The Need for a Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cis-trans binary and I think it would be helpful to create a scale which expressed gradations of intensity of transgender feelings between the two poles.

When I was a teenager I struggled to reconcile my lemming-like crushes on girls with my furtive desire to wear lipstick and look in the bathroom mirror while I shoved a shampoo bottle up my ass through a pair of frilly panties I found from god knows where.  After mixing a pint of booze with a joint and my mom’s ambien to dissociate from it all I have a hard time remembering the details.  I also struggled to reconcile my dislike of kissing a boy with the satisfaction of craning my neck and extending my tongue out to lap up the cum that had dribbled out of my mouth onto the ash-covered upholstery of the same boy’s car.  I was desperately grasping around for a rope that would lead me out of the quicksand of anxiety lining the bottom of the hetero-homo canyon.  Instead of a rope, I found a compass: the Kinsey scale.

Kinsey’s Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale

Kinsey’s Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale accounts for varying shades of straight, gay, and bisexual sexual orientations, with an understanding that precedence of attraction to one sex or the other can vary over time, or in quality or intensity.  The scale also shakes up the heteronormative paradigm because a majority of people cannot be classified as exclusively heterosexual, as the thousands of craigslist ads with the headline “wanna suk ur str8 cock tonite” attest.  In Sexual Behavior of the Human Male (1948), Kinsey wrote “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats…The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”

Kinsey opted to quantize the sexual orientation continuum into seven steps:

0: exclusively heterosexual
1: predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2: predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3: equally heterosexual and homosexual
4: predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5: predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6: exclusively homosexual

I can still remember the relief I felt when I realized I was allowed to be a 2.  All the worry that I was in denial about being gay, all the confusion about the fact that I was not perfectly equally bi, and all the pressure to “figure it out” dissipated, and I could finally explore my sexuality as it was.  Unfortunately this realization left me convinced my struggles with gender were incidental to my sexuality, and allowed me to ignore them for another decade.

Could it be useful to have a similar Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale?

Benjamin’s Flawed Sex Orientation Scale

A lot of transgender people who are familiar with Harry Benjamin’s existing Sex Orientation Scale, which was the first attempt to quantize the cis-trans continuum are probably not a fan of this idea.  For years this scale was used by gatekeepers as justification for denying medical treatment to male-to-female transsexuals who were exclusively attracted to women, or who did not parrot the narrative typical of the “true transsexual.”

The problem with Benjamin’s scale, however, is not with the general idea of having a transgender intensity scale, but with it’s rigid delineations between shades in the spectrum.  Why acknowledge that transvestism and transsexuality occur in a spectrum and then divvy the spectrum up into a series of overlapping binaries of “true vs pseudo,” “transvestite vs transsexual,” “surgical vs nonsurgical,”  “fetishistic vs identity-related,” and “androphilic vs gynephilic?”  And while the degree to which one is transgender might be at least correlated with one’s sexual orientation on the Kinsey scale, to use that correlation in a normative and prescriptive manner rather than a positive and descriptive manner is certainly inappropriate.

Do these problems with Benjamin’s scale mean the use of such a scale is inherently wrong?  No.  I propose an alternative Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale which is simple and descriptive, just like Kinsey’s sexual orientation scale.

An Alternative Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale

First, define cisgender as being comfortable with one’s assigned gender, having no self-identification with or desire to be or express characteristics of another gender; and transgender as being uncomfortable with one’s assigned gender, having a self-identification with or desire to be or express characteristics of another gender.  How would you rate yourself on the following scale?

0: completely cisgender
1: predominantly cisgender, only incidentally transgender
2: predominantly cisgender, but more than incidentally transgender
3: equally cisgender and transgender
4: predominantly transgender, but more than incidentally cisgender
5: predominantly transgender, only incidentally cisgender
6: completely transgender

Just as Kinsey’s scale challenges heteronormativity, this scale challenges cisnormativity.  I have a really hard time believing a majority of people would rate themselves as completely cisgender.  But it would be delusional of me to think that I can convince everyone that gender is as much bullshit as I think it is.  As a discussed in a recent post on multisexualism, some compelling evidence shows that gender is not one hundred percent socially constructed.  No matter how I wish we would socialize our children differently, I have to accept that a majority of people are going to be comfortable with expectations of sexually dimorphic behavior.

