I’ve written a couple of things about gender, and both times, people have expressed interest in hearing more.
I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I’m quite happy to speak openly about my gender being outside of the socially constructed binary of man and woman, but on the other hand, I really, really don’t want the intersection of gender and autism to become some overenthusiastic autism researcher’s next big thing.
But today I realised that I need to talk about gender more because I am getting tired of cis people being completely oblivious of their privilege.
So, here are some things we need to talk about:
1. Your confusion about someone else’s gender is a bigger problem than you think.
Really, honestly, does someone else’s gender play that big of a role in determining how you would treat that person? If it does, then there are some attitudes that you probably need to unpack because everyone deserves to be treated with respect (not the weird tone police’s form of “respect” but the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve).
Gender is an internal experience. The external characteristics that people use to force a gender onto someone range from the arbitrary to the bizarre. Anatomy doesn’t dictate gender. Appearance doesn’t dictate gender. Clothing (literally pieces of cloth cut and sewn in different ways) do not dictate gender. Sure, some things might be more associated with men than they are with women (yeah, I’m erasing myself from this conversation just like society tends to do), but that doesn’t make those things gendered. So you can’t use those things to determine someone else’s gender.
Up until now, you may have been happily but inaccurately using those things to decide which little gender box you can shove a person into. Stop doing that. Many people don’t fit neatly into your socially constructed gender boxes. Don’t assume that you know anyone’s actual gender unless they have specifically told you what it is.
But then how do you deal with the scary scary confusion that might arise out of not knowing someone else’s gender: Don’t worry about someone else’s gender. Or, if you absolutely have to worry about something, worry about why it seems important for you to know someone’s gender in order to decide how you plan to treat them.
I know! I get it. You were raised to call people Mam and Sir and that’s just good manners, right? Yeah, you don’t actually have to do that unless it is absolutely unquestionably required of you. “Good afternoon” can be just as polite as “Good afternoon, Sir/Mam” and you’re far less likely to unintentionally misgender anyone if you drop the idea that the last word is in any way meaningful.
2. Your need to remind us how you are the same gender you were born as.
You use words like “I am someone who identifies as the gender I was born with” (or worse variations of that idea).
You seem to do that in order to remind us that you’re one of the ‘normal’ ones. You’re one of the ones that conformed to social norms and we’re ‘the others’.
Guess what? We know we’re the others. We experience the othering daily, either in big ways by being deliberately misgendered or in more subtle ways.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t born and then asked about my gender (neither were you, by the way). I was born, and then other people guessed which gender box they thought I would fit in. They guessed wrong. That’s not my problem. That’s not me being born as a gender that I don’t “identify with”. My gender is fixed. Some people’s genders might not be. Yours is fixed and was correctly guessed at birth. That’s all. Just because they correctly guessed yours and incorrectly guessed mine, that doesn’t make yours normal and mine not. That doesn’t make yours right and mine wrong.
3. Your impulse to provide us with your insight into our lives.
This is a check your privilege thing. You are in the majority. We know what the world made up mostly of you thinks about us. We live it every single day. We don’t need someone who doesn’t live it to tell us about it.
Like everything where there is systematic oppression, if you are cisgender, you hold privilege. So, you take a seat and keep quiet when you encounter a discussion where trans people are talking about our stuff. It’s our stuff; it’s not for you. You can still get something out of it: If we’re discussing our lives in a place we know you will see, we know that we are allowing ourselves to be your teachable moments. You don’t need to derail our conversation to make it about your feels on the topic.
4. Your demands for ally cookies.
I am so over people telling me that they support me while simultaneously disregarding everything I say about my life. You know who decides whether you support me and people like me? We do. Not you. We decide that by your actions, and not by how many times you emphatically declare yourself to be supportive of us.
So, before you do anything of those things the next time you encounter a conversation between trans people, please just don’t. It’s really tiring and sometimes we just want to be able to do our thing without having to continuously explain our thing to people who have tripped over their privilege and inserted themselves into our discussion.