Cisgenderism [1] [2] is an umbrella term that collectively describes forms of systemic oppression that invalidate people’s own classifications and understanding of their genders and bodies.

Misgendering

One form of cisgenderism that is often found online is misgendering [3]. Misgendering refers to the use of gendered classifications, concepts, and language that do not match how people describe and understand themselves. Misgendering is often used as a form of online abuse against trans people. In 2018, Twitter explicitly banned misgendering as part of its policy on hate speech.

Some common types of misgendering found online are:

  • Referring to trans women (i.e., women assigned ‘male’ at birth) as men or with he/him pronouns
  • Referring to trans men (i.e., men assigned ‘female’ at birth) as women or with she/her pronouns
  • Refusing to use they/them pronouns for a non-binary person and referring to them using either the binary she/her or he/him pronouns. Although many people mistakenly assume that using ‘they’ as a singular non-binary pronoun is a recent innovation or has always been considered grammatically incorrect, the singular ‘they’ pronoun dates as far back as the late 1300s and has been used in literary classics such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1599.
  • Debating whether, or denying that, trans women are women, trans men are men, and that non-binary genders are valid genders
  • Using derogatory or objectifying slurs to describe a trans person and their gender: ‘tranny’, ‘shim’, ‘a he/she’, ‘she-male’, ’ladyboy’, ‘it’. Although some people may choose to reclaim these terms, they are in-group terms that should not be used about another person without their consent.
  • Using defamatory language that implies a person is deceiving or fooling others by living as their identified gender (e.g., ‘trap’, ‘deceiving’, ‘posing’, ‘fooling’, ‘pretending’, ‘masquerading’)
  • Describing a person as ‘a transsexual’, ‘a transgender’, or ‘a trans’. Trans is an adjective (i.e., Danny is a trans person), not a noun.
  • Describing all people using binary language such as ‘women and men’, ‘ladies and gentlemen’, or ‘he/she’. Although binary language in laws, policies, and public event greetings may aim to promote inclusion, this has the effect of misgendering and excluding non-binary people.

Objectifying Biological Language

Objectifying biological language [4] refers to misgendering that involves talking about people’s physical characteristics in a context where similar discussion of other people’s physical characteristics would be considered invasive or rude. This kind of objectifying biological language often constitutes sexual harassment.

Some common forms of objectifying biological language found online are:

  • Using references to a person’s presumed or actual physical characteristics to invalidate their gender (e.g., ‘you aren’t a ‘real’ woman, because of your genitals’)
  • Conspicuous mention of a person’s presumed or actual physical characteristics (e.g., referring to a man with a trans lived experience as an ‘FTM’ (‘Female To Male’) without his consent or describing a trans woman in your workplace as ‘a pre-op transsexual’ or as ‘having a dick’, where describing any other woman’s genitals in your workplace would be considered sexual harassment)

Retroactive Misgendering

Retroactive misgendering [5] is misgendering that occurs when describing a person’s past using gendered classifications, concepts, and language that do not fit how they wish to be described in the past.  In trans community spaces, the non-consensual disclosure of a person’s name that was associated with a prior gender classification is sometimes referred to as deadnaming. This too was banned as hate speech by Twitter in 2018. Although retroactive misgendering is unfortunately widespread, it is important to be aware that retroactive misgendering violates privacy legislation, given that a person’s history of having been previously classified or viewed as another gender constitutes legally protected personal information. To prevent and reduce harm caused by retroactive misgendering and deadnaming, some trans scholars have called for publishers to permit trans scholars to correct their author names on published works.

Coercive Queering

Coercive queering [6] refers to misgendering that occurs when people who do not self-identify as ‘queer’ are classified or described as being ‘queer’ or lumped into ‘LGBTQI’– terminology that refers to a person’s sexuality and/or the gender(s) of their desired partner(s)– solely as a result of their gender. This form of misgendering is common when people attempt to speak about trans people without their consent or consultation. Like any other person, people of trans experience can have any sexuality or relationship, including being heterosexual or straight. Discussing people’s trans experiences through the framework of sexuality-focused concepts such as homophobia and heterosexism fails to address people’s experiences as targets of transphobia and other forms of cisgenderism. Talking about these lived experiences by using sexuality-focused concepts can also obscure transphobic and cisgenderist hate that occurs within nominally ‘LGBTQI’ communities and networks.

Pathologising

Another form of cisgenderism is pathologising [7], which means characterising people’s own classifications and expressions of their gender as disordered or problematic. Examples of pathologising online hate include:

  • Calling a trans person a ‘freak’ or a ‘psycho’
  • Claiming a trans person is deluded or that their gender identity is a fantasy or a delusion
  • Saying trans people need therapy to make them conform to their assigned gender category. In February 2019, the Victorian Government committed to banning conversion therapy (therapy to change a person’s gender), and it is already illegal in many jurisdictions worldwide.
  • Treating a person’s gender expression as a mental illness, including when someone’s clothing, appearance, or behaviour do not fit stereotypes of their gender category (e.g., when someone who identifies as a man wears a cocktail dress or lipstick)
  • Accusing trans people, especially trans women, of being ‘sexually deviant’ and ‘sexual predators’. This is often used as way of harassing trans women and excluding them from women’s bathrooms and changing rooms, claiming that they are a danger to other women, when this is completely unfounded.
  • Saying that young trans people are victims of so-called ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’ (‘ROGD’), an unscientific and widely discredited concept that is nevertheless still used by many to dismiss and pathologise the stated identities of trans young people. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has publicly refuted this ‘social contagion’ model, which has been used to promote ‘conversion therapy’, also known as ‘reparative therapy’, that attempts psychologically coercive and unethical tactics to pressure a trans person to identify with their assigned gender.

Some forms of pathologising constitute vilification. ‘Reparative therapy’ also violates codes of ethics in health professions.

Health professionals who engage in the forms of online anti-trans abuse described above may be subject to formal complaint and loss of licensure.

The examples above are not an exhaustive list of the many forms of anti-trans abuse online. By gaining greater awareness, we can take intentional action to reduce and prevent anti-trans abuse online.

How to avoid anti-trans abuse online:

For a more inclusive and non-cisgenderist way to think and talk about gender, read about the Road Model of Gender.

For guidance on how to use non-cisgenderist language in a variety of situations, check out this Inclusive Language Guide, this guide to trans-inclusive practices in professional situations, and the examples in this paper.

For more information about pronouns gender neutral pronouns and what to do if you’re not sure what pronouns someone uses, read Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Gender-Neutral Pronouns. For practice with using they/them and other pronouns, play the Pronouns game or explore Pronoun Island.

Researched & Written by: Dr Gávi Ansara and Gene


FOOTNOTES

[1] Ansara, Y. G. (2015). Challenging cisgenderism in the ageing and aged care sector: Meeting the needs of older people of trans and/or non-binary experience. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 34, 14-18.
[2] Ansara, Y. G., & Hegarty, P. (2012). Cisgenderism in psychology: Pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008. Psychology & Sexuality, 3(2), 137-160.
[3] Ansara, 2015; Ansara & Hegarty, 2012.
[4] Ansara, 2015.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ansara, 2015; Ansara & Hegarty, 2012.
[7] Ibid.

This article may be re-posted on other sites provided it is done so in-full (with Footnotes), the authors are acknowledged, and a link is provided back to this original.

This article, by Dr Gávi Ansara & Gene, was originally published by the Online Hate Prevention Institute and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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This article is part of our July 2020 campaign of Tackling Online Homophobia & Transphobia. The full plan for our campaigns in 2020 can be seen here.