Why I believe cissexuals may also struggle with gender dissonance

I read the book Whipping Girl by Julia Serano some time ago.  I remember finding the book at the library when I checked out books in the GLBTQI section (well actually, I don’t know if the library recognized all the letters in GLBTQI but I’ve decided to impose that on the memory).  Anyway, this book was my first introduction to a form of discrimination called cissexism, which is the false belief that Trans peoples’ gender identities are less valid or real than non-Trans (or Cis-gendered) peoples’ gender identities. 

Serano also defines subconscious sex as, “A subconscious, intrinsic, self-understanding that all people experience regarding their own sex embodiment.” In addition, “Cissexuals tend not to notice or appreciate their own subconscious sex because it is concordant with their physical sex (and therefore they tend to conflate for two).”

I want to say clearly that I do not mean to appropriate the experiences of Trans people by writing this blog.  I am forever in debt to radical Trans people like Serano who have broken the silence and given us terms and theories to support people having these kinds of marginalized experiences.   My intention is to focus on this notion that “Cissexuals tend not to notice” the dissonance between their subconscious sex and their physical sex.  There are some marginalized cissexual people who live under daily pressure due to this gender dissonance, and I feel that I am one of them.

When I was 18 or 19 years old, I wasn’t only struggling with sexuality and sexual orientation, I also struggled with gender identity.  I guess you could say I had a lot of anxiety about gender. I would be in the process of waking up and realize that my heart was pounding because I was waking up to another day in which I was acutely aware of people having to be either man or woman. I felt deeply confused by this idea/way of life. I guess there was some part of me that didn’t think I was a woman and then another part of me that said, Dah? How else do you think people see you?

I tried to burn myself into the eyes of others, to see in myself what I learned through social experiences, what people saw in those that were gendered like me. I tried to understand where my confusion originated from. I came up with a couple theories:

1. To be gendered feminine/woman and yet to grow up in a sexist society, it is not uncommon to separate yourself from an identity that is also linked to hatred. One part of you recognizing the identity, the other part not. It’s a defense mechanism. I tried to understand if that part of me that said I am not a woman was the part of me that acted out of self-preservation, that refused to believe sexist presumptions about myself. And maybe I didn’t always acknowledge other women as women because I was trying to show respect– a sign of how deeply rooted misogyny can be and a reminder that we must consider how sexism shapes the development of gender identity.

2. Another theory I have is that my gender confusion started when I was a child, in first or second grade, when I began early puberty and my body was changing so fast even though I was such a young child.  At last, there was nothing that anybody could do. I just had to go with my body the way it was, but I didn’t do this very healthfully. I pledged that I would not look at my body because it had betrayed me. I didn’t make this pledge in just one day. It took time. For a while I kept looking at myself, hoping to see somebody different, to see a child who could safely change clothes in front of others without humiliation. That was not possible. And I think for the experience, I did not feel normal and healthy, thus I did not feel like a girl on the inside or outside.  This notion that one must be “normal” and “healthy” in order to be fully human as “girl” or “boy” represents distorted, ableist ideas where bodies are judged against a mythical norm.  The fact of the matter is, bodies are mysterious, and often times doctors and parents are helpless to understand a child’s early puberty or a myriad of other medicalized differences defined against arbitrary norms.

Today I wrote a poem that feels very sad when I read it again:


I don’t know if it has been the string of rainy days,
the ideas I haven’t been able to articulate,
or the experiences ripped open and crying that
I still can’t hand over what I have known.

I hate to go on existing without explanation,
meanwhile some say they don’t want to be described.
I don’t know what it is in me that wants Existence
with a capital E, that wants you to see all of me.

And, yet, even the word genital loses its distraction
after enough usage. After a while, my explanations
turn into losses, turn into more wordlessness spawned
of story, of self-taught meaning, of reclaimed memory.

Sometimes in the struggle against being defeatist, I open a window of doubt, and I let it shout or whisper what it wants. I was feeling like that’s all I had to give today, and then somehow I found the energy to write this blog, because it’s true, I want to Exist. And sometimes the mental and emotional space that I try to exist within is much too small and cut off from my dreams.  I hope by stating that cissexuals may also struggle with gender dissonance, I am opening up that space for myself and others, a space that truly values Trans activism’s teachings.


About pennapril

poet, tarot reader
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