Third-Gendering

Posted on Behalf of Robin from SWOP-NYC

To my fellow cis sex workers rights activists:

Men, women, and transgendered people.  Male, female, and trans.  I’m sure most of you recognize these phrases as they are used widely across the sex workers rights movement.  I was at the December 17th march in D.C., and I heard them used there.  I’ve also seen them in press releases and blogs, and even dear friends of mine have used them.  This is a call for it to stop, or at least an attempt at such a call.  Many people call this sort of thing “third-gendering”; it implies that trans women and trans men are not “real” women and men, but are instead a third gender.  People who identify as genderqueer or outside the gender binary certainly do exist, and those identifications should be respected too, but there are also many, many trans men and trans women who identify as men and women, full stop.  To symbolically shunt all of them off to a third gender can come across as marginalizing, and tokenizing, and really faux-inclusive at best.  I understand that many people in this movement do want to be truly respectful in their language and their work of everyone within our community, and so I am writing this to encourage people to move more fully in that direction.

What should you say if you wish to explicitly include trans people in your statements?  It is true that in our society, many people will assume that the phrase “men and women” means “cis men and cis women” unless trans people are explicitly included.  That is unfortunate, but there are ways to work around it without third-gendering people who do not identify as a third gender.  Let’s say you are talking about women, and want to be absolutely clear that you are including trans women in your statement.  You can say, “women, cis and trans.” Or “cis women and trans women.”  Or, “women, including trans women.”  Or even “female-identified people.”  What you should not say, is “women and trans” or “women and trans women,” as though trans women are never included in the category “women.”  Because “women” should always include women who happen to be trans.

Language is fundamental to giving trans people the same respect that cis people take for granted.  It signals how the speaker sees trans people, and can shape the views of both speaker and audience.  The sex workers rights movement needs to respect people’s gender identities–whether cis or trans–and this means that everyone who identifies as a woman is a woman, and everyone who identifies as a man is a man.

I write as a trans ally whose long-term trans partner is bothered by this language, and as someone with trans loved ones and friends for whom I care very much.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this message.

59 Responses

  1. Can I ask what may seem a really stupid question? My apologies as someone had explained this to me in previous years. But what does the term cis woman mean?

  2. Great post. Thank you very much.

  3. Hi Jill,
    Cis means not trans. I am a cis woman because I was assigned female at birth. Someone who is cis-male would be male assigned at birth. Its an equivalent term to mark the trans status of non-trans people. It addresses how “woman” is a cis default. Meaning when you hear “woman” you assume it means cis women (and its usually used that way) when really it includes cis and trans women.

  4. “What should you say if you wish to explicitly include trans people in your statements?”

    Thank you for raising this issue. A transgender woman I know said the same thing, that she does not wish to be identified as simply “transgender” because this is treating her like a third gender. She said she is fine with being identied as a “woman” or a “trangender woman,” but not just as “transgender.” I never really thought about this before she brought it up to me.
    In response to Jill’s question, I’m guessing that “cis women” refer to women who have been physiologically female all of our lives.

  5. […] leave a comment » Specifically, the way that many cissexual sex worker rights activists talk about “men, women, and transgende…. […]

  6. From the post the clicking on cis brings you to:
    “Someone whose subconscious sex and assigned sex do not conflict; moreover, their basic gender (not gender roles, sexual/romantic orientation, etc) and the gender usually assigned to that sex also do not conflict. So someone who is assigned female/woman and identifies as female/woman is cissexual”.
    And “women who were female-assigned at birth” works far better than “physiologically female”.

    And thank you for this post. “Men, women, and trans” is a phrase that really bothers me.

  7. Jill, someone who is cisgendered has an interpersonal sense or understanding of their gender and genitals that match or correspond (or what some might argue a “normative” state).

    I, too, have often wondered what the “correct” term to use when referring to transpeople would be – how to refer to their gender in my writing. I often write about sexuality and need to refer to people of “both genders” or “all genders.” I think “all genders” is perhaps the best, most inclusive way to frame it, but I’ve always wondered what works best for those who do not identify as “male” or “female.”

