This Transphobic UK Ad Will Enrage, Hopefully Inspire You to Combat Cissexism

I shouldn’t be surprised by blatant transphobia and transmisogyny on television by now. The past year alone has brought us an SNL skit mocking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), an invasive and judgmental Nightline “documentary” on trans* youth, drummed-up controversy over Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing With the Stars, and ABC’s Work It. At this point, I really should know better — but I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I watched a commercial this morning for an online gambling website, Paddy Power.

The ad claims to have sent a number of trans women to Ladies’ Day at Cheltenham Festival (a horse racecourse in England), and invites viewers to “spot the stallions from the mares.” The camera then zooms in on several women in the crowd, with the narrator excitedly proclaiming each as either a “woman!” or “man!” He nearly loses it when a woman emerges from the men’s restroom: “Dog! I mean, uh, man!” (Why does it always come back to the bathrooms?)

In just 30 seconds, the commercial manages to broadcast the following not-so-subtle messages: that trans women are inherently ugly and should be ridiculed, that they aren’t even women at all, and that it’s perfectly acceptable for society to affirm or deny a trans* person’s gender identity based solely on their physical appearance. Never mind that trans* people face routine harassment, discrimination, and violence simply for living life authentically. If you’re like me, you might be shocked that such a horribly offensive ad was allowed to air repeatedly on television in 2012. But it was. Go ahead and watch it for yourself, but be forewarned: it’s really fucking upsetting.

Unsurprisingly, this commercial has enraged and offended a lot of people since it first aired last week. According to the BBC, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has already received nearly 500 complaints. In response, a spokesman for Paddy Power defended the ad, claiming that it was “simply a bit of mild-mannered fun” that featured several members of the UK trans* community as willing participants. Sorry Paddy Power, but I don’t buy it. Just because some members of a marginalized group agree to participate in their continued oppression doesn’t make it okay to propagate bigotry and transphobia in your commercials. That is some flawed fucking logic. Not to mention it’s a terrible advertising strategy. I have no idea what they were trying to sell — do you? Oh, and as if you needed another reason to hate Paddy Power, in 2010 it aired the most complained-about ad of the year, which featured a group of blind football (soccer) players kicking a cat.

So now you’re upset and I’m upset. But what can we do about it? For starters, if you live in the UK, you can file an official complaint with the ASA. You can vent your frustration in the comments section below. I, for one, would love the chance to show the executive board at Paddy Power my well-manicured middle finger. But I think this is also a good opportunity for us to take a step back and address the underlying cissexist attitudes that allow a commercial like this to exist in the first place. It’s a cissexism that many of us are complicit in (myself included), whether we realize it or not.

Let me explain. None of us think that trans women are actually men, and we certainly don’t believe that trans* people deserve the shit that is routinely piled on them by the media. But this notion that looking cisgender (“passing”) is somehow desirable or worthy of praise is really harmful, and ultimately leads the (presumably cis) narrator to feel he has the right to pass judgment on these women’s genders based solely on whether or not they appear to be cis. It creates this false hierarchy among trans* people based on physical appearance and gives cis people all the power in determining who is worthy of joining their club and who isn’t. It’s an attitude that tolerates and helps perpetuate violence against people who are visibly trans*.

Now, I’m not saying that any of you would ever consciously discriminate against a trans* person based how they looked. But I can’t tell you how many times well-intentioned allies have offered me support coated in thinly-veiled cissexism. It’s usually something along the lines of “Wow, you’re trans? I never would have guessed! You go, girl!” It’s as though they’re giving me their stamp of approval for looking like them. It’s like telling a person of color “Your skin is so light! I would have never guessed that you weren’t white! Congrats!”

they mean well, but it's still cissexist

And I’m guilty for silently going along with it. At a recent checkup, my doctor announced with a smile that I “definitely pass”, even though I hadn’t asked. When I made my first laser appointment a few months ago, the woman I met with was so excited when I told her I was trans that she ran up and kissed my cheek, gushing praise over how she “would have never known” and that out of the hundreds of trans women she’s worked with, this was only the second time she was truly shocked. In both instances, instead of calling them out on their cissexism, I smiled politely and thanked them. Why? Because validation feels nice, and I’m not immune to the societal messages that looking cis = good and looking trans* = bad. But that doesn’t change the fact I am trans*, and playing along with this cissexist game ultimately leaves me feeling inadequate.

There is nothing wrong with blending as cis, of course — and there are often very real safety concerns that would lead someone to not want to wear their trans* status on their sleeve. I also don’t think that anyone has an obligation to be forthcoming about the sex they were assigned at birth — I’m certainly not a lot of the time. But my fellow trans* people (especially those of you who are white), let’s stop pretending that it’s only about safety. We are often the worst offenders in propping up cissexism; policing our appearances, our voices, and our mannerisms. The “Do I Pass?” threads on sites like Susans.org are filled with hundreds of posts from trans girls, desperate to do anything to look like “genetic” [read: cis] females. Considering that a recent study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that only 16% of trans women report never being “clocked,” that’s an absurdly high standard to hold ourselves to. Women already have to deal with pervasive beauty culture without this added pressure. Many of the terms that we use are harmful as well. “Passing”(as cis) implies that “not passing” is failing. Going “stealth” (living as one’s true gender without disclosing trans history) is laden with the notion that trans* people are somehow sneaky or deceptive. We as a community need to stop using discourse that only ends up hurting us.

The Paddy Power commercial is awful and offensive. Be upset, file a complaint, write a rant about it on tumblr. But let’s also make a renewed effort to check ourselves for cissexist ways of thinking — and not let cissexist remarks slide when others make them, regardless of their intentions. If we can’t do that, assholes like the advert’s narrator will continue to think it’s ok to say shit like this about trans* people.