Likewise, the scale also responds to criticism from feminists (including myself) and butch lesbians who reject the intelligibility and implications of the term “cisgender.”  A century ago being a “cis” woman would have meant identifying with being chattel.  It still would mean that today in some parts of the world.  Does being a “cis” woman mean being comfortable with oppression?  And surely gender-non-conforming people who do not identify as transgender cannot be said to be comfortable with gender.

Furthermore, the scale rejects the drawing of lines between “transgender” and “transsexual” and “cisgender” and “cissexual,” while acknowledging variation in the intensity of discomfort with one’s assigned gender and its correlation with the desire for body modification.  Post-op, non-op, pre-op, and no-ho transsexuals are not fundamentally different species.  Who’s to say someone who feels fine with facial electrolysis and breast forms has a different “subconscious sex” from someone with an urgent need for genital surgery?

The scale is independent of what the “other gender” may be, so that neutrois, third gender, agender people and others could fall anywhere along this scale.  But for myself, I see genderqueer as a response to the condition of being somewhere in-between cisgender and transgender rather than as a separate gender identity.  In the past, it would have been more common for someone like me to practice classical cross-dressing or transvestism, creating and living out separate male and female personae, whereas now it is hopefully possible for me to inhabit a blended or integrated, partially transgender identity and personal expression.

Letting Myself be Partially Trans

How would I rate myself currently?  I’d say I’m a 4, I guess.   I’m hoping that accepting that I am partially transgender will end my analysis paralysis about what I want to do with my transition.  Whether I want to keep my beard or not seems less tied to whether I want to try to pass as a woman.  Before I worried I had a limited time to figure out if I’m transsexual before my child reaches adolescence.  Accepting that being partially transgender is possible not only allows me to consider that I might be more trans than I think I am with less fear.  It also reduces the pressure to “figure it out” and just do what feels right day by day.

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14 thoughts on “The Need for a Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale

  1. Jonathan February 1, 2015 / 12:57 pm

    I tried to write a post about the cis/trans “dichotomy” but gave it up as too difficult. I think the main problem is with the word “cisgender” itself. Julia Serano articulates some of this here: http://juliaserano.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/cissexism-and-cis-privilege-revisited.html – showing why she has mostly used “cis” as meaning “cissexual” not “cisgender”.

    Anyway, when the “transgender” umbrella is reckoned to include anyone who says it does, it hardly makes sense to say that everyone else is therefore “cisgender” – for one thing, they could easily change their minds.

    Personally, I identify on “on the nebulous border between cis and trans”. By which I mean that, rather than being halfway between trans and cis on a continuum, I’m cis in some contexts and trans in others. The precise context in which sex and gender are being considered would need to be specified before I could say whether I’m cis or trans in any instance.

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    • pasunhomme February 1, 2015 / 5:34 pm

      It is quite a difficult issue. I admit my own post has a lot of flaws.

      Yes, the term “cisgender” is a huge problem. Imagine if I called a black person cisracial. My primary point, though, I think the problem is lessened if someone can be “predominantly cisgender” rather than simply “cisgender”. A vaginaed person doesn’t want to shave nir legs and get raped by nir husband? Then ne’s not completely cisgender. But if gender doesn’t present an existential crisis for nem, ne’s not transgender either.

      My problem with “cissexual” is that “transsexual” was a marketing term invented by an endocrinologist who saw a business opportunity. There’s no birth condition that predestines one for HRT. Regardless of Julia’s interpretation of nir experience, I don’t believe there was a fundamental difference between Julia Serano and me at birth. If transsexual means “one who has used medical technology to modify sexual characteristics of the body” then, sure, I’m cissexual. If it means some conjecture about sexed brain maps of the body, then we’re in the la la land of unfalsifiability.