  8. “Jill, someone who is cisgendered has an interpersonal sense or understanding of their gender and genitals that match or correspond (or what some might argue a “normative” state).”

    Idk. I’m trans and I like my genitals. I didn’t like the genitals I was born with. But thats not true for all trans people.

    If were just talking about binary id’d people, meaning men and women. THen cis means the people who have the same gender they were expected to have when they were born.

  9. lol @ Lynn. I should’ve have continued on to say that their understanding of their gender corresponds with the genitals they were born with My apologies for the confusion.

    FWIW, I’m not the one who defined the term, so I won’t take issue with it, nor will I support it. It is not currently seen as an “acceptable” terminology by a lot of people (trans or otherwise).

  10. BTW, the word “cis” up top is a link.

  11. “FWIW, I’m not the one who defined the term, so I won’t take issue with it, nor will I support it. It is not currently seen as an “acceptable” terminology by a lot of people (trans or otherwise).”

    Not “acceptable” by a lot of transphobic radical feminists who claim to be “oppressed” by it.

    It just means “non-trans”. Its just an easier way of saying “this person here is NOT trans. Not that controversial unless you need words like women and men too mean women and men *who aren’t trans*. And prefer the rest of the women and men in the world to wait around in limbo unless they hear the magic T word.

  12. Oops. This is sixtoedkitties partner.

  13. Sixtoedkitties would never be such a shit-starter.

  14. Alexa, it is still not true of all trans people.

    FWIW, I don’t agree.

  15. A lot of trans people who take issue with “cis” also take issue with “trans” and don’t believe that any such distinction should be made at all.

    A lot of cis people who take issue with “cis” seem to believe that trans people should be marked as different and cis people should be unmarked as the default, and make arguments that, for example, “cis” is othering and demeaning because it defines them in a position relative to trans people, rather than simply being the default normal human. Some trans people believe this as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, this is a fairly transphobic view.

    I’m not sympathetic at all to the latter, and the former…well, I think it’s not really fair to invoke some trans people against other trans people when discussing terminology, especially given how the arguments regarding the terminology are structured ( the idea of marking everyone against marking no one, or the idea that only some people deserve to be unmarked).

    If you don’t wish to use cis, it’s good to find a way to talk about cis and trans people in a way that doesn’t mark trans people as “other”. References to “men, women, and transgendered” are othering and frustrating to hear – being trans intersects with being a man or a woman (or both, or neither, depending on how some trans people identify), and just laying it out like the above (something I see frequently from sex worker activists).

    Anyway, I don’t see why it’s controversial – cis is to straight as trans is to gay. It’s just a word to mark people as not trans.

  16. Lynn, …it is still not true of all trans people.

    By default, trans people are not content with the genitals they were born with, are they not? Isn’t that pretty much what defines someone who is trans? So, how could it not be true of trans people?

  17. […] third-gendering Let’s say you are talking about women, and want to be absolutely clear that you are including trans women in your statement.  You can say, “women, cis and trans.” Or “cis women and trans women.”  Or, “women, including trans women.”  Or even “female-identified people.”  What you should not say, is “women and trans” or “women and trans women,” as though trans women are never included in the category “women.”  Because “women” should always include women who happen to be trans. […]

  18. Thank you for bringing this up, it’s something that I dread talking about, because of the defensiveness that sometimes rises up and then I begin to think I’m asking too much even though “women and trans” is a phrase that I loathe.

    However, I want to add that, even though the typical word used for this phenomena is “third-gendering”, a far better term is “ungendering”. Roping off trans people because they’re trans means that you’re defining them by their relationship to society’s system gender/sex. As a third-gendered/genderqueer/non-binary gendered person, defining me by my trans status is not a recognition of my gender either.

  19. No, it’s not by default, Alexa. There are plenty of trans people who don’t conform to the gender they were assigned at birth, but feel no need to alter their genitals or their bodies at all, for that matter.

    I’m not one of them, for the record, but I know plenty of trans people who aren’t interested in physical transition or parts of it, like surgical interventions, and just want their gender identity respected.