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I'm a 23 year old femme lesbian living in SF. Once upon a time, I was a USC frat boy ;) I ♥ music so please recommend your favorite artists to me!

annika has written 21 articles for us.

100 Comments

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    The last comment in that picture about never wanting to be gay, but omg if I met a trans like you! is particularly heart wrenching… And it got two thumbs up :(

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      hi straddlers!

      please don’t get this the wrong way but could you please explain that to me? is it offensive that the poster says they never want to be gay which means not accepting the trans* person’s identified gender or that they want to meet someone like the trans* person? to me that comment seemed okay. ‘gorgeous’ is a nice way to describe anyone of any gender and by the way we’re all gorgeous, so i’m not sure what’s wrong with that.
      i’m really sorry if i’m clearly not getting someting here and i’m absolutely serious about learning from this.

      i’m only just learning to pick up on things like this and i’d really appreciate if you could help me understand.

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          Thank you, makes perfect sense now :)

          By the way, “learning about all that stuff” sounded way wrong. It’s not stuff for me, I don’t know why I said that.
          I’ve always thought that I’m supportive towards…well, everyone, really, but I realized lately that I might not be as sensitive towards trans* issues as I possibly could be and I want to change that. It’s hard for me sometimes to see the fine insults and offences against anyone sometimes (e.g. “Even my boyfriend thinks that -female coworker- is good looking” really pissed that coworker off and I didn’t understand why). I usually try and put myself in a person’s shoes to find out if I/someone has been (un)intentionally rude or insensitive or offensive but sometimes that is not enough.

          One of my friends got really angry with me when I said that one of the contestants on RuPaul’s DragRace struck me as not being a feminist and another one as a little bit of a racist while being an African-American woman. I don’t expect trans* women to be more or less anything (e.g. feminists) than cis women but it rubbed me the wrong way that someone who experienced discrimination first-hand was happy to passively let sexism happen on National TV. It was just my opinion anyway but I was told that it wasn’t very sensitive of me to say that.

          Obviously I know this commercial is complete bullshit…I do get the basics ;D

          Whoops, that was a very long explanation.

          Anyway, thank you again.

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    That advert made me want to kick whoever thought it should be allowed to be aired.

    It’s also ridiculous that the most complained about advert ever in the UK was a KFC one – because people were speaking with their mouths full.

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      It was approved because they spoke to a little group over here called the ‘beaumont society’ who repeatedly claim to speak for the entire trans* spectrum, they are used to dealing with TV/CD more than anything else but still feel they can approve things about transsexuals, such as giving away that we across the pond also now have a ‘male mother’ as everywhere seems to call it, and deeming this ad ‘not offensive’. Kinda shows they’re outdated (still have a mindset from the 60s) and need to modernise or STFU

      Essentially, a lot of people aren’t very happy with them at the moment, myself included

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        It seems the Beaumont Society is trying hard to justify it’s existence. And failing miserably. I didn’t realise they had anything to do with this, but they were the only ones to talk to the press a week or so ago about a trans man that had given birth. That led to one tabloid starting a witch hunt to find out the mans identity, giving out a phone number to out him! This was 1 week after members of @transmediawatch gave evidence at the Leveson enquiry into the phone hacking scandal.

        I would agree that the Beaumont Society is VERY outdated. Just as I was starting to realise I couldn’t deny being trans any more, I had the awful experience of staying at a hotel which was hosting one of their weekend events (I had no idea until I got there), I think I saw one person under the age of 50 and really were like something out of Little Britain (don’t get me started on that!). This group do NOTHING to break down the old stereotypes, in fact they reinforce them. They need to go back where they came from and learn to STFU.

        The ad itself is a disgrace. From what I hear, the main sports channel, aired it several times during a premier league match. Being openly trans, if I had been in a pub while that was being aired, I would have been terrified. Thankfully I wasn’t as I’m not much of a football fan, but I know a LOT of trans women are. This could so easily have resulted in an attack.

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          I was a bit stunned to hear this had aired during a match, while I was working behind the bar: I tend to tune football out and it was busy. I’m glad I didn’t realise, quite honestly!

          While I agree the Beaumont Society mainly seems to be a crossdressers organisation, with a lot of older members, and that they shouldn’t presume to speak on behalf of all trans* people, I don’t think it’s fair to castigate them for “reinforcing stereotypes” in the way their members present themselves. If we try to fight stereotypes by repressing other individuals’ gender expression, even if we do not like it, then it gets us nowhere.

          It’s hard work, we all know, and it’s certainly not a personal obligation, but it’s better to educate people about the diversity within the queer community, and educate the community itself about respecting and acknowleging that diversity (both counts upon which you can fault Beaumont Society’s involvement).

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            ‘chav’ isn’t necessarily an indicator of class, and more one of being lazy, angry, drunk and 12.

            Unfortunately enough run-ins with them leads to despair you’ll ever find a decent one
            see:
            Repeated punches in the face for no apparent reason (was about 13 at this point, the one punching wasn’t strong enough to do anything luckily)
            various threats for being myself including ‘gay’ being used as one (with them being technically correct, but with the wrong gender)
            bottles thrown, hitting in the back of head
            watching them throw road signs around the town
            threats including being stabbed (thankfully never delivered)

            Should emphasise only the insult one is homo/transphobic, others are unrelated as i wasn’t out when they happened.

            possibly the cutest insult i’ve ever had though
            >walking along with skateboard under arm
            >8(?) year old does little under breath cough thing as i walk past
            >word mumbled ‘skater’
            >carrying skateboard…

            i almost burst out laughing there and then…

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    Urgh. I’m always trying to overturn preconceptions about trans* people within my groups of friends, but it is SO HARD. It’s like constantly fighting a losing battle, but it’s one that HAS to be fought.

