Cisgenderism is the ideology that delegitimises people’s own designations of their genders (Ansara, 2012; Ansara & Hegarty, 2012; cf. Ansara, 2010). The increasing recognition of ‘trans’ as a potential site of resistance to pathologising psychotherapeutic ideologies corresponds historically with some therapists’ greater acceptance of people’s knowledge about their own genders. Some psychologists have claimed that psychology is becoming less discriminatory towards people whose assigned genders differ from their gender self-designations. For example, Hill and Willoughby (2005, p. 532) claimed that while ‘early studies of attitudes toward transsexuals among medical and psychiatric professionals documented fairly negative views attitudes among mental health professionals seem to be fairly positive 20 years later’. Recent empirical evidence from the first published study of cisgenderism (Ansara & Hegarty, 2012) contradicts Hill and Willougby’s (2005) claim.
This paper, for which I received the 2012 APA Division 44 Transgender Research Award, was a quantitative content analysis of pathologising and misgendering forms of cisgenderism in psychological literature on children’s genders and gender-associated expression from 1999 through 2008. Ansara and Hegarty (2012) documented that cisgenderism among psychological professionals has remained stable, that mental health professionals are significantly more cisgenderist than professionals in other fields, and that highly cisgenderist authors are the most widely cited and influential sources of knowledge on ‘trans’ topics in mental health professions (Ansara & Hegarty, 2012). In both explicitly pathologising and ‘affirmative’ psychotherapeutic contexts, the uncritical application of the ‘trans’ construct to people whose gender self-designations are not recognised by their external assignments has produced inaccurate assumptions and sweeping generalisations about ‘transpeople’, ‘trans community’, and ‘trans identity’. ‘Affirmative’ therapists play linguistic gymnastics with an ever-increasing number of labels designed to challenge pathologising and discriminatory assumptions associated with the concept of ‘gender identity disorder’. These supposed improvements by self-described ‘trans-affirmative’ and ‘trans-friendly’ therapists retain numerous elements of cisgenderist ideology.
The cisgenderism framework challenges the overt and subtle medicalisation of distress; the mischaracterisation of State-mediated oppressions as intrapsychic phenomena of ‘difference’; the shift from one essentialised gender binary (woman/man) to another (transgender/cisgender); the ‘coercive queering’ (Ansara, 2010) of people’s experiences; and the ethnocentric, ahistorical presumption that all people whose genders are delegitimised in medico-legal contexts can be labelled accurately as ‘trans’ or assumed to have ‘trans identities’. The cisgenderism framework (Ansara, 2012) offers a new psychotherapeutic model for moving beyond these simplistic ways of dealing with people and for improving psychotherapeutic practice with people whose gender self-designations have been de-legitimised. I will illustrate the benefits and practical relevance of the cisgenderism framework as a therapeutic model over existing ‘affirmative’ approaches and discuss challenges involved in implementation.
Y. Gavriel Ansara, MSc, AHEA, received the 2012 American Psychological Association Division 44 Transgender Research Award for making a significant and original research contribution and the 2011 UK Higher Education Academy National Psychology Postgraduate Teaching Award for excellence in teaching, supporting students, and making a positive impact in the community. He also received the 2002 Keshet Leadership of the Year Award for founding a gender and sexuality outreach project for people from traditional religious communities. His cisgenderism framework approach to psychotherapeutic practice is informed by a wide range of experiences that include award-winning formal scientific research, over a decade of grassroots activism, and over a decade of professional work in diverse clinical and community-based settings on several continents. Gávi was founding director of a regional charity that provided crisis intervention, advocacy, and support to people who experienced cisgenderist discrimination. He has conducted numerous accredited professional trainings for medical, legislative, educational, and psychological professionals. He is a polycultural final year PhD candidate in Psychology at the University of Surrey with supervisor Dr Peter Hegarty and Visiting Lecturer at Warsaw International Studies in Psychology (WISP) at the University of Warsaw. For more information, please visit Gávi’s website.