Most students have never thought twice about which restroom to use.

Most students have never hesitated checking the box next to a gender.

Most students have never been questioned about why they identify as who they are.

And most have never stopped to think about it.

They have never stopped to think about it because most have never had to, simply because they are either a cis female or a cis male. A cisgender person is one whose gender identity aligns with their biological sex. One who is not transgender and is therefore automatically given a set of rights. This set of rights is referred to as cis privilege.

Privilege is a familiar word, meaning entitlement. However, when paired with "cis," it becomes a novel term. What does it mean to have cis privilege?

Cis privilege is not only limited to what is entitled but also what is never even considered. It can be a level of ignorance toward those who are without the same set of rights that are based on nothing more than the chance that one’s gender and sex are the same.

LGBT Student Services coordinator Brad Freihoefer explained just how embedded cis privilege is.

“Think about all the ways gender plays out in our society — it’s everywhere," Freihoefer said. "What’s the first thing you ask when a baby is born? Is it a boy or girl? That’s a lot of pressure from the very beginning to conform to a gender stereotype.”

For those who do not fall into the two perceived categories of gender, a typical day is littered with uncertainty. Cis privilege is not having to worry about whether or not you are passing as your gender or people using correct pronouns when referring to you. It is never being questioned, ridiculed or threatened about identifying with your gender. 

Correct terminology, gender-neutral bathrooms and a general understanding are just a few privileges that can easily fall victim of unaware cisgenders.

“People generally don’t know a lot about the trans community," said Charlie Poulson, senior in graphic design who identifies as a trans man — a person who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male. 

"I’ve been asked the most ridiculous questions.” he said, laughing as he begins to list off a few.

“The two questions I can almost always count on being asked are which bathroom I use and what my genitals look like. Imagine being asked that. You don’t have to if you’re cisgender; people will just assume. “

Poulson considers these assumptions to be the root of cis privilege.

“Think of anytime you see a person. You automatically assume them to be cisgender and heterosexual. It doesn’t even occur to most people that they could be something other than that.”

Freihoefer considers the first step in eliminating this inequality is also the most simple — acknowledge it.

“We can take action in simply recognizing that cis privilege is there," Freihoefer said. "We might have these privileges, but we can help do something about it by admitting it. Being aware of it is half the battle."

(5) comments

Blair Gershenson-DeVore

This is a really great article and much needed!

I do want to touch on the Cis-List's Item number 3:

3. Access to gender exclusive spaces such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival or Take Back the Night and not be excluded due to your trans status.

Take Back the Night (or at least the ones that I have been to) are open to people of all genders. This is incredibly important and something that the Margaret Sloss Women's Center (which does much of the TBTN planning) values.

Also, shows some of the progress that has been made for transwomyn inclusion at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

Matt Kailey

I am a trans man, and an award-winning author, blogger, and community activist (for some reason, can't get my picture to show up). I am also an Iowa State alum (class of 1977).

You can imagine that things were a little different back then, and this type of article would never have been published (of course, the Internet didn't exist, and the language to express the thoughts in this article didn't exist). It's amazing to see how far my school has come.

Thank you for addressing these subjects. Please come visit me on my blog at

Calee Himes

This is such a great well-thought-out article. I'm a huge LGBTQ advocate / ally and it's really really hard to explain this to people who just don't understand. Gender identity isn't something you're born knowing. Everybody falls somewhere on the M to F scale, and even us hetero-cises aren't 100% on either end.

Myra Krieger-Coen

An interesting take from a reader:

I actually find the word and list CIS as offensive. For me as a transman we should avoid the "us" and "them" and WE should move forward together. I don´t think it is correct, fair or right for a trans person to judge and assume that a "CIS" does not have to go through any of the difficulties mentioned below. Mym mum´s feet are small and wide and she herself cant get shoes. I am shocked by the sheer ignorance and attitude problem the article appears to have. I certainly hope that other PEOPLE feel the same way. I guess use of CIS for me, would be a "Not in my name." So called CIS people are my parents, my friends and my partners. They are my teachers and my doctors.

Can´t trans people just forget the "trans" and just enjoy the people? I dont even remember I am trans sometimes and nor do those closest to me. They are not cis... they are people who DO UNDERSTAND if you and I let them.


Shawn Main

Most insane article I ever read... Privileged this n privileged that.. I so want to be victim, this article screams it!!! I'm so woke.. everything is offensive!!

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