By Maria Ciobanu

When I first expressed interest in taking a class called “Women and Leadership,” back in September, it was as a cis girl. Or at least, so I thought. Since then, though, I’ve been slowly but surely coming to terms with my identity as non-binary. But what does that mean for my relationship with feminism?

Taking this class meant that I had to do a great deal of navigation on that front. The environment is very much one of empowerment for women — and there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, it just doesn’t apply to me personally. I’ve mostly discovered that my relationship with feminism is unbelievably complicated. It’s not something that I can explain to a cisgender person. No offense, but the cis understanding of gender, on an emotional level, fundamentally lacks nuance.

These tangled, convoluted feelings I had to navigate were not helped by the overwhelming environment of cisnormativity in discussions about feminism, especially while I was still trying to figure out who I am.

Consider this: I, a non-binary individual, menstruate. I do not experience dysphoria because of said menstruation. I sit down in a class about women and leadership, and listen to people discuss periods, abortion, etc. as if they are exclusively women’s issues.

This association gets internalized, even though I know better on an intellectual level, and I start to feel more uncertain in my gender identity. If periods are an inherently female thing, and being on my period doesn’t make me want to crawl out of my skin, I must not really be trans, right? This is, of course, far from the truth, but knowing that and being able to quash that doubt are two very different things.

Placing such a huge emphasis on periods, abortion, contraception, etc. as a female issue also excludes trans women from the discussion. I’m not going to speak on behalf of trans women about their experiences and relationship with this kind of feminism, since I myself am not a trans woman, but they are so often left out of consideration when it comes to feminism.

Cis people involved in feminism need to take a more active role in breaking down the rampant cisnormativity so often seen around menstruation, abortion, contraceptives, period products, so on and so forth. If you notice it, call it out. And if someone calls you out on it, don’t get defensive, and don’t start walking on eggshells. Take the criticism and move on. 

It is exhausting on a level that cis people will never understand for trans people to have our gender identities invalidated from every direction and then sit down in discussions such as these and have to remind people that we exist.

MARIA CIOBANU is an aspiring novelist and linguist from Denver, Colorado, currently attending Bard College at Simon’s Rock. They enjoy musical theater and playing the violin, and find writing about themself in the third person quite amusing.