    Just a couple days ago, my sister sent me this awesome queer fashion zine full of people of all gender identities/orientations/types of fashion…and my straight cis male roomie had no idea what pronoun to use for trans* people. I facepalmed, then explained very calmly that generally it works well to address the person with the pronouns for the gender they are currently presenting as. And if you’re not sure, ask. (incidentally, is this the best way? It seems to work well for me, but other suggestions are appreciated).

    And then his girlfriend was like ‘oh! That’s an older woman! Dressed as a man! That’s so cool!’ and I…just…temporarily gave up, in lieu of attempting to explain butch identity. I know she means well. But it’s rough. Like trying to explain to her why I wear boy’s undies (because I look good in them, that’s why).

    Ok, sorry, this got long and rambly BUT YOU GO ANNIKA. FOUR FOR YOU, ANNIKA. (and none for Gretchen Weiners).

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      I find my main problem remembering proper pronous comes in when I get really flustered about offending someone by accidentally using the wrong ones. I indirectly know a few trans people and I’m always nervous that I’m going to spit out the wrong pronoun accidentally, especially because a few of them present differently in different situations (work vs. hanging out, for example). My default in this situation is just to call them by their actual name until I stop worrying so much about it. While it’d be super awkward to never use pronouns and stick their name in every sentence, it can definitely help to know that you can just use their name until you feel less worried about it. But maybe that’s just me.

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        Heh, pronouns – I’m usually fine if someone is actually presenting a binary gender. I use the name and pronoun just fine. But when people are genderqueer or otherwise nonbinary, I get kind of tangled up. Especially if they use a name associated with one gender and the opposite pronoun. I slip up.

        Luckily for me those folks are kind of used to people slipping up, I think.

        I default to the singular “they” when I’m uncertain.

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      It’s always comforting to hear about other trans* people struggling with well meaning and friends, family and co-workers. When people who actively support me, turn around, point to a trans-woman in a group and say “you reckon that’s really a man Jules?” I feel like a bit of a failure (and that time I actually got a bit angry with them). We’ve got to keep at it I guess!

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    Wow, that was a really good explanation of cissexism, I’ve often heard that word thrown around but not known what it meant. I’ll now do my best to stop it when I see it! Thanks for writing about this, I always look forward to your articles because they teach me how to be a better trans* ally :)

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    Here’s the response they gave to a mate of mine… “Within this advert we are portraying an obviously fictional event with a slapstick style of humour, a traditional staple of comedy on television. As with such comedy shows we believe the public have the intelligence to distinguish between right and wrong.”

    So basically if you don’t find it funny you’re not intelligent, according to Paddy Power! Im ashamed to admit that Paddy Power is an Irish company and this is typical of their loutish behaviour. Add all this to the fact that there’s a distinct lack of trans rights here, we as a country really need to cop ourselves on and sort out our attitudes regarding trans people and trans rights.

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    Thank you for posting this. The commercial itself is rather upsetting.
    The article gave me some things to think about. I hadn’t thought about “passing” or not the way you described. For a long while (even now) its drummed into a trans persons head that they need to pass to be accepted. Its refreshing to see how you approached it.
    I concur about the cis comments. My approach is you wouldn’t say these things to a fellow cis person so why are you saying them to me? I want to be accepted as me, those kind of comments make me feel socially awkward.So, thank you for discussing this.

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    I have a lot of feelings about all of this but I feel like I don’t actually know the words to articulate what I’m feeling and the words that I do know aren’t good enough.
    But I do want to say this:

    I hate, I mean I REALLY REALLY hate how safety has become this thing that you attain by avoiding harm as opposed to safety being that like harm is not longer a threat. I hate the idea that passing is “safer” because it seems to imply (to me) that not passing somehow invites violence. I hate that gay men who aren’t femmey are safer because they read straight and not being straight invites violence. I hate that women who don’t walk home alone are “safer” because they aren’t inviting rape/mugging.

    Fuck all of this victim blaming bullshit.

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      Personally, though, I *can’t* do anything about all the various people who want to hurt me for their own warped reasons or the people who would stand by while I get hurt, and where I live, at least, it’s definitely safer to pass. It is extremely wrong to put all the onus on women and queer people, but the only practical advice anyone can give me at the moment is how to avoid violence.

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    I always get down right giddy when I see a new submission from you! You never fail to make me think and often re-think where I fall on a particular issue. Not to mention the fact that I always come away having learned something new. Because of you I always sound so smart and well informed when discussing various topics with my trans* coworker..So thank you, thank you, thank you again for “schooling” me once again..Quite simply, Annika..I adore you!

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    Annika, I think you really hit the nail with your analogy: It’s like telling a person of color “Your skin is so light! I would have never guessed that you weren’t white! Congrats!”

    In my new city, I’m getting more and more active in the queer community, and I’m waiting on my application to be a representative trans* ally on a liaison committee for sexual minorities and gender variants through the local police service. I have to say that you and Sebastian (and the rest of this amazing website) are the only reasons I’m qualified for that position, so I hope I get the chance to pay back and help the trans* community.

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    This was a great article Annika, both on discussing the truly godawful Paddy Power Ad (UKians, is this just a glorified Off-Track Betting business?), but also in talking about how subtle forms of cissexism pervade the trans* feminine experience.

