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The cis agenda

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APRIL 02, 2021

I’m tired.

Although I’ve been pretty open in my writing about my identity as a transmasculine, genderfluid person, I haven’t gone out of my way to talk about it to many people in my life outside of UC Berkeley and the Daily Cal. There are a couple of reasons for this, but the main one is that the prospect of telling people, especially those who already have an image of me as a cisgender woman fixed in their minds, is just exhausting.

Transgender men, and transmasculine people in general, remain relatively invisible in the public eye. When we are thrust into the spotlight, as recently happened when Elliot Page came out as a trans man and was subsequently featured in Time Magazine, the reaction outside of the LGBTQ+ community ranges from supportive allyship to paternalistic denial to vitriolic hate.

Many of the most platformed messages in the wake of anything bringing attention to transmasculine people are exceedingly negative. The odd thing is, these messages are so unoriginal that the vast majority can be grouped into two simple categories: first, sickeningly condescending gaslighting and second, misdirected fear and hatred toward trans women. Accumulated below is a sampling of the rhetoric recently directed towards Elliot Page.

This is so sad, you’re not a man. You’re simply a woman who prefers masculine style. I hope you realize this before it’s too late.

You look miserable. That’s what happens when you buy into gender stereotypes equals biological sex.

We shouldn’t have to accept change overnight. I’m not comfortable with trans people playing sports or using the restroom.

Which toilet should a trans use? Should I be concerned when a ‘man’ is in the same toilet I’ve been using?

Oh my gosh what is the world headed to freaks everywhere.

So now, let’s address it. But because I’m sick and tired of having to defend my own existence, this is not going to be another thinkpiece debunking “The Trans Agenda.” Instead, we will be exploring The Cis Agenda. These are some of the top goals that transphobic cis people have to try to eradicate trans life.


Point 1: Gaslight trans people out of existence

The simple denial of trans identity is the reason I have not been more open about my gender outside of campus. I dread having to explain my identity to people because so often trans people are painted as just confused tomboys or effeminate gay men, or gender dysphoria is pointed to as a reason transgender identities are just a manifestation of mental illness that needs to be cured.

The term gaslighting is a loaded and oft misused one, but in this case, the description is apt. The condescension and paternalistic approach of many transphobic arguments are beyond belief. I’ll run through a few of the top hits here:

  1. It’s just a phase. Kids will grow out of it and they’re too young to know their own minds anyway.
  2. The entire rise of people openly identifying as transgender is just a fad people are being pressured into joining.
  3. You’re confused. You just like a certain aesthetic — that doesn’t change your gender.
  4. You’re just suffering from body image issues; you shouldn’t shape your whole identity around this disordered thinking.

Some kids are precocious and understand their gender identity early; other people like me only realize they are trans later in life. Either way, a person knows themself far better than anyone else will, and if someone says they are transgender, they most likely are. More people are identifying as trans now because while it is a minority identity, it is no longer something only whispered about on the fringes of society, and being openly transgender is far safer than it used to be to be.


Either way, a person knows themself far better than anyone else will, and if someone says they are transgender, they most likely are.


And while it may be far safer, it is still not safe. Very few people would fake being trans just to be trendy given the volume of hate and vitriol directed towards trans people not just online but in public as well.

And after many of us have spent lives being classed as tomboys or flamboyant gays, trans people know that you can have a masculine or feminine aesthetic regardless of your gender. Many of my transmasculine friends often go out with full faces of makeup on, sometimes in dresses or skirts, but that doesn’t change their gender.

Many of us do suffer from gender dysphoria and/or have body image issues, but similarly, that is not why we are transgender; quite the opposite, actually. I happen to particularly like my body. What I dislike and what gave me severe body image issues is how other people perceive me based on my body type. While it is immensely helpful for many others, I doubt I will ever have gender-affirming surgery because I fully believe that I am capable of being every inch a man in the body I was born with.

