7 Ways You Can Use Your Cisgender Privilege for Good

By Feminist Campus Team
Image by Micah Bazant for the Audre Lorde Project
Image by Micah Bazant for the Audre Lorde Project

Two weeks ago was Trans Week of Remembrance. For many of us with cis privilege, that week was filled with Facebook posts, articles shared, and hashtags posted…and that was where our work began and ended. Simply put, that’s not enough. And as freedom fighters, we must constantly push ourselves to do better by our communities, especially those of us who are on the front lines.

This Trans Week of Remembrance came at a critical time. By August, at least 20 trans people had been murdered, mainly trans women of color. This number is only the murders that have been reported and received national press. The average life expectancy for a trans person in the United States is 30 to 32 years of age. And while the increasing visibility of trans women like Janet Mock, Hari Nef, Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner can make it seem like things are getting better, they are marred by the daily reports of violence against the trans community.

I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah, things are bad, but what can I do? I’m only one person.” That’s precisely why we compiled this handy dandy list of things you can do with your cis privilege to make the world a little bit more loving toward our trans kindred! Take a look, share it with friends and family and start dismantling oppressive systems!

1. Educate other cis folks

Trans folks face countless microaggressions throughout their everyday lives. It’s not their job to explain their identities or experiences to each cisgender person who interacts with them. Cis folks must bring up trans histories and oppressions to our fellow cis people. Privilege thrives on invisibility. Much like white privilege, cis privilege operates in a cloak of invisibility, with binary gender roles being taught as naturally correct. The first step to disrupting cis privilege is to make it visible. Much like Peggy Macintosh’s Invisible Knapsack of Whiteness, cis people have similar privileges as well. A few examples are:

My right to inhabit my currently chose gender is universally considered valid, regardless of my gendered behavior as a child or how I felt about being forced into the gender I inhabited then.

If someone else thinks I’m in the wrong bathroom, I am in no danger.

My potential lovers expect my genitals to look roughly similar to the way they do, and have accepted that before coming to bed with me.

Institutions and authority figures do not force me to adopt a different gender presentation or deny me medical treatment.

It’s pretty exhausting to have to explain the nature of your oppression when you experience it every day. Do not rely on trans folks to educate you! They are not your teachers. Interrogate your cis privilege. Make it visible.

2. Make spaces safer

As a cis person, your gender permits you entry into conversations and spaces that may not be safe for trans folks. Incorporate gender pronouns into your introductions in classes, club meetings, and everyday conversation. If you’re planning an event, find a way to make gendered spaces such as bathrooms gender neutral, and make sure everyone knows where already existing gender neutral bathrooms are. Ask folks what their access needs may be before you call a meeting or plan an event to reduce any trouble folks may have in navigating the spaces you’re wanting them to come to. Make it known that if people don’t feel safe going into a gendered space like a bathroom, they can ask someone in the meeting to accompany them.

3. Call out transphobia

In a perfect world, call outs would go a little something like this:

Person of a marginalized identity:

Hey, you just acted in a really violent and oppressive way toward me and as someone who claims to be in community with me, it runs counter to your beliefs and ideologies. Could you not do that anymore?”

Privileged person who messed up:

Oh you’re right! I’m sorry I acted that way. I’ll make sure to correct my behavior and not do that anymore. Thanks!”

Then we’d all hug and go out for milkshakes. As much as I’d like every call out to be like this, we don’t live in a perfect world and instead of hugs and milkshakes, there is resistance, anger and outright refusal to deal with the issue when anyone of a marginalized identity calls people out. I’ve learned that folks with privilege are more likely to listen to people who look like them when being called out (i.e.: Tim Wise and whiteness). As much as it sucks to know that people need to hear it from people who look like them, this is an opportunity for you to use your cis privilege in a good way! Call people on their transphobic words, actions and behaviors. A non confrontational way to do this is to question people when they say oppressive things: “Why do you think that?”, “How do you know that?” “Have you ever spoken to a trans person about their life and experience?” Questions force us to go deeper and to actually unpack what we’ve said, rather than resting on our laurels.

4. Take leadership from trans folks

The best people to consult on what trans people need are trans folks. If there is a gender justice group in your town, volunteer your time and your energy to help the organization advance their goals and mission. Partner with any gender justice groups on your campus to work with them on programming, actions or anything else. Elevate trans leadership in your own organization, college and community. There are people doing the work whose voices need to be heard.

5. Be receptive to critique

I’m going to share a hard truth with you: you’re going to mess up at some point. None of us have been born to be perfect social justice darlings. We mess up! Seeing privilege, noticing it and disrupting it are things we’re all constantly learning. You will inevitably be critiqued, challenged to go deeper and to do better. The challenge is not people being mean or rude or ungrateful. Being an ally  is not passive, it is active! It requires constant work and critique from yourself and others.

6. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Living in a society that is steeped in capitalism is hard. It’s even harder for folks who are denied access to jobs, healthcare, safety and traditional streams of funding because of gender based discrimination. Support the work of organizations such as SNaPCo, The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, TGI Justice Project, FIERCE!  The National Center for Transgender Equality, The Trans Women of Color Collective, and others! Donate money to media projects that showcase trans legacies of resistance such as “Happy Birthday, Marsha!”. Contribute to fundraisers trans folks may set up for gender affirming clothing/surgeries, to secure housing, or to make it through the months. Community is a life giving force of good. Disrupt capitalism and share what you may have to help your kindred!

7. Honor the Dead, and Fight like Hell for the Living

The most important act of solidarity you can make is to honor and affirm the lives of trans and gender nonconforming folks while they are still with us, rather than sharing hashtags of their names once they have died. Lift their names, their work and their lives up and make sure the rest of the world recognizes their light. The work for us as cisgender people goes beyond a week of sharing articles, retweeting people and Instagram photos at vigils. As Lordes Ashley Hunter says “Solidarity with the trans community is not a retweet, like or FB share. Solidarity is informed, intentional, reoccurring, sustainable acts of service!” And we must serve, love and protect our trans kindred for more than one week out of the year.

By Feminist Campus Team


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