    I would say a better definition for someone who is trans is someone who has a profound disconnect between the gender they were assigned and the gender identity or subconscious sex they assign to themselves. And, correlatively, a person who takes to adjective “cis” (whether cisgender or cissexual) is someone for whom assigned gender(/sex) and self-assigned gender(/sex) are in accord.

  20. Alexad, Please don’t ignore Lisa, who is trans and then ask me to speak for all trans people. Not cool.

  21. Jill, someone who is cisgendered has an interpersonal sense or understanding of their gender and genitals that match or correspond (or what some might argue a “normative” state).

    I should’ve have continued on to say that their understanding of their gender corresponds with the genitals they were born with My apologies for the confusion.

    By default, trans people are not content with the genitals they were born with, are they not? Isn’t that pretty much what defines someone who is trans? So, how could it not be true of trans people?

    Trans* is shorthand for transgender and/or transsexual which are identities that can be connected and separated in different ways. In general, it describes a tension between our gender/sex and our birth assigned gender/sex or society’s system of assigning/policing gender/sex.

    Transgender (when it’s not used as an umbrella and is separate from transsexual) describes identities that have tension with society’s system of assigning and policing gender (often as it relates to their sex), and a cisgender identity would not have that tension. Transsexual describes identities that have tension with society’s system of assigning and policing sex, and a cissexual person would not have that tension.

    This matrix creates a very diverse range of identities and needs. There are transgender people who don’t have a problem with their birth assigned sex, but rather their birth assigned gender. There are also transgender people who don’t have a problem with their body’s configuration, but rather how their sex is defined by it. And they also include transgender transsexual people who have transitioned.
    There are also transsexual people who are cisgendered, after transition, they have a binary gender and it aligns with their binary sex. There are also transsexual people who are not transitioning to a male or female sex, so they may not want both surgery and hormones (as well as other things). And there are transsexual people who are transitioning to a male or female sex, and they still may not both surgery and hormones.

    So you can’t generalize about trans people, or how they perceive their bodies and genders.

    And I second everything Lisa says about the “cis” label.

  22. “a far better term is “ungendering”. Roping off trans people because they’re trans means that you’re defining them by their relationship to society’s system gender/sex.”

    Thank you for putting it this way. Its gender identity and trans status which is like comparing apples and oranges. Its like saying “dykes and bottoms”. It doesn’t make sense.

  23. Oi lawd!

    I just read the Sugarbutch Chronicles, and I need to bleach my fucking brain.

    I think the author of that blog has a good jump on how NOT to do language that honors trans people.

    Why, oh why do female assigned ppl who appropriate trans identity, and look and act like this piss me the fuck off?

    I see this person, and I wanna smack em silly. Is it me, or is it them? How do we define affirming boundaries, while keeping this from overrunning things?

  24. kindly add to above:
    And how do we use language to form those boundaries?

  25. […] third-gendering Let’s say you are talking about women, and want to be absolutely clear that you are including trans women in your statement.  You can say, “women, cis and trans.” Or “cis women and trans women.”  Or, “women, including trans women.”  Or even “female-identified people.”  What you should not say, is “women and trans” or “women and trans women,” as though trans women are never included in the category “women.”  Because “women” should always include women who happen to be trans. […]

  26. Lyssa, Can you elaborate? I don’t get it. What was wrong with the person in the video? Is he not the right kind of transgender? Or is he not doing transgender right? Is there some sort of code that should be read and adhered to that I am missing?

    I must admit that I am new to a lot of this, and am very eager to learn.

    I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day who expressed dismay at the gender binary. But now I am reading that some people prefer that. I’m confused!

    Help!

  27. I’m all about the gender binary even though i’m only marginally a part of it because lots of other trans people are fully a part of it. But i’m also all about gender fluidity and gender non-conforming identities as well.

    I’m not gonna speak for Lyssa but that dude is a dude and he’s trans. And possibly an asshole that pissed Lyssa off tho I can’t speak to that like I said.

