“Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”
So says American sociologist Michael Kimmel. Kimmel may have been talking about how workplaces tended to favour men over women, as things often do in patriarchal society, but the describes any number of power relations, where one party is subordinate to another more “privileged” one.
Society throws some people lemons, and others lemonade. See, a lot of us confidently call ourselves “men” and “women” because we have body parts that we typically associate with those two words. Besides, we’ve got plenty of art, movies, songs, and more telling us to take pride in being “men” and “women”.
In these and other respects, our lives are very different from people who are “transgender” or “non-binary”.
We know what privilege feels like even if we can’t quite see it. But sometimes the awareness does come – from a friend or those we know pointing out those little things that give you an advantage over someone else that you didn’t think about yourself. And sometimes, that awareness can come from a word. “Cisgender” is that kind of word.
But what is “cisgender” you ask? YouTuber Connor O’Keefe has just the answer:
With much of our media discourse, and conversations revolving around cisgender people looking at transgender people, the above video turns the lens back on cisgender people, plotting them on the gender spectrum.
Why is it important to underscore cisgender identity? It would be like saying “Male president”, or “heterosexual singer”, or “savarna scholar”, right? But the only reason prefixes like “male” or “heterosexual” or “savarna” sound so odd is because they are taken as default. Those privileges are hidden in plain sight. And that makes it all the more difficult to question them, to destabilise the hierarchy, to redistribute power.
For many of us “cisgender” is a new word. But it has immense potential to get us to think about what position we occupy in the ‘pecking order’, and how we can begin to change things, so that all genders can be on the same plane, and all privileges can become basic rights.
Check out The Cake Cookbook for definitions on Cisgender and more words and phrases! Head here.