This gaslighting is doubly weaponized against autistic trans people. There is a substantial trans autistic community, but many cis neurotypical people think that autistic people can’t understand gender enough to be trans, or that their expressions of trans identity are just autistic people not understanding social mores. On the contrary, some autistic trans people claim that their gender identity is intertwined with their neurodiversity and that not identifying with the gender projected onto them is sometimes just a logical extension of a non-neurotypical understanding of the world.


Point 2: Make everyone’s genitals your business

This item on the Cis Agenda is what I refer to in my mind as “The Great Trans Bathroom Panic.” And while there are plenty of obvious and sensible explanations for why this is absurd (it’s not practical to run around checking in people’s pants, for one), there’s a far more sinister point underlying this one.

The Bathroom Panic, and the genital argument as a whole, depends on an understanding of gender rooted in toxic masculinity and a deep misogynistic disdain for women. Let’s take a moment to explore the arguments themselves, and the logical conclusions they reach:

  1. Men are dangerous and will take advantage of women given the opportunity.
  2. Women are fragile and sacred and must be protected at all costs.
  3. Children are routinely left defenseless in restrooms.
  4. If trans women are allowed in bathrooms, the hordes of pervert men will dress up as women to gain access to the women’s restroom without penalty.
  5. These men in dresses will commit violence against women and children and get away scot-free.

These points in isolation seem a weak argument against allowing people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender, and even weaker against the argument for gender-neutral restrooms. If women are in constant danger from men, then locking trans women out of women’s bathrooms simply because it could make it easier for a man to enter a women’s bathroom places the safety of trans women far below that of cis women. And, if men are inherently dangerous and shouldn’t be let into a restroom with women at any cost, then assigning bathrooms by genitalia backfires massively because it means trans men will only be allowed to use the women’s restroom.

All of this assumes that the premise is true: Men are dangerous and women are weak. That, however, is clearly not the case. There are women who commit violent acts, there are men who are victims. Defining manhood by aggression is a vital part of toxic masculinity and simply generates more violence, while defining womanhood by weakness is a large component of why gender inequality persists. Physically, yes, women may tend to be smaller than men on average, but that doesn’t mean that all women are incapable of defending themselves and it doesn’t mean that all violence is perpetrated by men, nor that all victims are women.


All of this assumes that the premise is true: Men are dangerous and women are weak.


Violence against women and children is massively less likely to occur in a random public bathroom than in isolated places with known individuals. Violence is still a crime, and what restroom someone is allowed into based on their gender has no bearing on whether people will be stopped and prosecuted for violent actions.

The reason I haven’t transitioned more visibly, which would help me to be perceived by others in the way I want to, is fear. I’m not confrontational by nature. I don’t want to be accosted by someone screaming that I’m in the wrong restroom because I’m wearing a binder and a packer, and I don’t want to have to argue I’m not in the wrong restroom because I’m short and have long hair and thick thighs. I just want to be able to go about my life, but this hysteria over something as simple as bathrooms is making that particularly difficult.


Point 3: Ruin sports

Another trick of the Cis Agenda is to shift the (sometimes literal) goalposts of gender.

This is ruining sports.

While pearl-clutching transphobes will shrill that the inclusion of trans athletes in sports will destroy competition, they have yet to prove this with anything beyond wild speculation. That wild speculation, though, has had very real repercussions for professional athletes. More specifically, the cis women athletes that transphobes are ostensibly trying to protect.

Caster Semenya of South Africa is a multiple Olympic and World Championship gold medalist in the 800-meter dash. Semenya is an intersex cisgender woman; although she has XY chromosomes, she was assigned female at birth. However, because of her intersex identity, she was subjected to “sex testing” after her World Championship gold in 2009. Despite being cleared for competition following that test, new rules were implemented by the International Association of Athletics Federation in 2019, only a year before the 2020 Olympics were slated to provide her an opportunity to compete for a second consecutive gold. These rules set a cap on female athlete’s testosterone levels, barring Semenya from international competition unless she agreed to subject herself to hormones to lower her naturally occurring testosterone.

