Transgender (or trans) people face extreme degrees of discrimination and oppression, especially at interactions of identities such as race and sexual orientation. However, many people are not aware of the types of privilege they hold over trans people. For example, the majority of people do not know that the word cisgender exists. Cisgender is the opposite of transgender, meaning that someone who is cisgender (or cis) identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth, while someone who is trans identifies as something other than the gender they were assigned at birth (Serano, 2013). The majority would use words like real, biological, actual, or even normal, to describe cis people in relation to trans people, one of the examples of cis privilege. Thus, cisgender privilege is the unearned advantages afforded to people for simply being cis. It is similar to white or male privilege in the fact that is is unearned and granted to a majority group that is generally considered the default (Mio, Barker, & Tumambing, 2012). In this paper, I will outline ten more cis privileges and explain them, as well as provide examples of where and how this lack of privilege impacts trans people’s lives, sometimes to the point of psychological and physical harm, or resulting in the loss of homes, jobs, and freedoms.
I can go out in public and not expect harassment due to my gender or gender expression. In a study done by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 53% of trans respondents reported being verbally harassed in public accommodations (Grant, Mottet, Tanis, Harrison, & Herman, 2011). This can escalate into physical violence, as was the case with CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman, who was physically attacked while being called racial and transmisogynistic slurs while enjoying an evening out with friends (Goldman, 2014). Trans people reported not only verbal harassment, but also physical harassment at all places of public accommodation from taxis, hospitals, law enforcement, and hotels (Grant, et al., 2011). Trans people cannot step out their doors without expecting some form of harassment if they are visibly trans.
I can go to the police and not worry about being harassed, blamed, or profiled due to my gender or gender expression. In the same study, 46% respondents reported being uncomfortable seeking police help, while 22% of those who interacted with the police report being harassed by law enforcement. Even more shocking is that 6% of respondents reported being physically harassed by police officers or law enforcement officials (Grant, et al., 2011). In fact, trans women (especially those of color) are often profiled as sex workers and may experience harassment for simply carrying condoms on their persons as ‘proof’ as their job as sex workers. This is extremely problematic as the trans community experiences high rates of HIV/AIDS infections (Grant, et al., 2011).
I can go to school and not experience harassment from my peers or teachers for my gender or gender expression. With programs like the It Gets Better campaign, it is no surprise that trans children face extremely high rates of harassment at school. 78% of trans students, grades kindergarten through 12th grade, reported harassment. Of the same population, 35% reported physical assault and 12% reported sexual violence (Grant, et al., 2011). In 2011, a survey of the school climates for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) students was conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). This survey found that not only are students the cause for these extremely high numbers, but teachers and other school staff often do not intervene, instigate, or would turn a blind eye. The majority of the incidents went unreported due to fears of making the situation worse, uncaring staff, or histories of the school doing nothing to prevent the harassment (Kosciw, Greytak, Bartkiewicz, Boesen, & Palmer, 2012).
I can go to a doctor without worrying that my doctor will know how to treat people like me. 50% of trans people report having to explain basic trans health care to their health providers. In fact, many trans people report having to spend great lengths of time explaining basic things about themselves, their identities, and their medical transitions, even if it was irrelevant to the reason the person was visiting the doctor in the first place (Grant, et al., 2011).
I can seek medical attention and not worried about being denied services due to my gender or gender expression. 19% of trans respondents in the Task Force survey reported being denied medical attention due to being trans. This lead to 28% to delay seeking medical attention due to experiences or having heard of experiences with discrimination in health care. Even more (48%) delayed medical attention because they could not afford it (Grant, et al., 2011). Couple this with the fact that doctors do not know how to treat trans patients and there is a dangerous and deadly combination. This has even led to death, as was the case with Shaun Smith, a transgender woman, who was denied services upon the discovery that she was transgender (Mitaru, 2013).
I can go into gender segregated areas that match my gender (like bathrooms or prisons) without threat of harassment or worse. With the amount of harassment trans people receive for simply existing outside of their homes, it is no surprise that they often face extremes when it comes to accessing gender segregated spaces, such as bathrooms or prisons. In places like Arizona, laws were attempted to be passed that a trans person could not enter the bathroom unless their identification matched the bathroom they were trying to use (Signorile, 2013). This is something that not all trans people can do due to money (many trans people live in extreme poverty), laws pertaining to document changes, or several other factors. In fact, 41% of trans people in the Task Force survey, have non-matching documents (Grant, et al., 2011). Even in states that are considered more progressive, trans people face potential violence for simply using the bathroom. Chrissy Polis, a transgender woman, was beaten by a group of girls to the point she had a seizure for using the women’s restroom (Mandell, 2012). CeCe McDonald, the trans woman previously mentioned, was housed in a men’s prison (Goldman, 2014). Many laws tie into requiring genital surgery which is not only expensive, but also not wanted by all trans people (Grant, et al., 2011).
