Cis as Default

Finding transgender representation in a cisgender world

While watching the first season of Arrested Development, I mentioned to my fiancée that, although the shows writers may not have intended this, the character of Tobias reads as a transgender woman who has not yet accepted who she is. I went on to explain how Tobias wearing their wife’s blouse in episode one, their never-naked quirk, and how they were ready to kiss the marriage counselor while roleplaying as their wife were solid, textual examples of this. Although I am comfortable talking to my fiancée about this idea, I would be reluctant to share it on a fan site because of the inevitable backlash of fans who function from a cis as default mode.

I hate when people say you cannot argue that a character is canonically transgender unless the author explicitly says, “Yes, this is a transgender character” or unless the character specifically says “I am transgender.”

If there is enough textual evidence to make a solid, supported case for a character being transgender, you can legitimately claim the character is canonically transgender without a specific “word of god” declaration (provided the author has not specifically said, “No this character is not transgender”).

To immediately say that all characters must be cisgender by default is an example of cisgender bias and the erasure of transgender identities. When there is enough evidence to support a claim that a character is transgender and there is no unassailable proof otherwise, it is a legitimate interpretation of the evidence to say the character is transgender.

Further, the idea that a character whose transgender or cisgender identity is left open to interpretation by an author must only be serving as a transgender metaphor while remaining cisgender is complete cac. You cannot eliminate a legitimate interpretation or write it off as rhetorical simply because it does not fit with your preconceived notion of how the world works. That is another example of cisgender bias.

In reality there are people who are transgender and literature, tv shows, and movies that reflect this reality can acknowledge the presence of transgender people without having to explicitly say the character is transgender. You cannot eliminate legitimate textual analysis and possibilities just because it is not common in your personal experience. Good writing is about opening you up to experiences outside of your own. Limiting the existence of transgender characters to only under a very narrow set of conditions flies in the face of what good story telling is: the opportunity to see and experience a reality vaster and more encompassing than your own.