal

    Hi
    I would like to see this for younger folks or rather what do you envision or how do you envision this being taught to someone who does not know anything about gender/sexuality. I understand your post but if i knew nothing about what you were taking about i think i would be a little confused when it came to self identifing and bodies. Where do you want people to do their reserch? what websites or books do you recomend?you should try to get in with teachers or something and work with someone to change the cirriculum! that would be awesome!

    • Asher

      You mean like young children? I think the best thing we can do in that case is to STOP teaching them the gender binary. A lot of young kids have little understanding of or investment in gender roles. We need to stop saying “No sweetie, you can’t be a fairy princess because you’re a boy.” You know?

      I did put most of this in multisyllabic language, but most kids understand the message that “it’s who you are inside that counts.” I think it’s not too difficult to teach a kid that what makes identity is not what your body looks like, but who you are as a person.

      My kid brother received the news that I was his brother, not his sister, without batting an eye. Actually he was excited and I think it made a lot of sense to him, because he knows me as a person, and didn’t have a lot of the prejudices that adults have.

      • Dreki

        It’s more complicated than that, though. Look at fiction- find a single book that isn’t gender specific and binarist. I know of someone whose mother colored the white people brown in kids’ books for her child to have people to relate to. You can’t do that as easily with gender. And the cues always conflate gender with appearance. The ones about “where do babies come from” conflate gender with assigned gender/sex and sex with assigned gender/sex.

        We do need to stop saying that- but even when people don’t say that, all the messages can get kids to, even if no one says it, know that their preferred pronouns, presentation, etc are unacceptable for people like them.

        And we really need to fix the binarism problem- because there are plenty of kids out there who don’t know what the hell they are because no one’s willing to give them the option of “Hey, maybe you aren’t either”. How are you supposed to know your pronouns are acceptable when you don’t even know they exist?

      • Asher

        find a single book that isn’t gender specific and binarist.

        Haha I actually know one, but its a work in progress and being written by my lover. (Also, it is not for kids.)

      • graene

        First, thank you for a wonderfully informative, well-written post.

        As someone who is always trying to do better, I’d appreciate your feedback on the following, related to the above comment. I absolutely agree that the ‘boys can’t be fairies’ nonsense of gender roles should not be taught to kids. I have enough trouble trying to de-program that each day my two toddlers get home from pre-school. However, I do find myself reinforcing cis-gender to the visible equipment, particularly when the elder has helped change the younger child’s diaper. I try to stick to “Yes, [name] has a penis and you have a vulva” in hopes they will not experience dysphoria leading to painful medical interventions later, but often feel conflicted about gendering them even that much.

        When you think about changing our culture and cultural understanding of gender and the current binary assumptions, have you considered how to deal with such issues in the very young?

        I will add that I don’t think much about this before the age of five is likely to change, simply because developmentally these years seem to be very much about the ability to sort the world around them into categories – such that I think you may underestimate the importance of sorting themselves. I often try to test my eldest’s readiness for blurred line/gray area concepts by using colors, e.g. is teal blue or green? and she is still uncomfortable with the idea it could be both.

      • Asher

        Actually people have posted some other comments about this.

        Also I disagree that young children (under five) are innately uncomfortable with gender fluidity, I actually have observed a lot of them participating in it. My younger brother, for instance, used to like wearing skirts before he got the message that this wasn’t what he was “supposed” to do.

        Read this blog.

      • ourwayofdoingit

        Just wanted to add (a bit late) that a book for little kids on where babies come from that isn’t gendered just came out. It’s called “what makes a baby” by Cory Silverberg

      • graene

        I have now read that article, thanks. It is another way to approach the issue with them. I suppose I was asking more about gender-identification than gender-expectation. I have actively shut down other adults attempting to negatively comment on my son’s choice to wear female costumes or that his ability to walk in heels without staggering is better than mine, my daughter’s or either of his grandmothers, but clearly I still perceive/describe him as male. My daughter especially has lately been on the “This is the *girl* bathroom, so he has to go elsewhere” kick regardless of what I say, which may also be the choice of preschool (from the limited pool we can afford) and peer pressure there. Certainly I observe the kids there self-sorting by gender during snack time regularly, although not always by their perceived/assigned gender.

        What I’m really wondering on a daily basis, and not asking you to solve for me, is how to help them find and understand their own identity in ways that allow them to be absolutely whomever they are, but also help them to understand and function in the cis-gendered expectation that shapes current reality. Being a minority religion in the area is already creating interesting conversations for them and me with other parents and I remember my mother telling my she chose my name because it was ‘more mainstream’ of the variations from the person for whom I was named.

      • zythyra

        cool article! I look forward to the day when more kids, and adults, truly “get it”!

  • Winter

    Hey I lovez it!

    My one suggestion is that there might be a better way to express “socially constructed.” I think that “socially constructed” is a term that mostly has meaning to people who have studied social sciences or are involved in radical politics already. I think it would be best to lead into the idea that gender is socially constructed by describing what it means to make that statement. It’s something to be careful with though, because

    Then again, it is worth considering whether saying that gender is socially constructed is a trans+ idea. “Socially constructed” implies that gender is created from the outside and is acted upon a person by society. Depending on how you present it, it might be better to say that gender is how you perform it. If it’s something you perform, not something that is constructed on you, then you have control over your gender and each person becomes responsible for their own gender, even cis people. If gender is socially constructed, then cis becomes privileged as normal by the very fact that it is constructed as normal. However, if gender is performative, then normal does not exist, and no particular gender expression can be privileged as the basis for others.

  • Lilith von Fraumench

    @Dreki — I’m not yet sure how to create orthogonality in gender axes because the temptation is great to start by creating a male-female axis–and that’s way too simplistic. One thing is for certain though–any such multidimensional model of gender has to accommodate time as an axis since gender can be fluid and thus variable over time.

    @Winter — I think it’s important that the obvious privilege of being cisgender remain obvious, or become more so. Also, while there may be performative aspects to gender, as a binary-identified trans woman I can assure you that, however I may express my gender performatively, I have an innate sense of gender that reared its head early in my life. I might not have known I was trans back then, but I knew that I had to present as male if I were to avoid worse trouble from other kids. In other words I was following female patterns of behavior without realizing it.

    • Pris

      Can you clarify what you mean by “female patterns of behavior”? That sounds a lot like gender stereotyping, but I might be misunderstanding you.

      • lilithvf1998

        I should have said, “I was following socially normative female patterns of behavior”. That’s not to say that all females follow those patterns but that it’s what was accepted at large. And of course such normativity is problematic.

        A concrete example: When I was a child, I was precociously reading everything I could, including sociology texts. One such text claimed that on average, men carried things at their sides, while women carried things closer to their chest. I carried things closer to my chest, and so I consciously forced myself to stop.

        It might be better to say these were feminine behaviors. I’m still working through a lot of things, obviously…. :P

  • Cary Gabriel Costello

    Hey, Asher, very nicely done.

    Since you’re soliciting feedback, let me say as an intersex person that I’m glad you introduce us early on–thanks. However, your framing of intersex experience under “gender assigned at birth” seems to imply two things I’d take issue with. First, it implies that all intersex conditions are genitally visible and discovered at birth. Secondly, it implies that all genitally-variant babies are subject to sex-assignment surgery by doctors, as if families have no power to resist this. Resistance to infant sex-assignment surgery is a centerpiece of intersex activism, and it would be much better if you framed this surgery as something doctors push, but not as inevitable.

    For what it’s worth, you might want to check out my Intersex Roadshow blog post on the trans/intersex nexus: http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/2009/05/intersected-transsected-intersex-trans.html.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Kate Bornstein

    Wow, Asher. This is terrific work. You pulled no punches that I can see, and you’re not in the least bit mean to your readers when you do punch ‘em. Ha! I wanna sit down for lunch/dinner with you in SF or NYC. In the meantime, I question two points: a) don’t say tranny and b) the notion of allies.

    The debate on to say or not to say tranny is raging. You make an excellent foundation for *not* saying tranny. I think a more conciliatory wording of that POV would be to say something along the lines of “don’t use the word tranny unless you also use it for yourself.” And thank brings me to allies.

    I don’t want allies, Asher. Allies are people who are working on achieving equity along vectors of oppression that aren’t sexuality and gender. We have allies working on class and age and race and ability and so on. And as sex/gender activists, we wanna forge coalitions with those allies. But it’s gonna take members, not allies, to do the specific work we’ve got to do to make our part of the world safer and more welcoming to sex/gender outlaws/freaks/radicals.

    In our sex/gender activism, I want people to more than speak my name, I want us to own a common name and celebrate what we’ve got in common. That, I think, would be a good indicator that someone’s gotten past their cissexism and transphobia. Finding a name that you and me and a lot of cis people could all speak with pride, that’s the club I wanna belong to.

    I want an activist/artist/academic/etc clubhouse that welcomes people whose identities, desires, and access to resources come down to being sex & gender positive, and sex & gender inclusive. I’m pretty sure that anyone who wants to be an ally with this movement of ours is really a member who hasn’t yet been welcomed, or yet themselves understood the connectivity amongst us.

    GREAT piece, hon. And I mean it about the lunch/dinner.

    kiss kiss

    Auntie K

    • Asher

      Hey Kate,

      My attitude towards “tranny” is actually the same as my attitude towards any reclaimed language. Only use it if it applies to you. I kind of went into that over here.

      As far as allies go, the specific language for it is definitely debateable and I have heard a lot of unpacking of the term, but one thing remains clear: we need people who aren’t trans who will work with us on these issues. That is all I mean when I say ally.

      Finally, with regard to being mean/arrogant/tiresome/talking down:

      I have come to accept that it really doesn’t matter how I say something. People have had very different reactions to this singular article. Some people have called me mean for it, some people have called me a dick, and some people have said “wow, how nice, you’re not mean like those others.” I am nobody’s good transsexual, nobody’s nice polite transsexual. I am simply here to say what I think needs to be said without frills and without sugarcoating it. In short, if nobody’s calling me an asshole, I’m doing it wrong. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when you speak the truth there will always be people getting defensive. No matter how sweet I try to be. So, thanks for that, Kate, but no thanks.

      As far as lunch/dinner goes, lemme know when you’re in town and we can figure something out.

      • Lilith von Fraumench

        Asher, maybe we could plan a lunch date at some point when I’m visiting SF? The more I read the more I think I need to get to know you better. :)

      • Asher

        Goodness, this post is doing wonders for my social life. Sure we can. Hit me up on FL.

      • Kate Bornstein

        Ha! I had no intention of branding you the good trans person, the trans person you can bring home to meet your parents. Nuh-uh. don’t see you that way at all. Been there, done that with Gender Outlaw. No, I was trying to thank you for taking care not to tread on toes or scare people. The piece will piss off LOTS of people, but I think it will unite many more, that’s all. K

  • Lilith von Fraumench

    Wow, Kate, you nailed it on the “allies” topic. Although probably with nicer, more conciliatory language than I might’ve used. ;)

    FWIW, I used to call myself a “tranny”–until the day I realized that cis friends were using that as an excuse to call other trans folk “trannies”–without the consent of the trans folk in question. On that day, I stopped using the word. So I recommend taking care when using the word, whether you self-identify as “tranny” or not.

  • Ms Loaf

    Great post. Thanks for this.

  • accidentalbeard

    I think the tone of this is spot on. I don’t want to read a 101 post that’s almost apologizing to cis folks for daring to ask them to use the right language for us! I’m definitely going to be sharing this with friends. Thanks for a well-considered post on this topic.

  • Amy

    I keep coming back to safety for those who are not safe. I keep coming back to food, jobs, opportunities, justice, health care. Do we need a new kind of grassroots “underground railroad” and grassroots network of safe havens so that some shelter, some respite care are provided in the meantime? How do we dig in and perform the hard, gut wrenching but loving labor of transforming this world?
    One thing I do know is that I am terribly proud of my sons – the one who speaks out and the one who accepted him without a blink.

  • Winter

    @Lilith. yes I agree that gender concepts are socially constructed, as in the abstract “man” or abstract “woman” are socially constructed, but a person’s gender is performed. I think the idea that a person’s gender is socially constructed is just as determinist as trying to explain trans with brain biology or something. That is not to say that we have a choice to be trans or be cis or be a certain identification necessarily, but it means that we do have the ability to make choices about our gender, we are not stuck into an out-side defined rut.

    @Kate. I think what you are describing, an all-inclusive club of gender/sexuality subverts, already exists. To me, that’s what Queer is.

    re: the tranny topic.
    I use tranny to describe myself. I agree that it is something to be careful about because it hurts people to be called tranny, but I don’t think I should stop calling myself something because it is misused by others. The fact that it is and has been misused by others is precisely the reason why some of us want to reclaim it.

    • Lilith von Fraumench

      I wasn’t claiming that gender concepts are socially constructed, and I certainly do not subscribe to the gender-as-performance school of thought. Ultimately all models of gender are just that–models, potentially useful but also subject to much debate and revision.

      I don’t care about that. Gender theory doesn’t stop trans women of color from dying; it doesn’t stop job discrimination; it doesn’t prevent bullying; it doesn’t prevent media bias.

      Cissexism is real. It stems from a privileged position that no gender model will save us from. That was my original point and remains my point. Please, don’t define away privilege when too many trans and gender-variant folk suffer for lack of it.

      • Winter

        I don’t really think my point was any more about theory than the original post. I think it is unfair of you to imply that I’m just concerned with things that don’t matter, I was bringing up the point because it seemed like Asher was looking for nitpicking.

        I’m not explaining away privilege. If everyone is responsible for their gender, then cisgender folks don’t have the privilege of being normal, neutral, not responsible. I’m not trying to fix everything with a model of gender, I was just trying to help out with perfecting the guide.

  • Winter

    PS. I should make it clear, since I was discussing the word ‘tranny,’ that I am a trans woman.

  • Hannah

    Yes. Completely, totally, utterly YES.

    Thank you so much for posting this, Asher. Your post just gave me a complete supercharge of encouragement and a tremendous confidence boost. I only recently realized that I’m a trans girl, and I’d been pretty murky about my own identity these past few days. Just wanted to say that this piece has helped me so much.

    God bless you!

  • M

    I absolutely love this post and now plan on working through some of your other posts.

    I feel like you stated more simply a lot of what I have been trying to say, and I believe I now have the inspiration needed to really lay out all my thoughts as one post kinda like this

    Thanks!
    Feel free to check out my blog, I will surely be posting a link on there once I have access to a real computer…
    http://www.xanga.com/mooshpitmatt

    M

  • Peg

    Browsing comics today, I checked this link,
    http://www.stevemacisaac.com/ and I have to say, this gay man needs educating for his October 31 post about “Glamazonia the Uncanny Super-T” word that you could not pay me to say. And the illustration he did is so stereotypical, it’s not funny at all.

    He’s got his damn nerve, to put it bluntly.

  • Alessandra

    This post is fantastic. Over the past few months, I’ve been at somewhat of a loss to explain my annoyance with people who describe or understand trans women as a “woman born or trapped in a man’s body” or that we are “presenting as female”, while balancing confusion and guilt about my desire to change my body if I didn’t feel I was “trapped in the wrong body”. What else is there? But recently, I’ve found some amazing people on Tumblr, I’ve become more comfortable and confident with myself and my right to my gender identity, and this post really just helped solidify what I was trying to piece together myself. Perfect! Thank you so much!

  • Linnea

    Thanks for this. As a boringly straight cis-woman, I found it incredibly educational. I’ll have to read it again to completely get my head around it, but I’ve already got the gist.

  • zythyra

    A truly excellent post! I just found your blog, and look forward to reading your previous posts.

    “All cis people and many trans people are binary-identified”

    I have a slight quibble with an assumption that all cis people are binary-identified. I know a few non-trans people, including my partner, who don’t identify with the binary any more than I do, as a non-binary androgyne/trans person. Perhaps there is more of a continuum than simply cis and trans. I don’t know exactly what to call all these in between prefixes either. I’m sure someone will figure them out eventually :)

    • Asher

      I can see that quibble. This may be more about my definition of cis than anything else. To me, anyone who isn’t binary identified isn’t cis. A cis person, in the sense that I use the term, is somebody who is happy with their assigned binary gender.

      • Tiferet

        Hmmm. I consider myself cis, because I was assigned “female” at birth and I am mostly OK with that. I am generally way more femme than butch, like pink, like dresses, enjoy tea parties and jewellery &c &c &c &c.

        But I am not “demure” or self-effacing or subservient or “helpful” or trained to put everyone else first in that way that most cis females are very well socialised to do; this socialisation failed when applied by my mother and was subverted successfully by my dad (thanks dad) and as a result I have a reputation for being kind of a selfish bitch for doing and saying and running my life with the same sort of priorities that many men have and are expected to have; i.e. I come first, and everyone else gets as much as I can spare of what I think they deserve.

        So I cannot honestly say that I am happy with my assigned binary gender, because I am not. There are a fuckload of things that women are supposed to think, feel, and want, and do, that I have no intention of thinking, feeling, wanting and doing just because I have two X chromosomes, a vagina and breasts, a reasonably feminine face and a taste for pink lace. And I often bitch about it. It’s not a matter of equal pay for equal work or abortion rights or the other big feminist things; in fact it probably wouldn’t happen to me so much if my presentation were more androgynous–if I were butch, I’d get a different kind of shit entirely, but nobody would be angry and hurt and unable to figure out why because they expected me to act like Donna Reed on account of my pearls and skirt. These are gender issues, in that “woman” and “feminine woman” are linked not just to appearance or style of dress but also to an expectation of submissiveness and other-centredness that I kind of want zip to do with. And it would be easy just to wear pants more often, except that it’s also painful to pretend I’m not me.

        At the same time I would be really uncomfortable saying that I am trans because the way in which I am oppressed by the gender binary doesn’t even remotely compare to the way that people who are trans are oppressed by it. I am not unsafe because I don’t like it when big strong men lean over me and try to flirt with me by getting between me and the guy (or not) I’m actually interested in. I am not unsafe because I’m not easily manipulated into volunteer work. I am not unsafe because I refuse to let someone else decide my priorities. I am not unsafe because I don’t want children. People are often surprised when I don’t act the way they think I should, but nobody has ever wanted to kill me because of what I’ve got in my underwear.

        It’s analogous to the way men suffer from sexism if they want to stay home with their kids or white people suffer from racism because it makes us really stupid about shit–they/we are also restricted by those -isms but not in any comparable degree.

      • Asher

        The phrase “happy with one’s gender” is definitely a little strange. I think it needs to be separated from “happy with the expectations for one’s gender.” I wasn’t happy with the gender I was assigned (female), neither was I happy with the expectations for that gender (demureness, submissiveness, etc). On the other hand, I am happy with my maleness… but I can’t say I’m happy with a lot of the social expectations for maleness (machismo, heterosexuality, lack of emotional expressiveness, etc).

        Neither, although I am at this point proud and happy to be trans, am I crazy about the social expectations for myself as a trans person– which mainly seem to involve apologizing for my existence.

        The thing itself is quite different from what society defines the thing to be. And our feelings about that thing can definitely be different from our feelings about its social definition.

      • Beth

        @Asher, re: “happy with one’s gender” with “happy with the expectations for one’s gender”:

        If gender is socially constructed, then what does this distinction mean? It seems to me socially constructed gender is synonymous with socially constructed expectations for a gender.

      • Asher

        No, it’s not synonymous.

        You can function socially as a woman, and interact with the world from your interpretation of that role, without necessarily conforming to ALL of the socially constructed expectations for what a woman is.

        I mean, let’s face it– social expectations for gender roles are totally conflicting now. There isn’t just one set of expectations for “woman” or “man” anymore, there are several, which, although they may have things in common with each other, are far from identical.

  • Kae

    I have one little grievance with this post, I apologize if it’s been addressed. You mention that a male body is one that belongs to a male, a female body is one that belongs to a female, and a genderqueer body is one that belongs to a genderqueer person. However, I feel like that erases the experiences of those who’s sex identity and gender identity don’t match. For example, some people may identify as a “female man”, and others may identify as “male, and genderqueer”. While I completely agree with blurring the line between gender and sex, as the two are not separate and independent entities, I do think it’s also important to respect self-identified sex.

    • Dreki

      My view here is this:

      If a trans man views his body as female, he has a lot to back him up. The entirety of our society, in fact. A trans man who views his body as male? Even those who transition legally aren’t unquestionably accepted as male-bodied. Even TRANS people will tell him that he is wrong for calling his body male if he hasn’t/doesn’t transition.

      I agree that we need to focus on *self*-identifying, but I can understand going stronger the other way until this is acceptable and widespread. There are a lot of people who have been very hurt by the idea that they can’t define their own body and who have felt great relief to reclaim that right.

      “male, and genderqueer”

      I know a male genderqueer- that is not what he means. He means his gender is male AND genderqueer. Cedar is the same, saying “I’m genderqueer, and a woman… Both “she” and “ze” are good pronouns for me–unless you’re using “she” out of ignorance of or disrespect for my genderqueerness, or using “ze” because you’re unwilling to validate my womanhood. My genderqueerness and my femaleness/woman-ness have–and have always had–an uneasy coexistance”.

      • TalieC

        I like the way you lay it out, Dreki.

        The most I’d do if I were to change this at all would be to stick a footnote after the paragraph saying “unless they identify otherwise”, if even that; maybe stick it in-paragraph if an asterisk looks like it’s saying “not really”.

        Also, sometimes people can misidentify themselves, especially when they don’t understand themselves and don’t have a community (like when they’re just starting out or their community is underdeveloped). It’s pretty much only because it took me so long to put the pieces together to realize that I’m a woman, and by then I’d already read a whole lot of trans activist stuff without realizing it was about me, that I never identified as a woman trapped in a man’s body.

        I can’t say that everyone identifying as a female man is misidentifying himself, and there really is no way to tell if someone is correctly identifying themself other than waiting and seeing if and how they change their self-identification (if they realize a more-correct identity that’s always been there, or if they grow into a new identity).

      • Dreki

        @TalieC- that’s my problem with it as well. Trans people internalize transphobia and cissupremacy just as much as cis people do. There’s nothing wrong with a man who considers his body female, but if he does because of internalized transphobia or because everyone tells him his body is wrong or not really his own- then that’s not good. But telling him he HAS to see his body as male is a really bad thing to do.

        I saw a woman react violently to calling her body “female”. I don’t know if that’s because she was simply offended by the idea, or because she internalized a lot of crap- including the idea that she has to 100% hate her body to deserve to change it.
        My biggest problem now comes from trans people who insist that self-identifying your body is wrong… It really angers and saddens me to see.

        I agree that a note of “unless they identify otherwise” would be good next to it, though.

  • Heather

    Hello,

    Thank you for this. I speak as an ally panelist on panels that include someone who is gay, a lesbian, someone who is bisexual, and someone who is trans, as well as an ally. Sometimes, they can’t fill the panels, so there is no trans speaker. Since my “ally story” is about being an ally to a trans woman, I end up answering questions in middle school classrooms (as well as high schools, college classes, religious organizations, etc) about what trans means. I am always careful to speak only from my own experience and I try my best to answer their questions.

    I really appreciate this piece. I think it’s a much-needed response to “Trans 101,” which definitely dumbs things down considerably. But I’m wondering how I might explain these concepts to middle schoolers who have never heard the term “trans” before. I’d love some suggestions, if you have them!