I can safely acquire adequate housing without being turned down due to my gender or gender expression. While it is illegal to discriminate in housing based on race, 38% of Black trans people reported being denied a house or apartment. This number shot up to 47% for Native American trans people, which is over double for Black trans people and triple for Native trans people when compared to White trans people (15%). Even more surprising is the fact that 11% of respondents reported being evicted from their housing due to their gender identity/expression (Grant, et al., 2011). The homeless rate for trans people is double that for the general population (2% versus 1% respectively), and only 32% reported owning homes compared to 67% of the general population (Grant, et al., 2011).
I can hold a job and not be fired for my gender or gender expression or not be denied a job solely based on my gender or gender expression. As previously mentioned, trans people experience high rates of poverty, why? Trans people experience extreme levels of discrimination in the work place. Unemployment rates for trans people are double those of the general population and over four times the rate of the general population for trans people of color. 26% of trans people reported losing their jobs due to being transgender while 50% reported harassment due to gender identity/expression. In fact, people were so afraid of workplace discrimination that many hid their transitions (71%) or even delayed their transitions (57%). Even finding a job is difficult as 47% of respondents reported that they were denied promotions or even jobs because of their gender identity/expression. Even more troubling is the fact that in over half of the United States, there are no legal protections protecting trans people from housing, employment, or others forms of discrimination on the state or federal level (Grant, et al., 2011).
I can turn on the TV and see representations of people with genders and gender expressions like mine. Beginning in 2002, the Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) started cataloging media portrayals of trans people. Only 102 episodes of television were recorded of having trans characters in ten years. This means approximately 10 episodes a year of television. Most of these portrayals were of trans women, with trans men and non-binary individuals being extremely rare. Among these few episodes of television portraying trans characters, only 12% were considered fair, accurate, or groundbreaking (Kane, 2012). This leads to the final example of cis privilege.
I can see positive TV portrayals of people with genders and gender expressions like mine. GLAAD found that over half (54%) of the media depictions of trans people were considered negative at the time of airing, in fact, 61% of the portrayals were paired with anti-transgender slurs and language. Most of the trans characters were portrayed as victims (40%) and 21% of them were portrayed as killers or villains. While 16% of trans people report turning to underground economies due to poverty and work discrimination, 20% of the trans characters portrayed on TV were sex workers (Grant, et al., 2011; Kane, 2012). Only 12% of the 102 episodes of television cataloged were considered to be positive portrayals of trans people, that means only approximately 12 episodes in ten years showed trans people in a positive light (Kane, 2012).
This is but a small fraction of the privileges granted to cis people for simply having an identity that agrees with the assumptions placed on them at birth. This list fails to recognize society’s obsessive questioning on trans people’s genitals, or the fact that trans people experience extremely high rates of mental health issues due to the daily discrimination they receive. There is still a long way to equality (and equity), on all fronts for trans people. Cis privilege is very real, and is a reality that trans people have to experience every day.
Goldman, R. (2014, January 13). Transgender activist CeCe McDonald released from prison. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/01/transgender-activist-cece-mcdonald-released-early-from-prison/
Grant, J. M., Mottet, L.A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., & Herman, J.L. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Kane, M. (2012, November 20). GLAAD examines ten years of transgender images on television; more than half were negative or defamatory. Retrieved from http://www.glaad.org/publications/victims-or-villains-examining-ten-years-transgender-images-television
Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
Mandell, N. (2012, May 16). Chrissy Polis, transgender beating victim, still scarred from mcdonald’s attack. NY Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/chrissy-polis-transgender-beating-victim-scarred-mcdonald-attack-article-1.1079205
Mio, J., Barker, L., & Tumambing, J. (2012). Multicultural psychology: Understanding our diverse communities. (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Mitaru, I. (2013, April 02). EMS denied transgender patient care causing her death, alleges sheepshead bay lawyer. Sheepshead Bites. Retrieved from http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2013/04/ems-denied-transgender-patient-care-causing-her-death-alleges-sheepshead-bay-lawyer/