  28. Thanks, Lynn. We spoke about him the other night, so feel free to jump in.

    swoplv, what angered me was his use of “trannies” as appropriated language. FtM spectrum folks do not share transfemale’s history of being oppressed by that word, so it is not theirs to reclaim.
    Go here for a deeper explanantion by a very smart transpeep.

    http://takesupspace.wordpress.com/2008/11/10/tranny-and-subversivism-re-reclaiming-tranny-or-not-part-1/

    This individual goes on to try and recruit folks for a research project, completely oblivious to the exploitation of trans women’s lives as subjects of inappropriate medical and feminist research.

    Is anybody old enough here to remember the LSD experiments on trans women? How about medical exorcisms?
    And who can forget Michael Bailey, Lambda Literary Award Nominee?
    Homosexual rights activists and feminists have exploited transfemales for their own purposes for a very long time. While their stated goals are noble for the most part, their methods have colonized transfemales and effectively stolen our voice, and our humanity. There is a deep history of exploitation in this individual’s presentation.
    By invoking this history so baldly, this individual comes off as exploitative, and oppressive, but looksism will get him a free pass. It will get him simultaneous female privilege, and male privilege too. I have seen too many baby dyke appearing FtMs hurt and exclude trans women this way.
    Look to UVM’s Translating Identity, or the Philly Trans Health Conference for more institutional oppression by this type.
    And, he is the right kind of transgender, and that makes any transfemale the wrong kind according to the homosexual rights crowd and most feminists.
    Seeing his severely in-your-face presentation is what set me off.

  29. Lyssa, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your response! It totally makes more sense to me now. I very much thank you for pointing me to some resources that will help me in my education around this subject.

    One thing: Is it possible that the person in the video is unaware of all these issues? He looks very young, and seems to be from an area that isn’t quite like Berkeley, NYC, or any other cosmopolitan area where learning about such things might more easily be done. I am a sex worker, but I learn new stuff every day about how language I use can be inappropriate to sex workers who have a different perspective or experience than I. I am thankful they don’t hate me and dismiss me, but instead, try to educate me as to why something I say may be offensive. And they are patient with me while I slowly “get it”.🙂

    I will read and come back!
    xoxo

  30. One thing: Is it possible that the person in the video is unaware of all these issues? He looks very young,

    Absolutely
    He is from western SC, and I believe, not part of the Triangle area. So, there is absolutely no clue there. Nor is he likely to acquire one, since his privilege and likely affiliations will blind him.

    Think shipwreck…a nice slow motion grinding of metal. You can see it, but you can’t stop it.

  31. “So, there is absolutely no clue there. Nor is he likely to acquire one, since his privilege and likely affiliations will blind him.”

    Nah its youtube. he’s just waiting for your video response :p

    And yeah I get what you meant by appropriation now. He’s appropriating a anti-trans female slur and wearing it around like a badge of honor.

  32. As one of the few transgendered SW rights activists, I really respect Robin (and her partners) writing and posting on BnG. I have had many thoughts similar to this, but whenever we talk about language, we always piss someone off. Just look at the 31 comments before mine, and a good many of them are not very positive.

    I’ve learned to become a lot more tolerant about language, and worry more about people’s intentions are, more than their language. Just this morning I was giving a QA & talk to a classroom of college students about my experiences as transgendered. The 2nd sentence out of my mouth was, I prefer the female pronouns (she/etc). Just a few minutes later, and several people (including a fellow panelist) messed up my pronoun, and referred to me as He. Their intention was good, they just haven’t quite unpacked their definitions of male and female enough to put me in the correct label🙂

    For the most part within the SW rights community I’ve felt VERY well respected and loved, and the SW rights community is the closest thing to a family I have in my life. For the most part in my local LGBT community I don’t feel supported or very safe. I know that any SW rights event, or tag along with any sex worker rights community member, and that I will feel safe and supported.

    I think we have a long way to go to be culturally competent to transgender people, people of color, street workers, etc, etc. The list goes on. That we can have commentary from people like Robin and her partner, and for the most part agree that we should change our language is GREAT! This proves that we really are trying to go the right direction (more culturally competent), and I’m very very happy to see this. I truly hope that Robin, and others with thoughts of cultural competency will stand up, or share their thoughts on how we as a community can grow and evolve to be more competent.

