As the title suggests, everything on this blog concerns violence against trans women.
The Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project is a trans feminist project addressing issues of systematic, institutional and interpersonal violence and oppression experienced by trans women (those who were coercively assigned male at birth and identify or are identified as women/female) across multiple identities (e.g., race, class, dis/ability, citizen-status, nationality, sexuality, age, HIV status, and form, status, or age of transition, etc.)
Ida Hammer is a writer and social justice communicator. She organizes the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project. She presents workshops and trainings on cis privilege and being a trans ally. She's also involved in organizing against sexualized violence. She's a proud dyke-identified trans woman and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March.
When members of the media report on cis women who have changed their names—either through marriage or for some other reason—they don’t tend to say, “Jane Smith, who was born Jane Johnson.” Yet when members of the media are reporting on trans women they, as a matter of routine, almost always give the name the woman doesn’t use, saying something to the effect of: “Jane Smith, who was born John Smith.”
The difference in how cis women who have taken on new names, often by marriage, and how trans women are treated by the media is glaringly obvious. While journalist will often cite some made up journalist imperative to rationalize their use of the wrong name for trans women, the arbitrary double standards by which they report on former names are revealing.
In both cases, the former names of both cis women and trans women are not actually news. These are not the women’s names. There is no need to bring these not-their-names into the stories.
We don’t see this same thing happen with the married names of cis women. This is because there is not a strong socio-political interest in invalidating the relationships and marriages of straight, cis women. (The exception where we might see this happen is with regard to cis lesbian couples. By using a cis lesbian’s former name from before her marriage the reporter can not-so-subtly undermine the women’s relationship as less real than that of a straight cis woman who takes her husband’s name.)
So what reporters are really doing when they use names that trans women don’t go by is helping to perpetuate cissexism. They’re using those names that are traditionally associated with males in ways that misgender these women and confirm cissexist beliefs about who trans women “really” are.
This consistent invalidation and marginalization of trans women by the media is a contributing factor to the specific oppressive and violent incidents that these reporters are (poorly) covering. Over and over again, in stories reporting on the deaths of young trans women of color, the reporters will give a woman’s former name in a way that invalidates her gender as a woman. Yet these women are often killed by people using the exact same cissexist logic of disrespect and invalidation. One cannot be separated from the other. These women are not random victims in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rather, their deaths fit a very specific pattern that is reinforced by the society we live in. A society that is bolstered by the way the media reinforces these patterns in its reporting.
Want to be an ally to trans people? The first step is admitting you’re cis.
Melissa Harris-Perry describes herself as “cis” (via “MSNBC Talks To And About Trans People For An Hour, Doesn’t F*ck It Up” on autostraddle)
‘I had this darkly amusing link dropped into my IM chat box by a friend. Natalie Reed decided to turn the tables on the nonsense transgender folks get lumped with, imagining if cisgender people were treated the same way:’
- Stop calling me “trans”. I’m not “trans”, I’m just NORMAL.
- Oh, you’re cis? Nice to meet you! So, what’s your vagina like?
- Wow! You look great! I never would have gussed you were cis!
- But are you SURE you want to remain male? How do you know for sure this is right for you?
- But “cis” people might regret not transitioning! We need strict criteria for diagnosing cisgenderism to prevent that
- People with mental health disorders might think they’re cis when they’re really not. We can’t trust their choices
- It’s not my fault I’m not attracted to cis ppl. I just find your bodies icky. It’s just my sexual orientation!
- No, but what’s your REAL name? You know, the one you actually chose.
- Wait, so you think you’re a womon-born-womon? Isn’t that just equating sex with gender and buying into the patriarchy?
- Look son, I understand you identify as your birth sex, but why can’t you just transition to being a butch lesbian?
- Isn’t it a bit selfish to go around claiming you’re really your birth sex and expect us all to just go along with it?
- You may think you’re a woman because you’re XX, but I think of you as male, and you need to respect my beliefs.
- But if we let cis men use the men’s room, what’s to stop one of them from raping your children!?!?
- Son, you say that you’re a boy, but I think you’re a bit too young to be making that decision.
- Honey, I know you think you want to remain male, but are you sure this isn’t just a mid-life crisis?
- WOW! You’re so SHORT! Wish I was SHORT! Why do you want me to stop mentioning it? It’s a GOOD thing to be that SHORT!
- You must be SO BRAVE to go through menstruation every month. It must be so hard. I really admire your courage!!!