    I know I’m guilty of, in seeking validation, being happy when I hear “I wouldn’t have known,” or “you don’t look like you are!” when I should be examining both the ways in which those statements devalue my actual gender as well as the privilege I have in apparently “passing” when other trans* women can’t or don’t wish to “pass” are harassed and misgendered for it. The discussion of living stealth is also rife with division.

    Thanks again and I can’t wait for A-Camp now!

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    There has been some good news and some bad news this side of the Atlantic, folks.

    In the UK, the ad has this afternoon (GMT) been pulled by broadcasting regulators and advertisers.

    Since then, however, The Paddy Power ad was broadcast on the 3e television station in Ireland this evening. It aired during the ad break immediately before kick-off of a Manchester United soccer game. Accordingly, it may be assumed that the viewing figures at this time were significantly high.

    Complaints can be lodged with the Advertising Standards Agency of Ireland: http://www.asai.ie/

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    I’m an ally who does her best, and this post sickened me, but also brought up a question.

    When hanging out with trans* folks I usually manage to avoid saying anything too stupid or cissexist. And when my own cis privilege is pointed out I can take that with good grace. With people I know well, it’s easy – if I know someone’s story, and we’re friends, I know if it’s okay to comment on passing / not passing or appearance or gender presentation or whatever.

    With someone I don’t know well, I’m sometimes not sure what’s acceptable. If I’m talking to someone who reveals her trans identity to me, what’s a good guess for a response? I want to communicate a bunch of stuff:

    1. Cool, thanks for trusting me enough to tell me.
    2. I’m reasonably well-educated on this subject.
    3. I respect your experience of gender even though it’s not mine.
    4. This doesn’t change my perception of your gender/sex.

    I mean, finding out someone is a trans woman doesn’t make her not a woman to me, but that’s such a common reaction! I don’t want to reinforce it even accidentally. And people who do disclose trans status do so for so many reasons.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I guessed, even if I did, because passing is pretty important to a lot of people and we can always talk about that later if she really wants to know.

    My reaction is often a kind of eyebrows-up slightly-startled followed by something like “Oh really? Cool. I’m cisgender.” Trying to normalize it while making it clear I know at least some terminology…

    So, apologies for asking the trans people to educate cis me, but I really would like to know – when you tell someone you don’t know well that you’re trans, what are you *hoping* to hear?

    This mostly relates to the article because of the emphasis on the cissexist “you pass so well!” and “I never would have known!”

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      first off, thank you for being so kind and open-minded. people like you are far too rare these days.

      I can only speak for myself, but the best reaction in my opinion is the “no reaction”, basically a “cool, whatever” kind of response. but I do realize that this is a pretty big deal for most non-trans people, so that’s not something I expect (or demand), but for me, any other kind of response is… how do you say it in english, stressful? you know, you get that feeling of going from ‘normal girl’ to ‘the transsexual’, so to speak. of course, I understand that people are going to have questions, and if they’re being respectful about it I will answer as best I can, but I would prefer if things just went on like before (is that too much to ask for? this is an honest question, since I can’t see things from a cis perspective). the respectable thing to do, I think, is to ask the person if they’re willing to discuss it, and if they’re not, don’t push it. or at least wait until later. remember that the person hasn’t changed because they told you about their background, and by telling you, they’re putting a lot of trust in you as well as taking a risk (as I’m sure you know).
      when I’ve told people, it’s been because I feel bad not telling them. it almost feels like I’m lying – I know I’m not, but I know that some people would think that I am if they found out. so when I tell them, it’s because I want to have that over with so I don’t have to feel bad about it anymore. as if I can’t feel accepted until they know.
      and you’re right that mentioning anything about wether someone “passes” or not (like ‘yeah I suspected it’ and things like that) can be extremely hurtful for a lot of people, but you seem to have realized that so I’m just pointing out the obvious to make it clearer : D

      again, this is only my opinions (everyone is different) and I don’t have much experience yet, and I’m hardly an expert on these issues, but this is simply how I would prefer people to react.
      but you seem like a good person, so no matter how you react it’s still going to be better than whatever reaction they would get from someone who is transphobic. I always expect the worst, so someone who asks unintentionally stupid/offensive questions (which I don’t think you’re doing, by the way) is still a lot better than someone who thinks you’re a freak of nature.

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        In reply to the part of Anon’s comment that reads: “but I would prefer if things just went on like before (is that too much to ask for? this is an honest question, since I can’t see things from a cis perspective)” —

        That is absolutely 100% NOT too much to ask for and I’m sorry the world sucks so much that you might sometimes feel like it is. :(

        Thank you so much for your perspective (and thanks to Cara below, and Annika, and everyone else who commented). As a cis-gendered person who is trying to be a strong trans* ally, sometimes I find it difficult to gauge what the most helpful and supportive things to do/say in a specific situation will be, and it is sometimes awkward* or puts someone on the spot to ask directly. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment.

        *And that is awkward from my (privileged) position. I can’t even imagine what the other person might be going through.

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    Honestly, Annika, everything you write is amazing– can you and I be friends already? I am in love with your brain. I agree with this 10000% and I think that you have really hit the nail on the head about how trying to fit into expected paradigms, even as a queer/trans person, can end up seeming like you are reinforcing or validating them. People rarely think about what their “compliments” say about the opposite position and that by approving you, they are casting out others who do not fit into their category. You can always say, “You are pretty/beautiful/handsome/attractive” without adding the addendum, “unlike the rest of the group you identify with.” It makes me so mad.

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    Annika, this was such an amazing article, thank you for bringing up this point about cissexism in the trans* community.

