Privilege is more often than not taken for granted, and can be difficult to recognize without a few hints. We aren't used to consistently thinking “How would [minority group] feel right now?”. Privilege, or a lack thereof, has the ability to seep into every part of life- individual, legal, societal. Having privilege is automatic: it doesn't make you a bad person. This quote from “Fannie's Room” puts privilege in perspective:
“Having certain privileges isn't about being a "bad" person. It's about being aware that your experience in life is largely seen as a norm, as the standard, even though other people have equally-valid experiences in life. It's about being aware of how some people are the statistical norm, other people are made to feel pathological, wrong, immoral, and unwelcome in certain places because there are fewer of them. We aren't part of the problem just because we're privileged. We become part of the problem only when deny our privilege while promoting the idea that there is only one correct, non-pathological way to live and be in the world.“
Some privileges intersect. For instance, you may not feel the threat of death for being transgender, but you might for being gay. In the process of transitioning, I have both gained and lost privilege. At the beginning of my transition, I still looked female (at best, androgynous), but the more I have transitioned and the more I look male, the more privilege I gain. I gained heterosexual privilege (as an individual, and with my relationship with my female partner.) I gained male privilege (but only so long as I am not out to the group as transgender.) I have also lost certain privileges: I have lost any cisgender privilege I had in the past since I have come out as transgender. How I am treated can depend on how “out” I am as transgender.
For many transgender people who are transitioning to the 'opposite' side of gender-- female to male, male to female-- it is a question of how “out” they want to be, how “out” they should be, and how “out” they need to be. Presenting as male and having an “F” indicate my sex on my identification automatically “outs” me. Having a legal name that is obviously female, and consistently going by an obviously male name has the ability to “out” me. I do not have a fully transitioned body, so this makes it necessary to be out to my sexual partner. While studies have found that glb people are happier and eventually safer in their life while they are out, there are indications that trans people are not always happier or safer while out. Trans people are very aware of the privilege they gain when no one knows they are trans.
Takes Up Space has an excellent cisgender privilege list.
Here are a few cisgender privileges from the list:
Information important for me to keep private will not be revealed by:
Pictures from my childhood
The language used to refer to me
I expect the privacy of my body to be respected. I am not asked about what my genitals look like, or whether or not my breasts are real, what medical procedures I have had, etc.
I expect access to healthcare.
I expect that medical therapies offered to me have been the subject of rigorous medical studies & approval processes.
Treatments which are medically necessary for me are generally covered by insurance.
A side note about medical necessity: Often the reason used by health insurance companies for denying coverage of any transition-related care is that it isn't medically necessary, despite both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association affirming that these treatments are a medical necessity for transgender people who wish to transition. (Also, often insurance companies will deny any treatment that has a possibility to be related to transitioning- not paying for a prostate exam for a male to female transsexual, or not paying for treatments for ovarian cancer for a female to male transsexual claiming it was a result of taking testosterone)
So, now what-- what can you do if you are cisgender and share in cisgender privilege?
You can try to be more aware of your privilege.
Being aware means making room for people who are transgender, in your language and your actions. It means you take certain actions that recognize the privilege you have, and attempt to afford the same for others. (Perhaps by sticking up for a transman that uses the men's restroom) For cis privilege, it means respecting a trans person as their gender identity, using correct pronouns and names and other gendered language. Because of the nature of transgenderism, there will always be cisgender privilege, but if cisgender and transgender people made an effort to make the world more trans-friendly, my belief is that there would certainly be less of it.
Roz Kaveney has six axioms of trans activism:
1) Display solidarity with all our trans brothers and sisters
2) Build alliances by getting involved as ourselves in other areas of politics
3) Refuse to let journalistic and intellectual attacks on our community go unanswered- we can have and keep the moral high ground
4) Be creative, be smart, be ourselves, and don't let anybody tell us who we are and what we do
5) Refuse the pathological model- we are not sick, just different
6) Refuse those politics- heterosexism, body fascism- that work against all of the above, but especially #1.