- You have gonads? And grow gametes inside your genitals? I’m sorry, but that’s just gross and unnatural.
- BREAKING NEWS: WOMAN GETS PREGNANT!!! “What’s this world coming to?”
- …Oh, it was just a CIS woman who got a pregnant. Not a real woman. Pssh. That’s not news.
By flipping the script we can see the “hidden” cissexism in common, taken for granted beliefs about trans people.
If you don’t understand privilege or the different types of privilege, this is a very helpful primer from the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois.
Drew Deveaux | Jan 2012 | No More Apologies Keynote Address | Toronto, ON, Canada
I think this is so true for my own work, and so important when talking about the the experience of trans people as targets of oppression. I am shocked that “trans theorists” are still pumping out work that doesn’t acknowledge cissexism, cisnormativity, cis privilege and all the other ways cisness is systematically structured and institutionalized into our society. To me, this is like trying to talk about the oppression of people of color without talking about racism and Whiteness, or the oppression of women without talking about sexism and patriarchy. I suppose it can be done, but why would we want to limit ourselves by going without such powerful analytical tools?
I run into this a lot. So let’s break down why it’s problematic, shall we?
There are a lot of cis people who really are sympathetic to trans women. It hits them at their core. They see the damage society does to us and their empathy kicks in, they really do care. They may not get it at all, but…
If you are a cis person you benefit from institutionalized cissexism and cis privilege. This means that you can’t be neutral—that is, “noncissexist.” But you can work to be anti-cissexist if you take an active role in challenging and dismantling cissexism. Or as Monica Maldonado says:
So, a cis person who is not actively removing someone else’s boot, actively doing their best to dismantle the system of cis privilege, actively doing their best to NOT receive all of the rewards (the ones that aren’t a natural given) given out with cis privilege are in fact complicit in these actions. By NOT actively assisting in these things a cis person is condoning them, and necessarily contributing to them because they gain from them.
Everyday! I think we’ll know real change is happening when anti-trans “feminists” start feeling more awkward about their own cis privilege and cissexist prejudices.
I must not understand how entitlement works. I hear cis people complain that trans women believe they’re actually entitled to their own womanhood, and I’m like, “Yeah, if trans women aren’t entitled to their own gender then who is?” Presumably it’s the cis people who are attacking their womanhood. Apparently these people don’t see it as an entitlement for them to arbitrarily dictate another person gender.
I wholeheartedly believe in entitlements. I believe that everyone is entitled to live free of abuse, violence, exploitation and oppression. I believe that everyone is entitled to food, housing, education, health care, employment and a living wage. I believe that everyone is entitled to consensual, nonabusive intimate relationships of their own choosing. I believe that everyone is entitled to their own gender and sexuality.
As entitlements, I believe everyone should be guaranteed access to all the above. I also believe that oppression can be measured by the extent that our society entitles one group of people to any of the above while disentitling other groups.
So, yeah, I believe trans women are completely justified in feeling entitled to equitably access to the very things other women have access to, and that trans women and cis women both have a shared entitlement to those things that our society entitles men. People who confuse trans women entitlement to accessing vital services with “male privilege” don’t seem to understand what male privilege is.
When a trans woman who is a survivor of sexual assault or intimate partner violence seeks help from a women’s crisis center this is not male privilege. She is a woman attempting to access women’s services not unlike any other woman who has been raped or abused.
However, when a trans woman is denied these vital services because she is trans then the crisis center is exerting an unjust entitlement of cis privilege. If cis people wish to deny trans women equitable access to survivor services for nonvital reasons like comforting the cissexist prejudices of staff and clients that is cis privilege. The denial of cis privilege by falsely accusing a trans woman “male privilege” for believing she is entitled to same vital survivor services granted to other women is a tactic of retaining cis privileges while avoiding responsibility for how this harms trans women.
As I believe everyone is entitled to live free of violence, I also believe this means that all women should have equitable access to services and programs as survivors of violence—regardless of whether they are cis or trans. It is cis privilege that systemically and institutionally reserves these entitlements for cis women while denying trans women equitable access to the same services and programs. Those who deny trans women access to survivor services supposedly designed to help all women seeking to leave, avoid, and heal from violent and exploitative situations need to be held accountable for their role in perpetuating social arrangements that make trans women more vulnerable targets of violence.
