What are cissexism and heterosexism?
Cissexism is when someone conflates genitals with gender, in any way. Sometimes the term is used interchangeably with transphobia, but it’s more commonly used to describe the specific circumstances where anyone makes the assumption that all members of one gender have a specific set of genitals.
Heterosexism is when someone assumes that all relationships are comprised of man/woman pairs, and that all people are romantically and sexually interested solely in partners of the “opposite” gender.
Generally, neither is as violent or hateful as transphobia or homophobia, but they are no less damaging to trans and same-gender attracted folks, and are sometimes even more damaging because they come from people who call themselves allies. It can be easier to ignore someone who hates you using damaging and invalidating language than to cope with someone who says they are on your team, casually ignoring your gender, body, or relationships.
I’m going to break down a few statements that we see frequently from the sex positive or politically left communities.
“Ladies, listen up! It’s time to talk about periods!” – not all ladies get their periods, and not everyone who gets their period is a lady. There are men and non-binary folks who menstruate. If you want to talk about periods, try saying “Let’s talk about periods!” and not include gender in the conversation.
“Feminine hygeine products” – this is a similar one: it’s referring to menstrual products, but using “feminine” as a reference to a uterus and vagina and the menstrual cycle (I also dislike the word “hygeine” here, implying that periods are unhygeinic or dirty, but that complaint isn’t related to cissexism). Just say “menstrual products”.
“Men don’t want anything but pussy.” – this is a complaint about the behavior of men, but is assuming that a) all men are interested in having sex with woman, and b) all woman have a vagina. A way to revise this might be, “Straight men don’t want anything but sex,” or “men disrespect women by using sexism as power.”
“All men just want to get their dicks wet!” – this assumes that all men have penises.
“Any sexually active woman is at risk of getting pregnant.” – there are a lot of assumptions here, all of which center around the idea that a woman has a vagina and her male partner has a penis. A woman could have a penis, a woman could be dating another woman with a vagina, a woman could be dating a man with a vagina, a woman could even be infertile or have been sterilized. The conversation about preventing unintentional pregnancies is a valuable one, but using language like this is innacurate and alienating.
“Abortion is a woman’s health issue.” – No, abortion is a human health issue. There are men and non-binary folks who have the ability to get pregnant, and therefore have the need for safe and affordable and accessible abortions. Yes, the conservative right specifically targets women’s sexual expression by denying the right to an abortion, but that’s because they don’t even recognize trans bodies as existing. We don’t need to sink to their level of discourse in order to fight against it.
If you’re talking about a gendered issue, use gendered language: “toxic masculinity is a pattern of thoughts and behaviors in men.” “Women’s voices are silenced in technical fields.”
If you’re talking about a physical/genital issue, use biological language: “people with prostates should have prostate screenings every four years.” “People who are pregnant who do not want to be pregnant have the fight to a safe and accessible abortion.”
Most importantly: don’t make assumptions. You have no way of knowing what someone’s gender is or what their genitals look like, or what their partners’ genders are, or what kinds of genitals they have. Make sure, when you’re fighting for human rights and fighting against regressive and sexist patterns of behavior that you don’t perpetuate them.