Photo: fitzcrittle/Shutterstock

4 Ways Cisgender Privilege Shows Up While Traveling

by Sian Ferguson Aug 11, 2016

1. It’s easy for me to get travel documents that reflect my gender.

Travel documents are a pain for most people. Personally, I find the admin tedious and annoying. But as a cisgender person, I know that my travel documents will always easily reflect the gender I identify as.

I’ve spoken to many people who’ve struggled to travel because they don’t ‘look’ like the gender that’s stated on their passports. Sometimes, it’s impossible to change the gender you’re registered as at birth.

Even in countries where people are allowed to change their identity documents to reflect their gender, this process can be tricky.

Sometimes, changing your registered gender requires that the person has gender-affirming surgery (often known as a ‘sex change’ or ‘gender reassignment surgery’) or has started taking hormones. There are many reasons why trans people can’t – or don’t want to – have surgery or take hormones.

Going through the process of changing your documents also means plenty of trans people have to encounter administrative staff, doctors, and other officials – people who could be bigoted, hurtful and even dangerous.

For non-binary people, it can be even trickier. ‘Non-binary’ is a description that refers to people who don’t simply identify as either a woman or a man. Very few countries allow people to have a gender other than male or female on their documents. Being cisgender means I never have to deal with this.

2. I’m more likely to have the funds to travel.

Now, I’m not well-off at all – but trans people are statistically way more likely to live in poverty. Trans people, especially trans youth, are also more likely to be homeless. Because I’m cisgender, I’m more likely to be employed and earn ahigher wage than my trans counterparts. That means that traveling is way more accessible to cisgender people than to trans folks.

3. I won’t be misgendered when I travel.

As a trans friend of mine explained, “Traveling means you come into contact with lots of new people who assume your gender. If you don’t ‘pass’ as your actual gender, it means a great number of people misgender you.”

‘Misgendering’ a person is to refer to them as a gender other than the one they identify as. An example is calling a woman a man, or calling a non-binary person a woman.

For cisgender people, being called the wrong gender is usually an annoyance at most. But for trans people, it can be really hurtful and invalidating.

Being a cisgender, gender-conforming woman means that I don’t get misgendered. People recognize my gender. They can correctly assume I’m a woman based on my appearance. If a tour guide addresses a group as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, my gender isn’t erased, as it is for non-binary people. A flight attendant won’t refer to me as ‘sir’ when I prefer ‘ma’am’. A taxi driver won’t refer to me as a man. And if they did, it would be accidental – and they’d probably apologize for it immediately.

Trans people don’t always have this luxury. As my friend mentioned, being misgendered happens more to trans people who don’t ‘pass’ as their gender. This means that they don’t ‘look’ the way we think people of their gender should look.

Trans people can’t always ‘pass’ as their gender. Often, passing requires ‘coming out’ to family and friends, which can be scary and dangerous. It could also require medically transitioning, which isn’t an option for trans people who don’t have access to adequate healthcare.

Passing isn’t an option for all trans people, and even so – trans people shouldn’t have to ‘pass’ to be respected.

4. I won’t feel as unsafe when traveling.

Because I’m both queer and a woman, I don’t always feel safe – especially when I’m traveling to unfamiliar places.

But I’m still way safer than a trans person in the same position as me. Transgender people are being assaulted and murdered at a higher rate than their cisgender counterparts, largely thanks to our awful culture of transphobia and bigotry.

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