When trans women who are survivors of abuse seek and are subsequently denied access to survivor services and programs they are being abused a second time. Denying of trans women access to vital women’s services and programs has nothing to do with challenging male privilege and everything to do with retaining cis privilege. When cis people seek to deny a trans woman’s womanhood and prevent her from receiving survivor support it is those cis people who are abusing their privilege. Trans women shouldn’t be punished because some cis staff or clients let their prejudice against trans women get in the way of providing appropriate and necessary services to all women. It is not trans women’s responsibility to deny their own vital needs in order to comfort the prejudices of cis people. Yet far too often trans women do not seek survivor services for the very reason that they wish to avoid the secondary abuse they’ll experience from cissexist providers.
I emphatically believe trans women are entitled equitable access to women’s services. Those who continue to profess that trans women are only seeking access to women’s services because they are exercising “male privilege” do not have the best interest of women in mind and need to stop calling themselves “feminists.” Self-aggrandizement at the expense of trans women is never feminism.
This is Part Twenty of Ms. Blog’s “Women’s History Month series celebrating organizations and ideas that represent the future of [cis] feminism.” I believe the linked article is a failure in terms of its representation of trans feminism. The cis author, Aviva Dove-Viebahn, uncritically links to some of the most hateful transmisogynist websites to support her expressed skepticism about trans feminism and what she calls “its potentially controversial nature” and “conundrums.”
It would require a post for each of the three issues listed in the article to unravel all the cissexist assumptions woven into Dove-Viebahn’s overview of what she calls the central issues and “conundrums” concerning trans feminism. As the post itself doesn’t actually analyze cissexism, and in fact casts doubt on the existence of cissexism and its basic concepts (like cis privilege), the list can’t even begin to tell us what issues are central to trans feminism.
While the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project is linked in the post (the only link written by a trans woman), Dove-Viebahn provides no real engagement with the systematic, institutional and interpersonal issues of violence and oppression that trans women experience. So how can we even begin to address how trans women’s issues converge/diverge from the issues of violence and oppression as they are experienced by cis women?
You can’t just start with a ciscentric conception of sexist oppression as it is institutionalized at birth and socially constructed through lived experience or even how we conceptualize equality and then just expect to plug trans women into that existing framework and see how well they fit. And if and when they don’t fit into the preconceived notions of sexism as it relates to cis women then dismiss trans women as not experiencing sexist violence and oppression.
The real conundrum, as I see it, is with how a cissexist (and racist/heterosexist/classist/ableist/etc) understanding of feminism continues to frame all women’s oppression as a single, universally experienced issue. As if all women are universally identical and interchangeable cogs who are all equally affected by the machinery of patriarchy in exactly the same way. This simply isn’t true. Different forms of oppression intersect and interact, altering and changing how different subgroup of women are made the targets of violence and oppression. What’s the future of feminism if feminism continues to marginalizes and dismiss the vast majority of women because they don’t fit the mainstream affluent, White, cis standards of the cult of true women’s oppression?
All of you do it.
Not one of you, even the people I am following (minus the trans folk, obviously) have avoided messing up on this. It is subtle, it is small and every time you do it you hammer the nails into our feet a little deeper.
Every time you equate penis with sexism, erasing those women and nonbinaries with penises.
Every time you equate childbirth with motherhood and women, erasing those men and nonbinaries who give birth
Every time you evoke vaginal wording to describe sisterhood or womanhood, whether it’s “cunt power”, “sisterhood of the clit” whatever, you stab every woman who has no vagina, no cunt, no clit, no vulva, no uterus, no nothing of that sort in the back and toss us out of the sisterhood that we have as much right to as you.
Every time you wonder if society got rid of social gender, would trans people stop existing, you walk on our faces.
Every time you say transwoman and transman, as though we’re not really women or men but a merged concept, you erase our genders.
Every time you sum up gender as a binary, or even just a spectrum between poles, you erase every single person with a gender that doesn’t fit that zone (and there are many)
Every time you say women and trans women or women, men and transgender, you tell us that our genders are not valid, not as real as yours.
Every time you do these things, you don’t see it. You’re feminists. You’re anarchists. You’re vegans. You’re anti racists and anti Islamophobia advocates. You’re advocates of birthing rights and socialists, anti capitalists, multiculturalists. You’re disability advocates and womanists. Fat positive, anti body policing, anti rape, social activists and writers. You’re friends and family, lovers and colleagues.
And you all do it. Every cis person I know.
Every. Last. One.
You don’t see it. But we do. We feel the knife go in. We watch the painful hypocrisy of people who make it their career, their life’s work to fight privilege and make people see through its fog, to fight white supremacy, or sexism or ableism or fatphobia or millions of other horrific systems of supremacy and dominance and control exerted against people, exercising their cissupremacy, the boot firmly planted on our necks and they don’t even see it.
