An accused “cis sexist” seeks to educate herself and others, gives big thanks to Twitter

The butterfly is an international symbol for the transgender community.

The butterfly is an international symbol for the transgender community.

I have to thank Twitter for educating me about an issue that continues to have an increasing importance in all societies. Although I was hesitant to start a Twitter account in the first place I now admit it has really broadened my horizons!

One area that I have had my awareness raised by Twitter is in the area of language. One term that I have learned is “cis sexist” or “cis gay.” I fully admit I was not familiar with this term  before seeing it on Twitter, but after seeing in in several Tweets I did a few Google searches on the term.

Although there is actually very little on the web about cis sexism, my understanding is that “cis” refers to a person who is comfortable identifying with the gender they were born with. “Cis sexist” or “cis gay” is being used, most commonly on Twitter, to describe cis individuals who do not respect or acknowledge the struggle of transgender individuals, or those who muddle gay rights issues and transgender issues together inappropriately.

Last week I was “drop kicked” by one of my followers on Twitter and publicly accused of being “cis sexist.” Ouch!

In all honesty I find the struggles for justice faced by transgender individuals to be an important cause, just as important as the gay rights movement. I don’t claim to know everything about the cause or to be a perfectly informed activist, but I do care about this issue and have even participated in Transgender Day of Awareness activities on campus.

While I felt bad for offending this person, I would have much rather they educate me and point out my mistake rather than attempt to shame me publicly. I cannot think of anything I have said on Twitter that would be considered inconsiderate to the transgender community and have always been a fan of personal enlightenment. I advocate a “don’t hate, educate!” approach to such conflicts.

This morning, again on Twitter, I came across a great article: Transgender issues from a ‘cisgender’ perspective. It appears the author, Leslie Davis, has had the same problem as I have, unintentionally offending transgender individuals. Like me, Davis wishes to educate herself and present an inclusive perspective. Davis uses her journey to learn more about the issues facing the transgender community as a platform for also educating others. I thought it was definitely worth sharing with Feminist for Choice readers.

The article also includes videos that demonstrate the variety of injustices transgender individuals face growing up. A must read and a must watch!

Another great resource for those wishing to learn more about transgender issues and to become a productive and helpful transgender ally is the National Center for Transgender Equality’s list of 52 Things You Can Do for Transgender Equality. You can even download a free poster of the list to display publicly to show you are supporting the cause.

It’s Friday, lets make a toast to education, conversation, dialog, and the struggle for transgender justice.

About Janice:
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at


  1. I applaud your willingness to learn; in that spirit, let me point out that you said Leslie Davis is “educating herself,” which is laudable; but you also seemed to expect the person who called you out on Twitter to shoulder the burden of educating *you.* Perhaps just an unfortunate choice of words? Because I’m sure you can understand when we transfolk feel that “fixing” those with privilege is not our job.
    BTW, again in the spirit of willingness to learn, I don’t know a single transman who uses the butterfly as a “symbol of the transgender community.” I’ve only ever seen it in conjunction with transwomen, who are NOT the entire community. @hardcorps80204 on Twitter

  2. I think Janice pretty clearly stated that she tried to learn more and found a lack of information online. She also stated she has no idea what provoked such an accusation – so why SHOULDN’T the accuser provide an explanation for the accusation? She never asked anyone to “fix” her (and I don’t see that she needs it…precisely where is Janice broken?), just to educate her so she doesn’t make the same mistake again. I don’t understand what the problem with that is.

  3. Thanks very much for the article link Janice! I’v seen the term “cis” around Twitter as well, and have been equally baffled by its meaning, so thank you for sharing!

  4. good job working to educate yourself. I agree with Thaniel that the butterfly is not a transgender symbol or at least not one used in North American FTM communities.

    The cis definition is interesting. It might be more helpful to think of a cisgendered person as someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth rather than the gender that they were born with. It is a small differance but the latter definition reifies the problematic ideas about the naturalness of gender.

    I’ve never heard cissexist or cisgay – thanks for providing me with some new terms:)

    The trans and queer communities that I am a part of use the term cisprivledge to reference privledges of the cisgendered community. For example one cisprivledge is the ease with which cis gendered folks use public bathrooms.

    nice post!

  5. Thank you all for the nice comments and discussion. I agree with Manda, this person on Twitter tried to publicly shame and embarrass me, without even making me aware of what I did. I think that if this person wants to take it upon themselves to call people out in public that they must educate the public at the same time. Given that the comments were made in a public forum I think I have a right to know what I did. Nothing can be gained by this type of interaction.

    You are right, I never claimed to be broken, I only claim to seek an understanding.

    Thanks so much to those who have informed me about the butterfly and its symbolism. I came across the symbol while doing my web searches on “cis,” but come to think of it it may not have been on the site of an American organization. The butterfly as a symbol makes sense to me and I believe has a lovely symbolic meaning, but I so appreciate knowing that what I have written in not accurate.

  6. I’m sorry you were unable to find resources on the web. You would probably find more resources if you Googled cissexual, cisgender, or cissexist.

    Just as learning about feminism from men is probably not the best idea, you might find things written trans people more useful, e.g., TransGriot. Leslie Davis cannot even bring herself to acknowledge that she is cisgender — without the quotes — and further denies her privilege by calling the term “slang.” Meanwhile, she moves within lesbian circles with ease and doesn’t question why there is probably a lack of trans dykes in her world. (Because they have been systematically excluded.)