    • Dreki

      I think that middle schoolers can get the idea of assigned sex. And from there it’s not hard to explain that some people don’t agree with their assigned sex.

  • Amy

    Love it. Part of a needed no-bullshit stage in the gender liberation of the world.

    Thanks.

    Suggest giving more space to the “gender expression” angle of the transgender spectrum: masculine women, feminine men, be they cissexed, intersexed and/or transsexed. At present, I read the article as implying that trans people have one or more /identities/ that clash with the doctor’s baby-genital-based prognosis.

    Especially relevant as, /to a cisgenderist viewer/, a cissexed masculine woman and a no-ho/op trans dude are “the same thing,” while a transsexual guy on T, a cissexed butch on T and most MAAB butch dykes (go team!) are “the same thing.”

    Also relevant because the message “trans includes gender-variance” is a bit lacking in the Trans outreach in my and other cities.

  • Jackson how I

    Right on, right on! I really just resonate so strongly as a transqueer person with what you laid out! It’s pretty much spot on with how I tend to feel most of the time as well as how I try to educate people.

    And I know others in the transcommunity at large will probably give you crap for your not saying you were “born a woman” but I completely respect your decision and right to not identify in that respect. I personally am working on rephrasing that terminology for myself and want to high-five you for tellin’ it like it is.

    We need more transpeople not “dumbing things down.”

  • Kit

    I like this article a lot and I had to skim unfortunately but I believe the last bit about just accepting people regardless of what they have been taught is not something that people can do. People do not just start accepting and every bit of history will tell you that. So I understand that you are trying to raise awareness and I honestly have never said/done any of the disrespectful things you mentioned because I am part of a population of people who are equally oppressed but I just think you need to be a bit more realistic, thats all. This comment is not giving my thoughts justice :(

    So I hope you can get people to be more informed but I think you lose your credibility in your writing when you ask people to accept it.

    I don’t even know if that makes sense, sorry

    • Asher

      I think if you hadn’t “skimmed” you might see that I don’t expect us ‘to all just get along’ instantly.

      Also, being part of an equally oppressed group does not mean you can’t do oppressive stuff.

  • Amy

    I wonder how many cis people are truly “happy” with their gender or if they are simply resigned after years and years of being battered with a label and set of expectations? Growing up, I really felt more like Captain Nemo than a little “girl.” And I felt more like Sir Launcelot and Dr. Doolittle than a little “girl.” In fact, I seldom felt like a girl or pretended to be a girl at all – unless I was pretending to be a pirate queen, who was ruthless and deadly and adventurous and larger than life. Eventually I learned to make an uneasy peace with who I felt I was inside, who I wanted to be, what my body was doing, and who I was percieved and expected to be, but it never made 100% sense. It results in my not feeling “seen” for most of my life. Most people would read me as cis but I’m not sure how I read myself. It doesn’t seem to have a name, and at the age of 12, “mutant” was the best I could come up with – but for me that label included a lot more than alienation from assigned gender. But I don’t know if these feelings are pronounced enough at this point to qualify for anything other than amorphous acknowledgement and a strange longing for a childhood in which I (and all the rest of us) were free to actually grow into our SELVES without being hammered with a myriad of misperceptions and expectations. However, it takes far wiser parents than I have been to avoid doing this to children. If I knew then what I sort of “know” now, I could have been more helpful… My regret is profound.

    • Kek

      Dude, I can so relate. I’ve never been particularly “girly”. In probably 90% of my pretend games as a kid, I played a boy character. I remember having all this resentment toward Jessica Rabbit, because she was everything I didn’t want to be- make up, heels, red dress, superfigure. Whenever I played online videogames, I made my character a boy (admittedly, partially because I objected to the female costumes). My “relative peace” involved a sort of detachment from my feminine features, like when I was in 10th grade and I spent an hour staring at a mirror contemplating how my boobs were just sort of… there. Really, I think most “cis” people have just shut that shit up. Don’t talk about it, pretend it never happened, if it is brought up refer to it as “funny-shit-I-did-as-a-kid.”

  • Gavin K.

    Hey Asher,

    I enjoyed reading your piece, the only place our opinions seem to differ is when other people ask “invasive” questions, as I’m not sure what you would personally qualify as “invasive”. I’d much rather people ask certain things than assume, and usually encourage curiosity. Maybe this is because I identify more as genderqueer/male, and so people often are unsure of how to approach me. When they realize I’m open to being approached so long as it’s in a friendly manner, I find people begin to feel more at ease if they can ask a few questions to -try- and understand.

    Cheers n keep writing :)

    • Asher

      “What is your preferred gender pronoun?” is not an invasive question. Anything beyond that is in my opinion. People don’t need to know how long I’ve been on hormones, whether I’ve had surgery, or what my old name was.

  • Sigrid Ragnörack

    I just read this through a friend FP post, and let me tell you is one of the best trans articles i’ve read.

    Great work.

    Sigrid….

  • shmana

    I posted this link to my Facebook page. I love it that my mom actually thumbs upped the link. Thanks for a great post, Asher =D

  • Quickie: linguistic dysphoria « Urocyon's Meanderings

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  • Tobi-Dawne

    I actually just finished commenting on FB about this topic. Lack of acceptance comes directly from childhood, from parents teaching their children that there are two genders. From that early education people learn what is normal and what is not. Even people who are generally open and accepting still teach their children “boy and girl” without room for anything else… As a mom to a three year old, when we talk about gender and sex, we not only talk about boy and girl, but about the myriad of other possibilities. If nothing else, my child will know that ALL are normal, all are natural, and all are beautiful.

  • Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 (via Transgression) « 365 Photos

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  • Jen

    Thank you for this! I have a few trans and genderqueer friends but haven’t really come across much about exactly what that means (beyond the very basics of trans 101) and haven’t felt brash enough to just walk up to them and ask (I haven’t wanted to offend them or embarrass myself). Reading the comments was extremely helpful and informative too!

    One thing I’d like to add to the discussion, although I’m not sure if this is exactly the place to do it, is that gender identification and fitting into gender roles may not always line up. That’s probably due to the fact that gender roles are assigned, but I feel it’s important. I’m a het ciswoman (I have never used that term before, having only come across it about a week ago. It feels strange to type) but while I “fit” into the gender assigned to me at birth and I love being a woman, I don’t fit into what society says I should be or behave as a woman. I’m a huge nerd, a tomboy, not really “girly” at all. My husband (also cis) is sensitive, doesn’t have an interest in sports, etc. I’m the one with calluses on my hand and working a very physical job while he works with kids. Both of us had people we were close to (my dad, his best friend)tell us they thought we were gay due to our nonconforming of gender roles. I’m sure that these issues pop up with trans people as well and can greatly affect how they perceive themselves as well as are perceived by others. How does a “feminine” transman or a “tomboy” transwoman deal with these differences in gender and gender roles? Most of the transwomen I’ve met tend to be “feminine” rather than “butch” but I know that has been a very small sampling of the population at large.

    Please tell me if I’m out of line, but it seems that this would be a safe place to ask questions.

    • Asher

      No you make a good point– gender ID and fitting gender roles do not always line up. I’m a queer trans guy who can be pretty femme (in fact I actually cross-dress and do drag sometimes). And no, that’s not always easy. It think we deal with those differences in gender ID and gender roles the same way cis people do– by accepting them in ourselves– the only difference is that we get somewhat more shit about it from the rest of the world. Historically trans people who were not straight and gender-conforming were denied hormones and surgery, and this still happens sometimes.

    • Lilith von Fraumench

      If I may add, I know of at least two trans women who identify as butch, and a third who flip-flops between butch and femme. I would not doubt there being more.

      And not even categories like “femme” and “butch” are firm. I characterize myself as a “hard femme”–because I do have a tomboyish streak and a practical style in how I express myself as a femme. Likewise there are hard and soft butches, stone butches/femmes, and so forth.

  • TransBear

    I am a bit in love with your brain right now… thanks for a killer trans 101, This says it all much better than I have ever managed to get it out. ever.

    WOOF!keep up the amaaaaazing writing!
    An aussie TransBear

  • Starwoman

    Hi. I’m cis & I thank you for this excellent post. It all makes a lot more sense to me than “$foo trapped in a $bar body”.

    I do have a question. I very much liked your discussion of sex as not binary, either, but the obvious follow-on question for me is, “OK, what about reproduction?” How does that fit in to a non-binary view of sex?

    I don’t think that sex needs to be reduced to reproduction, but I don’t think it’s realistic to completely divorce sex from reproduction, either, since human beings are after all mammals that reproduce sexually. Especially for people like myself who come from a tradition in which sex is held to be inseparable from reproduction, the question does at least come up, and it would be helpful to understand how it fits into the paradigm of sex and gender that you present here.

    I’m going to talk about religion for a minute:

    “The fallacies of binding identity to bodies, which are fragile, changeable things, subject to injury, mutilation, maiming, decay and ultimate destruction, should by now be clear.”

    This sentence struck me very powerfully, and I thank you for it. I am (among other things) a student of Christian theology who is very interested in theological discussion of the body in the context of human nature, and this sentence clearly states something important about bodies that needs to be addressed by any serious alternative to the common dualist “I am my soul/ego, and I merely wear my body” metaphysics that I’d guess underlies a lot of the “$foo trapped in the body of a $bar” language.

    • Asher

      I’m not really sure what your question about reproduction is, specifically.

      Some trans people can’t reproduce sexually because some of us, myself included, undergo medical procedures which make this impossible. Also, some of us can’t face the idea of reproducing sexually because the ways in which are bodies are capable of doing this make us too uncomfortable. Some trans people have children from before they came out as trans. And some trans people sexually reproduce after transition (famously Thomas Beatie).

      There is no need to attach reproductive roles to sex and/or gender. Males can become pregnant. Females can impregnate others. I see nothing to stop us from “realistically” accepting that fact.

      You might get a better answer to your question to somebody who had more investment in the idea of reproducing sexually, though. I move in very queer social circles in which sexual reproduction is kind of a non-issue. Most of the people I know think of adoption or sperm donors before they think of actually conceiving children by having sex. So to me sex (both sex as in gender and sex as in doing the nasty) are extremely far removed from reproduction and always have been. As far as I’m concerned a kid needs one or more loving adults in their life, period, who cares about the genders of the people involved or the sordid details of how the kid got there.

      • Starwoman

        Thanks for your reply.

        One of the things I’m looking for is a paradigm of sex and gender that adequately describes all human beings without privileging the experience of cis over trans, or vice versa (except perhaps temporarily, as a remedial intervention).

        I appreciate that reproduction has little or nothing to do with sex in your experience; I also know that reproduction has a great deal to do with sex in the experience of others. I don’t think it’s any more adequate a description of human experience (which is what I think I was reaching for with “realistic”) to assert that reproduction has *nothing* to do with sex, than to assert that it has *everything* to do with sex.

        Thanks again for this article & best of luck with your work.

      • Asher

        OK, I’ll go a little further with this.

        Asserting that sex has little to do with reproduction is not just about trans experience. It’s about the rights of cis people too. The rights of cis women who do not want or cannot bear children to be considered no less female. The right of women past menopause to be considered female. I mean, what useful purpose can linking sex to reproduction serve socially? It simply privileges people who can and do reproduce over those who can’t or don’t.

        Realistically.

    • Lilith von Fraumench

      A non-binary view of gender does not prevent cis men and cis women from reproducing; it does mean, however, that reproduction isn’t solely for cis men and cis women–or trans men and trans women for that matter. One can discuss reproductive processes without insisting on a point of view that privileges cis people over trans/gender variant people.

      As for the theological implications of a mind/body duality–which at least has parallels to the “$foo in a $bar body” patter–I offer up a William Blake quote. And I apologize for his gendered language, but didn’t want to modify a word:

      “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”

      Admittedly I have a weakness for Blake’s take on theology throughout *The Marriage of Heaven and Hell*. Still, I’m happy to refute the notion of the body as sin, any day.

    • Dreki

      Some intersex people, whose bodies do not fit into a binary view of sex, are perfectly capable of reproduction. However, there are some people whose bodies fit a binary view of sex (and who aren’t trans) who AREN’T capable of reproducing for any number of reasons.

      Basing sex on reproduction is INCREDIBLY problematic. The whole idea that infertility makes someone lesser is painfully common and very busted- for people who want to reproduce but aren’t able to, it is incredibly painful to have to live with that AND live with people seeing you as less than your gender. For people who have no interest in reproduction, whether or not they can, the pressure put on them to can be problematic.

      It’s also very problematic for people who are adopted- as if they “aren’t really” their parents’ children.

  • Meltron

    Dear Asher,

    Firstly, I would like to thank you for your post and for your openness to constructive feedback. The dialogue that your post has spawned is one that I believe to be extremely important. Since I ran across the link to your blog on Monday, I have been contemplating what I wanted to contribute to this conversation, and I’ve had one thought stuck in my head all week – how can we make this information more accessible to people who have no clue about who trans people are beyond the standard 101 talk? I love that folks have read your post and are commenting on it and refining it through critical feedback, but I would really like to see this information move beyond an online microcosm of primarily trans/queer people. So what is my suggestion, you ask? Well, I am wondering if you are open to me taking the information in your post as well as from the comments here and creating a presentation that folks can use in their work as activists/educators/organizers/people who care/etc. I’m a big fan of PowerPoint, so that would be my medium if you accept. Of course, I would share my drafts here with folks for feedback/input. What are your thoughts?

    Looking forward to your reply!
    Mel

  • Lukas

    Very well put…actually, you made me think about quite a few things much differently than I did before. Thank you.

  • Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 | Feeding Time at The Zoo

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  • Nio

    Oh awesome! Thanks for this!

  • Elizabeth Head

    Changing my thinking already and cringing every time I call my son “she” really isn’t good enough just because old habits die hard. I truly love and see him as the person he is in that mumsy way – but that now sounds so dismissive. I love you “whatever” – of course I do, but reading this has made me appreciate much more about him and I thank you so much for that. Maybe we should now be working on Trans 2.0?

  • Jane Laplain

    THANK YOU. This is the explanation of Trans and Cis the world has been waiting for. Screening out cissexist explanations of trans concepts has been incredibly difficult and failing to do so has contributed to our marginalization. THANK YOU for articulating these concepts so accessibly and straightforwardly. This article should be required reading everywhere!

  • phyllis

    I don’t like the term CIS for use with people who comfortable with their gender. Let’s face it, no-one is entirely comfortable with themselves. I think that is a reason why there is trans-phobia, bi-phobia, homophobia, hetero-phobia;it causes people to think about themselves and most people don’t want to. I am self identified as gender queer for various personal reasons. (Square peg round hole syndrome)

    I might be comfortable with my biological gender for the most part, it’s the societal gender I have a problem with.

    Other then that I have enjoyed reading your article.

    • Dreki

      What would you prefer we call cis people, then?

      Also- social dysphoria is as valid as bodily dysphoria. Also, dysphoria does not a trans person makes- a trans person with minimal or no dysphoria of any kind is still a trans person.

    • Asher

      Cis is not a term for people who are comfortable with their gender. It is a term for people who are not trans.

      Also, can we not use “biological gender” language, it’s essentialist, oppressive and nonsensical.

      • Dreki

        I think it depends on how you use it- I could see a trans person who considers their gender to have a biological basis using “biological gender” or “genetic gender” to underline that their gender is as natural as anyone else’s.

        Not that phyllis was doing that, although I’m not sure how much phyllis gets about the whole “trans/cis” concept to begin with. I’m QUITE comfortable with my gender and I’m CERTAINLY not cis.

      • Asher

        I’m QUITE comfortable with my gender and I’m CERTAINLY not cis.

        THIS.

  • Binary Subverter

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  • eternalstranger

    This is really interesting.

    I’ve always wondered why, if gender (and gender roles, especially) are supposedly so ‘natural’ and immutable, then why are they so heavily pushed on us by society? You’d think something that supposedly hardwired wouldn’t need that kind of reinforcement.

    But yeah, you’ve given me a lot to think about. In a good way.

  • Jenn

    Excellent post! It’s very organized and transitions (har har, no pun intended) from section to section quite smoothly.

    I am a cis woman who participates in trans activism and considered myself pretty aware of a lot of these points. However, some of them can still get forgotten from time to time because of my cis privilege impacting the way I view things. Obviously that is not an excuse, and I totally own that. It just means I have a lot more work to do.

    But it’s also important as a cis ally to remember that we can never *stop* working because we experience privilege in areas that we might not even be aware of right now, because we do not live the day-to-day life as a trans individual. We must always be working to be aware of our privilege and the ways others are marginalized because of our privilege. Those who are marginalized live with this every day, so it’s not hard to be constantly reminded of this; as individuals with privilege and allies we have to make the conscious choice to always be aware of our status in the world. We have the option of choosing to ignore it, which is a privilege in and of itself, but if we want to be allies we need to make the choice to never ignore it in ways that are beneficial to the marginalized communities.

    Reading this post reminded me of certain things that I can forget/have forgotten in my activism because of my privilege. It also made me aware of the ways we use cis language to frame trans discussions, as well as the ways in which I engage in discourse about trans issues as a cis person. It’s also a reminder to me to always be critically aware of my privilege and how it impacts the way I view the world.

    So, tl;dr: thanks :)

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  • ozymandias

    As a cis woman, I just want to say that this is one of the best 101 pieces I’ve ever read: it succinctly explains the basics of cis/trans and binary/non-binary identities and a lot of the common mistakes people make (ugh, the ‘passing’ thing. I hate it because I used to say it…).

    One thing, though (although maybe this is a 201 thing as opposed to a 101): mentioning that “ooh, I love trans people, they’re so hot” is objectifying and fetishizing and generally Not A Good Thing might help. I think it’s a fairly common way for cis people to fuck up (or, at least, it was my most embarrassing fuckup).

  • Jay

    Great post. Thanks for writing.

  • Beth

    @Asher:

    What EXACTLY is the distinction between socially defined gender and socially defined gender expectations?

    If they are both socially constructed, gender expectations (whether internal or external) create gender. Otherwise, I’d be able to define aspects of how I act as “male” when others would define those actions as “female” and both words lose meaning. At which point we may as well not have a concept of gender at all.*

    Or is it about feelings? What does it mean to “feel” male or female. As I can’t pretend to fully understand another’s experiences and impulses, I’m inclined to say I feel female because my experience of the world and how I interact with it matches up most closely with other people who describe themselves as female.

    *One could argue that’s for the best, I suppose, but I think it’s a useful concept.

  • Beth

    Oh, wait. I see.

    Asher, are you suggesting that gender and sex are equivalent concepts?

    • Asher

      Not exactly, but most of the time when people say “sex is separate from gender” they are trying to say “gender is social, sex is not…” I think they are both social.

  • Joey

    Here’s a question. Let’s say I’m curious about the gender of my cousin’s newborn baby. Ze can’t speak yet, so ze certainly doesn’t have a fully formed gender-identity yet. Still, I’m curious. Can I ask if the child is a boy or a girl (which the parents will surely answer based on what is between the baby’s legs)?

    • Asher

      You can ask but all you’re gonna find out is what the parents think their kids gender is…

    • Dreki

      “ze certainly doesn’t have a fully formed gender-identity yet.”

      Actually, I really question that. I had a fully formed gender identity before I even fully understood what gender was. How do we know that infants aren’t born with gender identities they simply aren’t able to express?

      • Asher

        I do think for some people it takes time. It took me until I was almost nineteen to fully realize what was going on with my gender, although the writing had been on the wall for awhile… I’m not sure I could call my gender identity or any aspect of my identity “fully formed” even now, I feel very teenaged at the moment, still trying on looks, attitudes, poses, trying to hone in on what feels best.

        But I do acknowledge that for some people it may be pretty obvious.

      • Dreki

        I think there’s a difference between having a fully formed gender and knowing what that gender is. It took me ages to figure out what my gender was and I still don’t really know what tod o about presentation, etc. But my gender’s always been what it is, even if I didn’t know what it is or what to do with it.

      • Asher

        Yeah, I am inclined to agree really… I am tempted to say that the four-year-old who used to run around with a fluffy pink dress over his overalls declaring that he wanted to be a “princess-fire fighter-astronaut-writer” had pretty much the same gender that I do today…

      • Dreki

        Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me.

        There is DEFINITELY the possibility of a person’s gender changing (not that everyones’ does, just that some peoples’ do). I can definitely believe that not everyone has a fully formed gender form the start, but enough trans people seemed to have that experience that I think it’s very possible that enough people have a gender when they’re born, even if they can’t communicate it in any meaningful way or really understand what it means.

      • zythyra

        “But my gender’s always been what it is, even if I didn’t know what it is or what to do with it.”

        Drekl, that’s exactly the way I’ve always felt. I’ve always been who I am, and knew it clearly, even before I knew the words to express it. Still learning how to manifest it completely, which seems to be a lifelong process!

  • Beth

    Okay, one more:

    “You can function socially as a woman, and interact with the world from your interpretation of that role, without necessarily conforming to ALL of the socially constructed expectations for what a woman is.”

    Then what does the concept of “woman” mean?
    In two senses:
    1. What does it mean to function socially as a woman? Presumably a trans person that is, as you say, identified as female at birth functions socially as a woman until that person figures out their identity more.
    2. Why, then, have a concept of gender at all? Why not just have an indefinitely large number of not-exactly-conforming genders?

  • Winter

    @Asher May I use this trans 101 in an academic paper? (For a class, not for publishing.) The paper is on trans folks and hiv and the health care system. I’m writing it for the benefit of a medical faculty that doesn’t know anything about trans, so I want to include it as an appendix.

  • Michael Bishop

    @Asher or anyone who cares to try to help: You say that sex and gender are different, but I don’t understand how you think they are different. You say they are both socially constructed, and both are determined by how a person self identifies. Could you define each so that it is clear what the difference is?

    • Asher

      Michael,

      I hesitate to define either sex or gender. The way that I personally think about it (which obviously colored the perspective of this article) is that sex how one relates to one’s own body, gender is how one relates to one’s own identity. Some people feel that their sex and their gender are misaligned. Some people feel that they can change their sex (the attributes of their body and how they relate to them). But many people feel that their gender is static, has always been the same, and cannot change, no matter what’s happening with the body. Does that make sense? It’s early and I haven’t had my coffee.

      • Michael Bishop

        Thanks for your response Asher! I recognize that sometimes we want to work with concepts that are difficult to define, e.g., what is love?

        But scientists, even most social scientists like myself, focus (for good reason) on things that can be defined more precisely. From the scientific perspective, the particular words we use are unimportant… the only requirement is that we agree upon definitions which are as precise as possible.

        I respect that you have important reasons for using the words “sex” and “gender” the way you do, and for asking all people to join you in such usage. But I’m sure you want to understand all the implications of such linguistic choices… to pick one affected community, if they are to adopt your usage of the words, “sex,” “gender,” “male body,” etc., then biologists studying sexual reproduction would then be required to invent new words to refer to the concepts which those words currently refer to in that community.

        Do we agree so far? Thanks again for your thoughtful correspondence.

      • Asher

        Michael,

        I really don’t see science bending over backwards to accommodate trans people any time soon.