But we feel it.
Next time you talk about childbirth, remember not everyone who gives birth is a mother. Next time you talk about how many women are raped, remember that a significant group of those women, of us, don’t have vaginas. Next time you talk about sisterhood, try to remember that you have nonbinary siblings and brothers with the organs you use to label your sisterhood and sisters who lack them. Try to remember that penis is not the enemy because women have them too. Try to remember that theorizing about gender isn’t very helpful when you don’t know shit about the people who experience it most directly, most vividly, most painfully.
Try to remember to look past your cis privilege and maybe take that damn boot off our necks once in a while instead of looking into the distance and ignoring the choking.
Because I’d like to be able to breathe.
Just a bit.
Like, even from people that are fucking awesome about everything else.
It never seems to cross peoples minds to be inclusive towards trans women.
It never seems to cross peoples minds to acknowledge trans women.
It never seems to cross peoples minds that without inclusive and acknowledging statements, trans women need to assume that we aren’t wanted.
We NEED to do this because we are tired as fuck of assuming that we are being included.
We are tired of coming into women’s groups and being victimized and abused.
We are tired of going to rape crisis centers and being turned away because our existence is triggering.
We are tired of wanting a safe space and then being told WE are the rapists, the deceivers, the monsters, and the child molesters.
We are tired of being the punchline and the joke. The fetish object and “best of both worlds” so long as we’re gone by morning.
Never mind the fact that many of us are victims of rape.
That many of us have dealt with child abuse.
That many of us have been physically assaulted.
That all of us live and deal with the constant deceptive nature of cis people.
We NEED to assume we aren’t wanted. Because the whole wide world is telling us we’re trash and we can’t be arsed to assume that you actually meant to include us when you said fucking nothing.
We don’t have the fucking luxury to assume that we are being included.
Make it damn clear that you want us around.
Make it clear that you won’t put up with transmisogyny.
Make it clear that you view us as women. That you view us as fucking people.
I’d like to see some fucking solidarity, but I wonder if this will even be reblogged?
And if it is reblogged I wonder how many people that aren’t trans women will do so?
I’m honestly not betting much, so I guess we’ll see.
Issues like those discussed above are exactly why the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Project exists.
Unfortunately, even those who claim to be “inclusive” and/or “allies” often fail trans women. You can’t just wake up one day and call yourself an “ally,” add “transgender” to a list of words for people you include, and simply claim to be against “transphobia.” Far too often I hear these things when it’s clear that those making these claims haven’t done the necessary work to address their own daily experience of cis privilege and internalized assumptions of cis supremacy.
The society we live in is cissexist to its core. So supporting trans women requires more than words and good intentions. It requires nothing less than a conscious and sustained effort to literally change the society we live in. If you are doing anything less than that you are not really supporting trans women.
there is such a huge fucking divide between the people who understand trans* identities and respect them and those that do not. the gay community is no different. at the lgbt social network group i run yesterday i showed the film no dumb questions per the recommendation of a lot of lesbians i know, several of them professors, and i thought it showed just how many really fucking dumb questions people unnecessarily ask trans* people. but then again the whole premise of asking questions and interrogating the marginalized and expecting them/us to educate you is really disconcerting to me. the cis people in the group all enjoyed the film and subsequently asked their own dumb questions (which then turned into asking me dumb questions about having a service dog) and the trans* people present were shocked at how little they knew (seriously, you didn’t know tr**ny is a slur?!? ughhh)
but i’ve been asked to be on a trans* education task force for the school to work on bridging this gap and i really, really hope it works out. i’m so sick of people’s ignorance about the lives of others
Why is it that only the lives and experiences of trans people are thought of as needing to be questioned? Trans lives are the hot topic of political discussions and academic debates, while the political status of cis people is taken for granted and goes unquestioned. Cis bodies and lives are the norm and standard by which trans bodies and lives are defined and determined.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We need to flip the script on who gets questioned and who is asking the questions. It’s time for cis people to be put in the hot seat, to be questioned and interrogated about their privilege and assumed superiority.
Questioning cisness is exactly what is needed right now. This is similar to how anti-racists interrogate and challenge the politics of Whiteness. Works that move from the defensive position of justifying trans peoples existence to question how our society is structured around cisness will help move trans people from margin to center by confronting the power and privilege supported by cissexism and anti-trans oppression.