The shift of trans narratives on TV
February 6, 2014
Eric’s unhealthy obsession with trans kids
February 7, 2014

Of expectations and education

I recently posted the following to my FaceBook page:

Is it me or is there a lot of “JESUS! STFU already! I’m complementing you and think you should have rights! What, now I have to stop asking about your genitals TOO?!? Are you never happy?!?” going around.

I saw this sentiment in the fallout over Katie Couric’s focus on the genitals of Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera in her interview. I again saw this sentiment expressed after the Janet Mock interview on Piers Morgan’s show. Morgan felt both attacked and victimized because he was called out for insisting upon using his preferred language to describe Janette Mock’s experience. Some trans allies felt that the trans community should chill; trans people should expect that professional journalists who work with the trans population won’t know how engage trans people in a respectful way.

Recently the TransAdvocate FaceBook page erupted when I posted the following image:


Here’s how some cis allies responded to the above image:

This a page for people to advocate for the trans community. I am a straight female who is curious about these decisions and this post makes me feel wrong for asking questions.

Why would it be a cispriv thing to ask about their life “before? “

You can only be accepted if you WANT to be accepted. You don’t, so fuck off and die

I then received an indignant message from a cis person:


Image shared on the TA FaceBook Page: “What cisprivilege looks like”

I posted the above image to TransAdvocate social media as an example of what cisprivilege looked like. Some cis people were able to spot the issue being addressed right away:

I’m certain that the [cis] writer is being honest and that their feelings are valid. I am also certain that the writer is exercising cis privilege. In 99.9999% of the world trans people’s feelings of discomfort and exclusion are routinely pushed aside in support of making cis people comfortable. As cis people we don’t have to notice this practice (that’s the nature of privilege, it ‘s the ability to NOT have to think about a thing). This page is part of the 0.0001% of the world where the comfort of cis people is not preeminent. As cis people, we’re trained to assume that our comfort and education is the default priority, and it’s those feelings of discomfort (very real and valid feelings) that are being expressed here. This is an example of privilege because it is predicated on the assumption that trans space should be constructed to help educate and make cis people comfortable.

Others pulled a Morgan:

 I give up trying to be an ally because obviously I am too privileged to recognize when something is unjust


The issue all of the above posts and events touch on are various degrees of cisprivilege. Before it was internet-cool to talk about things like privilege, back in 2008 Calpernia Addams made a pithy (and totally badass) video for trans folks who were overly-fatigued with cis people who expected that trans people would accommodate their rude behavior:

Queer artist Elias Ericson dealt with similar frustrations in his piece, Hetero/Cis People’s Ideal Trans Person:


So what’s pissing off so many trans people?  Here’s the deal, when a non-trans person uses a trans person or space to:

… folks are gonna have a bad time. At its core, these 3 behaviors are issues of consent; each behavior uses – without explicit permission – a person or community.  To again quote the cis person who got it, “This is an example of privilege because it is predicated on the assumption that trans space should be constructed to help educate and make cis people comfortable.

Empowerment: What does it look like?

Is it reasonable to expect that people will know not to ask about another’s genitals upon meeting them? Is it reasonable to expect that you won’t be objectified as an object of curiosity? Is anger an appropriate emotional response when someone crosses these universal boundaries? What does it mean to move through life knowing that you can’t reasonably hold those expectations? Is that what empowerment looks like?

If someone wants to talk to you about deeply personal issues, is your honest consent important? Is it reasonable to expect that professional journalists will read the GLAAD Media Guide prior to conducting an interview with a trans person?

Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition. It is usually best to report on transgender people’s stories from the present day instead of narrating them from some point or multiple points in the past, thus avoiding confusion and potentially disrespectful use of incorrect pronouns.

Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.

GLAAD Media Guide

These are serious questions and the way the trans and cis communities choose to answer will – in significant ways – define the quality of life for generations of trans people to come.

What are your thoughts?

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Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams

Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites and, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.

  • Sami Hawkins

    I will never understand what’s so damn hard to grasp about why it’s offensive to say we ‘used’ to be men or that trans men ‘used’ to be women. Only the most ignorant bigot would argue that a gay person who was closeted ‘used’ to be straight, so why do so many have no problem arguing we ‘used’ to be men just because we hadn’t accepted our real identities yet?

    The whole ‘biological male’ thing annoys me to. Aside from being blatantly insulting to those of us who can’t afford or don’t want an operation it’s utter nonsense. If you’re saying we’re ‘biologically male’ before the surgery than you’re saying we’ll always be ‘biologically male’ because the surgery doesn’t actually change our ‘biology’ in the slightest, it just takes a lump of flesh between our legs and rearranges it into a different shape. Going by that logic intersex people can’t claim to be either gender since their ‘biology’, AKA: genitals, don’t match the expectation for either gender.

    Trans people are the gender they say they are. They always were even if took them time to come to terms with it. What’s between their legs has no relevance whatsoever to their gender. Neither me or Janet Mock or any trans women grew up as a boy. We grew up as girls who were constantly being told we were boys. Just because it took us awhile to realize we’d been labeled wrong doesn’t make that label any less wrong. If you refuse to accept that than don’t call yourself an ally.

    /end rant

    • Dana Ashleigh Goodyear

      while I completely agree with every sentiment you shared- being intersexed, I must digress on one simple point- our gentials aren’t always not in matching with either gender- sometimes- they *completely* match our birth “gender”, other times we get hit with dysphoria the exact same way as trans* people to the point we seek transition. What makes someone intersexed for sure- is a genetic differentiator on the sex chromosomes. That does different things to different conditions, people, and their gender identities. Many people can go their *entire lives comfortable with assigned birth gender*, and not even know they were intersexed at all.

      • Friesjones

        Isn’t it amazing how there are so many people on the Internet who are Intersex or have Asperger’s? A more cynical person might assume that they were inventing a narrative so that they didn’t have to admit that they were transgender or abrasive.

        I think that I might have a special medical condition that renders me incapable of swallowing any more self-serving BS.

        • Dana Ashleigh Goodyear

          And what put you into the instant attack on this? You wonder why so many IS people avoid the trans community? ITs attacks like this towards us when we educate someone on our issues. Good day.

          • Friesjones

            Who’s attacking? We’re ALL intersex, or, as you put it, intersexed. That way, we have a condition that is 100% medical, instead of something that you can find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That way, we can retain our old-fashioned disdain for people with mental conditions.

  • Friesjones

    If you enter a trans space and expect them to center cis feelings, that’s like like getting your Pizza and French Fries mixed up: You’re gonna have a bad time…

    • Dana Ashleigh Goodyear

      some “CIS” people find the term CIS offensive like some trans* people find the term tranny offensive. I think the more apt term would be “natal”, however, I fully agree.

      • Friesjones

        Only ignorant people claim to take offense at the term “cis,” which is the Latin antonym for the term “trans.” Cis is to Trans as Hetero is to Homo. Should heterosexuals find the term “hetero” to be offensive?

        “Natal” sure sounds like the sort of term that would be favored by those who use phrases beginning with “Women-Born-____,” which is pretty much exclusively trans-exclusive radical feminists and trans folks who have not completely shed their own internalized transphobias. No one is a “natal woman,” we’re all born as infants and we become men and women through the process of growth and learning.