        And I mean, if you want to be as precise as possible, what the hell’s wrong with inventing new words? For example, I certainly could not be described “precisely” as female. Of course, neither could I be described “precisely” as a “cis male.” I could however be described “precisely” as “trans male.” Specifically, a pre-operative trans male on hormone therapy for two years. That’s pretty precise, and it really is necessary to say that whole thing to get a properly “scientific,” medical idea of my biology, which is neither cis male nor cis female by any stretch of the imagination. Doctors really need to understand that very specific reality in order to treat me.

        Language must expand and will expand, both in the interest of society and in the interest of science.

      • Michael Bishop

        To help us think things through, we might consider how we would rewrite this wikipedia article on something biological with new terminology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex-determination_system

      • Asher

        Why bother re-writing that? The whole XX/XY thing is pretty irredeemable IMO.

        I recommend Joan Roughgarden’s book “Evolution’s Rainbow.” It falls apart when she tries social analysis, but what she has to say about biology is fascinating.

      • Michael

        … Not sure this comment will show up online properly. I don’t claim to know how the wikipedia article should be rewritten, but it seems to me that there is a lot of legitimate science there. I’ll look at roughgarden but I can’t believe all that science is irridremable

      • Asher

        Sigh.

        XX/XY is incredibly problematic as a system of sex determination on MANY levels and has limited utility except perhaps with regard to sexual reproduction. It doesn’t help medically and it actively hurts us socially. Please look at Roughgarden, because you’re talking about science done by people with serious biases and it needs to be looked at seriously through a different lens.

  • Trevor

    I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on gender and sex identification. I’ve gone through some radical paradigm shifts concerning just about every view I’ve ever held growing up, gender and sex being one of them, and this piece has helped me move forward in my reconsiderations.

    However, I don’t agree with the tone you’ve set towards cisgendered people. I’m sure you didn’t intend for it to come out this way, but since I can only read the words, not vocal tone or facial expressions, I read this thinking that I was being yelled at for being cisgendered. Instead of saying “cisgendered people”, why not “SOME cisgendered people” or just “some people”.

    For example, this paragraph:

    “For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender role in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.”

    When you say “For whatever reason…” it comes off as flippant, as if you couldn’t possibly think of a logical reason why anyone would feel this way. The second sentence in that paragraph comes off the same way. With the second sentence you’re also tip-toeing into scientific assertion, psychology, namely, without providing any sort of evidence. I’m not saying the evidence is there or that you haven’t done the research, but that’s how it comes off.

    All in all, an excellent read. I wish more people thought this way.

    • Asher

      It’s called “decentering.”

      What you felt reading this article was a tiny hint of what it feels like to be a trans person.

      Finally, with regard to tone– multiple people commenting on this very same article have interpreted my ‘tone’ in very different ways. Some have praised me for being polite and moderate in tone. Others have called me an arrogant asshole and said I come across as miserable and angry. I have learned that I actually have no control over how my “tone” is perceived by others.

      • Trevor

        Now that I’ve had some time to think and re-read this post, I realized that I was projecting my own personal feeling associations onto your phrases, which isn’t really fair. You’re absolutely right that tone is mostly subjective.

        Once again, fantastic read!

  • Jen

    Thank you for this! As cis person, I am realizing I have a LOT to learn. At the same time, it’s not my right to expect trans people to teach me and make up for my ignorance. So I really appreciate that you did this out of your own initiative. It was definitely informative and insightful.

  • Bev

    This was very informative, and I’m certainly closer to understanding this whole mess that is gender, even if still skeptical about people who are “genderqueer”, which seems to be another word for “genderless” (if you aren’t pangender, androgyne, or any of the other variations that have a specific name), unless you are assigning non-gender traits to a gender…

    But your tone, on the other hand, I found aggressive. While I may be being oversensitive, or perhaps just British (yes, yes, confirmation to stereotype), I myself find the best method of approach is to be overly polite, or overly businesslike (i.e. to err on the side of caution). On the one hand, no, we shouldn’t expect a cookie for pronoun use (apart from ze/hir/hirs, when there is a perfectly serviceable they/them/theirs), on the other, we shouldn’t feel attacked for being cis. A lot of people fit into gender roles because there are some traits that are commonly shared within sexes, and society does the rest. And while the differently gendered community are indeed trailblazers, those of us who choose to stay and attempt to expand our proscribed genders aren’t being unimaginative, we just happen to be lucky enough to like where we are.

    I do accept the irony that this comment is not, in any way, overly polite or overly businesslike. And I would like to thank you for taking the time to teach people about this subject; it’s certainly helped me understand my own androgynous friend better. The world needs more people like you.

    • Asher

      Why do you feel entitled to be “skeptical” of genderqueer people and of the pronouns “ze/hir/hirs?”

      I’m sorry you “feel” attacked for being cis, but plenty of people actually ARE attacked for being trans. Often physically. Often, they die.

      Yes, I am aggressive. I am angry. I am proud. There are plenty of trans people out there who have been browbeaten into always being overly polite and apologetic. Read their blogs if you want that. That’s not what I offer here.

      Also, the “irony” of your comment not being overly polite is less irony than raging fucked up entitlement, that you the cis person believe you are allowed to be assertive and blunt in telling me the trans person how I should express myself (which is apparently not bluntly or assertively).

    • calistair

      Genderqueer is both an umbrella term for people whose gender(s) fall outside the binary, AND a term for a specific gender.

      What makes you feel entitled to be skeptical of other people’s genders? What makes you feel entitled to dismiss ze/zie as being lesser than they/them/theirs? I’m actually curious. Most British people I’ve met are less arrogant and fucked-up than that.

      In addition, they is an ungendering pronoun. While some agendered/genderless people feel that they suits them for that reason, people who often *do* have a gender that is better suited for another pronoun are frequently ungendered or attacked for it.

  • sexpositiveactivism

    This is a really thoughtful post, and though when I first looked at the beginning of it, I felt a little “blech,” I’m glad I kept reading. We use the words a little differently–in fact, it’s funny that I should discover this post now, because I was just thinking yesterday about how I wanted to do a post about my gender and the idea of “transition” versus how I experience gender as a genderqueer person. I was annoyed at the top of this post at the idea that cis people have no issue with birth-assigned gender and identify with the binary, but if I read that in my head as “people who are not gender variant,” it works. I don’t identify as trans because I think of trans being a specific term that means some sort of motion in a particular direction. Of course, that motion can be zig zaggy, and the whole idea of a “path” is pretty fucked up as I think you point out in describing the body issue as other peoples’ problem, not the trans person’s. When I was thinking about this yesterday, I was thinking how the “path” is more other people’s coming to recognize someone as a different gender than anything else.

    But however problematic that path notion is, it feels disingenuous for me to identify as trans because I’m not trans as it’s commonly understood, I don’t fit into a FTM or MTF “spectrum,” and I don’t experience discrimination anything like what most trans people do, because my gender isn’t, and never has been, a “visible” thing. It’s never “changed” in the eyes of other people.

    That aside, I really related to many of the points you’re making here. I especially love what you say about bodies because this has long been problematic for me. I’m very positive about my own body, but it felt politically incorrect in some way. The fact is, I experience myself as genderqueer. I look for all intents and purposes like a female lesbian, but my body to *me* is genderqueer. And it’s genderqueer with breasts and a pussy and all the rest. I also have hormonal variations due to PCOS, and I am So Sick of doctors pathologizing that, shoving hair reduction medication prescriptions in my face, commenting on my abnormal body parts as their faces are up in my genitalia. Wow, rude. So I’m glad you addressed this. It made me do some thinking.

  • Kit Lynam

    Fucking agreed.

  • Peg

    To me, whether or not some one is “comfortable with your tone” is not the point. The point is, you are expressing things you feel need to be said, about gender issues that have not been addressed thoroughly, before.

    Often, what needs to be said does not cause comfort – quite the opposite. And yet it still needs to be said.

    I can only speak for myself. So, for myself, I say, respecting your right to speak out matters more to me than feeling “comfortable.” I believe it requires feeling uncomfortable, actually, to be moved to create positive change. And I want to see further positive change for equality in my lifetime.

    Regards, Peg

    • Meeresbande

      Yes, I agree with this comment!

      Oppressed people have a right to speak loudly and to use a tone that is NOT polite to privileged people. Always having to be overly polite and going out of ones way to make sure that no one can possibly feel offended in the face of cruel oppression, hate-crimes, pathologization, silencing and the daily struggle for a free life – that is an unfair demand to make of trans people! Beause, as you said, politeness will not change the world! I mean, what should he have written? “Excuse me, but you are making my life dangerous and hard, could you please, if it is not too much of a bother, maybe, change that?”

      I guess cissexist people will ALWAYS be offended by any text about trans issues that is worth reading, because a LOT of people feel offended if they are confronted with their privileges and if their unmarked “normal” position gets marked and if they are told to stop their own ignorance, bigotry and/or discriminating behaviour. In fact, many people feel victimized if their percieved entitlement to victimize others gets challenged!

      I once read that violence always flows downhill. This means that if someone up the hirarchy uses violence, no matter how frequently, unthinkingly, unnecessary, outrageous or brutal (inclunding murder) it is, it goes unnoticed and/or gets rationalised and justified. But beware if anyone tries to even protect themselves against such violence! If someone dares use “violence” (like an unpolite tone) against someon up the hirarchy – that is a scandal! It is wrong! It is unthinkable! It needs to be punished! At least that is the common view and practice in this world…

      I am probably a cis person, but I found the tone of this article refreshing and I enjoyed it a lot! Thanks very much, Asher!

  • alumiere

    Thank you for posting this, and taking time and energy to respond to so many comments. It is rare that I see such a good conversation about this, and I’m sure you’ve needed infinite amounts of patience to weed out the trolls.

    You’ve given me some new ways to think about myself too, which is awesome. Female/androgynous/bisexual/queer maybe? I hate labels, but sometimes they help others understand us.

  • Sam

    Can I make this into a zine?

  • Who has the power? | No More Lost

    [...] reading what turned out to be quite possibly the best ‘Trans 101′ I have ever read, I decided to look at what else the author of the piece had written, I soon [...]

  • The Crawl Offtopic » Blog Archive » Trans 102: Dealing with Ambiguity

    [...] Most “Trans 101″ links I have talk about the “who” of trans and genderqueer folks. They go through lists of terminology, make points about how we’re still human, and all that jazz. Important, but not stuff I’m particularly interested in going through; if you want a link my current favorite is Not Your Mom’s Trans 101. [...]

  • Claire

    This was amazing, thank you. So many things I’d never thought about before. I identify as a radical feminist and the transphobia that always appears in those circles is infuriating. I hadn’t properly done my research, or had been lazily listening to the wrong people, so I never felt that I had a solid response, one not patronizing towards trans people, until now. I also know that as a feminist the idea of educating men about recognizing their privilege is absolutely unappealing to me, so thank you very much for taking the time to write up your insights on transphobia and cis privilege.

    I’ll join in the nitpicking and hope I can manage to do so without being offensive: I think establishing happiness or comfort with a gender as the criterion for being that gender limits people’s ability to make their own choices and also obscures certain types of violence. My having been assigned as female allowed various painful things to happen to me, the worst of them being when I was raped as a 16-year-old virgin (or “virgin” -that needs scare quotes).* When I call myself a woman, it isn’t out of contentment with the idea of what women are or a sense that on an essential level that’s what I am, it’s because calling myself a woman gives me certain cultural characteristics, historical traditions and ways of communicating with other people who have suffered either for being women or for being thought of as women that otherwise would not be available to me. I also have a much stronger attachment to being specifically a lesbian woman than I do to being a woman in general, for reasons that are probably similar enough not to be worth explaining. Sexual orientation tends to be described as secondary to gender -i.e., if you’re a woman and attracted to women you’re a lesbian- but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. One could just as easily reverse it and say that under our current definition of “lesbian,” being attracted to women as a lesbian entails being a woman, rather than that being a woman attracted to women entails being attracted to them as a lesbian. Sorry if it sounds as if I’m drifting from my point; the idea was to broaden the ways we think about how people form “gender identities,” which may not involve anything like happiness or comfort with the gender itself. You’ve addressed this to some extent in the comments by saying that gender expectations and gender are not the same thing, but to me this doesn’t seem sufficient -it still limits gender to something people identify with on a primary level, only adding the caveat that they might want to change some of the associated societal expectations, whereas I would argue that for some people societal expectations are the only reason to be a particular gender in the first place, with gender here being something adopted and, if not entirely external itself, at least a response to external factors.

    I’d like to thank you again for creating a safe space to talk about unorthodox views towards gender with this post.

    *Not that people other than women aren’t raped, but in this case it was something that happened because I was female.

    • Asher

      only adding the caveat that they might want to change some of the associated societal expectations, whereas I would argue that for some people societal expectations are the only reason to be a particular gender in the first place, with gender here being something adopted and, if not entirely external itself, at least a response to external factors.

      Um, what?

      To me that sounds perilously close to arguing that people “choose” genders based on gaining social privilege of some kind?! Which is certainly something I hear from a lot of radical feminists, but it’s a load of crap. If that’s not what you’re saying, I’m sorry for reading it that way…

      The reason that I use happiness and comfort with one’s gender as the criterion is because that is how it works for most trans people. Certainly every trans person who I have every met and talked to shares one common narrative, which is one of being forced through the misery of living inauthentically (a misery which is often suicidal) to transition, thus *losing* massive amounts of social privilege.

      Cis people often argue that they aren’t happy with their assigned genders, but I think that people who make this argument simply don’t understand what being unhappy with their assigned gender actually means because they do not have their experience.

      There is no “choice” involved in transition… it’s generally do or die. There is nothing convenient about it. For AMAB people it strips them of both male and cisgender privilege, for AFAB people it removes cisgender privilege (though male or masculine privilege may be gained). But there is nothing calculated about those trade-offs. Transition is losing everything while being uncertain what you stand to gain. Often it feels like hitting reset on one’s entire life.

      For someone who is trans, that risk is worth it for a just chance of happiness never known before. Happiness.

      That is why I see happiness and comfort as part of gender. I am not talking about happiness resulting from how other people perceive you or treat you, because trans people rarely experience that type of happiness and we learn to live without it. I am talking about the happiness of recognizing that person in the mirror and validating what you know about yourself.

    • calistair

      When I call myself a woman, it isn’t out of contentment with the idea of what women are or a sense that on an essential level that’s what I am, it’s because calling myself a woman gives me certain cultural characteristics, historical traditions and ways of communicating with other people who have suffered either for being women or for being thought of as women that otherwise would not be available to me.

      Well when I call myself a trans* person or a genderfluid person it’s not because I feel like that gives me some societal treatment, it’s because that is a fundamental part of me and I recognize that. Isn’t calling yourself a woman when you don’t see it as being an essential part of you some form of appropriation?

  • Claire

    I wrote that last comment at around 4 in the morning, so it needs some clarification.

    The reason I brought up, through my personal experience, the way that women, including cis women, suffer from ideas of what women want and how it’s okay to treat women, is that to me your explanation about gender expectations and gender not being the same sounds as if you’re saying our current definitions of “man” and “woman” are a good starting point that just needs some tweaking. That makes sense when the problem you face is, for instance, being expected to be aggressive or emotionally closed-off, but from my position I have trouble finding any redeeming value in a system that causes so much damage. Since I think gender roles originally came about as a way to exploit women, I think reform won’t be enough to fix a fundamentally messed-up system and that a radical rewrite is necessary. Also, it seems that as long as we have a gender binary it will be impossible to escape it -men and women can never entirely get away from gender expectations as long as we assume there can be a unifying definition of the terms, and genderqueer, intersex and even genderless people are always defined in relation to men and women. There’s no means for someone to opt out altogether. Basically, to use the analogy from the first comments, I’d be someone who thinks we should ‘blow the planets up’ entirely.

    • Asher

      I wouldn’t say I think “man” and “woman” are good starting points that just need some tweaking.

      I think they are concepts which have relevance to some people, but far far fewer people than are forced to pay attention to those roles. I think “man” and “woman” are just concepts which need to get “right-sized.” I would like to see them exist in the lexicon of genders along with every other possibility.

      I mean, you have called yourself a woman. I am a man. I believe both of us have a right to those identities. I don’t believe those identities should be the goal posts defining everything. Or, to use the planet metaphor, I don’t think everything else should be considered to revolve around them.

      Now, as far as this “no means to opt out” thing– plenty of people can and do. I think it’s not really cool to talk about agendered sorts as if their whole identity is a “nice try” that’s just not going to work, actually, that’s fucked up. Remember, trans people learn to live without cis validation.

    • TalieC

      There’s a difference between “gender” and “gender role”. Gender is an experience of who you are*, gender role is an expectation of what you do based on who you are.

      Gender role assignment is sexism. The existence of gender, even binary gender, isn’t. Honestly, without the harsh enforcement of the gender binary and so on, I think the large planets might shrink a bit, but they’d still be there.

      Destroying them, denying people the ability to be men or women, is just as bad, just as sexist, and just as violent as forcing everyone onto them.

      *closest approximation, as I can describe it.

  • Claire

    (In case it’s not clear, I wrote my second post before I saw your response to my first one.)

    I didn’t at all mean that trans people choose to be trans, especially not in order to gain privileges. Knowing that that’s a common and harmful narrative used against trans people, I should have stated explicitly that that’s not what I meant. I was talking about myself, trying to express my firm belief that my gender identity is a product of social factors, not something biological or essential (and that belief does not necessitate telling other people their understandings of their own gender identities are wrong, by the way).

    When I talked about not having the means to opt out altogether, I meant that no one can avoid choosing terms to use. There’s no getting around it as long as we keep asking the question, since both “None of the above” and even “I prefer not to answer” are still both functionally answers. And as long as we’re discussing genderqueer, intersex and genderless people as those floating around outside Planet Man and Planet Woman, yes, we’re defining them in relation to men and women -in short, defining them as Others. That they’re probably tough enough to take it doesn’t make it polite.

    As I mentioned, I think gender categories can be useful in a very limited way under current conditions, since they help us address gender issues that other people impose on us anyway. I don’t understand why we should include them in our description of an ideal, egalitarian world, though. If we can agree that people shouldn’t expect anatomy to correlate with behavior and shouldn’t expect those with one gendered trait (a very superficial example: liking sports) to have a trait gendered in the same way (disliking shopping), then how can we define the terms “man” and “woman” and what useful purpose can they serve? Getting rid of the terms doesn’t mean forcing people to change the way they present themselves, it means abolishing the primacy of binary identification and the pressure to choose between a prematched set of masculine traits and a prematched set of feminine traits. Assuming for the sake of argument we could accomplish those goals without letting go of the terms “man” and “woman” and the idea that binary identification will naturally be more common than anything else (not an assumption I find convincing), can these terms do us any good? Or is the best we can hope for that they stop doing harm?

    @TalieC: As I pointed out earlier, sexism (and gender roles) is not a matter of forcing children with ovaries to wear pink. Sexism means rape, beatings, murder and economic dependency. Saying that advocating for an end to discourse that privileges the gender binary is “just as bad, just as sexist, and just as violent” as the items in the above list is a little… weird.

    • Asher

      “How can we define the terms man and woman and what useful purpose can they serve?”

      What useful purpose can they serve?

      Self identification. Making people who have never experienced happiness in their own skin comfortable. That’s good enough for me.

      We essentially agree on a lot of things here, I just feel like this is the same old song I hear from a lot of rad fems…. putting the onus of “enforcing” the gender binary on trans people (wtf?!) and the responsibility to abolish it on us as well, when cis people are the ones with the enforcing power in this situation.

      Finally, don’t blow off forcing children with ovaries to wear pink. Lots of us have been burned by that and by the corollary. And if you don’t realize how violent the enforcement of those types of gender roles can be, well… you’re probably cis.

    • Dreki

      Yes, sexism IS forcing children who are assigned female at birth* to wear pink. Sexism IS socializing based on gender. Sexism IS telling a certain group that their boundaries, needs, and feelings are worth less than another group based on their sex. Because all of this leads to rape culture. It leads to cis men thinking they have a right to the bodies of all other people while all other people don’t have a right to boundaries.

      Sexism isn’t just rape, beating, murder, and economic dependency. It’s a system that says that all of this is acceptable. It’s a system that says that a woman who accuses a cis man of rape is less reliable than the cis man accused of rape, and that makes it okay to drag a woman who has been raped through the mud just to protect a cis man who raped her. It’s a system that says that all other people should be kept financially dependent because cis men are inherently better than them.

      If you honestly think that socialization doesn’t lead to sexism and rape culture, there really are no words for how wrong you are.

      *do NOT say “children with ovaries” in this situation, how interphobic can you be? Not all children with ovaries are assigned female at birth and not all children wtihout aren’t. And I’m sure you just “didn’t know”, but ignorance is -phobic. It drains, it forces intersex and other marginalized people to waste their energy educating privileged people like you who just “didn’t know”. It forces them to sit through people erasing their existence because those people “didn’t know, it means that they have to accept bigotry and abuse because the perpetrator just “didn’t know”, it results in it being okay for doctors to abuse htem because the doctor just “didn’t know”.

    • TalieC

      As I pointed out earlier, sexism (and gender roles) is not a matter of forcing children with ovaries to wear pink. Sexism means rape, beatings, murder and economic dependency. Saying that advocating for an end to discourse that privileges the gender binary is “just as bad, just as sexist, and just as violent” as the items in the above list is a little… weird.

      Did I say that? Let me check.

      Destroying them, denying people the ability to be men or women, is just as bad, just as sexist, and just as violent as forcing everyone onto them.

      I see forcing people to be men and women. I do not see raping people. Being a woman != being a rape survivor. The same for being an abuse survivor, economically dependent on a man, or murder victim. Nor is it wearing pink or blue.

      Nor do I actually say anything about ending binary privilege. That’s a good idea and I fully support it. You said you want to “blow the planets up”, ending binary gender. That’s a completely different thing, and I stand by where I called it sexist and violent.

      Yes, it is sexist to deny the existence or validity of a gender. It is fucking sexist to tell someone that they can’t be their gender; doing harmful shit to someone based on their gender is the definition of sexism. As for violence, gender enforcement is based in violence; you cannot keep a woman from being a woman with neither violence nor the threat of violence. Destroying planet man and planet woman, therefore, means violently keeping men and women from being their genders because of what that gender is.

      Sexism isn’t just against women. Binarism, forcing everyone into a binary gender, is sexism against everyone not in one of the binary genders. Anti-binarism, forcing everyone into a non-binary gender, isn’t any better. Your suggestion that the binary gender planets be destroyed and people be scattered to non-binary genders is really fucking offensive to those of us who have had to fight, and who are still fighting, to be our binary genders.

      You’re making a mistake I see with radical feminists a lot. Gender != Gender roles, or gendered socialization. There is a lot more to it. I’m not a radical feminist and I’ll admit I haven’t read any books on radical feminist theory (because many of the authors aren’t shy about wanting me dead or nonexistent, which can make their books hard to read), but the impression I have (from reading as much as I can stomach) is that radical feminist theory of gender is oversimplistic. The idea that gender is gender roles or gender socialization, or that it exists entirely to facilitate gendered oppression, has no room in it for trans people.

      If you try to understand us with that theory, you’re going to be completely wrong, and thinking otherwise, or that trying to understand us under your theories is “enough” is hugely cissexist. In my experience, trans people are a lot better at theorizing as to what gender is than cis people because cis people are privileged enough to not have to think about gender when they don’t want to.