      People can change their minds about being heterosexual or homosexual too. And multisexual people exist. Does that mean there’s no queer sexuality umbrella?

      Could you give examples of different contexts in which you are cis and trans? My transness is definitely a pervasive feeling in any context regardless of whether I am currently breaking any gender norms.

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      • Jonathan February 1, 2015 / 6:48 pm

        Okay, three simple examples: I’m cis as in cissexual because my assigned at birth sex according to my morphology (male) is consistent with what I know my sex to be (male). I’m trans as in transgender because certain parts of my gender expression and attributes are inconsistent with what the local culture regards as appropriate for my binary sex. And conversely, I’m neither cis nor trans because I regard those ideas of cultural gender “appropriateness” as an oppressive fiction.

        Similarly, Serano’s “norms with regard to sex embodiment” refers to cissexual – i.e. that someone’s sex is what it appears to be at first sight. Please note that I don’t regard transsexuality as a fictional condition invented by Harry Benjamin – rather as a pan-historic, pan-cultural facet of human existence, which medical science has only recently been able to respond to in a significant way. As for “sexed brain maps”, there is some evidence of difference in transsexual people’s brains, which might indicate some aetiology of some trans natures – but I have to say, I’m not really interested in aetiology. The pertinent evidence for me is empirical – trans people exist. And more generally, I (try to) work on the basis that the best person to explain someone’s sex and gender is that person themself.

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      • pasunhomme February 1, 2015 / 8:04 pm

        Before Serano transitioned, ne “was consciously aware of [nir] physical maleness at all times” p.80 and “thought ot [nemself] as a crossdresser and viewed [nir] subconscious sex as a ‘feminine side’ that was trying to get out” p. 84. (from Whipping Girl) So Julia thought ne was “cissexual” the way ne uses it as well. To me it seems that the only meaningful way to establish a difference between transgender and transsexual is that a transsexual person has modified nir body. Any other distinction is meaningless.

        The best way I can describe my own transness is that thinking of myself as a boy feels disturbing and wrong and thinking of myself as a girl feels joyful and right. It’s only loosely connected to either my body or my behavior. But the idea that the only way to feel the rightness on a consistent basis may be to subject myself to Dr. Frankenstein and pretend to be something I am not and barge into women’s safe spaces is intensely infuriating to me. If I had described my own experience with gender independently, I would have written something exactly like Julia did in Chapters 5 and 17 of Whipping Girl, except I had the fortune of reading nir book before doing the many years of crossdressing and could fast-forward in a sense to “bigender queer boy”. I just can’t accept that there’s not another way to go from there…

        Sure, transness was not invented by Benjamin. The “treatment” was. I guess I’m a lhamana trapped in a European body.

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      • Jonathan February 1, 2015 / 9:02 pm

        “I just can’t accept that there’s not another way to go from there…” Well, of course there is. Transitioning (wherever and however) is not the only solution. These are hugely personal matters and there’s no exclusively “right” way to go.

        I always quote Patrick Califia at these moments: “The best we can do is speak our own truth, make it safe for others to speak theirs, and respect our differences.”

        My own “transness” is a disconnect between my own gender and cultural ideas of gender. I reject those cultural ideas intellectually (from a feminist-derived position) but I still have to deal with them.

        PS Sorry, I’m not going to be watching a video by Terri Strange. I already know what she’s going to say. And on one level, in one context (albeit a very important one) for gender – i.e. as a socially constructed hierarchy which oppresses women – of course she’s right. But that’s not the one in which “cis privilege” is generally used – she just imposes her own context and critiques from that.

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      • pasunhomme February 1, 2015 / 9:23 pm

        The “context” Terri speaks about is earth, for the last ten thousand years. Is there another context to consider?