    I sometimes catch myself acting in an cissexist way as well (i.e. thinking that somehow being read as cis is superior to being read as trans), and I often experience some internalized transphobia when I try to convince myself I shouldn’t want to, for instance, go on hormone therapy because I shouldn’t have to “conform” to a cis way of looking. So I end up feeling guilty and awful no matter what I do. Of course going on T should be a legitimate option for me, and for anyone who is trans*, but I often wonder if I am trying to “conform” for myself or for others.

    But then I try to empower myself again by saying that the idea that a trans* person “looks” cis is as offensive and erasing of an identity as the idea that a POC “looks” white. I am not cis! I am trans*, fabulous and beautiful, no matter how much or how often I am read as male.

    (By the way, I feel like this expression is a better one to be used than “passing”–thanks for pointing out the problematic language. I prefer using “being read as”, also because it then puts the action on the other person, and not on me, and so it’s not my responsibility if I “pass” or not, but the other person’s responsibility on how they read me).

    Anyway, I wanted to give you kudos and say I love you also for this sentence: “I, for one, would love the chance to show the executive board at Paddy Power my well-manicured middle finger.”

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      You shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to go on T! HRT, while not for everyone, is about sooo much more than having others read you as your true gender. I, for one, just love the way estrogen makes me feel, both physically and mentally- I feel more like myself now :)

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        Thanks for the support! <3

        Deep down, I know I shouldn't feel bad. And I feel like HRT is something that will make me feel more empowered and like myself. That's why I have to bang this internalized transphobia I'm dealing with on the head with a frying pan. :p

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    I have a question …
    I know this isn’t necessarily a trans* encyclopedia but I’m just curious, and feel free not to answer =)
    As a cis female I have a few trans* and genderqueer friends but we don’t really talk about their gender identity or anything … my immediate reaction to anyone who doesn’t fit the binary or tells me they are trans* or whatever, but also to cis people who are androgynous or actually just cis people in general is this: I don’t care. I mean obviously I care that your gender ID is a struggle you’ve had to go through within your own head and also within society. But it doesn’t bother me whether you are male or female or both or neither or that your gender ID doesn’t match your biology. To me, you are a person, not a gender or lack thereof, and I want to know you as a person as opposed to a ‘male’ or ‘female’.
    And this is mainly a reaction that I have in my own head, that I feel is not cissexist … but I don’t know if it comes across as erasure, and I’d love to hear some opinions on it =)
    Anyway, thanks for a great article – as many others have said, you’ve quantified something I was feeling but couldn’t quite articulate. =)

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      From my standpoint, I’m glad you are asking the question, because it is extremely erasive.

      I think seeing people as people first and foremost is wonderful, but you don’t really see them as individuals unless you are also willing to acknowlege the things which make them distinct. Being cis or trans, being male or female, our ethnicity, our appearance, our culture, our bodies these and other things are all intrinsic to who we are as people; however conflicted or confused our own relationship with those identities is.

      We want to be seen as equal and we don’t want to be reduced to those identities and from that perspective I can understand and appreciate the whole “people are people” angle. But if someone was to tell me they didn’t want to know about my experiences with gender, that they wanted to know me “as a person”, I would feel invisibly shitty and I would not view that person as a potential friend.

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    What perfect timing! I just got the following message from a dude on OkCupid:

    “I know all the Russian you wanna learn (: I’m Vadim.. say Hi if you think I’m cute or interesting or something. Peace n luv”

    And then 30 seconds later (after actually reading my profile)…

    “Trans girl? wtf san francisco you look like a girl!”

    **sigh**

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    I was waiting for this to show up on Autostraddle, ugh it’s so infuriating that they don’t even seem to understand they’re hurting people, or maybe they just don’t give a fuck. I live above a Paddy Power bookmakers and I feel like graffiting the front of their store.

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    Ugh, this is awful. I can’t wrap my head around how many people would have had to approve this idea and the resulting ad before it made it to television. Depressing.

    The obsession with ‘passing’ for cis is concerning, and it’s one of those phenomenons that is hard to combat because it’s latent trans* phobia – the people think they’re actually being accepting and complimentary. I have experienced a similar phenomenon, albeit to a lesser (and less damaging) extent, in the gay community. Both gay and straight people often seem impressed when they encounter gay people who (in their opinion) appear hetero. As though deviating from the norm is much more acceptable when you don’t LOOK different at first glance. I’ve even had a friend tell me she met another lesbian who is SO PRETTY that ‘noone’ can believe she is gay. You know, cause pretty and gay are mutually exclusive.

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    I can’t even right now with that ad.

    I dated a trans woman who I was more worried that she might be straight (because I was crushing HARD on her) than her medical history. When she told me I was like “oh okay, are you straight!?!!” She smiled and held my hand.

    I feel so odd about the “passing” and all privileges and (personal) costs that comes with it. “Passing” makes me think of questions about gender essentialism and what it means to “look like a man or woman,” how this plays across racial lines because I have heard very disgusting racist things like “x race pass easier than race because *insert eurocentric beauty standard*” and bullshit like that. Honestly hearing that just ugh can be triggering and thanks Annika for writing about back-handed compliments laced with cissexism.

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    First, I find the commercial really offensive (to trans and cis women) and despicable. And thank you for making me think about (my) cissexist attitude. I really really liked what you have written.

    That being said, I wanted to ask all of you a question. Please don’t misunderstand me with what I will say next but do you think the queer and trans community should consider to fight ignorance or sheer hate with humor? To be able to laugh a bit about the community itself? Don’t get me wrong, I know there is nothing funny about the struggle, and the danger a lot of trans folk have to endure, but my reflection is more on the line with…Why don’t trans people show with a good example of humor how to fight this ignorance? To be able to not take one seriously doesn’t mean to allow discriminating. What do you think about this? Do you know any trans comedian?

