Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology

What does it mean that cis people are that clueless about the motivations of their own actions, the motivations of the institutions to which they belong or on which they depend? Isn’t it kind of troubling to think of cis people as being fundamentally not-self-aware, or to think that trans people might better understand what a cis person is thinking than that cis person hirself?

This is a kind of ignorance that I find deeply unsettling, yet it’s not legible as ignorance, because it’s fundamentally about self-knowledge. And here’s where we get to sexist epistemology: the kinds of knowledge that to lack is called “ignorance” are more likely to be coded masculine–terminology, politics, etc–and are all public sphere, whereas cis people’s lack of knowledge coded feminine and private sphere–self-knowledge–is not. Thus, “ignorance”‘s epistemology–theory of knowledge–values masculine knowledge over feminine knowledge.

Self-knowledge cannot be taught in trans 101 workshops, nor can one ever completely deny accountability for a lack of it. It’s a much more arduous process to obtain self knowledge than to learn the “right terminology,” and the process is fundamentally one that has to be self-driven. In some ways, this understanding of what knowledge cis people lack is deeply dispiriting–while it takes the onus off trans people to educate cis people, it also implies that much of what cis people need to learn we *can’t* teach them or pressure them to learn, that they can only learn through a painful process of introspection few are motivated enough to attempt, and which it’s incredibly difficult (impossible?) to hold individuals accountable for whether or not they do. It’s also dispiriting in that if ending transphobia depends on skills that are devalued as feminine and are deliberately undermined by capitalism and advertising, it makes the project that much more daunting.

Combatting “Combatting Ignorance” Part 3 (of 4): Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology | Taking Up Too Much Space.

How Could You Have Known? –You Already Did.

“The one thing ignorance is not is innocent, it is about having the power not to know and not to care… and we simply can’t afford to be naive enough to think otherwise.”

It’s actually the power to know and not care.

There’s a widespread trope that trans people are super rare and new, that most people have never heard of us and thus can’t know what to say. And of course, “[y]ou can’t blame people for not knowing about something that they might never have encountered.” But here’s the thing: they have.

I don’t care that you’ve never met a trans person before, I don’t care that you’ve never had a women’s studies course before, I don’t care that you’ve never had a trans 101–you can find out what we want to be called from the worst transphobic screeds and jokes. Making fun of trans people is a widespread cultural trope, it’s not something you’ve never heard of.

Combatting “Combatting Ignorance” Part 2: How Could You Have Known? –You Already Did. | Taking Up Too Much Space.

Whose Ignorance/Who’s Ignorant?

Targeting the ones that get culturally pre-defined as “ignorant” might be tempting, because their offenses are frequently the most highly visible, and (relatedly) least culturally sanctioned, but it’s those culturally pre-defined as “knowledgeable” that do me the most damage, and thus, through a privilege+power rubric, are most transphobic. Who’s worse, the most “ignorant” “redneck” (supposedly) embodying every awful anti-rural stereotype, or J Michael Bailey, who has a PhD and sits in the halls of knowledge?

So when we construe transphobia as about “ignorance,” not only have we engaged with classism, racism, and colonialism, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot and let the worst offenders off the hook.

Combatting “Combatting Ignorance” Part 1: Whose Ignorance/Who’s Ignorant? | Taking Up Too Much Space.

Modeling Consent | Disrupting Dinner Parties

Modeling Consent | Disrupting Dinner Parties.

“So I know that you said you were alright with kissing last night…”


“But I still somehow felt like I maybe wasn’t reading you right. Sometimes you seemed into it, but other times you didn’t…”

Oh my god he was checking in. Rape culture tells me that men always want to just “get the sex”, so naturally, I was shocked that he chose to risk “getting the sex” by verbally checking in. “Checking in” is a part of consent culture that is very easy to dismiss. It’s easy to tell yourself, “Oh, I already asked about that. They said they were ok” despite picking up on body language or other signs that would tell otherwise.

I told him that he was in fact, reading me correctly. He was getting mixed signals because I myself was full of mixed feeling. I really enjoyed kissing him, but I was worried that it might lead to sex, which I just wasn’t interested in. He told me he understood, that he wasn’t looking for sex either, and that if we engaged in sexy times again it would just be kisses and cuddles. Woah! Rape culture misled me in this instance. He wasn’t looking for sex. I was so happy he had talked to me, because now I could fully enjoy kissing him without fear.

Oh, and here is the most crazy-insane part of this encounter. The entire time we were having this conversation, we were both completely naked. We had this conversation at the hippy-dippy swimming hole, when we both just happened to be finishing a naked swim.