On the Cis/Trans Dichotomy and Self Determination: aka Everyone Is A Little Trans + Caveats

If you are a gender conforming cis person (ie feminine-of-centre woman/masculine-of-centre man) who has never questioned your gender, you most likely present the way you do because it was expected of you based on your sex, and you never felt unreasonably uncomfortable. As a child, you might have been praised for presenting gendered traits in ways in which you were expected, thus reinforcing and cementing your preferences in a socialisation process. Certainly, you don’t fit the mould perfectly, and some of it chafes at you, but you don’t fall too far from the “average man/woman”. People don’t stare at you in the bathroom.

In recent times, gender theory has expanded to include a variety of non-binary transgender identities. The “I always knew I was different / trapped in the wrong body” binary-trans narrative of crossing from one basket to another is no longer the One True Way of being trans. We have come to realise that gender is not two distinct, naturally occurring baskets, but a continuous colour wheel that has been forcibly cleaved in two in our culture (other cultures divide the spectrum differently, and may have up to 6 genders). Thus, the cis/trans dichotomy is no longer as clear as it used to be. Given that nobody is actually an “average man/woman”, if we measure the distance from your actual identity to this platonic ideal, at what minimum distance does a person become trans?

Being cis or trans, then, is also not a binary, but a scale from cis to “slightly trans” to “very trans”. Some trans people have taken to obsessive gatekeeping: you must be THIS trans to ride. If you don’t fulfil this or that criteria, you are “not trans enough”. Among reasonable people though, “trans” has become an inclusive umbrella term for people who do not identify if they gender they are assigned at birth. Which could be… everyone.

Once again we arrive at the core of identity: self-determination. The greater the distance between your gendery feelings and societal expectations, the more likely you are to feel discomfort, look for a label or community, and/or take any steps to transition, whatever that means for you. If you never feel the need to do any of those things, you’re cis. And if the label you end up identifying with is under the trans umbrella, and trans is a label that you want to claim, welcome to the club. On the other hand, lots of non-binary people identify as neither cis nor trans. Certainly they are ALLOWED to identify as trans, by the definition stated earlier. Nevertheless, they are not trans, simply because they don’t identify as such. Easy.

Of course, “everyone can be trans” doesn’t discount the unique intersectional differences among groups of trans people. A person undergoing medical transition experiences very different pressures from someone who chooses not to, or is unable to transition at all, for example. AMAB and AFAB people have vastly different experiences. The intersections of race, class, disability, passing privilege etc cannot be discounted.

“Everyone can be trans” also doesn’t mean that you, a primarily cis-identified person, or even a trans person, can understand or discount other trans experiences. A trap that some cis people fall into is to try and imagine themselves as trans, and then decide that they would still be cis. Eg, a cis woman imagining herself with a male body decides that she would then be fine with being a man. MAYBE that is true for you, though we have no way of knowing. But this thought experiment should never be used to discount the experiences of real life trans people. You thinking that someone should feel a certain way never outweighs the way they actually feel. It is impossible for you to know how other people experience the world or what is in their heart; when someone tells you, you have to believe them. If you cannot imagine yourself ever feeling the need to change your pronouns, for example, understand that someone who does probably experiences the world in a way different from your imagination.

Addendum: Yes, I’m going to quote the same post from Valprehension on two of my consecutive posts. Why do they speak such truth! Had I found them earlier I could have spared myself the trouble of writing these 😛

For many cisgender people (and probably also some trans people), their gender identity doesn’t feel wrong exactly, but there’s nothing about it that feels particularly right, either. It just… is. And it’s fine.

And I’m writing this to tell you that it’s ok to feel that way. It’s normal, even! If I’ve learned anything from talking to people since coming out as genderqueer, it’s that most people who have spent much time seriously thinking about gender have at least a little bit of reason to think they aren’t really, totally, exactly the gender they identify with.

And to be honest, that’s just because we’re all also individuals. And genders are just broad-strokes categories that will always miss the details that really make you the amazing and interesting person you are. In that sense, most of us are at least a little bit genderqueer. And that’s totally ok.

So, if you feel a desire to change the gender you identify with, by all means do it! And if you don’t really see a point, then don’t. And if you’re not sure, then it’s ok to play around and try things on in safe contexts and see how it makes you feel. You don’t need to have the answer right away, or ever. But I honestly believe that if you find a quiet space, and pay attention to your heart, and your gut, that your answer is right there, in you. I can’t give it to you.


On the Cis/Trans Dichotomy and Self Determination: aka Everyone Is A Little Trans + Caveats

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