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      There are transgender comedians, some really good ones. And I imagine a lot of us will laugh about this in some ways, just like we laugh about a lot of things, even the really horrid ones. But finding humour in a situation, while good for the soul, doesn’t stop other people from putting the boot in. So yes, trans people do retain a sense of humour, but if the joke is about ourselves and we share it, invariably it’s appropriated and our existance ends up as the punchline.

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      This ad is not ‘trans humor’ nor even thoughtful humor about trans people… it’s idiot advertising agency guys ridiculing trans women. Kind of a difference there, don’t you think?

      As to trans comedians, I like trans/queer/goth/Brit comedienne Bethany Black who I think is quite adorkable.

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    dear julia,
    I didn’t mean to turn trans or queer people to punchlines, I’m sorry if I didn’t explain myself well (english is not my native language…). What I mean is to fight back with a different approach.
    Please do recommend me a transgendered comedian you like.

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      Ah no, my apologies: I didn’t mean to suggest you were. I simply don’t think humour, while it’s important, is the solution when half the struggle is to be taken seriously, is all. Really there’s no one magic answer. Activism, promoting change, has a lot of dimensions.

      Sally Outen (Lashings of Ginger Beer) is one and Adele Anderson is a long term member of Fascinating Aida. There are lots of other acts featuring trans* individuals in the UK alone.

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    Annika, this was a wonderful essay that much needed to be said… so thank you. But I’d like to offer up another ‘difficult’ question: do you think the reason you were invited to write for Autostraddle had something to do with you being young, attractive and ‘passable?’ The young part of it I totally get (since that’s the core demographic of Autostraddle) but the attractive and passable part is worth asking. I’ve seen several cis-feminist sites and have noticed that any trans women who are writing for them are eminently recognizable as “pretty and passable.” (much less, someone who passes the queer-hipster dressing and fashion test) Let’s face it, cis-ally or no, passability of a trans person is often sadly mistook for “authenticity of gender” and willingness to take their opinions seriously in that ‘new gender.’ I’ve seen this time and again and I think it’s an important phenomena to call out as to which trans people get a voice within overwhelmingly cis and cis queer spaces.

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      Ginast:

      I think talking about cisnormativity, heteronormativity, etc. works best when used to highlight consistent patterns, instead of looking at a case-by-case basis. For example, using the Bechdel Test to highlight the lack of female voices in movies, rather than arguing over whether Hugo passes based on a 5 second exchange (h/t Feminist Frequency).

      In this case, it’s important to critique the tendency of cis-feminist websites to only highlight the narratives of passable, pretty trans-women, and it would be another matter if Autostraddle had, say, several of these voices. But the decision to bring on one writer (and, really, it is just Annika and Sebastian), and the role that internalized cissexism may have played in that decision, is something only the senior staff can answer. And while reflecting on one’s own internalized biases is never a bad thing, any discussion on our part would be pure speculation.

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      You forget to mention also that Annika’s a lesbian. Who writes very well, in an accessible manner and knows how to explain things to novices in non-alienating ways. And she was already writing a popular blog that included her sexuality when she was asked to contribute. Just because there are lots of trans women blogging about their transitions doesn’t mean that most can express themselves in competent ways for a wider queer lady audience. And her politics fit with AS’s.

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        Annika’s piece was (as I saw it) about how passability impacts acceptance and being a member of “cis-clubs.” I’m posing that same question about her at Autostraddle. That’s a legitimate query to pose, nor does it necessarily require an answer or a definitive statement of right or wrong. She’s asking Autostraddle readers to think about how they’ve internalized “passable=good or passable=gender legitimacy” and I’m taking it a step further and questioning how those assumptions impact her presence as an accepted trans woman in this environment? If Annika weren’t as pretty, passable or femme looking, if she didn’t have a cute cis girlfriend, would she be as accepted in this environment?

        FYI, there are lots of lesbian-ID’d trans women who are wonderful writers (ever read the blog Questioning Transphobia?), so please don’t try to suggest it’s slim pickings. And yes, given that Annika’s only been part of the trans community a relatively short period of time, I think she writes some excellent pieces for Autostraddle… my question is about the readers, not her or her writing skills.

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          It’s kind of strange that you come into a queer safe space as a straight-id’ed person and criticize queer people. Maybe you should appreciate your own position of privilege and that you are in a space that exists for queer (cis and trans*) people? The space doesn’t exist to make straight people like you happy.

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            Yes, Problematic, I am non-queer ID’d and I only comment on trans-related threads and never on sexuality-related ones for that reason. I do want to point out that trans women who are involved with men have by far the highest rate of violence against them of anyone in the LGBTQ community, so while I certainly have state-educated, white,’first world,’ middle-class, able-bodied privilege, I wouldn’t say being a trans women who’s involved with men is especially privileged. Last time I looked there are a number of non-queer ID’d people on this site and I’ve sure noticed plenty of cis people commenting on trans threads. And if the site owner’s had issues with me posting here, I’d respect that in a second.

            The question I’m posing is not intended as a jab at the AS editors and certainly not at Annika, nor as criticism, but as a question of self-reflection towards the readers who might not have really had much prior contact with a trans woman. It’s meant as an extension of what Annika is posing in her essay. Did her not being particularly gender variant-looking impact their attitudes towards her? If she had ‘NRM’ (noticeable residual male) would it have impacted their comfort level with her and acceptance of her as a woman?

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            You are a straight woman coming into a queer space saying that queer women are privileged over straight women??? Really??? That’s messed up in incredible ways. Regardless of whether or not you’re trans, you have serious straight privilege. You need to check your privilege hardcore.

