How to Be An Ally to Cis-Women

6 Sep 2015

I’m getting lectured lately on how I am “failing to be an ally” to transgender people, especially transgender women. This charge has been leveled at me recently because I have (a) referred to a girl-identified child as having been “born with a male body”; (b) pointed to data showing that most gender nonconforming and gender dysphoric children do not grow up to be trans; and (c) written about autogynephilia which, if you’ve read my latest book, you know is a no-no among certain circles.

So I’m thinking it is my turn to provide transwomen some advice about how to be an ally to cis-women, particularly those of us who are feminist. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “cis” means identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth; it’s the opposite of being transgender, and it’s what most of us are.)

Let me note that a lot of the transwomen I know don’t need this list—in fact, they could write it because they live by it—but a few seem to:

  1. Don’t make us refer to ourselves as “cis-gendered” if it is irrelevant to what we are talking about. In other words, don’t require us to always label ourselves in opposition to your identity.*
  2. Allow us to talk about our vaginas, vulvas, clitorises, breasts, periods, menstrual blood, birth experiences, hysterectomies, etc. without claiming that we are oppressing you because you weren’t born with the bodies we were. Allow us, without harassment, to write and perform plays, make jokes, sing songs, and work for clinics that are about women like us.
  3. Don’t keep telling us how we are failing specifically to work to further your rights when we are working on advancing the rights of some other group, including our own. We don’t want to oppress you, but we’re also not always working on your issues.
  4. Don’t get upset with straight, bi, and lesbian cis-women who tell stories of having been gender nonconforming as children, and don’t suggest when we tell these stories that we would have turned out transgender if only society had been more accommodating.
  5. If you hit on us and we’re not interested, don’t tell us we are transphobic. Who a person is or is not attracted to is generally not under her control. Also know that the absence of attraction may have nothing to do with your bodily history or body type.
  6. If you start a romantic/sexual relationship with one of us, with you identiying as straight men, and then you come out as lesbian women, don’t tell us that if we leave the relationships, we are transphobic. A cis-gendered woman’s self-identity as a straight woman deserves as much respect as anyone’s self-identity.
  7. If you want advice on make-up, nail polish, or any other typically feminine-identified accouterment, pick a woman who is into the same stuff as you. Don’t ask those of us who aren’t into those things to get into them.
  8. Don’t tell us you know what it is like to be subject to a lifetime of sexism because you may be experiencing sexism since your transition. While we appreciate you testifying to the reality of sexism, we also feel like we should be believed when we talk about it without you having to add your testimony.
  9. If we express confusion when you say “I have always felt female” because we haven’t “always felt female,” understand we may have different concepts of what it means to “feel female,” or we may just have had very different experiences.
  10. Stop labeling as “TERF”s (“trans-exclusionary radical feminists”) every cis-woman who asks for these kinds of things.

Thanks for listening.

*After this blog was posted, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper pointed me to an excellent essay, "Am I Cisgender?", at her blog. It explains very well the problems with being asked to identify as "cisgendered."

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