    Come get involved in your rights!

  33. Tara, you’re so beautiful! Thank you for that post.

    Think shipwreck…a nice slow motion grinding of metal. You can see it, but you can’t stop it.

    That’s too funny!

  34. “For the most part in my local LGBT community I don’t feel supported or very safe.”

    I’m right there with ya on this. Dyke/lesbian/queer/lgbt feels like a challenge being in those spaces more than a home to me.

    And SWOPLV – Not funny! been there in rl. Oh shit we are not turning fast enough. snap crackle pop.😉

  35. A good substitute for any LGBT community for a trans female is stonemasonry.

    Yes, stone work.

    All you have to do is learn how to build brick and stone walls.

    Compared, to dealing with nontrans and FAAB centric LGBTQ spaces, lifting 1/4 ton rocks is a snap.

    Then when you have it built, mortared by your own sweat and blood, and a few bits of flesh for good measure, you can ram your head into it, over and over.

    This is a great way for the trans females to learn a useful trade and get the LGBT experience at the same time.

    Lynn, sorry, I have witnessed a shipwreck too, on the Intercoastal Waterway. I turned my craft around, and broke out the sandwiches and watched.
    My apologies.

  36. LOL. It must me so much more satisfying tho to have built it yourself.

  37. Yes. Oh, how sweet it is.

    There are not many women high femme stonemasons, either, so you get serious attention, too.

    Plus, it pays well.😀

    I really am sorry about the shipwreck thing. I have witnessed three, and the were all screamingly funny.
    I will check my attitude about them from now on…

  38. Lyssa-
    Please never check your attitude with me. Cuz between that and your crazy trade skills and your curves you keep me in butch heaven.

  39. Hi compassiontara, and thanks!! Thanks also for your thoughts, and cuz you got me thinking about something that I should have made clear in the post. I am not much into *EMPTY* language policing…I think it needs to come from a place of respect, respect for people’s gender identities, and that the “third gendering” or “ungendering” of people who do not ID as a third gender betrays a lack of respect as far as that goes. Just fixing the language doesn’t fix much if folks still don’t see everyone who IDs as a woman as a woman, and everyone who IDs as a man as a man. So it is language, but it is also how folks see people, imo.

    About “cultural compentency,” I hadn’t heard that phrase but I think I know what you are saying. IMHO the best and only way to fix that is to work to put the marginalized members of a group in positions of power, and let them set the agenda, on the issues that affect them the most. Trans people in power on trans issues, street workers in power on street issues, etc.

    Every social justice movement ever has pulled that kind of shit (the all about the privileged ones shit), but that doesn’t make it ok.

    About LGBT, @lyssa….Bilerico. Yeah I’m another queer chick not much into “mainstream gay rights” (aka white cis Chelsea professional gay men who want a tax break rights). Not a FAAB space, but definitely a bang-your-head-against a wall space, amirite? <3’s

  40. FAAB = female assigned at birth

    And I prolly shouldn’t have brought up another blog, if only cuz of derail potential, sorry.

  41. Don’t worry…I mentally flushed Bilerco so it’s no biggie.

    Better that you get hits and not him.

    Glad u think the stone skills are cools. BTW…WTF is “flashdance,” and is is something you slap a guy for?

  42. “Flashdance” guy is probably just flirting with you.

  43. In front of my partner, and knowing that I do not like him like that.

    But then again, when has being in a relationship stopped s determined man from being obnoxious?

  44. hm. i’m trans, have done SW, am active on these issues and don’t really have a problem with saying, “female, trans and male sex workers”. i just figure trans people can be female, male, or something else, or both, or whatevs. i don’t really like cis, mainly b/c it sounds weird and no one knows what you’re talking about, so i just say, if i need to make a distinction, “that person who is not trans.” but if it bothers other people i’m into thinking about new ways to frame things. the problem with just saying “female and male sex workers” is that i think THAT makes trans people invisible, plus leaves out those who don’t identify with either. and the problem with just saying just “sex workers” is that i think that makes male and trans sex workers invisible.