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      hmmm & pumpkin:

      But how much of her popularity comes from the fact that she is so passable? If you scan Youtube videos for trans-women, its easy to see a clear bias towards passability. Not beauty, as such, because there are many non passable women who are quite beautiful, but who are still less popular than women who conform to cisgendered standards of beauty. It’s wrong to blame something like this on Annika, or even Autostraddle, but it’s a reflection of the fact that the trans-female community doesn’t have its own standards of beauty, and so we rely on cisgendered standards to inform our own attitudes. It implicitly reinforces cis is a more authentic representation of gender.

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        I think it’s pretty misogynistic to say that the only reason she was chosen is because she was pretty. Youtube comments, which are mostly creepy chasers, are a totally different thing than AS.

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          “I think it’s pretty misogynistic to say that the only reason she was chosen is because she was pretty.”

          I didn’t hear anyone say that (and if they did, yes it would be very misogynistic). But the subject of Annika’s essay was how passability influences people’s attitudes, assumptions and acceptance of trans people. Annika kind of turned the subject around on ‘the community’ and all I’m asking people to do is to think if it had some impact on their attitudes towards Annika as a trans woman in what was, before her, a site with only non-trans women. Were Annika not as pretty and, especially, not as “passable” would it have influenced their connection or acceptance of her? This is not intended as criticism but rather as an exercise in self-reflection. :)

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          “I think it’s pretty misogynistic to say that the only reason she was chosen is because she was pretty. Youtube comments, which are mostly creepy chasers, are a totally different thing than AS.”

          I didn’t say, or mean to imply anything of the sort. I was simply trying to point out that even seemingly objective standards, such as popularity and beauty, are themselves affected cissexist attitudes in society.

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    Thank you for calling out the awfulness of the Paddy Power ad, and for your really interesting thoughts on combatting cissexism. However, I hope it’s okay if I voice a different view?

    I am incredibly happy for trans individuals who can be proud of their trans status, and no one should ever make them feel like there is something wrong with them being trans. But solely for myself as a binary-identified trans woman, and I know other trans individuals that feel this way, being a trans woman (instead of a cis woman) is traumatic. If I didn’t feel dysphoric, I wouldn’t have transitioned. And the primary reason I feel dysphoria is because my body is out of sync with my mind – or in other words, because I do not have the body of a cis woman.

    While it’s pretty clear that society puts a lot of effort into discouraging variant gender expression, even aside from that I think it’s pretty understandable for me to want to lessen my dysphoria by attempting to be read as cis. It may be a cissexist attitude, in that it upholds a situation in which “looking cis = good and looking trans* = bad,” but I guess for me being trans IS bad. Asking me to minimize my concern for being read as a cis woman seems kind of like asking me to try to set aside one of the few effective ways I have to lower dysphoria, and as a result asking me to experience more dysphoria.

    Now, obviously we should be calling out trans folks when and if they make other trans folks feel worse for not “passing.” But well before we address trans women propping up cissexism for being concerned about our own personal ability to be read as cis, I think a lot more work needs to be done on making cis people aware of this attitude in themselves and combatting it there. You do that quite a bit here in this article, and I thank you for that, but your statements relating to us, trans individuals, are what I take issue with I guess. (As a side note, it took me a long time to write this and obviously it comes from kind of a personal place. If as a result of that I’ve misinterpreted your meaning, then I really do apologize!)

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      As a semi-stealthy trans women who used to be much more “out”, I strongly agree with this comment. I personally started to be much more stealth when I lost housing due to dealing with some trans-related abuse from a queer housemate. My mental and physical health simply can’t deal with the stress and fear that being “out” brings: it’s lost me too many places to live, jobs, and friends, and I just have too many physical and emotional scars.

      I think it’s wrong to put so much pressure on trans people, and far less pressure on cis people. Perhaps it’s because I came out as a teen, and am approaching middle age, but it’s not a battle we can keep fighting without support forever.

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      Carmilla, I was thinking the same thing, but you put it better than I could.
      Speaking only for myself, even more than a year into transition I’m still sick of seeing something that isn’t me in the mirror. As cissexist as I’m sure this is, I hate that my past had to happen to me and my future is so uncertain. I hate that my identity is ultimately at the mercy of those who look at me, and it usually takes at least a second thought for even the most supportive among them to get it right. I want to pass to put it all behind me as much as I can, and be capable of disclosing this status at my own will. I can envision a future where I can make peace with it, but not one where I’m proud of it.
      Sorry if I wound up fitting a few unfortunate stereotypes, but experience is valid and this is mine.

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    I have a quick question I’m hoping someone can answer; I never know which gender pronouns to use when I am referring to drag kings and queens who are NOT trans*. Should I be using the gender they are currently presenting, or should I be using the gender they typical identify as? I know this may seem obvious to some people, but I’m not sure and I dislike the idea of hurting anyone’s feelings. Honestly, my instinct is to refer to a drag queen as ‘he’ if they live their day-to-day lives as men, because that is their preferred gender, but I’d rather be sure than look like an asshole.

    I know this is a bit off topic, but it seemed like a good place to ask.

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    It seems to me that someone could get to congratulating a trans woman on being easily mistaken for a cis woman without anyone involved having to be transphobic, if they got there by the following line of thinking:

    1) This person is a trans woman, i.e. they were born with a male body, but were uncomfortable with this, and decided to have a lengthy and complex series of medical proceedures to become female.

    2) At least from what I can see, these proceedures seem to have been very successful — more so than these things sometimes are — to the point were I wouldn’t have known/would barely have been able to guess if she hadn’t told me.