      You, for instance, have said you identify as a lesbian, right? Why? If it’s so important to you that the binary genders stop existing, why do you still identify yourself and your potential lovers by them? Why are you a woman and not genderqueer? Why are you attracted to (a subset of) women and not to (a similar subset of) people of a certain body shape*?

      *Replace “body shape” with whatever it is that you’re attracted to if body shape isn’t it. Also, not dating people with patriarchal privilege over you is still fine; you can’t opt out of living in a gendered society and have to interact with it on terms that are good for your safety.

      These aren’t questions that you need to answer immediately. I don’t have satisfactory answers for them for myself, and I have to think about gender in a way that cis people, even feminists, can get away with not thinking about it, as a basic life thingg. I actually don’t know if there are satisfactory answers to these questions.

  • Annie

    I can’t remember how I got here, but this post is made of awesome.

  • Claire

    Again I have to apologize for some terrible wording. When I say “not a matter of…” I mean “is not limited to,” or “that sort of scenario shouldn’t be the primary one the word ‘sexism’ calls to our minds,” not that it isn’t sexism. When TalieC said my rhetoric was just as violent and sexist as the enforcement of binary gender roles, I wanted to point out that enforcement of gender roles involves material, bodily violence, not just the rhetorical kind. Of course, it should have been pretty fucking obvious to me that trans people and people talking about trans issues would already be aware of that. The problem, instead, would be that we have different understandings of what it means to “blow the planets up.” TalieC, you seem to be interpreting it as wanting to force people into nonbinary gender roles. I interpreted it as allowing people whatever gender roles were right for them, but ending the lumping of those roles together under terms such as “man” and “woman,” and was offended you would find that as violent as the actual violence that forces people into gender roles. So, to repeat myself: “Getting rid of the terms doesn’t mean forcing people to change the way they present themselves, it means abolishing the primacy of binary identification and the pressure to choose between a prematched set of masculine traits and a prematched set of feminine traits.” In other words, I wasn’t thinking of the planets as things people lived on top of, and that we were going to evacuate the people to asteroids or something in order to blow the planets up, I was thinking of the planets as made up of distinct but vaguely similar gender roles that had been jammed together, and in blowing the planets up we were pulling those roles apart so they could,er, sparkle as millions of distinct pieces of space dust instead of as two large lumps. Which maybe makes less sense as a metaphor.

    Abandoning the convoluted planet-talk, what I think is this: people have a right to appear and behave in ways that feel right to them. But when I, for instance, call myself a woman because of the ways I appear and behave, I’m no longer just defining myself, I’m positing and defining a whole category of people. If no one else were using the word “woman” and I could use it just to define myself it’d be fine, but as it is when I say “these traits make me a woman,” I’m also saying “other women share at least a good number of these traits,” which is not necessarily the case. Although at present I do it anyway, I’m not sure I have a right to, and if I do have a right to it would be a right of defense in response to the current social landscape (the same right that binary-identified trans people have to use the terms) not an eternal right that would exist independently of that landscape.

    “Why are you a woman and not genderqueer?”
    Something Asher said to me earlier: “Certainly every trans person who I have every met and talked to shares one common narrative, which is one of being forced through the misery of living inauthentically (a misery which is often suicidal) to transition…
    Cis people often argue that they aren’t happy with their assigned genders, but I think that people who make this argument simply don’t understand what being unhappy with their assigned gender actually means because they do not have their experience.” I don’t fit that description of trans, so if the genderqueer label is part of the larger trans category, I’m not genderqueer. I don’t want to turn my discomfort with the idea of womanhood into claiming an oppressed status that doesn’t belong to me. At the same time, I do think I have a right to insist that if I don’t essentially belong to any of the nonbinary categories we currently have labels for, I don’t essentially belong to the category “woman” either. Though much of the antagonism between trans rights activists and radical feminists comes from the outright transphobia of the latter group, the ideological tension that’s most difficult to resolve comes from the way the societal force that maintains the current hierarchy generalizes the statements of individuals about their own gender identity. When I, as a cis woman, say my gender identity is a social construct and not an essential part of me, it’s dangerous to you as a trans person because people can use it to say that your identity, too, must be nonessential and that you don’t really need to transition. When you as a trans person say your identity is deeper than gender socialization, it’s dangerous to me as a cis woman because people can use it to tell me that if I really don’t think of myself as essentially a woman I must be some other gender, such as genderqueer, thus redirecting the impetus for change from targeting a social system of gender roles to targeting me and my individual identity, saying I’m misguidedly placing myself in the wrong category, not that the categories themselves are messed up. The problem is the generalizing force, which is a result of and means of supporting the current hierarchy even when expressed by rad fems and trans activists, not the individual experiences. Since neither (cis) rad fems nor trans activists have much power, it’s easier for us to attack each other’s experiences instead of attacking the tendency to generalize, but it’s not a good idea to give in to that.

    To Asher: You’re right that there’s a tendency among rad fems to blame trans people for reinforcing the gender binary which, since trans people are a violently oppressed minority shunted into the margins of cis society, is ridiculous. Although I firmly disagree with certain ideas you’ve expressed, especially the idea that people freed from the enforcement of gender roles would still naturally group themselves into binary opposition, for me to go on and on about it functionally -if unintentionally- implies I hold you accountable for a problem created and perpetuated by cis society. I don’t want to further derail a discussion that should be about transphobia and cis privilege into arguing over the fine points of what an ideal, postrevolutionary world would look like, so I’m going to make this my last comment. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me; if you want to respond to this post I’ll of course read what you say, I just think I should stop posting myself.

    That said, I’ll try to condense all my nit-picking into this last point, which I think is the most important one to me:

    When people say they suspect the gender binary would naturally exist and that the majority, if a smaller majority than today, of people would still fall into the binary categories without enforcement of gender roles, that statement isn’t a neutral prediction -it’s an intervention into the way things will play out. You’ve probably heard of the studies in which researchers remind students about to take a test that girls or certain racial groups have statistically gotten lower scores. The students who receive the reminder tend to fit the stereotypical score pattern more closely than the students who don’t. (This also works if you just mention race or gender before a test, probably because students are already aware of the associated stereotypes without having them spelled out.) To use another analogy, it’s like a parent telling their child, “You’ll probably grow up to be straight, but if you do grow up to be gay, well, it’d be unusual but we’d love you anyway”: obviously better than outright homophobia, but still not as good as sparing the child the expectations in the first place. Adding on to the list of genders a person can be and explaining that the gender assigned at birth won’t necessarily match a person’s actual gender is progress, but it still requires everyone to pick a label, obscures the differences among people in the same category, and forces those outside the gender binary to take on the burden of being unusual, oddities, others. And yes, of course, the real pressure here comes from the cis people who support the notion of a gender binary, not the trans people who support the notion of a gender binary, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay anymore than it’s okay for radical feminist activists to be transphobic -we aren’t the main force causing violence against trans people (we aren’t powerful enough for that) but we still have a duty not to be complicit, to make our corners of the world as open and egalitarian as possible.

    • Dreki

      “when I, for instance, call myself a woman because of the ways I appear and behave”

      There are plenty of men who appear and behave in similar ways, so why not call yourself a man instead?

      Man and woman aren’t defined by presentation or roles. My preferred presentation and such very much fit into binary gender roles, but my gender is very much non-binary. A woman whose presentation and appearance are more in-line with male gender roles is sitll very much a woman and has every right to identify as such.

      Yes, your method of identifying based on appearance and behavior is incredibly problematic and cissexist, as you said. And I realize that tran speople use these justifications, but that’s in part because cis people force them to. If cis people would stop defining their genders by traits, then we could hardly use them to justify ours.

  • Looking Toward “Looking For Normal” « Theatre Alliance

    [...] one person’s take on the subject [from the blog [...]

  • withoutscene

    Coming across this just now from the Yes Means Yes blog. I find this very useful and am considering incorporating it into my Intro to Women’s Studies course. Thank you.

  • withoutscene

    Also, regarding books for children, this coloring book begins to interrogate the binary (see initial questions, which really aren’t worded for children) and presents some alternatives to binary sex/gender:

  • InfamousQBert

    i just want to thank asher and the other commenters on this post. it’s a great OP and the conversation has been extremely educational. i really appreciate both the info and the time and emotional effort put into it. i know it can’t have been easy.

  • Other Becky

    Got here from Shakesville — thanks for this resource. I’m still trying hard to educate myself — I think I’m maybe up to Trans 102 now. (In other words, too ignorant to usefully participate in discussions, but past the “gender is non-binary” and “use the right damn pronouns” point.) This is a much more nuanced explanation of 101-level material, and I suspect I’ll find myself coming back repeatedly, both to re-read the piece and to follow the conversation in the comments. Thank you.

  • C

    To me, the glaring issue is people thinking gender is more important than it really is. I think the way to achieve change is to encourage people to question their prejudices and preconceptions about gender. At the same time, academics who make specious claims about gender should have their research very thoroughly reviewed and, where applicable, challenged.

    But humans get caught in ruts. The ways they grow up thinking about the world are quite hard to shake in adulthood. While broad-minded liberals might be able to assimilate such changes in attitude to gender quite quickly, many people will take years or even decades to get the hang of it.

    In the UK, homosexuality now gaining widespread acceptance, whereas twenty years ago homophobia was probably more socially acceptable than homosexuality. That’s how long it takes.

    If my dear old parent read your posting, it would antagonise and alienate them. I don’t want my dear old parent antagonised and alienated. It’s not their fault they’ve had seventy-five years of conditioning to see gender as such an important and divisive trait. Gentle questioning of preconceptions will work far better than direct challenges.

    I want non-binary gender normalised, and I think the best way to normalise it is to act normally. Normal people don’t go around posting angry blog entries full of anarchy symbols. Normal people put the bins out, feed the cat and go shopping for groceries. I want my parent to meet people who are perfectly nice, normal and socially well adjusted and just happen to have an unfamiliar gender. It needn’t be an issue; it shouldn’t be an issue; people should be given the opportunity to avoid treating it as an issue and made to feel uncomfortable about causing a fuss.

    Yes, it’s probably high time society moved beyond the “X trapped in a Y body” cliché. Nowadays, it’s an oversimplification. But a decade ago, it was a justifiable simplification, and I don’t think we should be angry now from our perspective with the people who used that simplification back then with theirs.

    Most importantly of all, while you’re obviously entitled to express your view, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking it was the only available slant on the issues.

    • Asher

      I want my parent to meet people who are perfectly nice, normal and socially well adjusted and just happen to have an unfamiliar gender.

      Well, that’s nice, and obviously it should be understood that trans folks can be perfectly nice, normal and socially well adjusted. However I believe being nice, normal and socially well adjusted is fucking overrated. And I’m not into knocking people who are abnormal or socially maladjusted.

      Assimilationism fucking sucks. Imagine how much farther along the world would be socially if oppressed classes, instead of trying to prove “we’re just like you!” spent more time promoting the idea that it’s OK that we’re not all the same!

      Now, crazily enough, I put the bins out and go grocery shopping too. I would even feed the cats, were I allowed to have cats in this apartment. I also go to school and hold down a job. In the evenings, my lover and I put on our leather and go beat the shit out of each other at the local S&M club. On the weekends, we have civilized family dinners with our dear old parents, who, amazingly, still love us, even though they read this blog. Whoop de fucking doo.

      I’ve tried being nice. Personally, I don’t find that it works as well as what I’m doing now.

      We need more than gentle challenges. I would think that would be obvious considering the massive social injustice we are up against.

      I don’t give a shit if you think I’m a freak, if you don’t want to be associated with my kind, or if you wouldn’t want your dear old parents to know I exist. Guess what, though– the mainstream GLB movement feels the same way about you. Perpetuate that shit if you want, I’ll be over here waiting when you feel like having some solidarity, some dignity, and some pride.

    • calistair

      I don’t want non-binary genders to be normalized, I want them to be celebrated. Normalcy is in any case overrated, and pretending that non-binary gender is exactly like binary gender in every single way except the wording would be both disingenuous, false, and would chuck those whose genders *aren’t* exactly like binary genders under the bus. Being considered normal is not a compliment and it won’t particularly help people who can’t pretend to be normal.

  • tiernafeminista

    After seeing some questionable language in a local publication, I asked some posters over on Shakesville for a Trans 101 post and this was recommended. I am blown away by the thoughtfulness, content and quality of this post. Thank you so, so much for this. You rock!

  • tiernafeminista

    Just read my previous comment and I wanted to clarify: I am blown away because of the over simplifying and dumbing down often found in “trans 101″ posts you described. That is what I was expecting, and imagine my surprise when this is what I found instead. :) This really is the best “Trans 101″ post I have read. :)

  • tylrjm

    Thank you so much for this!! This is far and away the best trans 101 I have ever read. As someone who identifies as genderqueer, it is absolutely wonderful to have my existence acknowledged in a trans 101 context. So often I feel that people like me just get glossed over in favour of the binary view, which really sucks. Especially ’cause so much of the time, I feel like I’m not cis enough, but neither am I trans enough. This piece makes me feel a lot more comfortable about claiming the label trans. Thank you :)

  • » Choosing your gender

    [...] Not your mom’s Trans 101 – about why binary gender doesn’t really work [...]

  • » Not your mom’s trans 101

    [...] Not your mom’s trans 101 – why the gender binary doesn’t work [...]

  • Lucian

    Hello Asher,

    I read this post for the first time about a month or so ago and I keep coming back to it because it makes me feel like there’s a future and maybe one day this will just be accepted knowledge and it’ll all be okay.

    This Trans 101 makes me feel big. And I quite like feeling big. (I am not very tall.)

    So, thank you. Really. Far more than I can do in words. Also, the comments are spectacular!! (I wish my mum was that cool!)

  • In Which I Have Fucked Up « Listen to Meeeee!

    [...] time trying to educate myself, reading up online.  (Please, please go read Tranarchism, starting here, and Binary Subverter.) This certainly wasn’t the first problematic thing I’ve [...]

  • susan

    I appreciated this article and it gives us room to rediscover how we are presenting trans 101 which we do often. I find that we think very much alike. It is tough to rethink language when you are responsible for teaching a room full of cisgender people who you want to move forward in understanding what they feel is hard to understand. Sometimes it is hard because they have never met a trans person in their lives, that they know of. I wanted to second the person who commented on the word tranny. I find many of our youth using it and an apparent backlash. I am interested in this word appropriated back, or something like that, as the word queer has been. They seems to like the natural instinct to have a word of convenience, an informal word, one that covers all trans people , one that is other then cis, one that is casual and modern. Can it be appropriated back ? Does this have to offend? Does it need to be defended? Is it okay when a trans kid uses it and not a cisgendered person? I might vote for using it as a casual word so as to void too much chatter about identity at all times, as a word that has a sassy attitude like don’t tell me what to call myself.Am I off base here. I will look to your response and discuss more with our youth as many do use it!

    • Asher

      I absolutely believe that “tranny” can be reclaimed, but not as a word that “covers all trans people.” The history of tranny is as a word that has been used to persecute trans women and other AMAB feminine-type folks. It is NOT a word which has been used in the same way against trans men, or really against AFAB trans folks at all. So I think that trans female types can reclaim it, not trans male sorts, because basically I feel when a trans man calls himself a tranny he is being very appropriative. I wrote more about this here.

  • Kate the Great

    I think you misunderstand the meaning of the word “arbitrary,” and it weakens your point. The closest you get is to this definition,

    1.
    subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion: an arbitrary decision.

    But gender binary isn’t arbitrary. It might be needlessly simplistic, limiting and incomplete, but it isn’t baseless.

  • Melissa

    -kisses your feet-

    Thankyou! Thankyou so very much! As a queer pansexual partially-girlfaggish fourteen year old, I often lack the ability to explain gender, sex, and everything that comes up with those issues.

    I expect I’ll be linking this to confused souls in the future.

    Hugs and kisses,

    Melissa

  • D

    I was just linked to this, and really liked reading it, and the discussions in the comments. I wish I’d had your version of trans 101 about five years ago.

    I especially appreciated that you acknowledged the existence of both binary and non-binary identities. And I liked what you said about physical sex, as it’s a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I find that my feelings on it are very close to yours.

    The problem I have with a lot of the usual tropes and ways of explaining what it means to be trans is that, well, it is an oversimplification but also, when it’s the only viewpoint a lot of people see, it can make it harder for people whose experiences and identities don’t match up with it. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

    Personally, I really liked the tone of this piece.

  • Acceptance Is the Wrong Goal: Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect and the Stonewall Book Award | Megan Honig

    [...] really ____?” I suggest doing some reading. There’s a pretty nifty and subversive Trans 101 here and a nice set of Trans 101 posts linked from  Questioning Transphobia‘s sidebar (scroll [...]

  • Schala

    “Since you’re soliciting feedback, let me say as an intersex person that I’m glad you introduce us early on–thanks. However, your framing of intersex experience under “gender assigned at birth” seems to imply two things I’d take issue with. First, it implies that all intersex conditions are genitally visible and discovered at birth. Secondly, it implies that all genitally-variant babies are subject to sex-assignment surgery by doctors, as if families have no power to resist this.”

    I highly suspect an intersex condition in my case, even if more or less all help I contacted dismissed me as “normal” (intersex people, doctors, psychologist, psychiatrists, endocrinologist). I guess there’s no word for “abnormally underdeveloped as compared to familial controls of the same assigned sex and as compared to basically every (okay, just 3 or 4 standard deviations off) ethnically-similar specimen of the same assigned sex”

    What I suspect is a slight, but highly visible if you know what to look for (no, not breasts), resistance to testosterone post-birth. All people I contacted seem to rely on book-descriptions of obvious cases to note that someone is intersex. Either chromosomes that give a hint, big breasts in someone assigned male, lots of facial hair or chest hair in someone assigned female. It is severely lacking and probably misses a good portion of intersex people who aren’t so extremely visible phenotypically (like C cup breasts or a full beard) or chromosomally.

    I have the equivalent in facial hair to a 12 years old, and started hormones at 24. It started growing at 19. Have no armpit hair (never grown any). Kept an androgynous voice (that’s statistically rarer than chance, but more normal) and have a very small bone build (that’s extremely rare according to BMI in the US – I would have been at 0.04% on the weight scale and 10% on the height scale for a male of 20 – while eating normally – never dieting, even loving certain fast foods and never caring about fats or sugars).

    ——–

    As for the OP, I prefer the term transsexual if you’re referring to someone that transitions. I shorten it to trans often, and never mean transgender with it.

    To me transgender is someone who does not intend to, and doesn’t do body modifications.

    One can be both transgender and transsexual of course, but I don’t like the usage of using transgender as a global term.

    Cissexual is someone comfortable within their body configuration.

    Something not touched in your post is how hormones themselves make you feel, physically and psychologically.

    I started puberty at 16, and an extreme depression at the same time, leading to an attempted suicide at 22, and apathy throughout that time, until I started hormones. I was depressed before, but nothing compared to once testosterone shooted up. It also caused massive acne that lasted up until hormones washed my system (it took 6 months to get rid of acne even then!). I had no libido and wasn’t aggressive, despite having middle-range testosterone for a male.

    Now with estrogen since 4 years, I have some libido. I counter the notion that testosterone causes libido – since I have 0.0 nano mol per liter of blood (normal for females is 1.0 to 3.5). And I don’t feel like I have poison coursing through my veins anymore.

    As for identifying as a gender. I identify as a sex: female. The rest doesn’t matter. I’m my own self. People assume female = woman, and I won’t disabuse them of the notion in my case, because it’s not an uncomfortable denomination. As for wether I conform to gender roles/norms. Enough to be seen as feminine, although not necessarily intentionally (ie I don’t follow norms to appear feminine, my tastes and body shape just happen to allow this).

    So my sex identity is female, my gender identity is whatever, but to other people it happens to be woman.

  • Meeresbande

    First off, I am mostly a ciswoman, though a bit queer as well. Not sure how to explain properly…

    “Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender role in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

    It is a mystery why so many people are comfortable being categorized in just one of two ways. Just as nobody knows why there are so many cis people, nobody knows why there are so many binary identified folks.

    I think it is not really a mystery. It probably has very much to do with the cissexist ways people are brought up and socialized and with the violent ways in wich the gender binary is enforced. Under these circumstances I think it is understandable that many people “fit” into cis- and/ or binary categories – because many probably prefer these categories as long as subjecting to them has less (or simply more familiar) negative impact on their lives than rebelling against them. Also, if you are always told that the world is neatly divided into just two categories and that you, obviously, belong to one specific category and if you hardly ever see this notion challenged it is not easy to break out of these categories even if they do not really fit. Of course, for many people it is impossible to live with their assigned gender and/or with any binary gender at all. But for those who can live with it I don’t think it is a mystery why they often go along, even if the categories are probably not always very fitting or comfortable.
    By this, I don’t want to sound as though *every* cis- and/or binary identified person only grudgingly subjects to binary thinking because they have to or because they don’t know any better – there are of course people who really do fit into these categories and they shouldn’t have to explain or apologize any more than those who don’t. But I think it is impossible to know how many people would still choose to identify in binary terms if there were no pressure to do so. Maybe only a minority would. Maybe it would still be a vast majority. I don’t know. And frankly I don’t think it is very important.

    As to why this society is based on cissexism, gender binary and other binary thinking and sexism, I guess that has a lot to do with it being a hierarchical and exploitative society and it is easier to establish hierarchies and to exploit people if they are devided and are refused their right to self-identify. It is also easier to establish the “right” to exploit others if one can claim that it is self-evident and “natural” or “god’s will” or “in the genes” or whatever that one belongs to a certain group of people which just so happens to be dominant.

    So even if I don’t agree that it is a mystery why so many folks identify in binary terms, I still enjoyed the language you used! I guess as a trans person you get asked why you are a man or how you know it or some other questions like that a lot. As you say, “Cissexism is holding the genders of trans people to more intense scrutiny than the genders of cis people”. You do the opposite here. [irony] Oh, is that uncomfortable, cis-folks? Whoops, who would have guessed! Now you got a taste of how that feels… [irony off] I think that is totally justified. Like I said above, I find your language refreshing.

    • Asher

      Except if people are only cis because cissexism is so engrained, how do trans people find our way to something different? Like, ever?

      • Meeresbande

        I didn’t say people were *only* cis because cissexism is so engrained. And I also didn’t say that cissexism is all-powerful, which it isn’t.

        I was trying to say that there are people (I don’t want to guess on how many, could be few, could be lots) who go along with the categories they have been put into because they are enforced, who would otherwise (if there were no pressure) not identify as cis and/or in binary terms.

        As to why some identify as cis and others not, I think that some people (like I tried to explain) fit those genders they have been assigned and some not really and some not at all. That might be an important factor as to why some go along and some endorse and some reject their assigned gender. Another factor might be that some people are able to live with an assigned gender even if it doesn’t fit that well while others can’t live with it. Some people can and/or want to rebel against societal norms, others don’t want to and/or find that harder. Some people think that gender is an important issue in their lives, others don’t. Some people have been exposed to non-binary theories about gender, transactivism, trans- and/or queer support networks, others not. So I think there are numerous reasons why some people are cis and some not and (just in case it comes off that way in typing) I don’t want to judge people based on that. If someone “only” identifies as cis because that is convenient in the current conditions, that’s fine with me as long as they don’t exercise lots of privilege. If someone refuses to identify as cis because ey wants to rebel agains societal norms, go em! What I wanted to say is that I guess in a world without pressure like sexism, cissexism, transphobia, binary thinking etc. people would most likely identify differently and that it is hard, if not impossible, to guess *how* they would identify.