As a result, the world has, for now, lost one of the shining stars of sports. How much farther will this be allowed to go? Will people be barred from competition for having too much muscle mass or, like Michael Phelps, higher lung capacity, because they have a natural competitive advantage?

This example illustrates impossible standards of the Cis Agenda — you have to keep the body you were born with, your gender is the gender you were assigned at birth, your gender is defined by your genitalia, your gender is defined by your chromosomes, your gender is defined by your hormones or some other attempt at quantitative categorization — the list goes on. For many people, even cis people, these standards are contradictory and absurd.

And if we’ve realized that gender is a poor standard by which to categorize people for competition, why not just create better categories rather than banning whole populations from competition? Adapt weight classes like how wrestling does or divide by some more objective measure that correlates to performance such as testosterone levels. Just don’t insist that they are divided by gender when they’re not.


Point 4: Make lesbians an endangered species

If you’ve been online, you’ve probably seen the acronym TERF, short for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. While many people online now claim it to be a slur because their ideology is so inextricably linked to hate, it is often used in derogatory contexts, TERF is simply an acronym for a label transphobic feminists claimed for themselves. I could write an entire article on the contradictions and false premises of TERF ideology (and many others have already), but let’s hit the highlights.

In addition to agreeing with many, if not all, of the Cis agenda points made above, TERFs claim that “women’s spaces,” which includes lesbianism, must be protected at all costs. In my chats with TERFs online, I have yet to understand what exactly constitutes “women’s spaces” outside lesbianism, bathrooms and women’s shelters.

But for all their claims that trans women are taking up valuable resources and space that should be going to “natural women,” TERFs miss one key element of this equation: Trans men exist. If trans women are flooding “women’s spaces” in an attempt to take advantage of things offered exclusively to women, that’s not hurting anyone, because trans men are leaving those spaces at the same time. I don’t even openly present as male, and I still avoid events and organizations specifically for women.

In their latest odd obsession, TERFs frequently bandy about claims that lesbians are being pressured into identifying as trans men, leading to a decline in the number of lesbians. Lesbians, these TERFs say, need allies more than trans people because they are under attack.

But this is simply not true. On the surveys and reports these people cite, all categories of LGBT identity have increased in population over time. Because — surprise surprise — trans women can also be lesbians, and the only reason to exclude them from that category is blatant transmisogyny.


On the surveys and reports these people cite, all categories of LGBT identity have increased in population over time.


Including trans men in the picture may seem advantageous to TERFs in the short term while they can maintain a focus on ‘protecting lesbians,’ but in the long run it simply points to gaping holes in their overall logic. If trans women only exist because they want to take advantage of whatever perks being a woman can give them, they picked the wrong gender, since TERFs will argue that it is only internalized misogyny and the will to be part of the patriarchy that causes trans men to exist. If trans men are lesbians pressured into changing their gender, why, when trans rights are much more contested than gay rights? If the perks of being a woman and joining women’s spaces are so great as to motivate people to change their gender, then why do trans men give that up?

Simply put, TERF ideology is one mess of contradictions after another, but at the root of it all is one goal: make trans identity invalid by whatever means necessary.


The Trans Agenda

The Trans Agenda is simply to be left alone to live our lives in peace. We’re not “forcing our ideology” on anyone; we just want to exist without being forced to hide who we are or pretend to be someone we’re not. Transphobic people are the ones forcing their beliefs down our throats by attacking our very existence. They’re the ones implementing their own agenda to make everyone else conform to their worldview, and their words and actions have power. They’re the ones causing the massive rates of depression and suicide among trans youth. Transphobia, and not simply being transgender, is to blame.

I’m tired and I just want to live in peace as myself. Is that too much to ask?

Contact Saya Abney at [email protected]

APRIL 02, 2021

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