    3) She’s probably pretty happy about this — I should congratulate her.

    I can imagine even someone who would have been just as comfortable with a genderqueer or androgynous trans* person still following this line of thought.

    The only dubious assumption I can personally see in this possible chain of thinking (and as a cis male, I freely acknowledge I have a very limited background from which to judge this) is the assumption that the trans woman is probably happy about ending up looking close to conventionaly “feminine”. If the trans woman was dressing and presenting as gender-queer, it could be an unwise assumption — she might actually have hoped end up more genderqueer than she has — but if her dress and behavior seemed more conventionally “feminine”, then it seems like a pretty safe assumption to me. If someone has aimed for a particular destination, such as becoming a woman, then most such people are going to be happier the closer they get to their target.

    So maybe a better comparison might be congratulating an African-American on their light skin if you know they made the decision to bleach it, or indeed on their straight hair if you know they chose to straighten it: that could come from motives just as innocent as congratulating a Caucasian on their dark skin if you know they went to a tanning salon, or one their culy have if you know they chose to curl it, rather then any actual belief that there was anythiung right or wrong about particular skin colors or hair types. (Obviously these examples are far more minor and transient changes than someone who has become trans has been through.)

    It seems to me that if someone chooses to do something and then suceeds, congratulating them is only polite, even if you don’t personally have a preference between where they started, where they got to, or other places they could have gone.

    Of course, none of this says anything about whether a particular person’s motives for congratulating a trans woman might involve conscious or unconsious transphobia, or not. I can certainly see how congratulations could be motivated by transphobia — I just think there’s a plausible nontransphobic way to get there too.

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      Roger,

      You seem to have good intentions and I agree that you don’t come off as transphobic. Nonetheless, you said a lot of really problematic and cissexist things about trans women. I’m not in the mood to break those down in detail right now, so I’ll just say this: you should never assume that a woman (cis or trans) wants to know your opinion of her appearance without asking. :)

      Also- please please please don’t ever think that it is ok to remark on how light a person of color’s skin is. It is absolutely not the same thing as complimenting a white person on their tan.

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    I get the “you’re so brave” a lot, and compliments on my appearance, and sometimes talk to excited people who’ve never known a trans woman before. Generally, if they’re honestly well meaning and trying to learn more, I let the mildly problematic stuff slide, and try to explain it gently. I find that most people will change their language when I do that.

    I’ve never had a total stranger come up to me, though. That would be awkward.

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    Good points Annika.

    Very frustrating for us. I think, especially after reading Whipping Girl, that Julia was really onto something with oppositional sexism being the parent of all sexisms – especially cissexism.

    I think cissexism comes in different colors too. There is a benign color, one of pure innocent ignorance; it is sometimes wilful out of fear, sometimes just from being utterly sheltered. Then there are the dark shades, the ones that were meant to cut trans* people upon contact.

    For me, I’m pretty good at reading a person’s intent. Most of the time I can pick up right away the hue of their cissexism. If it is benign, I correct them. If they’re cowards, I try my best to assure them, that I was only a monster in life when I tried to be like them ;) I have yet to have a darker hue thrown at my face yet, but when the day comes, I’ll own them on the spot for it.

    For me, it is the repeat offenders, and those that refuse to learn, that really bother me. If I offer a link to one of the lectures on transsexual development in the brain around the 12th week of development, and they say no way to watching it, I get piqued. That is intentional ignorance with malice in mind. If they keep preaching hate, then again, I take note.

    You only briefly mentioned this point, but I thought it was a big point. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a privileged group or an oppressed group, both groups will have their heroes and their villains. Citing the existence of either is a terrible argument tactic, and a rather weak one at that.

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    I don’t really know what goes through peoples minds when they think up things like this. I understand not everyone knows a trans* person/that people are ignorant about a lot of trans* issues, but I don’t know what would ever make you think that it’s okay to mock/humiliate/belittle someone like that (in order to win money?). Bets that this hilarious advert was thought up by a team of white, heterosexual men? Talk about privilege.
    And they’re using the fact that some trans* women participated in the advert to validate their opinion that it’s perfectly acceptable? Just because maybe 8 or so trans* women chose to participate in a seedy transphobic TV advert/are not offended by it, doesn’t mean that that makes it okay. Eight women can’t speak for the whole trans* community, are you insane? Some people have such ridiculous thought-processes sometimes and are so unbelievably offensive and ignorant and dehumanisingly horrible, and the extra sad part is that I don’t think they even have a clue. This is just how they’ve been brought up/what society teaches them as being “okay” unfortunately.

    Happy to see it got pulled though, but I really can’t grasp why it was approved in the first place.

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    Passing for a transwoman does matter. I have read blogs about how passing does not matter from transwomen who are still identified by their birth gender and who’s job it is to solve IS isues safely tucked away in their home office.

    My SO is a transwoman who doesn’t have the priviledge of good hair, and also has a couple of other features which look male to most people. Now she is very cute, but had to sport a wig all the time to pass in public. There are certain classes of people who just have “trans radar” and they can pick her out in a seconds. She went into a noted Philadelphia lesbian bar trying to feel comfortable with women of her sexual preference and received nothing but daggers and when she needed to use the restroom was told by the bartended, “you have to use the Men’s room” Nice. So much for LGBTQ hospitality. However, if she had fit into the stereotypical mold of a fem, all would have been fine, but they saw the wig and the jig was up.

    We’ve seen studies that show thin women are better received than the obese. Young women over old, those obviously handicapped are often ignored, and the beat goes on. Most who are outside social norms, in general society or within groups, are targets to be ostracized.

    What is normal and who determines normal is what I believe we are viewing in the video.

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