Harmful ubiquity: introducing Cisnormativity

|||| Patience Newbury

Cisnormativity has thus far been raised all of once in scholarly peer review.

That paper, co-authored by a team in Canada (called the Trans Pulse Project), was drafted not so much by queer theory scholars or other social science disciplines. Rather, this paper came from empirical field research by registered nurses and social workers who work with a wealth of everyday people seeking access to basic health and social care — including trans people. They invited a survey on the experiences of trans people in medicine and social services.

These authors unpack several institutional barriers (and resistances) facing patients whose bodies or life experiences exclude them from participation in or access to services which assess their extrinsic value within a cisnormative framework. Those not passing the mark are systematically denied basic access. Those whose bodies are found to violate social-institutional rules face a blow-back — whether they blend in with people with cissexual bodies (and are outed in places like a health clinic); whether contradictions in their legal paperwork deny access to improved life chances; or whether they are unable (or unwilling) to articulate themselves as cisgender and are duly punished because of it.

The authors defined this idea of cisnormativity in one paragraph[1] (Bauer, et al, 2009, 356):

Cisnormativity describes the expectation that all people are cissexual, that those assigned male at birth always grow up to be men and those assigned female at birth always grow up to be women. This assumption is so pervasive that it otherwise has not yet been named. Cisnormative assumptions are so prevalent that they are difficult at first to even recognize. Cisnormativity shapes social activity such as child rearing, the policies and practices of individuals and institutions, and the organization of the broader social world through the ways in which people are counted and health care is organized. Cisnormativity disallows the possibility of trans existence or trans visibility. As such, the existence of an actual trans person within systems such as health care is too often unanticipated and produces a social emergency of sorts because both staff and systems are unprepared for this reality. [emphasis PN]

Paying greater awareness to this ubiquity of cisnormativity is perhaps a critical first step forward for trans people and their means to access services which cis people accept for granted. Whether one has a transsexual body; is transgender (and can socially articulate themselves with more than one principal dialect of gender); or a combination of these experiences, this awareness can help to understand how the meaning of their bodies and their social experiences have placed them within a cisnormative world — or more broadly, where people with cissexual bodies (and trans people with internalized cissexism) have placed trans people or in how they are permitted to be seen or represented if out(ed).

* * *

The Cisnormativity blog is a collaborative effort between several (pretty wise) people. Each person’s background, life experiences, silo(s) of knowledge, and world views is unique. Each can remark on how their placement as trans people is moulded and affected by institutional, social, cultural, and economic barriers created by cisnormativity — or by cisnormativity’s constituent parts of heteronormativity and (the more recent arrival of) homonormativity. Some of our contributors have observed cisnormativity both from within and from outside of it. In several instances, the contributors are writing under a nom de plume as a layer for self-preservation, discretion-for-candour, and personal safety in what is still a very dangerous time for trans women and men. Even the editors of Cisnormativity may not be privy to their names.

This blog hopes to invite contributions who can speak to experiences of trying to consciously navigate living through space, place, and time as trans people — whether or not one is known by others as having a trans body or life experience. These awkward navigations may happen with cis friends, in the bedroom, at work, at the doctor’s office, with families, in school, or on the street.

Also, Cisnormativity expects no particular format from its contributions. Each could be a scholarly mini-essay, anecdotes, commentaries, satire, photography, illustration, or even poetry. These are expected at times to provoke and be controversial. This blog is a vehicle to give otherwise unheard trans people a way to convey what they consciously experience within a cisnormative world.

Thank you for bookmarking us.


[1] Bauer, Greta R., Rebecca Hammond, Robb Travers, Matthias Kaay, Karin Hohenadel, and Michelle Boyce. 2009. ‘I don’t think this is theoretical; this is our lives’: How erasure impacts health care for transgender people. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 20(5): 348–61.

3 thoughts on “Harmful ubiquity: introducing Cisnormativity

  1. Pingback: Entertaining a second definition for cisnormativity. « Cisnormativity

  2. Pingback: [kinsey] What Is Transphobia? And, What Is Cissexism? « eGrollman

  3. Pingback: Coming Out Complicated « Somewhere Different Now

Your Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s