  45. Darby,

    the problem with just saying “female and male sex workers” is that i think THAT makes trans people invisible, plus leaves out those who don’t identify with either. and the problem with just saying just “sex workers” is that i think that makes male and trans sex workers invisible.

    Just out of curiosity, how do you propose we discuss sex workers without having to construct an all-inclusive sentence every time we write about them?

    If I can, I’ll usually say something to the effect of “…sex workers, regardless of their gender” or “…sex workers of all genders.” But many times it isn’t possible to construct a sentence like that. If none of the common ways of referring to sex workers is inclusive enough for you, what are we to do?

  46. Darby, I hear you on the cis thing though i’ve started using it a lot. I used to think it was wierd and only use it in spaces where I figure people already know what it means. I think its about changing how people think tho. And putting trans in a separate category says that it isn’t in male or female categories. Thats just what it says to most people.

    You can get at the same thing by saying “trans or not”. and tacking that on after you name the gender id’s your talking about. So like men, women, genderqueers, whether trans or not trans. Or trans and non-trans women in industry.

    the thing I do like about cis is its a word that (ok more privileged members) of a marginalized community came up with to label back with. So that the people who marginalize us don’t get to be the default.

  47. also words like cis-sexist and cis-normativity. i don’t really use them but there a good way to talk about non-trans peoples entitlement around gender id and how trans bodies are measured up relative to non-trans and fucked up shit like that.

  48. @lynn – i just feel like most people, if you talk about ‘cis’ anything, you lost them at the c. but i’m definitely for more complexity to language. i think 85% of the trans people i know and work with don’t know what cis means, on the other hand.

    @alex – that’s why i like female, trans and male sex workers =) for me that’s inclusive. but i know others don’t feel the same way. i guess i’m just wondering if this level of “you must speak this way” is going a bit far. when i help craft language or am speaking, i usually start with some reference to sex workers that is more inclusive, and after that, just say “sex workers.” kinda like writing out “LGBT” and then just saying LGBT afterwards.

  49. @lynn – i just feel like most people, if you talk about ‘cis’ anything, you lost them at the c. but i’m definitely for more complexity to language. i think 85% of the trans people i know and work with don’t know what cis means, on the other hand.

    Yep. I agree. like i said I personally only use it where people already know what it means.

    “female, trans, and male…” That statement communicates to people that trans is a third gender category from male and female. Even if you don’t mean it that way.

    “Male and female, trans or non trans…” doesn’t work for you?

  50. 2 out of three of the examples I gave in paragraph 2 don’t use the word cis. I used it for simplicity (and included definition), not cuz I think everyone should.

    Male, female, and trans does bother a lot of people tho. It implies those are all the same kind of category, and that the categories are separate, not overlapping. Again, to many people.

  51. Sorry if that came off as defensive. Thx for thouhts btw.

  52. then why not say sex workers of all genders? but then that also doesn’t make trans people visible, b/c most people think there are only two genders, and that trans people are the gender of whatever the birth certificate says.

  53. I think saying “sex workers of all genders” is more inclusive than saying “sex workers of both genders.” Saying “sex workers of all genders” recognizes the plurality of gender identities and challenges the gender binary.

  54. I don’t get it. ppl assuming there are only two genders erases genderequeer ppl. Most trans ppl are men or women.

    Sex workers of all genders has you covered on gender id. If your worried that trans inclusion won’t be clear then you can say trans and non-trans sex workers of all genders.

  55. Yeah I mean I guess it depends on context and what you are trying to say.

  56. Just be glad you don’t work for Kaiser, or some other HMO or a federally funded health program when you get TWO choices. And if you are male in their system and you need a cervical exam, their system won’t even let you make an appointment with the OBGYN. In this case, a third gender would be an improvement but even that would require massive resources and capacity building just to get the technology up to speed. So thanks for pointing out our options here in our humble sex worker rights movement.

  57. There is institutional transphobia all over the place fer sure.

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