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Conditional cis privilege refers to the advantages transgender people receive if they are perceived to be cisgender, rather than trans.
Transgender writer and activist Julia Serrano coined the term to replace the term, passing privilege. She argues that her term is more accurate because it notes that this privilege comes with a condition. If someone learns that an individual is in fact transgender, the privilege they received is usually revoked.
There are several cisgender privileges that transgender people who pass as cisgender receive. These people can use public restrooms that match their gender identity and other public facilities, like gym change rooms, without ridicule or harassment. They avoid personal questions like what their genitals look like and how they form relationships. They can blend in in the world and feel confident that their gender identity will not play a part in whether they can secure a loan, a job, appropriate medical treatment, or other benefits in life.
These privileges cannot be enjoyed by transgender people who pass in the same way that cisgender people enjoy them, because they are conscious that these privileges could be revoked if they are outed or declare their transgender status. This can cause anxiety, fear, and shame. An awareness of how other transgender people are treated ensures issues that impact them, such as discriminatory laws and high rates of poverty, also impact people experiencing conditional cis privilege. Many people who experience conditional cis privilege feel they are erasing an important part of themselves in order to receive society’s privileges.
While Serano’s term aims to more accurately describe the transgender condition, it has its limitations when considering the experiences of transgender people at different points in their lives. Even Serano herself questions whether transgender people experience cisgender privilege before they socially or medically transition. While these people clearly do not face the discrimination of transgender people while their gender assigned at birth and gender representation clearly assign, their transgender status may make these privileges conditional. She also notes that the situation is not so clear cut for people who identify as transgender for a period, yet later detransition, and those who present as a different gender but do not identify as trans, such as people who present as a different gender to secure a gender-specific job. While these people may face some of the social judgments transgender people do, their gender identities are not invalidated in the same way transgender gender identities can be.