2 min

Sophia Banks: cisnormativity hurts everyone

Algonquin College’s Queer Student Alliance presents Acceptance Day, talks on inclusivity and trans issues

Trans activist Sophia Banks is delivering the keynote at Algonquin College’s Acceptance Day. Credit: Submitted

Noted trans activist Sophia Banks is coming to Algonquin College’s Acceptance Day to talk about cisnormativity.

Taking place on Jan 29, 2016, Acceptance Day is presented by the Algonquin Queer Student Alliance and will also feature talks by Miss Helvetica Bold and Toronto writer Anne Thériault. Banks tells us more in this edited interview.

Daily Xtra: What is cisnormativity?

Sophia Banks: Cisnormativity is when people think of cis as the default. When you say only women get pregnant that’s cisnormative because men get pregnant and non-binary people can get pregnant. The default assumption that cis bodies are everyone’s bodies kind of erases trans people.

Caitlyn Jenner said last month that “if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.” What was your reaction?

I was actually infuriated by that, the respectability politics behind it. It harms people. Not everyone has the money to disappear and go do this transition and not everyone wants to, and the reality is we shouldn’t have to. I thought it was a lot of victim-blaming. It was really crude and insensitive to low-income trans people who can’t afford what she can afford.

What does the expectation of these cisnormative standards mean for trans people?

It’s just very harmful to us. For so many years I hated who I was, and when I finally came out I couldn’t meet these standards. When I was first transitioning, by the end of the day, I’d have a five o’clock shadow. I’d be out in makeup and a dress on the bus and people are giving me weird looks and I’d get massive anxiety attacks. 

Cisnormativity is toxic and creates this culture where we can only be ourselves as trans people if we do it in a way that cis people find acceptable. We’re essentially granted this tiny bit of permission if we agree to follow these rules.

In a recent interview you said most of the online harassment you receive comes from women. What needs to happen for cis women to become better allies to trans women?

Probably stop reading those horrible books [by writers] like Germaine Greer. A lot of that 1970s radical feminism was very transphobic. I think a lot of that aggressive transphobia in feminism is starting to fade with the younger generation, but where I get a lot of resistance is in shelters. All the body-shaming and reasons why trans women shouldn’t be allowed in women’s shelters is the antithesis of feminism. If I’m not feminine or I can’t afford to remove my facial hair, I’m not pretty enough and I’m not allowed in a woman’s shelter.

What do you like about speaking at events like Acceptance Day?

I kind of got into activism just to save my life, make my life better, and as I got into it obviously there’s value in helping other people. If you change one person and that person has a conversation with their family at dinner, then that changes someone [else].