        Otherwise it would mean that cissexism either needn’t be enforced or else the enforcement doesn’t really have much of an effect. Or am I totally misunderstanding your question? I must confess, I’m confused, because I thought you thought that cissexism is being enforced, too.

        I just realised that this has a lot to do with wether or not one thinks that gender is an essential or intrinsic part of a person. I think it can be, but doesn’t have to be. Like, for some it is and for some not. I’m not sure if that even makes sense, but I know people who feel that their gender is essential to them and “just there” and would also be there and be the same if the surrounding society were different – and others who don’t have a gender – and others who say that their gender would be different or nonexisting in a different society.

        I hope I made sense!

    • Dreki

      Cissexism being so prevalent is only the reason why there are so many “cis” people. Anyone who isn’t bothered enough by not being seen as the right gender and who doesn’t seriously need to change their body have so little pressure to identify as anything else and so little awareness that there’s even the option.

      There are still homosexual cis people getting married to cis people of the opposite sex because of how heavily ingrained heterosexism is, there are definitely trans people who aren’t aware that it’s an option. I know a few trans people who came out to hteir relatives and got told by an “aunt” or “uncle” or parent that the person has always felt the same, or finds out that everyone suspected some other relative was the same.

      But, yeah, that’s not why there are cis people in the first place.

  • Meeresbande

    I have thought more about this…

    I guess in my perfect future no one CAN be cis by your definition because no one will be assigned any gender or sex at birth or any other time in life. People will be free to identify as any or no gender and/or sex and change their self-identification, but no one will assign anything to someone else. So in this world being cis would either not exist or it would have a different meaning.

    And then I have some questions. You said that you think gender is totally arbitrary (I agree with that) but you also say that a great number of people are cis and/or binary-identified. I agree with that, too. But at the same time I don’t really understand it. If I think that gender is arbitraryly assigned and an overall arbitrary concept then how can I identify as binary? If I don’t think gender is a binary thing?
    And if it is arbitrary, why are there so many cis people? Or: If there are so many cis people, how can I say that gender is arbitrary?

    Just questions that came to my mind and that I wanted to put out there in the open… Hope I’m not rambling…

  • Sex is a Social Construct « TAL9000

    [...] am instead going to focus on sex here, leaving gender to a future post. There’s a fair bit of existing trans theory on this subject that this essay is built on. Many ideas here will be cribbed from [...]

  • Dai

    Hey, thanks for writing this.
    As a trans-mostly-male person, I am really grateful.
    I had a lot of problems accepting myself the way I am, because I still felt the pressure to “fit” into the binary.
    People like you helped me getting over my angst.

  • staceys.grrl

    OK, let’s dispense with the labels first. We both hate ‘em, but sometimes they’re neccessary if only to know where we’re coming from. I’ve been in transition (M2F) for 2 years, and my mind as well as my body has gone through a lot of changes since I started. I currently identify as a “bisxual radical feminist transgender activist,” which makes about as much sense as “Existential Buddhist.” And yeah, it’s hard (read “damn near impossible”) to explain to ANYONE what I’m all about.

    What matters to me the most is that the first person I really cared about, and came out to because I cared about her, didn’t really care about any of that: she accepted me for who I was, who I am, and who I was becoming. So she knew right from our beginning what was going on, and she’s been with me every step of the way. This April will be our 2d wedding anniversary. We wed before my changes became too noticeable, and it’s all legal. Her daughter and her parents are okay with it, too.

    But even that throws a lot of people for a loop. “Are you lesbian? Bisexual?” See, still trapped in the binary–you have to be either one or the other, right? “How do you have sex?” Our response–when we even bother to reply–is “with great passion and pleasure.”

    But since reading your piece, my thoughts are already changing: I DON’T have to be one or the other. I don’t have to stay in the binary. The best way I can describe it was when a close friend told my wife, “It doesn’t matter what you are: if people insist on having a label, tell them you’re ‘Robynsexual.'”

    And THIS is OUR binary: I am her wife, and she is mine.

  • Introduction to Gender Questioning « TAL9000

    [...] Reading Not Your Mom’s Trans 101, a brief primer on the theory of what it is to be trans. Really good [...]

  • perlhaqr

    This body is not a woman’s. It is mine. Neither am I trapped in it.

    And the lightbulb goes on. :) For me, I mean.

  • puck

    maybe it’s already been mentioned, and buried amongst the 200some comments here that i didn’t have time to read, but i feel like use of the word “opposite” here –

    All cis people and many trans people are binary-identified. Given the options of “man” or “woman,” we who are binary-identified are able to be comfortable with one, even if it is the opposite of what we were assigned.

    and other places around the piece continues to support a binary, even if there are quotes around it/it’s in context of discussing said binary. is there another way to word this?

  • Rowan Thomas

    I’m running a campaign focusing non-binary-gendered people (awareness of and accessibility for), currently a local campaign but hopefully national soon. I wanted to ask you two things:

    1) would you be happy for me to use some of what you’ve said on non-binary in the campaign, I may want to rephrase a fair bit. If you are happy what are you happy for me to use and if I use a direct quote how/would you like it acknowledged (I would also like to link to this post if that would be okay – I need to flesh out the background to the campaign).

    2) I would love your thoughts on the campaign, it’s the website I’ve given and I’m trying to consult and get as much input as possible. I want to be very careful to not invalidate the binary identity of most trans people, hence a lot of the reason for the request in 1).

    Finally, just to say, awesome post, read it a while ago, yay! for inclusive, clear 101! Thank you.

    • Asher

      I am happy for you to use my words. However I DEFINITELY prefer direct quotes to rephrasing. If you really want to rephrase something please run it by me first so I can approve it.

      Attribute all quotes you use to me, Asher Bauer, and links to this site would definitely be appreciated. You may use any part of this piece that you feel is appropriate as long as it is attributed.

      Thanks so much!

      • Rowan Thomas

        I wouldn’t be rephrasing anything major, just want to shorten as I don’t want to copy the whole non-binary section possibly change we to those as it would work better in context. Something like:

        “All cis people and many trans people are binary-identified. Given the options of “man” or “woman,” those who are binary-identified are able to be comfortable with one, even if it is the opposite of what they were assigned.

        It is a mystery why so many people are comfortable being categorized in just one of two ways. Just as nobody knows why there are so many cis people, nobody knows why there are so many binary identified folks.”

      • Asher

        That looks fine. Thanks!

    • Dreki

      Rowan: Are you, personally, non-binary? If not, why isn’t a non-binary person in charge and how many are personally involved?

      Also, it should be “non-binary gender”, not “non-binary gendered

      • Rowan Thomas

        I am as is another person heavily involved as are several of the people who have been involved and looked through stuff, we have also consulted many trans people but given the level of non-binary people’s input I’m particularly concerned to not do something counter-productive for binary trans types. This being the reason for that focus, also that I’m asking a binary person.

        Where you do you mean non-binary gender rather then non-binary-gendered? If this is a preference for one over the other (as opposed to me failing at English), could you explain please?

  • interstate

    I don’t actually agree that constructions like “intersexed” and “multi-gendered” suggest that these states of being are “something done to the person.” After all, we also describe people as “left-handed,” “red-haired,” “brown-eyed,” “quick-witted” and “even-tempered.”

    • calistair

      The thing is, red-haired people and left-handed people do not have nor have had a historical or societal context wherein the reality of their trait being innate (by this I do not mean positive, inseparable from them, or unable to be influenced) was denied.

      Trans people, as well as non-binary people, and interesex people have a historical as well as a current societal paradigm wherein people think of their gender or intersexness as something done to them, not part of who they are/what they are.

      The grammatical construction is technically correct–however, the usage of those words, both in history and in present times, is done with malicious and bigoted intent often enough that it’s both insensitive and rather privileged to flatly dismiss the connotation.

  • Soren

    This is super awesome – accessible, clever, witty, and uncompromising. You just made this queer cisman very happy.

  • EmberLeo

    First of all, this is a really wonderful post, and very helpful, thank you!

    “No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.”

    Hmm, I wonder how much of it is that these categories have a fairly wide variety of parameters, depending on the context. So they’re not exactly two categories, so much as many sets of two categories – and a lot of work has been put in over the last hundred years or so in at least Western culture to make those categories more roomy (or at least one of them – “female”) and thus better able to comfortably fit a wider variety of people – though certainly not everyone.

    I observe this because I’m not so sure I’d have been “cis” if I had been raised with the expectations of “female” from 150 > years ago, or even just 70 years ago.

    Does that… make sense?

    –Ember–

  • TalieC

    This has to be a typo, but it subverts a fair bit of our experience:

    “Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender role in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

    (italics on the typo mine)

  • Carson

    Hi, I know this is old and I hope you don’t mind me still replying to it.

    I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. I agree that you need to do research on our own, but there’s a lot of different information out there and it can get really confusing. Posts like this help me make sure that I’m acting like the ally I want to be.

    I saw some discussion about the term “ally” further up. As someone who is bi I consider someone to be an ally to the LGBTQ community if they actually fight for LGBTQ rights. Treating me like a normal human being doesn’t make you an ally, it makes you not a jack ass. Actively and publicy supporting LGBTQ rights, even when it’s unpopular, makes you an ally.

    Once again thanks for posting this. It’s definitely getting bookmarked so I can reread it.

    • Dreki

      In relation to ally stuff- it’s one thing if a person in the community calls someone else an ally, but when cishet people start calling themselves allies I get uncomfortable and it generally goes badly. I agree wtih you that treating someone like a normal human being doesn’t mae someone an ally either way.

  • Annonamous

    ok this has been bothering me for as long as I remember ok I was born female but I feal like I should have been born male. I dont like my gender. But I still like guys. what does that make me trans gender cis gendered or gay trans gender if there is such thing. please reply Asher I need to now man.

  • Annonamous

    Thank you for letting me understand myself. I have been wanting to tell my boyfriend but I was not sure how to explain it. He is one of the few that did not make fun of me. :) He thinks its cool, me being trans makes me who I am and he does not want me to change because of what society says we are. Again thank you bro for the understanding.

    • Asher

      No problem. I remember what it was like when I thought I was the only gay trans guy on earth.

      You might want to read some queer/trans history. Gay trans men and lesbian trans women used to be not allowed to transition. Being straight was one of the requirements to get hormones, surgery, etc. Luckily things are different now.

  • Peg

    Suggested reading list, please?

  • Annonamous

    yes they are. I will read up on the history

  • Peg

    Thank you for the reading list – I have begun on it. The article on how not to be defensive says it was edited to remove ableist language, and I realized I was not as clear in my thoughts as I would like to be, about what constitutes ableist language. So I went and read some more articles about it, and I was suddenly struck by how pervasive it is. Somebody in the crowd next to me at a spring festival said “lame” in inaccurate context, just yesterday.

    I have used such phrases in the past, without awareness. Now I have learned that they are inappropriate, I am working at not using them, myself.

    So I begin to think about many expressions that are common use but inaccurate. And I acknowledge I need to be more conscious in my own speaking, and not just use those expressions without thinking, but rather remove them, because they are both inaccurate and inconsiderate.

    I’m 57, and still working on growing up to be humane. Yet I am working. I have learned, since I was younger and more aimless. And I am still learning, in good ways.

    The reading list helps. Thanks, more.

  • Peg

    And please note, it’s me that was aimless when younger. I have met many young people these days whose aims are clear, and focused, in ways that move them toward their growthful goals. Meeting you all encourages me. I see you taking action to bring about needed change.
    You are organizing awareness rallies in my town and I am attending them. Thank you for that, too.

  • Annonamous

    Asher not trying to waist your time I have one more question. my boyfriend wanted me to ask If I am a Gay Trans what does that make him he is just a normal guy who likes girls?

    • Asher

      Dude, trans men are men like any other.

      This may be hard to hear, but you may need to consider dating guys who like guys from now on.

      Your boyfriend knows what he likes… Will he still be attracted to you if you get on testosterone or get surgery? Then maybe he’s not straight.

      I know that I will never ever date a straight man again. Nobody gets to pretend that I’m a girl for the sake of their heterosexuality.

  • Annonamous

    I have thought about that but he has brought up an engagment. I talked to him more about it and he said that “I dont care If your trans I like you for you. I went a little over 2 years with out knowing, it does not change anything”

    Do you think he could be looking at me physicaly and not mentaly and be ignoring the fact and just think of me as a tomboy?

  • Annonamous

    let me put it this way. I am so confused right now ok The more I think about it when I was in grade school middle school and my first 3 years of high school I always wanted 2 be in a guys body Its now my senior year I have ben thinkin about this for a couple of weeks & would not want 2 change my gender everything is the same on what I said before. would i still be considered a FTM trans even if I dont want 2 change my gender to a guy? can you explain any of this its stressing me out. its all confusing.

    • Asher

      If by “change your gender” you mean hormones and surgery, no, you do not have to go on hormones and get surgery in order to be trans. You identify as male but were assigned female at birth. It sounds like you’re trans.

      Look, I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t know you and I don’t really know your situation. But here comes my best advice (and you’re probably gonna hate some of this): You are in high school. Please don’t think about a lifetime relationship yet. What you need to do, badly, is figure your gender out. Before you decide what you want to do with your life you need to get some more information. You say you don’t want to “change your gender” now, well, that’s fine, but are you sure you aren’t being scared away from that decision by the fear of bad results?

      There are lots of very handsome, very happy trans men out there who have gotten great results from surgery and hormones. A lot of them are in great relationships with people who see them as the men that they are, and a lot of them are in relationships with other gay men. Do you want that for yourself? You can have it. It won’t be easy, but it may be worth while.

      There’s a good chance you won’t be with this guy forever. Think about what you want for YOUR life for a minute, not about what your boyfriend wants. Do you want your body to stay how it is for the rest of your life? Do you want to grow old and die in it they way it is now?

      On the other hand you definitely don’t HAVE to get hormones or surgery if you don’t want them. They’re expensive anyway, not all trans people can afford it.

      But you probably need to think about this for more than a couple of weeks to make a final decision.

      That’s really all the advice I have to give. I can send you some links where you can find out more about being trans and about being a trans man if you are interested, but that’s really all I’ve got.

  • SJ

    I had my husband read this tonight, because I found the whole piece to be eye opening and helpful in how I understand and relate to my trans-friend. (Is it sad that I only know of one?)
    He (het cis-male) did not understand some, if any, of the points made about binary sex, and finally, he asked that if we shouldn’t assign male or female at birth, should we just call them human babies/children until they are able to determine for themselves. He is having a hard time accepting the language used, I think entirely because he hasn’t been exposed to thinking like this before.
    It’s frustrating for me to discuss this with him, and try to make decisions of how to teach our (presumed) son, and baby-in-utero about these concepts when everything, especially baby-related paraphernalia, is so binary. He seems to try to be open minded, but it happens more often that he can’t wrap his head around a subject and then proceeds to criticize and disagree.

    • Lilith von Fraumench

      Frankly, I do think assigning gender at birth is coercive. It’s potentially prone to error, as one cannot necessarily identify intersex folk by a glance between an infant’s legs. On a libertarian level it’s wrong for the government to regulate gender. And that’s before we get into issues of transsexuality or any kind of transgenderism.

      My favorite bit from Monty Python comes early in *The Meaning of Life*:

      New Mother: Is it a boy or a girl?

      Obstretrician: I think it’s a bit early to start imposing roles on it, don’t you?

      …Goddamn right it’s a bit early.

  • Annonamous

    sure. I know Im not going to get engaged soon. what you said I have thought about before but thanks for the advise anyways. I know who I am and who Im going to be. sorry for wasting your time with that STUPID question before.

    • Lilith von Fraumench

      It wasn’t a stupid question–it’s just one that nobody but yourself can really answer.

      Asher can advise; I can advise; any person on the street can advise (although most likely their advise won’t be particularly good for trans folk). But some things you must figure out for yourself.

      I’d suggest reading everything on gender that you can–not to find out The Truth, as you won’t find it that way, but to find out what resonates with you. Those resonances are hints, and you may find out more about yourself than you may expect.

      When I was confused about who and what I was, I discovered Susie Bright’s “Egg Sex” essay. And while that essay was about pregnancy and eroticism, I found it resonated so heavily with me that it became clear to me that, despite what anyone else told me before, I was a woman. That’s my experience, at any rate.

      • Annonamous

        Lilish Thank you for that post you were right about I have to figure out everything myself. I have everything figured out now on who I am. I just have to accept it I can not change who I am and keep hiding it. I started telling some of my close friends That I am a FTM gay Trans and they accept me. they said it explains alot about me lol. I just wanted to thank you I have everything figured out and no more stress. :)

  • Colleen

    As a trans person who is binary identified on some level but pretty active in communitties of people with all sorts of levels of gender identification this is not a good trans 101.

    1) Outside of San Francisco and New York (both places I’ve lived, along with other places) there are not a lot of people that are not binary identified on some level. This opens up a lot of weird dynamics when you are handling this as a 101. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but a lot of radical folks (maybe those who you are especially targeting with this peice?) are really disrespectful of binary identified transpeople but just can’t get enough of people like Mattilda and others who revel in being “queerer then thou”.

    2) You have a lot of hostility to people who are into their gender – which is alienating to about 99.99% of the world’s population. Most people are cis, and most trans people are binary identified – there’s no real point in acting otherwise.

    3) Acting like trans people are something special. Trans people are people , they / we whatever are not unicorns.

    • Asher

      1) Not true. At all. I am in contact with LOTS of trans people from not only all over America but all over the world who are non binary. Trans people are a small minority anyway, and non binary folks are an even smaller minority– so what, we should not talk about them? Makes no sense.

      2) Also not true. I have no hostility to people who are into their gender. I AM binary identified. Show me how I am hostile. Quotes, please.

      3) Where and how did I do this? I agree that trans people are not unicorns and not special. Give me quotes.

    • biyuti

      Colleen, a world of no. Indeed a great big world out there where there are cultures and countries that have non-western and non-white constructions of gender that are neither binary nor cis.

      Try to remember that the white construction of gender isn’t the only one out there. More importantly, you don’t get to speak on behalf of the world.

  • Colleen

    A little more reasoning behind 1:radical cis people don’t get that it’s not ok to disrespect binary identified trans people. I’m sure you’ve spent time with a lot of the same radical folks that I have and lots of them seriously place value on transgressive gender performance in a way that denigrates people that aren’t properly anti-assimilationist (when these are people that assimilate just fine). I don’t know maybe it’s just a thing that annoys me especially, but it drives me up a wall whenever I encounter someone who has never had pronoun problems in their life preach about how awesome gender queer people are for being so transgressive.

    For 2,
    Here are quotes:
    “Because I had been taught to think of myself in terms of these same useless tropes, as an “FTM,” as a “female man,” as somebody who was “changing sexes.” Eventually, through a lot of intense discussions and a lot of tough love from people who were more knowledgeable, more radical, and more politically sophisticated than myself, I came to see things very differently.”

    This implies anyone who id’s as FTM/MTF or as having changed sexes is not knowledgeable, not radical, and not politically sophisticated.

    For 3:
    “Transgender people cannot accept our assigned genders. We know ourselves to be something different than what we were told to be. We do not see the random gender scripts we were given by society as relevant to us. We know that there is a different way, a way of autonomy, self-creation, and self-definition, and that this is the way we must follow, because we can never be happy with the parameters that have been mandated for our behavior and our bodies.”

    • Asher

      1: I think I’m spending time with different radical people than you are. I do know the ones you are talking about, though. I try to avoid “radical” trans people who are into being super gender subversive. The radicalism I prefer is the one that genuinely tries to protect everyone’s right to express their gender and be safe and respected. That includes binary folks.

      2: OK, that’s a misunderstanding which is my fault. Sorry. I am not criticizing the identities of trans women and trans men. I am criticizing the language “FTM” and “MTF.” I actually dislike those acronyms not because they are binary but because they do a good job of muddling the binary genders of trans men and women. Personally I was never an “F,” I’m just an “M,” and I don’t like being described by an acronym that puts the “F” first. Make more sense? I should fix that.

      3: Well I wasn’t actually trying to make us sound like unicorns. I can see how that made being trans sound extra radical but that wasn’t the intention. I was honestly just trying to explain the mechanics of not fitting one’s assigned gender. Again, this is something I should fix and rephrase.

      Thanks for catching those and taking the time to elaborate. I think we actually basically agree with each other…

  • Alex

    When I do “Trans 101″ speaking engagements, I usually use a spectrum example. A key point for me, though, is that I don’t indicate that the binary options given are the “true” choices available. When I am able to speak with groups/classes with even the tiniest bit of prior information, I find that a “Trans 102,” which takes apart the binary works a lot better.

    Part of this is that I want to make sure people can connect and relate. If I jump straight to dismantling the entire gender system, people with no knowledge of trans* issues tend to get a glazed look in their eye and look like they may begin drooling at any second.

    But I think you’ve broken it down very nicely here. Thanks!

  • Marja Erwin

    I don’t know if someone has already raised the issue in the comments, but I think you define cis too narrowly and trans too widely to take up everyone who isn’t cisgender. But many womyn – perhaps most womyn – take issue with one or more of the gender roles they were assigned at birth, the subordination of womyn to men, the objectification of womyn’s bodies, and/or for some womyn, the expectation that womyn should screw men. Are all these people trans? Think of how Bitch argues she can’t be transphobic because she is trans. Serena Nanda used similar arguments. Janice Raymond avoided calling herself trans, but she argued that her discomfort with the sex-role assigned to her at birth gave her an unbiased perspective. Dirt seems to have had a lot more tension with the gender assigned to her at birth than the vast majority of cis/non-trans womyn, and I don’t think anyone wants to declare her a trans activist.

    • calistair

      Okay, let’s talk about gender assignment vs gender role expectation, as well as side dish of gender performance vs gender presentation.

      To start, gender is an internal feeling that..I can’t really define. But it’s not something done to you, or something you choose.

      Gender assignment is when the midwife looks at the baby, sees a vulva, and says, “It’s a girl!” That is cissexism.

      Gender role is when that midwife then gets a pink hospital blanket for the baby, and then gives advice to the mother exclusively on how to deal with picky eaters, because she assumes that girls are picky eaters. That is also sexism.

      Another example of gender-role sexism would be for that mother to expect her baby to grow up to be either a housewife or a working mom, with the expectation either way that her baby will one day be a mother.

      Gender performance is used by the feminist community/movement, insofar as I have noticed, to mean doing womanly/feminine things for the sole purpose of being ‘more like a woman’, rather than because you like them. Holly Pervocracy’s phrase on it was ‘dressing your dog up like a dog for Halloween, to make it look more like a dog.’

      Gender presentation, as trans* and other non-cis people use it, refers to doing things that reflect or make visible parts of your gender, or doing things that you feel articulates or is part of your gender.

      I suspect that womyn have problems with their gender roles, the enforcement of gender performance. Some, especially some of the most cissexist, have issues with gender presentation, as well as the concept of gender itself. Some feel that gender, assigned gender, gender presentation, gender performance, and gender role expectation is all the same thing, which is false and cissexist.

