OPINION: It’s time to stop using “Non Cis-Male”
Trans feminine people in our political spaces are too few. As the people who would benefit the most from gender-based organising, it’s confusing to see us so disempowered simply because of the way we structure our spaces.
Organising under the banner of non cis male is complicated because of grammatical and ideological interpretations, so I want to clearly go through it and show what parts of the argument aren’t benefiting trans women. There are two main differences when referring to non cis males:
Non-cis male: includes everyone who is not cisgender and is male-identifying.
Non cis-male: includes everyone except people who are a cisgender male.
I will be talking mainly about definition number two, as I believe definition one is an effective space for organising around the health, education, and support of trans men. Definition one is a specific term which helps us broaden scopes of issues those assigned female at birth (AFAB) have traditionally branded as women’s issues - like abortion or healthcare. It also helps people of different bodies who don’t identify as cisgender, come together to celebrate their male identities without opposing or replacing women’s needs.
It’s the second definition that comes with a labyrinth of problems.
The terminology is confusing for those who haven’t encountered it before, but also because these terms define themselves by what they are not instead of what they are. Identity-based movements have repelled against terms like non-white or non-disabled and instead seek to use identification terms to highlight structural powers and lines of oppression.
This practice is also counter to LGBTQIA+ organising which celebrates the ownership and pride in identification or lack thereof. Even the term queer and questioning, whilst not specifically outlined as to who they encapsulate, do not use negatives to define themselves against other cultures.
But the biggest problem in this organisational category is the basis of transmisogyny and intersex erasure. In these spaces, there are competing needs between different identity groups who all hold varying levels of power. By bringing everyone into a mixing pot, organisers often hope to find the similarities between groups in their common goals and struggles. This would be a fantastic way to organise collectively, if each identity group within this coalition had equal levels of power.
Many people in these spaces maintain their own levels of power through the intersectional oppression of others. This large conglomerate of identities sells itself as a benefit to all, but only rewards those who sit at the top and gain power from divisions of transphobia and intersex erasure.
I’ve seen that cis women dominate due to their use of transphobia, many transgender people use misogyny to distance themselves from femininity, and both groups use it to shut down trans women. That’s before we even touch on identities the space wasn’t built around such as intersex people, let alone other intersections like race or disability.
Transgender men, non-binary and cis women use this style of organising to maintain power structures that sanctify them above others, in the same way men and cis people do in the rest of our society. The bond between these groups becomes the unspoken, common goal; they benefit from standing on the needs of trans women and intersex people.
Troublingly, many women’s spaces try separate themselves from women-identifying collectives in favour of this devil’s hierarchy on top of trans and intersex women. With so little understanding of how this model favours those assigned female at birth instead of woman-identifying people, this model centres more around essentialist ideas that gender oppression is linked to the vagina.
Obviously, Australia still puts tampons as a luxury item and abortion is incredibly inaccessible state-to-state, but this is not the centre of women’s rights. Women are not defined by their genitals nor any specific genitals. Besides this, the oppression of trans women is not beneficial to ending oppression against women, or any other gendered oppression - but rather the exact opposite.
The establishment of non cis-male spaces at the University of Sydney was made to counter gender oppression in student spaces, but has instead excluded and eroded the support of transgender women in women’s spaces.
Its influence has extended to the definition of women being changed in several USyd institutions to include people who don’t identify as women, even replacing affirmative action for women with affirmative action for anyone who faces structural gender oppression.
This means we now are willing to let a transgender man take the same precedence as a cisgender woman in affirmative action and these collective spaces, ignoring that trans women were barely supported in these institutions in the first place.
It is transmisogynistic to think the gender-mixing pot of organisational spaces will ever centre trans women and intersex people. It is transmisogynistic to think by expanding women’s spaces to include people who aren’t women, trans women can now be included.
Not only is it a subtle way to misgender us, but it works to pit us against multiple groups to try win favour against better established and more privileged identities. Transgender people who don’t interact with woman-identifying terms need support, but never at the expense of others - particularly when those others have less power to support themselves due to transmisogyny.
Women’s rights and self-determination should not be eroded or misplaced for anyone else’s rights, particularly when we haven’t yet built an intersectional feminism movement which supports transgender women in our women’s spaces and movements.
To think using the term ‘non cis-male’ advances this cause is simply another derail to the women’s movement, which sorely needs to get back on course for trans feminine people.