        “Julia Serano is a woman” is not speaking a truth. Now, in the same way, “Terri Strange is a woman” is not speaking a truth either. It’s speaking, and I agree everyone should speak with safety and respect. But truth is truth, not someone’s truth.

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      • Jonathan February 1, 2015 / 11:06 pm

        By “context” I meant that in which a word has a particular “meaning”. And by “impose a context” I meant taking a word in one context where it has one meaning and imposing it on another context in which it has a different meaning. Is that any clearer? I’m can’t tell. It’s getting late here :/ . But anyway… when it comes to gender, I guess it depends whether you think “gender” only ever has one valid context (and therefore one meaning), whether it is and can only ever be one thing (e.g. an oppressive hierarchy), or whether it can be and mean something else as well.

        As for “truth is truth”, I don’t think we can ever talk about categorical truth when it comes to people, things that are true for everyone all the time. We can talk usefully about general truth – that which is true for most people, or for a lot of people, or most of a class of people, and so forth – but at the individual level I think ultimately it comes down to personal truth, what is true for us as individuals, and that is for each of us individually to say. We run into this all the time in the trans community. Our own truths (about ourselves) are usually so hard won, we assume they must be true for everyone else as well. But when we do that we’re almost always wrong.

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    • pasunhomme February 1, 2015 / 6:07 pm

      From Julia’s article: “I focused on transsexuality because, at the time, it felt like most of the discussion about transgender issues (especially within feminist and queer circles) placed more interest and concern for those who challenge societal norms with regard to gender expression, while often ignoring or outright dismissing issues faced by transsexuals (who primarily defy norms with regard to gender identity and sex embodiment)”

      WTF are “norms with regard to sex embodiment”? Did they exist before Harry Benjamin invented transsexuality in 1949?

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    • hyucham May 20, 2016 / 10:58 am

      Maybe I am getting this all wrong, but I don’t think it makes anyone partially transgendered, when they are rejecting traditional male or female roles.

      I’m female and people would call me cis, but I hate many many things women and girls are expected to do, wear, say, etc. I like taking charge, I hate being quiet, I love computers and technology, I shout back at men who harrass me, I hate cooking and cleaning, I had a tomboyish-phase in my youth where I rejected make-up, colorful clothing, hair-dye, skirts and dresses, jewelry etc., I don’t like being submissive in any type of relationship, but especially romantic and sexual ones.

      But I never was and am not trans. I am simply partially gender-non-conforming (I say partially, because some things considered feminine I like – e.g. being empathetic, caring and kind, resorting to words and not violence to solve dissagreements, I have come to like and feel comfortable in more feminine clothing, etc.).

      I believe we need to reject the whole idea that certain behaviours or apperances are tied to being female or male and call it bullshit. Men should be able to wear dresses, wear make-up, take primary care of their children, stay at home, be caring and gentle and sensitive – and – women should be able to cut their hair short, wear no-make-up or jewelry, do male-dominated jobs, reject the idea of having children, ride motorbikes and be tough, self-confident and be loud and visible – if they wish to.

      The whole idea that I’m partially male, because I like to be a leader and because I like to speak up is bullshit. Men don’t have a monopoly on being leaders and speaking up. They don’t own it. And women don’t own gentleness and empathy.

      Women don’t own feminity and men don’t own masculinty.

      It was assigned to us – against our will.

      There a biological differences between men and women. But apperance and a significant part of behaviour is not something that can be seperated into either male or female. It’s HUMAN behaviour and no gender or sex owns it.

      I have friends who wanted to transition FTM, because their gender-non-conformity was so strong it made their lifes as women difficult and they thought becoming male would solve things. It took and takes a lot of hard work to cast that off and realize and accept that there is nothing wrong with their womanhood – actually they are fine just the way they are and it’s society’s expectations that are fucked up and need to change.