      It is possible to be both deeply uncomfortable with your assigned gender and the expectations for your actual gender. It is equally possible, and damn common, to also have problems with sexism and cissexism, and not be cis.

  • Puck

    Hiyo, Asher! Got linked to this from fetlife and this post is so great. It definitely says much more articulately than I ever could a lot of the things I’ve been struggling with re: educating all the cis people in my life who aren’t already aware of trans issues.

    So, thanks!

  • Annonamous

    Asher man can you send me the links about being Trans I just want to read them and see what they have to say. I know know who I am. you helped me understand again thanks bro.

  • Jackie

    Coming in on this way late, but truly great post. It even made me feel warm and fuzzy.

  • carrieleilamlove

    I just read the post and every. single. comment. Whoa!

    I think it’s really telling that the majority of the discussion in the comments is around cis people being all, “But I don’t feel comfortable with my assigned gender either wah wah wah.”

    As a cis woman, I also felt “comfortable with assigned gender” did not describe my reality, and it isn’t that that discomfort isn’t valid, but for fuckssake there are a gazillion places where I can express that feeling and be supported and validated for it.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if the discussion here were more focused on ways to re/educate people effectively about these issues – which is how I read Asher’s intention for the post – instead of putting transpeople on the defensive about how they are defining “cis?”

    Love,
    Carrie

  • Mabel

    I don’t have time to read through all the comments right now, so forgive me if this is a repeat, but one revision suggestion came to mind a few times during this piece: Add “opposite” to the list of words to delete from your/our vocabulary when talking about sex and gender.
    By making a point to refer to “another sex” rather than “the opposite sex,” we can further dismantle both binary thinking and the oppositional sexism with which it is entangled.
    Great piece, altogether!

  • “He was REALLY a…” | Medical Anomaly

    [...] quite stringent and unreasonable. One of my personal favorite (non-medical) takes on this issue is Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 by Asher Bauer. Profanity aside, Bauer makes some excellent points that the medical community could [...]

  • » Towards my personal Sex-Positive Feminist 101 Clarisse Thorn

    [...] the idea of a person’s gender to whether they have a penis or a vagina, the existence of trans people and intersex people proves that this isn’t a valid approach. Individual people have [...]

  • Saffo

    Non-binary identified trans girl here, and I just wanted to say THANK YOU soooo much for writing this. I have often felt really frustrated with trans 101 stuff, like I had to dumb shit down and justify my existence to people. I like that you made it both militant and accessible at the same time.

    I’ll be sure to send this link to folks who have questions.

    Much Love,
    ~Saffo

    saffolicious.blogspot.com

  • Kira

    This is a great post.

    However, one small issue: Your layout of black background with white text is really painful and difficult to read. It causes some people eye strain and even migraines. In the interests of accessibility, perhaps you could change it? Black text on white backgrounds is easiest for many people to read.

  • Courtney

    Ash I am almost 19. I am confused about my gender when people ask me are you a boy or girl? I answer girl because thats what I apear phisically but most days I hate responding to that question because I feal like a guy between the ears. I remember as a kid my step dad treated me like a son and my grandma treated me like a grandson. Do you have any feedback?

    • Asher

      I can’t tell anyone else what their gender is, especially a stranger. The best advice I can give you is this:
      A) Nobody else can tell you what your gender is, that is for you to figure out.
      B) Your options are unlimited, you don’t necessarily need to be a boy or a girl, you can be both, or you can be something else entirely.
      C) There is no one way to be trans. If you come to see yourself as trans you don’t necessarily have to take hormones or have surgeries.
      D) This isn’t really a blog for transitioning advice, however, there is a lot of transitioning information out there on the internet. You might start by googling “trans man,” “ftm,” or “genderqueer.”

      Good luck.

  • Courtney

    ok just so there is no confusion. I was not asking about advise for transition surgery. I was asking for advise because im fuckin sick of being harased because I am the only gay FTM trans kid at my school. I feal like im the only one.

    • Asher

      Well, it sounds like you know who you are, then. You aren’t the only gay trans guy on earth, far from it. I’m afraid I still don’t really understand what you’re asking though? Sorry.

  • Courtney

    I guess I was just asking what do I do about the harasment it gets annoying after awhile. and my boyfriend also gets harassed because he is dating a FTM trans kid. Should I just ignore it?

    • Asher

      How to respond to transphobic harassment. Holy shit, I wish I had a good catch-all answer to that. Just ignoring it is not something that I believe is possible most of the time. I think it really depends on the situation. Sometimes confronting the person harassing you makes them back off, but only sometimes. Sometimes it’s not safe to confront them. Sometimes you can report the harassment to appropriate authorities, and depending on the law where you live, you may have legal protection against transphobic harassment. Where is this happening? Are you in school?

      • Courtney

        So I came to find out that the person who was harassing me likes me so thats odd. I also have one more question. Do you have any advise on coming out I feal like I need to let my mom know who I really am and not what she thinks I am. Any advise will help.

      • Asher

        Well, first of all, if you are still financially dependent on your parents, and if you think there is any chance of losing their support if you come out, be really careful.

        My best advice is to be direct and honest, and have links and info that you can give your mother when she wants to find out more (which she probably will). Also realize that sometimes people who react badly at first end up coming around. (And sometimes they don’t.) And try to have somebody understanding who you can talk to for support afterwards. I really hope that helps.

  • luna

    Holy shit, thank you so much for this post. And for the entire blog. As a genderqueer kid who is Still Figuring Things Out, I’ve tried to get around to as many blogs as possible to find the words to describe my experience, but I could never stick with the more mainstream trans* blogs (aside from the really personal, “Here’s how I am affected by this” ones) because they never fit right. But this was amazing, and hit exactly the note of anger that I’ve been looking for. Thank you.

  • Courtney

    Yes I am still in school about to graduate.

  • Yet another binary | biyuti

    [...] there is a problem with how he discusses gender identity politics. First, read his version of Trans 101 and his discussion of the word ‘cis.’ I found this very informative and it actually took me a [...]

  • biyuti

    Hey, I just wanted to say, first and foremost, I think this is great and that you are great (I read a great deal of your writing this past weekend). Very inspiring.

    On that note, I was inspired by this and your piece on the word ‘cis’ to start my own blog… Of which the first post is a criticism of the trans/cis binary you appear to have constructed.

    You can find the post here. I just want to make it clear that this isn’t about you, specifically, but about the awareness that grew within me the more I read about radical queer and/or gender politics and how I would be reading and thinking, “this is great!” only to be suddenly alienated because I’m not white.

    Keep up the awesome work!

  • Courtney

    It did help me. I told her and she thinks im mental but thats her problem not mine i dont choose to be this way. The advise helped because I also told my sis and boyfriend and they support me. :)

  • Recommendation: Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 — Genderfork

    [...] Quiet Jester recommends… Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 Weblog post, I think? Well. I’m not entirely sure that you’ll love it, per se. But I do [...]

  • shaed

    I loved this when I first read it, but after becoming a little more educated in various angles of social justice, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the ableism of -phobia language. “Transhate” seems to be gaining ground as a less ableist replacement (with the same aggressive connotations that cissexism lacks).

  • Bushfire

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s exactly the trans 101 I’ve been hoping for.

  • Call for submissions: a zine for pagans/heathens/witches/occultists who are trans and/or queer and who are involved or interested in social justice and anti-oppression frameworks and activism. « Zine Apothecary

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  • Eli

    This is a really fantastic resource. And despite it “not being your mom’s trans 101″ I am going to send it to my mom. ;)

    One thing I do want to mention, however, is that, among all your nicely laid out definitions and explanations, there is no definition of “dysphoria”. I’m sure most trans people are familiar with this term as is anyone actively involved with trans people, but as a trans 101 it would be great if you could define it here somehow.

    That’s really all. Thanks again for the great resource!

    PS- On a stylistic note, while reading this I was thinking of how much I wanted to send it to my parents and how great it was that there was no swearing (that’d be off-putting to them) and then I got to the end where “goddamn pronouns” appears–which really isn’t all that bad, given the frustration (and other feelings) we feel being misgendered, and I totally see how it fits–but I just wanted to point out that in the context of that paragraph, “goddamn” might not be necessary, as the repetition of “that means” is already incredibly powerful at proving your point. Just my two cents on style. However, it’s worth noting that I am particularly sensitive to language and have been sent here http://www.derailingfordummies.com/#hostile a couple times, although I never intend to derail or police language. It is not always our job to be “polite”.

  • Coming out to your parents; a 101 for non-binary types « Ill-considered and ill-at-ease

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  • Maddie

    So I was creeping around for an email to contact you at, but, not finding one, I figured I’d just leave a comment here.

    I really want to thank you for this post. This, some of your other posts, and the articles you’ve linked on your “trans basics” page have all been extremely helpful. I’d honestly never really thought at length about gender until recently, when I started dating my SO, who is genderqueer. Since then, I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time doing research on the internet, and your links and posts have been the most helpful of anything I’ve found. It’s lovely to be able to find this information.

    I keep writing things and then deleting them because I can’t phrase things worth a shit right now, and I hate to end here, as I feel like I’ve not adequately expressed my gratitude, but, for the sake of coherence, I’m going to have to cut it off here. Uhm. Yes.

  • James Hiwatari

    Hi there,

    As someone who has been doing some work about bringing awareness about trans issues to a few organisations and statutory bodies in the UK, I think you did a great job there. You’ve explained about cis privilege and the gender binary better (and in a more simple-easy-to-understand-way) than I would’ve been able to. I have never seen an explanation that is so empowering as this one. We have been trying to tell the people we work with that we choose our gender expression and even our toilets all the time, but I had never seen this written anywhere – though I’ve noticed that once cis people understand that they have genders too (=D) they tend to become a lot more open to trans people.

    This is the sort of thing we should be saying to everyone. When we say that “we all have genders” and “we all choose”, this stops being about “us v. them”, and thus it is that much easier for people to become allies and feel less “threatened” by trans people.

    All that said, I have a little request. I am a Brazilian , but I’m currently doing most of my work in the UK (as I live here). I would like to start doing something awareness work for Brazil too, but there aren’t many resources available in Portuguese. Would it be ok if I translated this post and used it in the Trans Men Brasil website? (with links and due credit, of course!)
    (Because not only I think you have done a beautiful job there, there is unfortunately a sense in Brazil that everything that comes from abroad is better, so I think people would value this translation of a work done abroad much more than if I just wrote something inspired by it. That’s a sad reality I would like to change, but for now I think it’s more productive if I play be their rules…)

    Thank you very much,

    James

    • Asher

      Thanks so much for reading, James. I would be absolutely flattered to have this translated into Portuguese. I won’t be able to read it very well (if at all) but send me a link when it’s done, OK?

      Have a great day,

      Asher

  • Nymeria

    I know you’re probably sick of reading comments on this post by now, but I just wanted to say this is amazing. It perfectly sums up everything I found uncomfortable about most trans 101 stuff. Thank you for writing it.

  • calistair

    Thank you thank you thank you! As someone with gender issues (I’m still figuring stuff out), the bit where you pointed out that gender is *only* self-identified/determined really hit home. Also, this seriously educated me and got me thinking in better ways, so thanks!

  • By the end of this post, “gender” may not look like a real word anymore | A Fine Line

    [...] you don’t know what on earth I’m saying, I highly recommend “Not Your Mom’s Trans 101“. If you have an inclination toward complicated gender theory, I also highly recommend [...]

  • renington

    “…back when we were still red, wrinkly, writhing, screaming newborn messes, completely unformed as individuals and without any identity at all to speak of, too bloody and scrunchy-faced to even be called cute.”
    I don’t know if anyone mentioned in the comments about this, I didn’t read through all of them, but i hope you meant bloody when you said “red” and not the reddish/pinkish hue a lot of lighter skinned babies take on when they are first born– and even if you meant bloody you still might want to change that wording, it sounds racist.

  • Andrea

    Thank you for this fantastic post! I didn’t get through all the comments, but I did CTRL + F in an attempt to see if anyone had brought this up before. I hope I’m not being redundant:

    “And what about women who get hysterectomies? Or who have had mastectomies for reasons related to breast cancer? Are they not women?

    What about a soldier whose dick gets blown off by a mine? Is he not a man?”

    I hope you’ll consider revising this statement to be less gender-role-normative, as currently it came off wrong to me. People of any gender can suffer the unplanned loss of one of the ‘primary sex characteristics’ you list and their gender will still be intact — whether it be to disease, or injury, or something else. The fact that you casually assert the soldier as male implies soldier = male by default, which is unfair to all of those soldiers in the world who are not men. The imbalance between the two examples (cancer vs. war heroism!) also casts the maimed man in a more glamorizedly gender-normative light than the maimed woman, since it implies the man was maimed because he was doing something _so manly_ that he was injured, whereas the woman just kind of had something unfortunate happen to her.

    A soldier can lose her breasts in an explosion and still be a woman, and a soldier can lose his dick in an explosion and still be a man, and a soldier can lose hir entire lower body in an explosion and still be just the same gender ze was before then — so I hope you’ll consider revising the example to be less stigmatized. Thanks!

    • Asher

      Nobody has brought that up before and it’s a REALLY good fucking point. I guess I was trying to use cisnormative rhetoric on purpose to make a point? But I don’t know that it actually helps, in fact, probably not at all.

  • hadme(at)hello

    I’m a queer, relatively cisgender person of color trying to better understand any cisgender privilege I may have. I was introduced to quite a few new ideas that I have to think over; however, I have two points to make at the moment:

    The first point is a response to this line:
    “But the point is that, while such modifications may be necessary for our peace of mind, they are not necessary to make us “real men” or “real women” or “real” whatevers. We’re plenty real right now, thank you.”

    For those trans people who hold this belief like yourself (I say this not to suggest what you said is false, but to clarify; there are trans-folks, as a product of internalized transphobia, who internalize the notion that such modifications are necessary for gender authenticity), why is body modification necessary?

    I’m sure part of it deals with a desire to be properly identified by society (even if one feels they are authentically a gender, they might modify themselves for social acceptance as most of society adheres to a gender binary) but why else? Doesn’t body modification to present as a particular sex or gender identity reinforce the idea there are immutable characteristics of each? In other words if a trans person modifies hir body to make their identity more “obvious” or recognizable (or at least what ze might believe would better suit), does that not reinforce the idea that certain characteristics define a particular gender? The modifications would be based on assumed characteristics (learned from the larger cisgender society) that define a gender.

    I hope that made sense.

    The second point is that I feel you did not define gender in the article. By not providing a definition, one is left to the interpretation of gender with which they are most familiar. I understand gender as a classification with a set of socially assigned qualities (which themselves are usually classified as masculine or feminine). Under this interpretation, I might argue that gender doesn’t exist, as there no exclusive qualities for masculinity or femininity.

    I think it would be good to provide the definition of gender that you would help would-be cisgender allies and trans-identified people who suffer from internalized transphobia.

    Thanks.
    Joshua.

    • Asher

      “I’m sure part of it deals with a desire to be properly identified by society (even if one feels they are authentically a gender, they might modify themselves for social acceptance as most of society adheres to a gender binary) but why else? Doesn’t body modification to present as a particular sex or gender identity reinforce the idea there are immutable characteristics of each? In other words if a trans person modifies hir body to make their identity more “obvious” or recognizable (or at least what ze might believe would better suit), does that not reinforce the idea that certain characteristics define a particular gender? The modifications would be based on assumed characteristics (learned from the larger cisgender society) that define a gender.”

      Doesn’t NOT modifying your cis body reinforce the idea that there are immutable characteristics of sex? Why are trans people held to a higher standard on this than cis people?

      Answer– people get body modification because they suffer from dysphoria about various aspects of their bodies. Plain and simple.

      Defining gender is a bad idea. Nobody can do it.

    • calistair

      The closest definition I can get to gender is an essential feeling–a feeling about some essential part of yourself–that places you in some–yeah, that’s as far as I could get.

  • Deviant Femme

    I appreciate this article on a number of levels. (And, because I am this sort of person, I would like to list them numerically.)

    1. The nonprofit organization that I work for is about to begin a multi-year cultural competency initiative relating to the LGBTQ community. It is a small organization, and I am the sole representative of the community – but I am a queer cisgendered faab femme. And, I accept and acknowledge the privilege that that gives me within the LGBTQ community. So, I feel the need to seek out other experiences and other perspectives, both for my own education and for that of my colleagues. This article seems to be a practically perfect counterexample to how many (well intentioned) liberal minded cisgender folks I know explain trans* issues.

    2. As I mentioned before, I’m cisgendered, however, my fiance is genderqueer. They are often so willing to be accommodating of everyone, but will rarely insist anyone takes equal consideration for them. I hope that the information contained here will become common knowledge and that, although I would them to, they will not be forced to stand up and demand equal treatment, respect, and understanding – it will just happen naturally. Education gives me hope.

  • Not your mom’s trans 101 | Melbourne Genderqueer

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  • Alex

    Awesome article. Only thing: “time is past” should be “time has passed” :)

  • K

    Found this post through a link through the re/creating zine. I found the title extremely unfortunate. Why isn’t this a Trans 101 for your mother? Why is it so easy to make things seem cooler if it’s “not your mom’s” other than sexism?

    • Asher

      You are right, of course, and I should fix that. Actually I’m kind of surprised you’re the first to bring it up. I think the title was just a cynical attempt at attention-grabbing on my part. I have found that “provocatively titled” posts get a lot more views than those which are not. A title change might be difficult to manage at this point since this piece has gotten a certain amount of attention under this title but I agree that it might be worth it.

  • Aortiz

    Hey Asher,

    I really appreciate this posting. I appreciate learning and understanding how terminology can be offensive, belittling or misleading. I value words, and I value identity… my own, and everyone else’s.

    Our terminology is only as expansive as our language in general. Some cultures and ancient languages did not have gendered pronouns, for example. All of this is very challenging material to wrap your head around if you’ve never stepped outside of the “assumed” gender binary. I lobby and organize around gay & trans rights issues and even my brain kind of explodes reading this and I had to use a dictionary a few times. I enjoy the intellectual & social challenge, but not everyone is there yet. My goal is to understand this material to a point where I can break it down while simultaneously not violating the verbal boundaries you’ve expressed here (like assuming “self identity” only applies to trans folks, while everyone else’s identity just IS- I love that point). As an already somewhat “radically minded queer”, I was always confused by the FTM & MTF identities, and tried to avoid using them…but resorted to them if the trans folks around me expressed comfort with those terms. I’m glad to hear more people are moving away from that.

    I think above all, it’s important for all of us to remember that love and patience will make these conversations so much easier. So many people’s eyes glaze over at the mention of words like “binary” & “cisgender” and academic conversations in general. I only recently learned what the prefix “cis” meant and how to correctly use that term in this ongoing gender conversation, and further that I’m a “cis woman.” News to me! lol We can’t forget about these folks… everyone’s gotta start somewhere with their consciousness. :)

    In order to keep my head from exploding, here’s what I think: all of this is so incredibly complicated, that it’s actually quite simple. Sex & gender are social.. the discrimination experienced by women and trans people is social. If we lived in a world that didn’t seek to “separate the sexes”, and didn’t have the words “man” & “woman”, or grow up being told we were one or the other, then there would be no need for the concept of “transitioning” between the two, or that there is a “spectrum” of some sort. Everyone would just be a person- with the bodies they have, and wearing the clothes they like and giving themselves their own names, being attracted to whomever they felt attracted to, and not judging or hurting others for their identities or lives.

    Interestingly, as more people in my life are having babies, I’m frequently bothered by the questions, “do you know the sex? is it a boy or a girl? are you going to be surprised?” And I think to myself, “finding out what that baby’s genitalia looks like doesn’t really make a goddamn difference cuz it doesn’t MEAN anything.” My mind is wide open on that front. If I had a baby and saw “vagina”, I know I can’t impose a gender role on that baby and vagina does not equal “girl”, but still automatically, I would call that baby “she”… as would many trans folks. We all do that with pets also… assign them a cisgender pronoun based on their genitals. Don’t you find that interesting?

    As you mentioned… someone is not female and then “becomes” a male. He was always a male. In his own body. But since our society- littered with boxes and categories and binaries- can’t really accept a man with a body that has what is biologically referred to in textbooks as “breasts” and a “vagina,” he is ostracized, harassed, assaulted, raped, murdered, and made to feel less than human. When in fact- that is what he is, first and foremost. Human.

    So in an effort to flow through this society with some peace of mind and safety and comfort, he may seek hormones or surgery. Or he may not. Perhaps he may be lucky enough to develop a sense of self so strong that he is comfortable in his body just as it is (as we actively teach our cis boys & girls to be)… and even luckier to have his gender identity acknowledged and respected without surgically or hormonally transitioning. Most are not that lucky. In fact, many are even “unluckier” if you will, and not only don’t have family & friends who respect their identity, but don’t have the economic, social or financial ability to get surgery or hormones in the first place. In New York, where I live, these folks, along with anyone who does not fit into a gender binary “passing-for-one-or-the-other” box can LEGALLY be fired, evicted or denied credit simply because of their gender identity- how they express their masculinity & femininity…of which, we all have elements and combinations of both- just like hormones. Most notably low-income trans women of color experience a high level of this discrimination. We’re working on changing that and passing the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act, an expansion to NY’s civil rights law. Crucial to this process is learning and relearning sensitive and effective language to convey to lawmakers, teachers, and society as whole about how and why trans, genderqueer, androgynous, cis, men, women and whatever term someone may use for themselves should be respected and treated with dignity under the law as human beings (novel idea, huh?)

    How do you think all this sounds?

    Further, I was curious about this sentence: “These rather absurd tropes, such as “blank trapped in a blank’s body” cause confusion among even well-meaning cis folks, feed internalized transphobia among us trans people, and provide endless straw-man fodder for transphobic ‘radical feminists,’ entitled cisgender academics, and other bigots.”

    Can you elaborate on the “transphobic radical feminists” piece? I don’t know if I follow that point. I have a friend who studies gender and has spoken about the intersection of feminism & the trans movement frequently. She says, “every trans issue is a feminist issue.” what do you think about that?

    She has never elaborated to me specifically, and I haven’t heard her speak, but I assume that to mean that for example, if a trans person is attacked- aside from simply “not fitting in” in general- he/she/ze/they is being attacked because of the way they are expressing their femininity, or because they AREN’T expressing femininity as is expected because of their body structure. And usually, it threatens cismen. Thus correlating with the violence ciswomen experience around the world as well (is that appropriate usage of “cis”? lol)

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, insight and personal experience.

    • Asher

      I don’t have time at the moment to respond to all of your points, but “transpjobic radical feminists” is a thing, sadly. Germaine Greer, Mary Daly and Janice Raymond are the big names in the transphobic strain of feminism. Google “The Transsexual Empire” and you’ll see what I mean.

    • Annie

      I signed up a while ago to get email updates every time a new comment is added to this thread, and I enjoyed reading yours. I am not Asher (shockingly enough), but I have a couple of comments to throw out there:

      1- I am not sure that this is important, even, but it’s one of my pet peeves, and I figure you’ve left this comment as being open to others’ comments? If you look between a baby’s legs you won’t ever see a vagina, as that’s the internal bit. You might see a “vulva”, though. Again, I’m not really sure if it’s ever that important, but that’s the term for the outside-y bit you’re thinking of.