    Many cissexual women I know have found Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl to be mind-opening. Follow up with Viviane Namaste’s Sex Change, Social Change and Invisible Lives.

    It’s ironic that the title of your blog appeared next to a picture of avowed cissexist, Carol J. Adams. If you do want to be an ally, confront her about her transphobia in the upcoming chat. For background:

    Feminism Beyond Transphobia

    Transphobia and Feminists for Animal Rights

    Transphobia and Carol Adams

  7. Janice, I’m glad that you’re trying to educate yourself about how to be a better trans ally. That really says a lot about you as a person.

    If you want to be a trans ally, the #1 thing you can do is use the right pronouns. If a person asks you to refer to them as a “he,” do it. It takes practice. You might make mistakes. All you need to do is correct yourself without making a big deal of it, then move on.

    The other thing I would say is be aware that bathroom safety is a huge issue for trans people. Everyone pees. But not everyone can walk into a restroom without having to worry about whether or not they’re going to get assaulted. Pay attention to where you’re at – when a business has single-stall, locking bathroom, let your trans friends know. If you own a business, make your bathrooms unisex bathrooms. It’s a pretty basic way to make trans folks feel more welcome in your establishment. And trust me, people will spread good word of mouth.

  8. Oh, and as for the butterfly as a trans symbol, that’s news to me.

  9. Hi Everyone,
    I went back to the web after people who have commented on this post informed me that I was wrong about the butterfly and its symbolism.
    It appears that it is both a symbol being used more in Europe. My apologies for not looking into this more before publishing the post. Perhaps my love for butterflies made me jump the gun there.
    Noah, thanks so much for the links. I do suspect that the person who called me out on Twitter did so because of the organizations I support. I have wondered if perhaps some organization that I support or have RT-ed has a bad reputation in the trans community. I appreciate knowing about such things. Perhaps you will join us for our conversation with Carol?

  10. one organization that uses the butterfly as a symbol. I understand it is not generally recognized as a symbol for transgender awareness/etc., but thought readers may be interested to see how it is being used my some.

  11. Hello Janice,

    Well, without a link to the discussion you speak of, I can’t really say much about your experience. I can make assumptions, based on some very generalized experiences, but they could easily be wrong.

    First, I’d like to applaud you for seeing this as an opportunity to learn, despite your being initially baffled, and possibly hurt by your experience.

    Second, let me say that cis-sexism(a new term for me, but it seems to fit better in many cases then transphobia), is pretty much all over the place. Trans folk deal with it as a basic, constant, background fact. So, some of us can get a bit tired of trying to explain it, and might just get snappish. It happens. Much like feminists might not always feel up to explaining to some guy exactly why what he just said was misogynistic.

    As to the butterfly thing, as stated, it -is- often used by transwomen. It’s not used much at all by transmen. In this country or any other, I’d imagine. I like the imagery personally, but I can understand many FtMs not being excited about it. And it really doesn’t fit well to symbolize the entire transgender spectrum.

    Finally, I agree that the best place to hear about cis-sexism, what it looks like, what it feels like, is from TG people themselves. It’s hard to see privilege from the inside.

  12. Thank you for choosing to educate yourself. And thank you for doing so humbly on a blog. I wish more, like Carol Adams, would do this. Feminists especially. At the very least, transsexual people must be included within feminist circles. I am afraid to have as guest speaker anyone who I do not know to be supportive of all gender identities, now that I know there are people who aren’t.

    And, maybe this is my problem, but I do find it intimidating to attempt to “educate” someone like Carol Adams who has published 10 books about feminism while I only started learning about feminism in any systematic way last year.

  13. Janice, I just noticed your name. Perhaps the accuser was confusing you with Janice Raymond, author of The Transsexual Empire?

  14. Let me guess–your detractor was @metalmujer?

  15. hmm, perhaps…why?

    • If it was, don’t feel bad. The same person accused me of being racist. (For the record, while I could have been perceived as racist if you squinted, my intention was to point out her own racism to her.) Anyway, it very much bothered me that she threw out racism when I was trying to open up a dialogue over a common concern of ours, namely that the races of the women involved in the transgender mcdonalds attack were focused on more than the actual hate crime committed. (She made the assertion “Most cissupremacists are white” with no citation. In my reply, I said “Actually, I think I read that most anti-trans beliefs center in urban areas, which are predominantly non-white. Take that with a grain of salt, though, can’t remember where I read it or if it’s true.”) and I pointed out that if she took my reply as racist, she had to accept that she was being racist in her original comment. She alleged that racism against whites is not racism and told me to get my racism in check. So I tweeted her with the definition of racism, which for the record is “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race.”

      She smeared me as a racist white cis girl who was ‘stalking’ her for holding a small, non-inflammatory conversation over twitter, and made a big public to-do about blocking me. Part of me wanted to find her email and send her a message explaining just how much it had upset me that she threw the term ‘racist’ out when she knew next to nothing about me, and that she then further attacked me when I tried to converse with her over it. I decided against it, though, as that probably -would- be stalkerish. Still, I hope that if your encounter was with this girl, you don’t take it too personally. I know that reading your account and knowing that it might have been her definitely made me feel better. :) *Hugs*

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