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Pronoun Preference, Queer Politics, Trans Inclusion, White Privilege

Unpacking the Gender Knapsack: How to Check Cis Privilege

Find the original post at In Our Words: Salon for Queers & Co.

Privilege is a word we often hear talked about in the context of checking our privilege. “What privilege,” I hear asked, laughingly, from the poor college kids that are often my friends, “what privilege?” Privilege isn’t always about physical or financial resources. Privileged doesn’t automatically mean movie stars and CEOs. We all have privilege in one way or another, even if it is because you are currently using internet to read what I am writing: you have privilege because of that access, where many others are not able to have the same ability.

Privilege can come from perceived or actual identity markers, most commonly talked about in race, gender, and ability status. You can suffer under one set of privileges and benefit from another. Peggy McIntosh writes an extensive list in her essay on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack that gets referred to often, as well as serves as a foundation for other articles on checking our personal privileges. The “invisible knapsack” that McIntosh refers to in her article’s title is of an important side note. Why invisible?

Sociologist Michael Kimmel relates a story about making privilege visible (full essay here) :

 “…I participated in a small discussion group on feminism. A white woman and a black woman were discussing whether all women were, by definition, “Sisters,” because they all had essentially the same experiences and because all women faced a common oppression by men.

The white woman asserted that the fact that they were both women bonded them, in spite of racial differences. The black woman disagreed.
“When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?” she asked.

“I see a woman,” replied the white woman.

“That’s precisely the problem,” responded the black woman. “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible every day, because race is how I am not privileged in our culture. Race is invisible to you, because it’s how you are privileged. It’s why there will always be differences in our experience.”

As I witnessed this exchange, I was startled, and groaned – more audibly, perhaps, than I had intended. Being the only man in the room, someone asked what my response had meant.

“Well,” I said, “when I look in the mirror, I see a human being. I’m universally generalizable. As a middle-class white man, I have no class, no race, and no gender. I’m the generic person!”

Another invisible aspect about personal privilege lies in perceived gender identity. Self-identifying as the gender assigned at birth is otherwise known as being “cisgender” or a “cissexual.” The labels are for those individuals who are not trans-identified. Have you ever thought about checking your cis-privilege?

In deciding to write about this, I thought about how I might be acting on my cis-privilege to write a list from a perspective that I cannot appropriately communicate from.

I was informed that I should instead use a Cis-Privilege Checklist that has already been written. The comprehensive Cis Privilege Checklist: Cisgender/Cissexual Privilege Checklist written by “a Chicago transsexual queer/woman who’s tired of making herself as small as possible to fit the demands of trans misogynistic feminism and trans activism” is far more intuitive and exhaustive than I would be able to produce.

The blog-author covers numerous points that inspire thinking about those parts in our life that may be “invisible” if you are cissexual/cisgender. For example (these are just a few of a rather complete list that you should click on above!)

  • Bodies like mine are represented in the media and the arts. It is easily possible for representations of my naked body to pass obscenity restrictions.
  • I expect the privacy of my body to be respected. I am not asked about what my genitals look like, or whether or not my breasts are real, what medical procedures I have had, etc.
  • Wronging me is taken seriously*
  • My gender is acknowledged universally, immediately, and without hesitation
  • My birth certificate, drivers’ license, social security card, etc are correct from the moment I get them.
  • I have no need to establish that I am a different gender than someone already thinks I am.
  • I lived my childhood in a gender that felt appropriate for me at the time, and still does. I lived my childhood in the gender that I want to have lived it in.

Other ways to check your own cis privilege, I think, would be to gain awareness on how you can be an ally to trans-identified individuals. Originally complied by Samuel Laurie of Transgender Training and Advocacy, with added emphasis and an additional list of resources, I wrote about Action Steps in Becoming a Trans* Ally.  Also, keep in mind the “Suggested Rules  for Non-Trans* Identified Individuals Writing about Trans* Identified Individuals” by Jacob Hale.

To finish simply, as Brown-Betty says:
“Be aware of the things you can do because you’re privileged.
Be aware of their impact.
Be aware of the things other people can’t do because they lack that privilege.
Own your privilege.”

About aoawaywego

I’m struggling to discover reality in a society that hides behind a curtain of falsified perfection. Without believing in impossibilities, my thoughts are written out to find beauty in the imperfections and intricacies.


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