Content warning: trigger warnings.
Trigger warning: questioning of the validity of transgender identity.
First of all, if one defines “transgender” as a manifestation of gender dysphoria, a psychological disorder that entails severe discomfort with sexual parts of one’s anatomy and a fixation with being seen as a member of the opposite sex, then my complaint doesn’t apply. Because in that case, transitioning would simply be seen as a coping mechanism for people who have said disorder, and “cisgender” would simply mean “not having that disorder” (or having it but choosing to cope through different means).
But in contemporary discourse, “transgender” seems to be defined not in terms of a disorder, but in terms of identification with certain social categories, which is then thought to reflect a person’s authentic self.
For example: I’m a person whose body is categorized as “male” by the science of biology. I feel OK with my body, and don’t show a phobic reaction to being called “he”, a man, etc. But if I nevertheless find myself at odds with being lumped together with other males (many of whom I find unpleasant and cannot identify with at all), then the logic seems to go that I fall under the transgender umbrella. I may call myself agender or nonbinary or such, because I’m not exactly happy with my social designation as a member of the socially constructed category of “guys” or “men” or “dudes” or, the most cringe-worthy, “bros”.
And if I felt identification with the social category of the opposite sex, e.g. if I felt happy from the idea of mingling with the “girls” or “gals” or “women” then I may even call myself a trans woman, still without necessarily suffering a debilitating health condition.
A person who is a “cisgender man” then, is a person who is comfortable with his membership of the category called men, guys, dudes, or bros. And he naturally feels discomfort when faced with the suggestion that he’s instead a woman or a girl. (Misgendering, under this logic, is equally horrible for all, not just those with gender dysphoria. Because it’s not about your mental health issue being triggered; it’s a natural reaction of your true self.)
And if you can’t already see the problem with this, please hold on to your chairs tightly now.
To me, all of that sounds an awful lot like a white person feeling content with being a member of the socially constructed “white race.” It’s one thing to acknowledge that one was born as a member of the socially constructed “white race” and that this accords one unjust privileges in society; it’s another thing to identify with this “race” and feel content with it.
I cannot see how male people identifying with the socially constructed category of men is anything else than having a lack of understanding that they are living under a male supremacist system that has assigned them into that category, and has thus accorded them with unjust privileges. In the worst case, it may even be tied to a conscious, intentional support for male supremacy and the devaluing of women. “Bros before hoes,” remember?
In an ideal world, people observe sexual dimorphism and what sex they’re a member of, but don’t assign any further values to this, such as thinking it naturally divides persons into two social groups (rather than just dividing human bodies into two medical categories).
Further, if a man feels horror towards the suggestion that he may be a woman, is that anything but misogyny?
In line with this, I won’t ever call myself “agender” or “nonbinary”. Instead, I acknowledge that I was born into male privilege because of the shape of my genitals, and merely got the short end of the stick in some regards relative to other males, because I happen to have a quirkier and perhaps less masculine personality than the average guy. This led to my disidentification with “bros”, and an easier acceptance of feminist ideals that criticize the social construction of men and women, but it doesn’t give me a get out of male privilege for free card.
This feminist consciousness that I try to uphold is one which every man should have, and every man should feel bad if he finds himself cozying up with his “bros” and seeing women as a natural “other” to him.
But instead, “cisgender” normalizes that male group identification, that othering of women, by saying that identification with “man” is inborn for most males, that is “cis” males.
So I ask you:
How can “transgender” and “cisgender” not be defined based on a psychological disorder, while at the same time not normalizing men identifying with manhood?
If a cis man is a man identifying as a man, shouldn’t all men begin to identify as agender or nonbinary or bigender or genderfluid, seeing cis men as politically ignorant or backwards? Should we all begin to identify as trans?
Or should we spare the word “transgender” for people who experience a health condition with regard to their relationship to their body and a phobic reaction (not a political critique, but a phobic reaction) towards biology-based sex categorization, and undertake medical procedures as a coping mechanism?