      2- Just to spread it out a little more, some people DO define their experience as “becoming” male or female — some trans people think of ‘sex reassignment surgery’ (an older term than ‘sex confirmation surgery’ and other terms) as them BECOMING their gender, to a greater or lesser extent. How much of that concept is dependent on the medical models of ‘sex change’? I don’t know.

      3- Asher already mentioned transphobia in radical feminism; it’s a pretty gross thing that I think it’s only really beginning to be excised from that area. The basic idea is that if you haven’t always presented to society as female, you’ve lived male privilege so you can’t really be part of the club. (Because feminism is aaaaaaaall about telling you what REAL women can and can’t do and be *eyeroll*) The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, for instance, a woman-only music festival, was “WOMByn only” for a long time (the term in itself doesn’t even express what it’s meant to – I’m sure nobody meant women who’d had hysterectomies or been born without uteruses but otherwise cis female), and I just googled it to see when that was stopped – and it hasn’t, really. Whether or not it’s still in effect is still being debated.
      You might want to read IBTP’s post on it? IBTP is not 101 or, I think, very accessible to a lot of people at first, but I think this post probably stands on its own, and it might be interesting to you as Twisty is posting from a radical feminist background: http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2011/02/09/spinster-aunt-gets-translucent/

      • Annie

        sorry, just to be clear- the I Blame the Patriarchy post isn’t on the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, it’s on the radical feminism transphobia thing.

      • Asher

        Re: point number two–
        Some trans people hold cissexist ideas. That doesn’t make cissexist ideas OK. The idea that only by medical modification can your gender become valid is cissexist and horribly classist since not everyone can afford that type of medical intervention. So, no, I do not consider that mode of thought OK, at all, ever, and don’t think it belongs in my post.

        Sorry about the vulva vs. vagina thing though, that’s an embarrassing error.

      • Aortiz

        Thanks for your thoughts, Annie! I think I read your post a while ago, but I didn’t ever realize you were replying directly to mine until I was looking back through it just now. I appreciate your thoughts and time. You too, Asher :)

        Also- Duly noted about the vulva vs. vagina terminology. Thanks. That’s often why I put “vagina” in quotes… simply b/c that’s just what people often say, even if it’s technically incorrect, and even if everyone doesn’t use the same body parts.

      • Aortiz

        I mean, and even if everyone doesn’t use the same *words* for their body parts.

  • Mel

    Well-written post. But I don’t think the non-binary nature of sex negates its being something biological and physical. Chromosomes, genitalia, hormones, etc. are all biological characteristics, yet you say that sex isn’t physical. I think “sex” IS physical (not socially constructed), though not binary. Removing body parts does not change one’s biological sex. You cannot change your chromosomes or the hormones you were exposed to in the womb because biological sex is a combination of immutable genetic traits. While society assigns certain values and meanings to combinations of biological sex characteristics, it doesn’t mean that biological sex (by itself) is a social construct.

    • Asher

      “Removing body parts does not change one’s biological sex.”

      O rly? What are you basing sex on? Chromosomes and what hormones you were exposed to in the womb, eh? Why do the hormones I was exposed to in the womb matter more than the hormones I am taking now? What effect do my chromosomes have on my life aside from my ability to reproduce (which I don’t want to do anyway)?

      Biological sex may not be entirely socially constructed, maybe, but even if I were to grudgingly allow that, it is ENTIRELY SOCIALLY IRRELEVANT. And therefore almost entirely useless.

      So, cool story, bro.

    • Asher

      p.s. Nice typical transmisogynist/transphobic thought in eluding to the “removal” of body parts. Some trans people add body parts, ya know. Not to mention hormones. And use of prosthetics. Trans body modification is not all about cis male castration anxiety.

    • Anon

      “Well-written post. But I don’t think the non-binary nature of sex negates its being something biological and physical. Chromosomes, genitalia, hormones, etc. are all biological characteristics, yet you say that sex isn’t physical. I think “sex” IS physical (not socially constructed), though not binary.”

      The fact that sex is not binary is evidence toward sex as a social construct; the idea that there are males and females/only males and females. This is a social construct that is even being slowly dismantled within certain areas of the scientific community.

      You mention that sex is a combination of immutable genetic traits. This is also untrue, and again, the scientific community showed signs of beginning to debunk this in 2009, when a group of researchers were able to “switch off” the FoxL2 gene in adult female mice, which caused their ovaries to transform into testes, and after which they began to produce testosterone at the same levels as adult male mice. Sex is not immutable, and the fact that we have troubles even defining sex (what is it? gonads (which have been shown to be mutable)? chromosomes (which have been shown to vary quite a bit despite an individual’s secondary sex characteristics)? hormones (what about individuals like caster semenya, and what hormonal variance in humans, differences in hormonal exposure in the womb (see below))? secondary sex characteristics as a result of hormones (which vary from person to person, sometimes drastically)?) point to sex as extremely problematic. The problem is, is that sex is “immutable” and “non-socially constructed” only if we look at it in a certain way. How do these physical traits translate into a person’s sex? What is sex?

      Funny that you should mention exposure to hormones in the womb as a determinant of sex. At least two modern studies on the brains of transpeople (primarily transguys and transwomen) conducted at fairly respected universities and institutes have shown a hint for a biological basis for the existence of transpeople and gender/sex-variant people. Some have hypothesized and shown reasonable evidence for exposure (or lack thereof) to androgens in the womb, resulting in trans children (transguys being exposed to said rush of androgens to the brain that transwomen’s brains were not exposed to in the womb). Others showing that the “the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated FtM transsexuals (or pre/non-HRT transguys) is closer to the pattern of subjects who share their gender identity (males) than those who share their biological sex (females). Our results provide evidence for an inherent difference in the brain structure of FtM transsexuals.”

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20562024

      The problem with saying that sex is not socially constructed, is that given the huge variation in “sex characteristics” in humans, the categorization can only really be defined as socially constructed. Even if we go as far as to say that “female” is defined by the ability to give birth (which leaves out a whole lot of women born with non-functional uteri) and “male” = the production of sperm (what about those who don’t?). I think the issue is far more complex than what you’ve underlined.

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  • Matt

    Hi Asher,

    I am putting together a zine of texts written by trans people about different aspects of being trans. I am a student in sexology at a French-language university. I want to supplement the rather cursory and problematic discussion of trans issues in our classes with some voices of actual trans people.

    I was wondering if I could have permission to translate this article into French and use it in the zine, which will be distributed free to the other students in my class. This is not an assignment but an independent initiative of mine. The piece would be properly attributed, with a link here.

  • Allison

    Hey Asher,
    I remember reading excerpts of this post on Tumblr, but had never read it in full. But then I encountered some transphobia from two classmates today who spotted my issue of Time (which included a picture of a trans female teen). While I was looking around for a good Trans 101 to send them, I stumbled upon this again. It’s such a great intro, and I can’t thank you enough for writing it. It’s such a calm, reasonable presentation of the issues at hand. Keep up the good work!

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  • platedlizard

    Great post :)

    The only thing I can think of is possibly going into the difference between transgender and intersex a bit deeper. I recently discovered that my mother thought they were the same thing! I mean, where do you even start with trying to explain the difference with that?

  • Cara O'Donnell

    THANK YOU!!! I am a cisgendered female mother of a bisexual daughter. While I have considered myself an “ally” for years I am learning how far off the mark I have been! Even when my daughter “came out” and I started to try to learn more about LGBTQ “issues” I thought I was such a good “ally” You have helped me learn more what an ally REALLY is.

  • mx. punk

    this is an amazing post; thank you for writing it!

  • Dianna

    I try hard to be a prudent, resectful, and educated trans ally, but I sometimes miss the mark. As a grad student in sociology, I was often called to become more aware of my privelege as an American white cisgender female. What finally clicked in my head to reveal the depth of the privilege I’d never even considered was a TransParental article that mentioned doctor visits. When my doc asks me when my last menstral period was, I can answer without pause or explaination. My whole understanding of cisprivelege changed when I realized that.

    I respect you for having the guts to call me on my bullshit and ignorance, and I am grateful to you for reaching out in an effort to educate. Thank you for giving me the chance to be a better ally.

  • Toby Wolf

    Just WOOF… I want to re-read this a few times because I’m swamped at the moment and my brain is not fully engaged. But this is one of the best trans-101’s Ive seen. May I PM you to talk to you about utilizing some of your wordings in some of the things we are doing with Transcending Leather Corps and MAsT?

  • Intrapersonal Aspects of LGBTQ « Just a Scared Little Girl

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  • Jennifer Oswalt

    Hi there,

    I am a master’s student studying to become a Licenced Professional Counselor. I happened upon your blog through a link that someone at AASECT posted. It came highly recommended and now I see why. I have a special interest in sex therapy and have recognized that I have quite alot to learn regarding gender/sexual issues. I am still (and hope to always be) in the process of learning. In this area, your postings have been more informative than any textbook I have read thus far. I want to thank you for challenging my perception of “how things are” and presenting another way to understand the human experience. My hope is that my newfound knowledge will help me in serving any client who walks through my door – no matter how they identify. I have referred several other students to your blog in the hopes that they too will take advantage of the opportunity to learn. Thank you again and again.

    Sincerely,

    Jen

  • Caroline Laplante

    Thanks Asher for that post. I do some reading for a novel project. One of my character, a child, is a transgender. Your article helped me to understand some important topic.
    Sorry for the english, it’s not my first langage.

    • Asher

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you read this, many portrayals of trans people in fiction are extremely problematic.

      And many people who speak English as a second language do better than those of us who speak it as a first, no reason to apologize. :D

  • Sex News: More SOPA Porn, South Korean Sex Slaves, Naked Crime 2011, Monica Bellucci | Apri il tuo sexy shop online!

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  • Alexander Langshall

    Asher,

    I’m glad I found this – it is absolutely fantastic.

    I am an adjunct professor of film at a community college who teaches a course in Film and Culture that attempts to explore issues of American diversity using Film.

    I would like my students to read this blog in my course, and I wonder if there are any films that you would recommend that honestly and truthfully explore Transgender life in America?

    Best,
    Alex Langshall
    Adjunct Professor of Film, Salt Lake Community College

    • Asher

      Most films on trans issues are terrible.

      However I HIGHLY recommend Screaming Queens, directed and narrated by Susan Stryker. It’s about the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, which pre-dated the Stonewall Riots by a few years and was a riot by transgender women in San Francisco. It is important history, very entertaining and brilliantly done. (Everything Susan Stryker does is good, actually.)

      Paris Is Burning is also good but a bit dated and I have some political problems with it.

      Avoid at all costs: Boys Don’t Cry, The Brandon Teena Story, TransAmerica, and honestly almost every fiction film about trans people I can think of.

  • Michelle Gould

    This is articular is so on . However I have on disagreement. There is a line but it is a rainbow with the IR and UV spectrum. One can be anywhere on that diverse line. That is the furthest from simple binary.

    • Bracula

      Actually, no. My gender–and many others–have nothing to do with the binary genders and aren’t on any sort of line relation to them.

  • Michelle Gould

    Oh there is no pot of “gold” at the ends

  • Nikki

    Thanks for disseminating valuable information.

  • I-Am Love

    This is a good post, and brings up alot of important issues. with words like *tranny* and *ally*…there are simply different folks who are comfortable with them, and some who are not. With *tranny*…I think its a word that should only be used by and around folks you KNOW are ok with it….not in general public or spaces where you dont know. Between some of my friends, we use it together, but I wouldnt if I didnt know someone identified with that word. As for ally…..I just look at it as someone who is cis who *gets it*. I dont have a problem with the word personally….but it doesnt mean those people cant make mistakes…or for that matter, folks IN the trans/non-binary/etc community cant either. IN the end, it all comes down to langauge, and these are just words we use to label ourselves and each other. Language is evolving and in another decade Im sure another set will come out and words like trans, genderqueer, cis, ally, etc…may be different.

  • Siobhan

    Dear Asher,

    Thanks a lot for this article, I found it really informative. I’ve been reading online about gender issues because there’s a trans person at my university, and I’d like to know more about their situation. It’s not something I’ve encountered before, and all of the conversations that I’ve had in which this person has come up have been very anxious; “I called ‘him’ ‘her’ by accident”, “Is it a boy who looks like a girl or a girl who looks like a boy?” etc etc. It’s a really welcoming place, but people are genuinely thrown by something new, and this causes a lot of possibly offensive mistakes think.

    I understand how tedious it must be when everyone who meets you, even the most well-meaning, start the acquaintance off with questions along the lines of “What are you, anyway?”, and I want to educate myself without resorting to that. I’m interested, and I’d also like to be able to react respectfully. On the other hand, it seems kind of insensitive to approach someone with the attitude “I read about people like you on the internet, so I know all about it”. It seems like the person themselves should be the one I go to to find out how they see their identity, how I should refer to them and so on. From what I’ve read so far (including within the comments to this one post), there are plenty of different opinions among trans people, and it would be wrong to believe that internet discussions can really tell me how to respond to any individual that I actually meet.

    Nobody in the LGBT group at my university has told me that they are trans, and I just don’t practically have the opportunity to meet many trans people. I’m pretty stuck on just how to become an “ally”, or even just an aware person on these issues, given that the trans people that I do meet are probably quite sick of discussing it.

    I’d really like to know what you and the others here think about how someone like me (and I think my position is quite common) should do to improve my own and others’ understanding about trans issues.

    • Asher

      Go to “trans basics” at the top of this site.

      Read it all.

      Then read some more.

      Believe me, reading up on your own time is a lot better than grilling someone in person about what being trans means to them.

      The only question you actually need to ask an individual trans person face to face is “what is your preferred pronoun?” You do not need to know their gender identity, their surgical status, or their political views on trans issues in order to interact with them like a human being. Just their name and pronoun.

    • lilithvf1998

      I’d like to point out that presuming everyone is cis until they are proven to be trans is actually part of the problem. You have no way of knowing who’s trans, so why presume they aren’t?

      Also, while there is a wide range of viewpoints held by trans folk, there is an emerging consensus about our needs, oppressions, and vocabulary. That said, this blog–and this particular posting–are solid, and I trust Asher as a friend and a trans activist.

      Finally, as a cis person, you will probably never know “all about” trans folk, because you will never share our experiences dealing with this culture, and dealing with cis people’s insensitivities towards us. So, as Asher recommends–read it all, then read some more. I know *I* am–why should you be any different?

  • Siobhan

    I trust Asher as well, although I don’t know him, because of what he’s written. I can see that communicating about trans issues is a talent of his and that he is a vocal part of a culture that I do not know. That’s why I thought it would be ok to ask him a question, and I’m very glad to have his advice. Thank you, Asher.

    Until recently meeting for the first time a person who has identified themselves to me as being trans, I wasn’t conscious of just how large a part gender is in the way I relate to people. I would not have thought that I would view or treat people differently on the basis of gender; now I believe that that is the case. That isn’t how I want to be, and I hope to inform myself more so that I can change my thinking. That’s what I’m starting to do.

    However, I would consider it completely crass and stupid to believe I had a good understanding of any person, group or culture through reading alone; investing in a dialogue with people of experience seems like a good thing to do as well. I suppose where I differ from many others here is that, as you point out, my life experience has provided no personal understanding of trans issues; I’m trying to ‘get it’, but from the outside. That’s why I see the testimony and advice of people who have been there as a valuable thing for me to seek.

    • Asher

      However, I would consider it completely crass and stupid to believe I had a good understanding of any person, group or culture through reading alone

      Yes, I agree, this is never a good idea. HOWEVER I again encourage you not to “engage people in dialog” unless they indicate a desire to have dialog about trans issues with you. This tends to make people feel like living museum pieces.

      Here’s an idea: trans people sometimes teach classes about trans issues. You know, for money. Go to one. The Q & A session which is likely to be present at the end is a good time to ask your questions. That way the trans person you have dialog with is actually receiving compensation for the rather exhausting work of educating on trans issues and you don’t risk getting your head bit off by a trans person who is not interested in having “dialog” about their life and experiences… again.

    • lilithvf1998

      Testimony is valuable, but the question is what sort of value is to be had? If you use the testimony only to confirm your own biases, then you are doing trans folk a disservice. Doing your homework first means that when you seek the testimony, it will have value for the trans person to give it.

      Also, what Asher said. A common description for how some oppressed folk feel when being asked about their oppression by privileged folk is “self-narrating zoo exhibits.” I talk a lot–openly–about my experiences and perspectives as a trans woman, but that doesn’t mean I never get sick of answering questions that a few minutes on Google could have answered for the questioner.

  • Bracula

    Asher,
    I’m creating a new blog for non-binary people (http://outsidethebinary.wordpress.com/) and was wondering if I could re-post this Trans 101 on the site. It’s by far the best I’ve ever seen–for everything.
    -MGB

  • lisa

    Great article with many good points.

    With regards to intersex babies, just FYI (coming from someone who works in genetics and sees children with ambiguous genitalia often), the paradigm is NOT to arbitrarily assign gender based on one doctor’s whims and preferences. That is definitely the way it has been done in the past – the new model is multidisciplinary care involving social work, psychology, surgery, genetics, counselling, urology (to consider function of genitalia), etc. that collaborate to move towards the best decision for that child. If the ambiguity does not interfere severely with necessary functioning of the genitalia (i.e. urination) then often the decision is being made later and later in life with the child’s input taken into account.

    But you’re right, sometimes the decision is made due to what structures are present and what will give that person the best sexual/urological function in the long run (again though, not one doctor’s whim of what gender they think that child will be).

    • lilithvf1998

      I suspect the main concern is whether the “best sexual/urological function” is educated by cisnormative ideas of what those functions should be like. That said, I’m glad to see indications of improvement in intersex medical treatment.

  • Cissexism and transphobia in bisexual communities | Bi radical

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  • Yumeru

    Let me frame this question by first explaining that I identify as genderqueer, and am still debating if I want to start taking hormones/get surgery to alter my physical appearance to better match my gender identity. I mean all the questions I’m asking seriously, honestly wanting to know your opinion.

    What are the health care implications of what you’re saying regarding how irrelevant and inaccurate the term “sex” is to describe anatomical differences? There are “sex specific” ailments that “men” and “women” (and I use those terms as defined by the medical profession) need to get regularly tested for: ie, prostate, cervical, and ovarian cancers. When I’ve been doing research regarding transition, one of the things I came across a lot was talk about people post-transition who got sick because they didn’t continue to get checked for such illnesses. Now, I know part of this is just that the health care profession is horribly behind the times in regards to how they treat trans-people, and many trans-people are uncomfortable with talking with their doctors about being trans. Lord knows, I get really uncomfortable during pelvic exams, because I dislike the reminder that I have a vagina. But I grit my teeth and bear it because I want to take care of my health, especially because I’m higher risk for those kinds of cancers due to family history. And doctors won’t know to do those tests unless I have some way of telling them (which is currently by saying that I have “female” anatomy).

    I guess what this is boiling down to is, without specific terms to identify those anatomical differences, how do you propose that both trans and cis gendered people continue to get the kind of specialized care they need regarding these issues? If we don’t have general terms to describe who has a prostate or who has ovaries, it seems like we’d be adding a lot more red-tape and cost to the health care system. I know this is completely forgetting about the plight that intersex individuals have in the health care system, but I just don’t know much about it, and don’t want to mis-represent those issues or concerns due to ignorance. I mean, it’d be really expensive to map the chromosomes and organs of each and every person at birth, especially since (in the US at least) not everyone has insurance. I suppose that would be ideal solution since it would be more inclusive of intersex individuals, but since it’s not feasible with the current state of the health care system, what’s the next best thing?

    Maybe this is just me being friends with too many biologists, but would you suggest doing away with the terms “male” and “female” to describe anatomy and social behaviors in animals as well? I mean, we’re animals as well once you strip away all the fancy coatings. And if so, what would you use instead? And I mean that question seriously because of how you specifically called out the way people talk about “anatomical sex” as being inaccurate. So what would be more accurate for those in scientific biological professions to use to describe primary and secondary sexual characteristics that would be the same for all mammals?

    • Asher

      “People with prostates?” “People who need paps?”

      Seriously this question is not as big a fucking deal as people think it is. I’m a trans male who doesn’t rely on crappy binarist language and I still get my pap. It’s not really a problem.

      As far as humans versus other animals go– I don’t give a shit about other animals, period, and I think this question is completely irrelevant. Gender as I understand and care about it is a human phenomenon.

      • Rouge Rogue

        This particular issue is one that I’ve thought about a lot as a genderfluid medical student. I try to explain to my classmates that we (medical professionals) often use cissexist language when it’s just not necessary. For example, saying “pregnant women” when we could just as easily say “pregnant people” (not to mention that such language reinforces that pregnancy is often a multi-person experience, even if the fetus is growing in only one person’s body, but that’s another issue.) Instead of “men should begin prostate checks at 50 years,” what’s wrong with just “prostrate checks should begin at 50 years?” Obviously you wouldn’t check a prostate on someone who doesn’t have one!

        Anyway, thanks Asher for writing this, I come back and read it every now and then to “re-claw” myself.

      • lilithvf1998

        I sincerely hope people are listening to you! If we can clear up cissexism in the medical field, that would be a coup for all trans and gender-variant people. No, I’m not expecting you to handle it single-handedly. But every bit helps, and I appreciate your efforts tremendously!

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  • Ruby

    Thank you for writing and sharing this! I want to use it in some anti-oppression/social justice trainings that I do; is that OK?

  • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    Thank you so much for this, I keep coming back to it again and again, and
    linking to it, and sending folks this way. I get a lot from re-reading it myself as well.

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  • susanna

    fantastic article. thank you so, so, so much for writing it.

    i wonder about a few things, though.

    you wrote ““Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.”
    and also
    “It’s a mystery why so many people are comfortable with the gender they’re assigned.”

    i want to ask your thoughts about this, both the idea that people ARE cisgender, rather than BEHAVE cisgender, and also that people are cisgender b/c they’re “comfortable” that way. it’s an interesting/complicated prospect, because i have no wish whatsoever to deny cis-privilege or cissexism or transphobia, but i also want to acknowledge the idea (theory?) that while a shit ton of folks definitely do perform cis, they’re not necessarily cis, and a huge number of societal pressures (including risk to one’s physical safety) go into this performance.

    but i may be talking out my bum. maybe i’m not talking about cis people at all, but i am, in fact, talking about trans* folks, who are pressured to behave like cis folks (back to the previous paragraph’s question, i guess). hmm. i guess what i’m trying to resist is the idea that the majority of people ARE cis, because i think it might do the work of reinforcing cis as a, or worse THE, natural category (if it’s the majority) from which trans* people deviate, and also deny what might be reality – that many people aren’t cis, and AREN’T comfortable in the way they read/behave/live.

    is this an extension of gender’s expanse – that cis, and a cis-majority is kind of bullshit, sort of a world-wide and eons-long emperor’s new clothes phenomenon – or am i doing some weird appropriation-type cis-coddling thing here?

    anyway, this post is wonderful. thank you again.