      That’s just me and I’m sorry if I misinterpreted what you were saying. But if I understood you correctly your scale would make me partially transgendered and some of my friends both cis and trans at the same time and I don’t think that’s accurate.

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      • pasunhomme May 21, 2016 / 9:48 pm

        I believe you speak in accordance with the truth. I wonder what you mean when you say you are “female” though. My interpretation of this statement is that the length of your genital tubercle at birth was short enough and the likelihood of your being able to conceive a child if that was desired (or forced upon you) was great enough for the medical establishment and government to classify you into a subordinate caste without the surgery that is sometimes applied to prevent awareness of the artificiality of the gender caste system. Is that what you mean?

        All dichotomies are illusions. A commitment to justice morally obligates anyone aware of the artificiality of gender to a position of gender abolitionism.

        If all dichotomies are illusions, than so is the dichotomy of cis and trans. If anyone is trans, we all all are. That was the thesis of this post.

        As Kinsey said, the world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Unfortunately we live in a world where sheep go to heaven and goats go to hell.

        Thanks for commenting!

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      • hyucham May 23, 2016 / 7:44 pm

        My view is that we don’t need a rating scale of trans and cis. Because – if I understand you correctly – one would be more cis, if one conformed more to gender roles and more trans, if one was less gender-conforming. I would say instead of labeling anyone trans, cis, or 70% this 30% that – use no such labels. Just call them humans. Because males don’t own what we call masculinity and females don’t own feminity.

        Yes, I would say somebody is female or male, when born with the commonly associated sex characteristics. I know that there are intersex people, but that’s not the focus here.

        Some of what I do and like is gender-conforming and some is not. It makes no sense for me to call myself partially trans, because the things I do or like aren’t inherently male (or female). There is no transitioning in my view, because I am just a girl who like some typical guy stuff (which isn’t really guy stuff, we just call it that, because that’s gender roles for ya).

        My liking of computer software and me liking to lead conversations and groups does not make me partially male. And I got the impression that with this scale, you were suggesting me not fully conforming to gender roles, makes me somehow something inbetween male and female and I am not.

        If you believe gender is bullshit then you need neither a dichotomy nor a scale. There is just people. Just humans. And some can get pregnant and some can impregnate (considering they have their full sexual health). And there are a few other biological differences. But we don’t let that divide us or let it rate us on a scale. I think we are all to complex and our behaviours and personalities are subject to too much change – I don’t think a scale does it justice.

        Again – my point is that saying someone is partially trans for being not fully gender conforming does not make sense to me. Because trans implies that they are partially or really the other gender – and becoming less of what they were assigned at birth, by opting for behaviour usually associated with the opposite gender. It doesn’t logically follow in my opinion.

        I’m a woman who likes to be a leader and who likes coding. None of that makes me male. Unless you believe in gender. If you believe gender is real, then I am partially male. But gender is bullshit. So I’m an assertive female who likes computers. Just that.

        Hope that makes sense.
        I am gender abolitionist, btw. For me there are no dichotomies and no scales. We get rid of any differences that aren’t purely biological. That’s what I want at least.

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      • pasunhomme May 23, 2016 / 8:20 pm

        If there are no dichotomies, then no one is male or female because female essentially means “not-male.” The idea that someone is strictly male or female is similar the idea that everyone is either blond or not-blond. Or the idea that everyone is either Aryan or non-Aryan. It is harmful nonsense.

        I believe you are partially male. You have androgens in your body do you not? I am partially female. I have estrogen in my body. Do I not? If you disagree I would suggest reading my post on Multisexualism.

        The point is that sex and gender are not one-dimensional characteristics. Each person is a unique array of various characteristics. Unfortunately, the fact that we have been assigned to sexual castes is real and omnipresent and must be dealt with somehow.

        A rating scale between cis and trans is not ideal to me. However, without it the only tenable position would be that trans does not exist. This position leads to a bitter argument between supporters of trans rights and supporters of women’s rights, and in many cases the goals of these activists overlap. Imagine if they could work together!

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