Interview with Jamaica Bridgett, age 20
“I understand cisnormativity to function just as heteronormativity, except in terms of gender identity and presentation, as opposed to sexuality and sexual identity. Cisnormativity presumes everybody to be and therefore makes everybody cisgender. It erases the possibility of variant genders, by simply ignoring them. When everyone is assumed to be cisgender, it makes gender nonconformity and gender dysphoria seem impossible, let alone abnormal. It is from this idea that everyone is cisgender is that transgender and queer and Two Spirit people have to "come out." Cisnormativity makes gender nonconformity an Other. It makes gender nonconformity a spectacle. And it makes gender nonconformity and exploration and expression of self unnecessarily painful.
My experience with cisnormativity has been subtle. For instance, times when children have asked me if I was a "boy or a girl." These instances have made me both hopeful and humiliated. They have made me consider expanding that child's knowledge. They have made me wishful that one day in the future people will continue to question what they have been told "boys" or "girls" look like. They have made me feel like I have no choice but to pick a side. They have made me feel trapped by that child's, and our wider society's binary thinking.
Other examples of my experiences with cisnormativity include trying to come out as agender to my friends, and still have them use gendered language to describe me. This always feels like a means to regulate my authentic self. Like anything outside the gender binary is not worth remembering or considering or respecting.
Cisnormativity feels like my mom forcing me to wear skirts and dresses so I can look like some image in her imagination. Instead of the person I am, because it confuses her and makes her uncomfortable to question what she thinks she has always known about me.
Cisnormativity feels like when teachers and professors make vague attempts to barely include transgender and queer people in their lectures, then saying "he or she" as opposed to a very simple, gender neutral "they", in the very next breath. Cisnormativity is entrenched in performativity. Only sometimes and very barely caring to actually make genuine changes to make spaces safe for transgender and queer folks.
When I say cisgender and heterosexual people and the wider society perform inclusivity, I mean it is something they are "doing now" like land acknowledgements. These and such other examples are important but sometimes feel very disingenuous. People sit through "sensitivity" or "anti-oppression" training once or twice but I don't believe it brings about enough material changes to really benefit the trans and queer people it claims to. I think people may sometimes change their language in order to appear politically correct, but in truth rarely truly attempt to critique or disrupt normative ways of thinking about sex and gender, and many other subjects.”
“I don't know if I can point to a singular moment when I was first introduced to the concept of non binary genders. Maybe a gender studies class I took in the eleventh grade, when I was sixteen. My teacher might have said something like, "Some people don't identify as any gender" or "There are people who fit somewhere in between the two sides of 'male' and 'female.'" She definitely discussed both sex and gender as existing on spectrums. She outlined the entire LGBTQIA+ acronym for the class on multiple occasions. She used the GenderBread Person and Unicorn to do this. I definitely found it helpful but I hadn't yet come to the understanding that such concepts were quite so relevant in my life.”
“I absolutely experience gender dysphoria. I have for years without having or knowing the language until very recently. My gender dysphoria is largely concentrated on my chest. I don't know how much the term 'transition' really applies to me as someone who identifies as agender. However, I consider seeking top surgery [surgical removal of breast tissue] from time to time. And I've recently thought about starting T [testosterone augmentation] to change my voice a little. I'm trying to think more about why I would want these things and how much would change in my life or with my experiences of dysphoria by making these changes. I would like to be at a point where I am secure enough in my gender -- or lack thereof, to know these things are not required for my existence and identity to be valid. I think the hardest part would be social transition, for me. Teaching my friends and family what it means to be agender and asking people to change their use of gendered language feels like a very daunting and unending task.”