  • susanna

    well, my point may be muddy. it’s a bit of a half-formed thought.

    it’s connected to what you wrote: “Gender is not a line, it is a huge three-dimensional space too big to be bounded by the concepts of “male” and “female.” Being trans is not always about falling “in between” binary genders, and as often as not, it’s about being something too expansive for those ideas to have meaning at all.”

    but you also write that “It’s a mystery why so many people are comfortable with the gender they’re assigned.” and “Nobody knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.” i think i’m perhaps trying to solve that mystery by saying that they’re not. but i’m not sure if i’m saying the numbers are off, or the category of cis itself.

    if gender is a huge three-dimensional space (and it is – it’s certainly not a @#$&ing spectrum – THANK YOU for being explicit about that – it drives me ape when i hear people say that) and the work is just starting, i guess i think that part of the work is undoing “cis” as a monolith (in part because i think that’s a huge source of its power). i think, for instance, people who have no access to even the simplest information/education about gender must be acknowledged: folks who don’t have language for whatever their experience might be – even in a first-world nation, even people of means, but most especially people who do not fit into those categories – but default to the norm (presenting as cis, considering themselves their assigned gender, conforming to the correlating norms) because they don’t know another option aren’t necessarily “comfortable,” but aren’t they still cis? is cis an operation or an emotion? or its aftereffects?

    the huge oversimplified bumper sticker version of my point is that there are as many genders as there are people (cue the earth’s population holding hands and singing under a rainbow with unicorns prancing across), and so “cis” automatically becomes a load of crap, except in the many and gigantic forms of its social impact and ramifications (including a heck of a lot of people not knowing how to identify, name, honor, or even access the fact that the gender binary is horsecrap, never mind where they fit into that knowledge). so my question becomes less about whether someone is or isn’t cis – my question is whether cis exists at all.

    but again – i want to ask this without denying those social impacts, including, but not limited to, cis-privilege, cissexism, and transphobia.

    like i say – half-formed. not sure if i’m gesturing more toward undoing the naturalization of cis by trying to question its authenticity at all, or whether i’m fundamentally misunderstanding the category.

    • Asher

      OK. It sounds like what you’re getting at is that cis is a social construct and without social context doesn’t exist.

      Well, um, duh.

      Cis as I see it depends on the practice of gender assignment, a practice which should be abolished. If gender was left to be freely chosen trans and cis would obviously be irrelevant categories, regardless of how people chose to present, what body modifications they desired, how they presented, etc.

      But the fact is that the social context which creates trans and cis DOES exist right now and controls every aspect of my life.

      Not acknowledging cis-ness as it exists in this context would not be a step towards “undoing cis as a monolith.” In fact the opposite is true, because cis-ness is usually allowed to exist unmarked and unnamed as a “default” state (making the word ‘cis’ necessary and important).

      I think you have good intentions and are asking the wrong questions.

      • susanna

        i don’t think that was what i was “getting at,” so much as what i was taking as a given (i agree – well, um, duh) in order to ask something else, but i’m not sure i can articulate it more clearly than i already have.

        maybe some other time.

        thanks again for the post.

      • xthread

        i really liked your series of comments, susanna. thank you for voicing them. i don’t quite have time to articulate my thoughts, but i wanted you to know that at least one person read and really enjoyed what you had to say. xo.

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  • Luna

    I wish this was a post that was required to be read in school.

    Half the reason I’m so confused about my gender is that no one has ever told me that gender can be anything but male or female.

    It’s so confusing to want otherwise, when you’ve grown up with binaries.

  • November Howard

    I really liked this write-up. I hate to sound smarmy, but as a woman who’s trans and a bit of an obnoxious know-it-all sometimes, its not often I come away from reading something feeling like I have a significantly better understanding of an issue than I did before. Before I read this, I was breaking gender up into “identity” and “presentation” and saying to myself, essentially, identity is immuteable and biological, and presentation is muteable and socially-constructed. Your way of looking at things is better, however: I can just get right to the meat and bones of my experience, which lies largely in my strong bodily dysphoria, which I can definitely say feels biological and immuteable and perhaps secondarily to me in my dissatisfaction with the gender role I was stuck in, which I think is a frequent universal for people whose personalities don’t exactly fit the rigid ideals. Ever since beginning transition I’ve worried about ever fitting in. I still worry about it, but at least I’m no longer guilt-tripping and second-guessing myself (as much, its still a nasty habit regardless) over whether I am or will be “innately feminine” or whether I really “think of myself as a woman” enough or not. This whole trip has opened me up to a whole lot of stuff I LIKE about being a woman, about that particular role, and I’ll always hang onto that just as much as I hang onto some of the things I’ve liked about being raised as a boy, but now my forward direction seems clearer and less tangled, if that makes sense. Thank you for writing this.

    • November Howard

      Actually I can’t say really whether my social dysphoria or bodily dysphoria is strongest. There are days where I care more about my bodily dysphoria than my social dysphoria but I guess part of it is I feel like my presentation skills as far as fitting in are bad enough I don’t expect much possibility of it… I dunno. There’s a lot of confusing self searching to be done here regardless:)

  • Jey

    Huge fan, we’ve chatted briefly on Fetlife. I’m giving a lecture to a post-graduate journalism class on reporting about GLBTIQ issues and I’m using this as one of the readings. Here’s hoping they read it. I’m a bit nervous about the class. Fingers crossed. Glad to be able to share this awesomeness with an audience that usually wouldn’t encounter it.

  • rivercitymongrel

    Reblogged this on This Mongrel Land and commented:
    This is the best and most comprehensive “Trans 101″ I’ve ever read. It’s by Asher Bauer and was originally posted on tranarchism.com

  • Tsipi

    Reblogged this on Femina Invicta and commented:
    I’m in the process of writing a response post to a feminist who objects to “transgender” though not to transgender people… Unlike the hateful radfems, she has an honest desire to learn and understand, which I deeply respect and so am willing to engage and put forth the effort. This very week I discovered this amazing post, which largely corresponds with what I have already written. I’ll be using some of it’s ideas and providing a link to it. Any more good posts on Trans 101 for Feminists/Cis Folk are appreciated!

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  • womandrogyne

    You absolutely get a gold star from me for this sentence:

    “(Passing generally means “looking cis.” Not all of us want to look like you, thank you very much.)”

    Many people (and do I mean trans as well as cis folk) are so fixated on men-look-like-this, women-look-like-this and trans-people-should-even-more-so that I’ve been forced to start describing myself to them as Trans Tomboy™ just in order to break through the idea that it’s actually quite normal for me to be female without being feminine as such. It’s amazing how often people just can’t get past this without help from a convenient pigeonhole like “tomboy”, because they assume if a trans woman doesn’t want to be Elizabeth Taylor then she’s not really serious about it. I’m Amazonian, dammit!! Ahem.

    Anyway, enough about me – your article had me saying “bloody right!” more than any other introduction I’ve ever read. Many thanks.

  • Kira

    Reblogged this on Kira Moore's Closet and commented:
    This is a thousand times better than my Trans FAQ…

  • Yousei Hime

    Thank you for this post. I’m learning, though slowly, being a product of my culture, upbringing, and slow-to-question character. Aside from appreciating the depth of explanation and challenge to self-educate, I wanted to share a literary connection that occurred to me as I read your post.

    It is not explicitly trans-related literature, but rather (it is in part) one author’s exploration of what male and female roles are. If you’re interested and haven’t already read it, the novel is Ursula LeGuin’s 1969 Left Hand of Darkness.

    This is the book that began my questions about cis conceptions of gender identity. It may offer no new ideas; it may even offend (but I don’t think so). As a teacher and a writer, I thought, “What a fantastic way to introduce the subject to cis population.”

    Thank you again for your article.

  • oneeniisama

    What you wrote is true even if it’s jaw dropping radical at some point. But I agree: Gender is a construct, sex is a construct as most things in society. I do see a point of having a binary system sometimes (like security and so on) but not if it becomes the fast-selling item, the rule for everything and everyone.

    My body and soul are mine and nobody has the fuckin’ right to tell me who or what I am! But it’s a long way for everyone to get rid of this heteronomous internalised behavior especially for myself…

  • jennifer123a

    I don’t like the term Trans man or Trans women because this would imply that we were not born as “real” male/female. I was born female because my brain is telling me i’m female and i don’t care what some doctor assigned me at birth. I AM!!! female but with a birth defect ( a penis ).

  • spiritualsinger

    Asher. I follow wipe out transphobia on fb. Am a 61 y.o. lesbian who tries to be a good ally to my multiple trans friends. Thanks for teaching me more. I am writing to ask permission to print out your blog/article with appropriate references of course, and add it to the priestess training manual at my pagan temple, Temple of the Feminine Divine (http://www.templeofthefemininedivine.org/). We have a couple of people come in & talk to the class when we can each year but they aren’t always available & I think this would be great reading anyhow. We have a purple tent spa day for trans folk & their allies once/month which has brought in a BUNCH of new people…. Blessings, Weeza M.

  • bidyke

    Thanks for writing this. This is just to let you know that I’ll be referencing this post in a book I’m in the midst of writing (which is coming out in the US next year).

    I also wanted to ask if I could, at some point in the future, translate this into Hebrew and put it on my blog.

    Cheers,
    Bidyke

  • racheleileen10

    Hi,
    I would like to say thank you so much for educating me further on the matters of trans people, I am currently engaged to a trans male and even though we have talked quite a bit about it I was still sketchy on some details, this blog has opened my eyes to quite a few matters I had never realized before. I guess I would refer to myself as a cis female not sure what I should identify anymore on the sexuality section though as so far I have claimed lesbian. I guess I would be more of bisexual than anything else -staying true to my fiancee, which I have had trouble referring to as male in the past- considering I am still attracted to women.
    Anyways, I would like to say thank you again for writing this and opening my eyes on many things I did not know or understand before.

    -Rachel

  • It’s never easy « Our way of doing it

    [...] don’t understand it, you have some homework to do! Here’s a good place to get started: http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/ Follow up questions and debates post elsewhere. Props from allies [...]

  • kazerniel

    Hi,
    I really like your article, I find it way better than most of the otherTrans 101 articles I’ve read. I’d like to translate it to Hungarian for educational purposes. (Of course I’ll give proper credits.) Are you OK with it?
    Best wishes,
    Nathan

  • Transinclusie – leesmateriaal « FEL feminisme

    [...] Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 – Asher Bauer [...]

  • Poverty. Happiness. Nice things. A side of transphobia (of course). | Consider the Tea Cosy

    [...] basic knowledge of Trans 101- if you don’t, then check out this and then read the hell out of this. The difference between privilege and passing privilege, though, I’ll take a shot at [...]

  • GENDERQUEER KILLJOY | Maranda Elizabeth

    [...] Google.ca/genderqueer Cisgender Privilege Checklist Tranarchism.com, especially Not Yours Mom’s Trans 101, Why Misgendering Is Bad, and Trans Basics (the third link is filled with more links, click on [...]

  • macshreach

    You wrote a good piece. I think it’s so difficult for people even to see that they have been brainwashed into the binary mindset. It’s something that doesn’t exist anywhere in nature, and it is the result of social and religious conditioning. But people hang on to it as if it were immutable, because of their social conditioning, which has its roots in a binary religious culture. Variation is not only a natural function of organisms but a necessary one, and I think that needs to be restated and restated: binary is unnatural and false, variation and shades of grey are true.

    Most people have real difficulty in understanding the privileges they get from being cisgendered. I am cis and it took me a long time to figure it out for myself. It’s like male privilege in a binary system, but more difficult to pin down. (And there are people who don’t want to lose that privilege.) I mean, being automatically and respectfully addressed by the appropriate gender pronouns is something cisgendered people never think about, and actually I don’t think it’s until a cis person is with a transperson who is being systematically referred to by the wrong ones that you see how appalling it is…the shop girl is addressing your friend as ‘sir’…is she being deliberately offensive and insulting or is she just trying to be polite but is really ignorant? and how do you help, without causing a scene and making it worse? Other than just repeatedly affirming your support by using the right ones…but it is difficult.

    Cissexism and transphobia are the twin betes noires but they are practically invisible to most people. Even ordinary sexism is difficult–when is it appropriate to open the car door for her and when is it not…well, if she’s in cocktail dress and heels, obviously, but when you’re both in jeans at the DIY shop getting materials for the home improvements you’re doing together? You have to establish what you’re both comfortable with, and cis-sexism is all this with bells on. Transphobia is easier to identify because it’s more obvious: you can say, ‘that is a deliberate slur’ or ‘that is so callous and unthoughtful’ and make people think. It’s more obvious but also its more dangerous. All of it–from cis-sexism all the way up…is violence, but people find that very hard–can’t you take a harmless joke? Well, no, because what might be a harmless joke between friends or lovers in another context can be something that objectifies or ‘others’ transpeople–and ‘othering’ is the key that opens the door to violence.

    Finally, having studied this for years, I would say that most men are to some extent transattracted. (I am a man, for clarification.) Most consider themselves conventionally heterosexual; others not, and those tend to be the more open ones. I think that 80-90% of men are to some degree transattracted, even if they deny it. That is really the whole nature of the challenge: a man (say) sees a picture of a transwoman, or meets her in life, and is turned on and attracted and wants her sexually…but then discovers that extra bit that either is or once was there. He is BY DEFINITION attracted but that realisation is tearing him apart. Being transattracted is far more challenging than being homosexually attracted. You can look at a guy and say, yeah, good looking guy, but I’m straight…and there’s an end to it (whether the man actually is straight or not is irrelevant: the point is he can categorise what’s going on in terms he can understand.) But that is only possible because conventional ideas of homosexuality also presume a gender binary–even Kinsey did that!

    That means that a cis-person confronting feelings of attraction towards a transperson is having everything that they ever assumed about themselves fundamentally challenged, not just about their own attractions but their own sexuality and even their own gender. Say our man sees pictures of transwomen and is aroused…well he probably keeps that a very closely guarded secret, hiding his feelings from his friends. Or say he has a few drinks, finds himself with a very attractive woman who is willing, and then…He has no idea what has happened to him. If he’d thought she was a guy he’d have stayed away..but she’s not a guy, she’s woman, and all the woman stuff about her–the way she looks, the way she moves, the way she smells–has got him well worked up…and then there is that little thing that turns his world upside down.

    I am in no way attempting to justify any of the violence against transpeople, far from it, but I am convinced this black hole of confusion that being transattracted may represent is the real root of cisgender transphobia and violence, and the only way forward is a massive push in education. The gender stereotypes literally forced on us by religion and society have to be challenged, so that cis-people can actually begin to see that there is no threat in transpeople, and more, that they are normal human beings who themselves have normal desires; that being attracted to them is not weird or deviant, but also completely normal; this is just another parameter that is not binary. I know that I discovered my transattraction a long time ago and it took many years and MUCH research until I could really understand it and maybe, now, possibly be of some help both to transpeople and other transattracted people. Education is the key.

    Anyway, good work please keep it up.

    • Asher

      Dude being attracted to trans women cannot be the cause of transphobia because if transphobia did not exist being attracted to trans women would not be looked down on. See how that works? It’s a chicken and egg thing.

      Anyway, cool story, bro.

      Was is it always cis people who write a novel in the comments? You’re taking up too much space. Like always.

      • macshreach

        Your logic is flawed, or you have misunderstood me; read the comment again..or maybe, just read it properly. Sorry about that.. And by the way, don’t call me ‘dude’.

      • Asher

        Dude. I would rather not, dude. Reading it twice was enough. There is straight up no way you can say that you can say that being “trans attracted” innately, on its own, can cause most of the transphobia in the the world. Because if transphobia and cissexism and of course homophobia didn’t exist, being “trans attracted” would not be a cause for anxiety.

        By the way, “trans attracted” is a bullshit term. I think the word you want is “chaser.”

  • Pitt Trans Bathroom Issue: Meeting with the Pitt Administration | thomascwaters.com

    [...] So, how about the birth certificate claim, where did that come from? After the UP Johnstown situation happened, and the lack of policy was made more clear, the committee did what was a reasonable step, and asked General Counsel for an opinion. This is a pretty common action- if you don’t know, ask Legal for an opinion, and that is where the birth certificate requirement came from. Legal looked at the State’s requirements. In different states, there are different requirements and abilities for people, and if I understood correctly, in Pennsylvania, your sex is officially dictated by what shows on your birth certificate. I think legal departments always come down as conservative and risk-adverse as can be, so it isn’t a surprise to me that their opinion selects a highly conservative standard. As I understand it, while this was the opinion put forth from General Counsel, it is not now, a policy of the University, but it illustrates why having a real policy developed by the regular process is so critical. More on official sex status in another post, but here is a basic primer of the difference between sex and gender. [...]

  • Trans* Narratives in Mainstream Dialogue « This Mongrel Land

    [...] all of the above is why I really appreciate this post by Mx. Punk and why I love Asher Bauer’s Trans 101 [...]

  • How to Be a Better Ally to Trans Folks in Four Steps | In Our Words

    [...] yourself, and don’t wait for others to do it for you. A few resources in that direction: Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 is a great primmer, particularly because it addresses things like gender binaries, self [...]

  • מבוא לטרנסג'נדריות: כל מה שרצית לדעת על מגדר ומעולם לא חשבת שאפשר | שחור-סגול

    [...] Not Your Mom’s Trans 101, הבלוגר האמריקאי אשר באואר נותן הסבר בסיסי של זהויות [...]

  • 30 Days of Love: 17/30 : Blue Boat

    [...] Not your Mom’s Trans 101 – A blog post that goes a little deeper into the meanings of gender and sexuality. [...]

  • i don’t believe in sex | rainbowgenderpunk

    [...] post is where i think about stuff asher wrote: not your mom’s trans 101.  go [...]

  • What my book is about | Bi radical

    [...] go on to explain the basics of transgender sex/gender theory using Asher Bauer’s blog post Not Your Mom’s Trans 101. Afterwards, I explore some connections between bisexuality and transgender, and suggest that the [...]

  • Toes » Feminism: An Introduction

    [...] Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 from Tranarchism [...]

  • Updates on a new long term project about gender and the research that went into it | It's beautiful here, isn't it?

    [...] internet is a wonderful thing and you can find a whole deal of information if you can be bothered to look for [...]

  • Andrea Shettle, MSW

    “Personally I will never again describe myself as “born female.” I was born a trans male and my years of confusion were due to being forcefully and repeatedly told that I was something else. This body is not a woman’s. It is mine. Neither am I trapped in it.”

    Once I was in a discussion group with fellow women with various disabilities from around the world talking about terminology that local media in various places used to discuss disability that we really disliked. One woman brought up the phrase, “person trapped in a useless body” that non-disabled people sometimes use to describe people with mobility impairments, I think usually in a well-intentioned (albeit) misguided way of trying to emphasize that, “hey, even though the body can’t do anything the brain still works fine!” or whatever (which is problematic in all sorts of ways, e.g. the implied value judgment that being a person with an intellectual disability would be worse or something).

    In explaining why she didn’t like this kind of phrasing, the woman said something among the lines of, “I’m in this body, this is MY body! It’s not useless!”

    I have a half formed thought here so I’m not articulating well, but somehow I sense a parallel between your discussion of what it means to say “woman’s body” / “man’s body” (if it’s your body and you’re a man then it’s a man’s body no matter how it is shaped) and her point that any body she resides in is automatically not a useless body (“I’m not a useless person, this is my body therefore it’s not useless either” … not sure if she would say this is an accurate paraphrasing of her meaning since she’s not here for me to check with, but that was generally how I parsed it). Since I’m not entirely sure exactly what concepts I’m reaching for myself, I’m not sure how clearly my muddled thinking is coming through! (Can something muddled ever be clear? Oh dear, would that be a paradox? LOL!) But I am hoping something in all this will somehow resonate!

    I am a mostly cissexual woman married to a transgender woman always seeking to evolve my understanding of human diversity, power relations, privilege, etc. Yeah, I learned the usual “$foo in a $bar body” (to borrow someone else’s phrasing from among the comments here) way back when, too, and have even taught it to others. Thanks for this post!

  • Being out in schools -a tribute to Lucy Meadows | Explorational Situations

    [...] they seek to transition to present a gender which matches their identity, they are rewarded with transphobia in many forms, which can deny their post-transition gender-identity and treat them as freaks in [...]

  • Anti-trans fuckery in feminism | Steel Thunder

    [...] are really men is usually based, to a worryingly obsessive degree, on chromosomes or genitalia. This post on Tranarchism provides an excellent breakdown of how ‘biological sex’ is a false [...]

  • Almost Perfect | rudegirlmag

    [...] world. In fact, it would best if those who have no prior knowledge of what it means to be trans* (http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/) before reading this book. Almost Perfect contains many transphobic and misleading scenes that, if [...]

  • Resources page | nonviolentrage

    [...] Not your mom’s trans 101″. A concise, academic introduction to how to challenge our assumptions about sex and gender without making new ones, how to decrease transphobia in ourselves and start learning to be an ally. [...]

  • My Name is Zooey | Saving Pixels

    [...] Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 (tranarchism.com) [...]

  • Internet Censorship | Yours Truly, 2095

    […] resource for information not usually shared or even acknowledged in mainstream media. Sites such as Transanarchism provide information about trans* people which simply isn’t accessible to most people, and thus […]

  • yrrw

    Thank-you for the gorgeous essay. There were many aspects of my internalised transphobia that I hadn’t unpacked, and this helped me see some of them. Appreciations galore…

  • “LGBT Awareness” & The Raspberry Conundrum | Pat's Handmaid

    […] frustrated with the whole “trans 101″ approach to teaching about gender variance, as this excellent piece from Tranarchism demonstrates. However, as soon as you SAY to a borderline bigot “actually […]

  • The Alternative Social Justice Movement: Transethnic, Otherkin, and More | Voice of Reason

    […] Asher writes, “Almost every Trans 101 will contain the truism ‘Sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears.’ […]

  • What I’m Reading – August 1 2013 – ASK Musings

    […] – I haven’t made my way all the way through this yet but the beginning is certainly interesting: Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 […]

  • that girl mag's lesbian bff wants you to #fight4fallon - that girl magazine

    […] yourself on the basics before you go making offensive and marginalizing comments on TMZ. There are fuck tons of resources online that can help educate you on transgender issues. […]

  • Decolonizing Trans/Gender 101 | Trans 101 for People of Colour

    […] “Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. source […]

  • Stuff from the ‘net | My Pansy Garden

    […] Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 A good read for your family and friends, cis or trans anything. […]

  • invictusprevailanimus

    I am a Two-Spirit.

    I mostly umbrella-term myself as a transman, because it’s close enough without the long awkward explanation, and because I prefer masculine pronouns. I have found the transition into the trans community almost more difficult than my transition to trans! While facing opposition from the cis community for not fitting in with the binary, I have also felt a certain amount of trepidation over not being recognized as “fully trans” or something by the trans community.

    I feel like a gateway drug.

    I guess this is basically the same thing that bisexual people face– like theirs is a stopover phase on the way to becoming fully gay. Mine is somehow a stopover in GreyArea on the way to transCentral. I’m not as put off by it as I might have been, as I also went through this in digging out my pansexuality from hiding. Eventually, I went, “f*** it”, literally and figuratively– and said that sex/gender don’t really matter to me in picking a mate. I happen to be with a beautiful cis woman, currently– and she has humorously referred to herself as “mostly lesbian” for much of her life. As I am sort of a transman, we both laugh now because she is “having” to be “straight” for me. :)

  • Mindfulness requires Maintenance | Community Records

    […] Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 by Asher – Want to dig a bit deeper? This is a wellwritten perspective that is a bit more radical and in-depth than the two links above: http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/ […]

  • Sam Ambreen

    Reblogged this on Left at the Lights and commented:
    Found this very informative

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