Beating the cis-tem: A look at privilege based on gender identification

Myra Krieger-Coen

Most students have never thought twice about which restroom to use.

Most students have never hesitated checking the box next to a gender.

Most students have never been questioned about why they identify as who they are.

And most have never stopped to think about it.

They have never stopped to think about it because most have never had to, simply because they are either a cis female or a cis male. A cisgender person is one whose gender identity aligns with their biological sex. One who is not transgender and is therefore automatically given a set of rights. This set of rights is referred to as cis privilege.

Privilege is a familiar word, meaning entitlement. However, when paired with “cis,” it becomes a novel term. What does it mean to have cis privilege?

Cis privilege is not only limited to what is entitled but also what is never even considered. It can be a level of ignorance toward those who are without the same set of rights that are based on nothing more than the chance that one’s gender and sex are the same.

LGBT Student Services coordinator Brad Freihoefer explained just how embedded cis privilege is.

“Think about all the ways gender plays out in our society — it’s everywhere,” Freihoefer said. “What’s the first thing you ask when a baby is born? Is it a boy or girl? That’s a lot of pressure from the very beginning to conform to a gender stereotype.”

For those who do not fall into the two perceived categories of gender, a typical day is littered with uncertainty. Cis privilege is not having to worry about whether or not you are passing as your gender or people using correct pronouns when referring to you. It is never being questioned, ridiculed or threatened about identifying with your gender. 

Correct terminology, gender-neutral bathrooms and a general understanding are just a few privileges that can easily fall victim of unaware cisgenders.

“People generally don’t know a lot about the trans community,” said Charlie Poulson, senior in graphic design who identifies as a trans man — a person who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male. 

“I’ve been asked the most ridiculous questions.” he said, laughing as he begins to list off a few.

“The two questions I can almost always count on being asked are which bathroom I use and what my genitals look like. Imagine being asked that. You don’t have to if you’re cisgender; people will just assume. “

Poulson considers these assumptions to be the root of cis privilege.

“Think of anytime you see a person. You automatically assume them to be cisgender and heterosexual. It doesn’t even occur to most people that they could be something other than that.”

Freihoefer considers the first step in eliminating this inequality is also the most simple — acknowledge it.

“We can take action in simply recognizing that cis privilege is there,” Freihoefer said. “We might have these privileges, but we can help do something about it by admitting it. Being aware of it is half the battle.”