A Word to Cisgender People—Do Better

By Marcel Byrd November 18, 2016

In this article, “trans” is a term meant to encompass transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, and all other communities that do not identify as cisgender. Additionally, “cisgender” (or “cis” for short) refers to individuals who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth and “cissexism” refers to the belief that trans individuals are inferior to cisgender individuals.

This piece was written to address primarily cisgender individuals under the belief that, as we created cissexism and transphobia, it is on us to dismantle it and also to honor all the trans individuals who lost their lives in acts of anti-transgender violence. Words cannot capture the extent to which we failed you, but we will fight tirelessly to create the liberated reality you all deserved. The term “we” is used to describe both myself and other cisgender individuals as a whole.

Let me start off by saying what this post is not about to be. This is not going to be a cozy Transgender Day of Remembrance piece of media. This is not going to be yet another post that starts off with a grim roll call of all the lives lost the previous year due to transphobia followed by some distant iteration of “This has to stop!”. This is not another piece meant to make cisgender people feel sad, but ultimately comfortable.

This is a call to action—cis people, we have got to do better.

We have got to BE better. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance falls annually on November 20. It is a day meant to honor the lives of trans individuals lost due to transphobia and spread awareness of the violence that this community faces daily. However, cissexism as it’s defined is a form of oppression meant to tell trans people that they are lesser. That they’re deceptive. That their lives are somehow less important. Cissexism isn’t a trans issue—it’s an issue that cis people have with trans people. The simple fact that, so often, trans people are only discussed (among cis people) through the sensationalization of their violence and in the aftermaths of their deaths points to the normalization of the violence cis people create each day.

This blog alone will not solve cissexism, but at the very least, I want to encourage certain individuals to restructure the way they think of cissexism. Too often, we look at those who harass, harm, and murder trans individuals as “monsters”—as an entirely separate category of individuals capable of unspeakable actions. But these “monsters” wear human skin. These “monsters” come from communities that we are all a part of that tell them what forms of behavior and expression are appropriate based on one’s perceived gender.

These communal norms are marked with blood and strongly recommend that we don’t deviate lest we face the consequences. But these norms aren’t always brought to light by bloodshed. You see these norms every time we assign a gender to babies before they’re born. You see them every time we don’t ask someone we just met what their preferred gender pronouns are. You see them every time we gender clothing, bathrooms, toys, sex education, television programs, hobbies, presentation, and much more. These norms, these rules, these standards that we enforce all come together to create a potion that so called “monsters” drink, which makes them do horrific things. The murders that mark Transgender Day of Remembrance are not done in isolation—every cis person has blood on their hands.

For those of you to whom this message may be new or upsetting, trans people don’t want your tears or guilt. What we need is change. What we need is to stop waiting until it’s too late to declare the wrongs we’ve committed against trans people (cissexist norms, misgendering and exclusion of trans individuals, etc.) and start removing the barriers that we create that threaten the livelihood of trans people (access to healthcare, workplace discrimination, etc.). What we need to do is start educating ourselves and checking the biases we have towards trans individuals. While some trans people might be willing to assist in this process, Google is also a free resource. Take the time to intentionally learn. If a trans person is willing to educate you, then be grateful since doing so could easily be a frustrating and triggering experience for them.

We also need to challenge ourselves to check our peers for their biases and misperceptions of trans people. For some that may be difficult, but just remember that the temporary discomfort caused by addressing problematic behavior pales in comparison to the permanent discomfort trans people have and will face if we do nothing.

Additionally, getting involved in local coalitions and organizations that center trans individuals is a good way of contributing to local, national, and international activism efforts. Even getting to know more trans people—not in a voyeuristic, transactional way—but in a humanizing, holistic, and unassuming way can help some of us to learn about and appreciate trans individuals outside of the oppression they face.

If we start (or continue) to go about these actions and always remain critical of our actions and the actions of others—then hopefully we will reach a day where we continue to honor the lives of trans individuals without the omnipresent anxiety that the list will only add new names the following year.

To learn more about Transgender Day of Rememberance and how you can support the transgender community, listen to our Undying Legacies: Transgender Day of Remembrance podcast

We want to hear from you! How are you confronting cissexism and transphobia? Tell us by leaving a comment below.