You have made it this far in life’s journey without having to concern yourself with conversations about Gender Identity. Chances are, you have been experiencing Cisgender Privilege.
What is Cisgender?
You would experience Cisgender Privilege if you identify as Cisgender. This means you still identify with the label (for example, the Male Label) you were given at birth.
If you do not identify with the label you were given at birth (whether that is the Male Label or the Female Label), you may (for example) identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, gender queer, or non-binary (collectively referred to as Gender Diverse, for ease of reference).
So what is Cisgender Privilege?
To identify as Cisgender means that you experience Cisgender Privilege, whether you are aware of this or not. Cisgender Privilege means that you do not have to endure the overt and covert discrimination experienced by many people who are Gender Diverse.
Cisgender Privilege means you do not have to fear being denied work, denied a home, denied healthcare, denied a place to worship, denied friends and a family to love, and denied your own personal safety, because of your true Gender Identity.
Cisgender Privilege means that you do not have to remind people (even your loved ones) of your pronouns, and/or your name (for example, you are not dead-named).
Seemingly innocuous moments in everyday life can symbolize Cisgender Privilege, which basically assumes a binary construct of Gender Identity. Examples of these everyday moments are set out below:
To pretend that there are only Cisgender Males and Cisgender Females in society is to pretend that parts of our population, the Gender Diverse community, do not exist. To do this is offensive, and it can leave a lasting impact on someone’s mental health:
To live with Cisgender Privilege is to live a life free of the fear of discrimination because of your Gender Identity. The impact of this discrimination is vividly set out in a report issued by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The HRC gathered first-hand accounts of people who were living with this discrimination on a daily basis, and here are just a couple of those accounts:
'Alexander S., a 16-year-old transgender boy in Texas, said: I started getting a lot of anonymous people telling me to kill myself, that it wasn’t worth living. I called the school and told them what was going on and they didn’t do anything'
'It was “like a little mental pinch” when teachers used the wrong pronouns. “It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but eventually you bruise”, 17-year-old transgender student in Utah'
Less obvious forms of discrimination include microaggressions, which are everyday slights, snubs or insults that communicate hostility (whether or not they are intentional). GLAAD ran a photo campaign to highlight this issue. Here are some examples from that campaign –
To acknowledge all of this, and the Privilege of a someone who is Cisgender, is not to deny the suffering that that Cisgender person may experience as a result of another aspect of their identity. For example, if a Cisgender person is also a gay man, they will likely endure their own experiences of overt and covert discrimination, including microaggressions, verbal abuse, and assault. But to acknowledge the suffering of one group of people does not deny the suffering of another group.
If we are to truly understand the concept of Privilege, we cannot stop at Gender Identity. For example, someone who is white and transgender will experience White Privilege that a black transgender person would not. As the American Psychological Association points out, each of our “social identities contribute uniquely and in intersecting ways to shape” how we experience and perform our lives (APA Guidelines, 2018). In turn, this has an impact on “relational, psychological, and behavioural health outcomes in both positive and negative ways”. We need to consider the person as a whole, as well as the interaction of each part of their identity.
As we progress through life’s journey, we will meet many travel companions. Just because we share the same Male Label, and even if we view the same landscape, doesn’t mean our experience of it will be the same. Only when we embrace our similarities and our differences, can we truly appreciate the journey ahead, and the people who accompany us on that journey.
Quick tips to address Cisgender Privilege
So what do you think?
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Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Therapist, writer, educator, and LGBTQ+ advocate