This section includes eighty-six short original essays commissioned for the inaugural issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. Written by emerging academics, community-based writers, and senior scholars, each essay in this special issue, “Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a Twenty-First-Century Transgender Studies,” revolves around a particular keyword or concept. Some contributions focus on a concept central to transgender studies; others describe a term of art from another discipline or interdisciplinary area and show how it might relate to transgender studies. While far from providing a complete picture of the field, these keywords begin to elucidate a conceptual vocabulary for transgender studies. Some of the submissions offer a deep and resilient resistance to the entire project of mapping the field terminologically; some reveal yet-unrealized critical potentials for the field; some take existing terms from canonical thinkers and develop the significance for transgender studies; some offer overviews of well-known methodologies and demonstrate their applicability within transgender studies; some suggest how transgender issues play out in various fields; and some map the productive tensions between trans studies and other interdisciplines.
Cisgenderism refers to the cultural and systemic ideology that denies, denigrates, or pathologizes self-identified gender identities that do not align with assigned gender at birth as well as resulting behavior, expression, and community. This ideology endorses and perpetuates the belief that cisgender identities and expression are to be valued more than transgender identities and expression and creates an inherent system of associated power and privilege. The presence of cisgenderism exists in many cultural institutions, including language and the law, and consequently enables prejudice and discrimination against the transgender community.
The pervasive nature of cisgenderism creates, designates, and enforces a hierarchy by which individuals are expected to conform and are punished if they do not. This hierarchy includes rigid beliefs and rules about many aspects of gender, including gender identity, expression, and roles. Individuals who do not conform to these rules are seen as deviant, immoral, and even threatening. In turn, prejudice, discrimination, and even violence are viewed as justifiable in order to protect and preserve this very system that benefits those in power who created it.
Use of the term cisgenderism is slowly increasing in the literature (see, e.g., Ansara and Hegarty 2012). Historically, the term transphobia has been utilized more often in the literature and common discourse. However, despite this greater utilization, “transphobia” addresses fear of trans-identified individuals instead of capturing the critically central and evidently flawed assumptions that underlie the pervasive cultural system of prejudice and discrimination directed toward the transgender community. Other terms have also been updated to more accurately reflect similarly biased worldviews, including a shift from the use of “homophobia” to reflect antigay prejudice and stigma to the use of “heterosexism” (Herek 2004: 15). This shift originated out of an argument that “homophobia” denoted an inherent assumption that antigay prejudice was based largely on fear and in turn did not describe the underlying “cultural ideology” that leads to biased attitudes and behaviors (ibid.: 16).
It is similarly important to distinguish cisgenderism from the use of the term sexism. As the name implies, sexism is present when the oppression is rooted in the perceived sex that was assigned at birth. With sex being limited to two dichotomous categories (male and female), sexism, inherently, is also a limited term that does not encompass oppression rooted in a spectrum of identities that extends beyond a dichotomous category assigned at birth. In contrast, cisgenderism focuses on oppression that is rooted in one's perceived gender identity, which can be more fluid than sex assigned at birth. Gender identity, in contrast with sex, refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification of their gender, which again may or may not correspond to the person's designated sex at birth. In addition, the term sexism is associated with power and privilege aligned with “maleness,” as it focuses on men, and that which is masculine, as being valued above women and that which is deemed feminine. In turn, cisgenderism expands the oppression that is captured by capturing not only the power and privilege associated with being male but also the power and privilege of identifying as someone whose gender identity aligns with assigned sex at birth. As an example, the actions of a cisgender woman refusing to assist in the change of a policy that would permit gender-nonspecific housing or gender-neutral restrooms on a college campus would not be able to be classified under the term “sexism,” but such actions would be able to be captured under “cisgenderism.” Consequently, cisgenderism is a less restrictive term and captures a greater sense of oppression that exists. As such, the growing use of the term more accurately reflects a specific and pervasive cultural and systemic ideology. This in turn offers researchers, the transgender community and allies, and society at large a tool for continued discourse toward deeper transformation.