A Point About Cis

Lisa at Questioning Transphobia just posted a great article about the term cis, people’s response to the word, and how privilege interrelates:

Cis is not targeted at gay white men, nor is it targeted at feminist women, nor is it targeted at any one particular demographic. Cis people are everywhere. At the most liberal interpretation we’re aware of, cis people make up ~480-495 out of  every 500 people on Earth.

Cis is not an insult, it’s not a slur. It is, however, as much of an identity as trans is, even if most cis people never stop to think about the fact that they’re cis, that they just assume that being what they are (”I’m just a person, I’m not cis/white/het/able-bodied!”) is the normal way to be.

Being cis doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Having privilege doesn’t make anyone a bad person. When you sit back and you think “that person who’s calling me cis is saying I have privilege and thus I AM A TERRIBLE PERSON” consider that the trans person who says that may be white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied, or otherwise privileged. That trans person who says that may even have come to terms with hir own privileges, and does not take it personally when her privilege is pointed out to her.

And what does this privilege really mean? It means several things. Having privilege means is that it’s something you don’t have to think about. As far as you’re concerned, culture is designed to accommodate you in this particular way, treat you as if you’re normal, the human default with regards to gender identity (if you’re a male and identify yourself as a man, or you’re a female and identify yourself as a woman). You don’t have to think about your gender identity because everyone considers it natural. People may consider how you do gender to be wrong, but they don’t question whether you are a man or a woman. They may think that a man attracted to men or a woman attracted to women is doing gender wrong because you’re not heterosexual, but that is homophobia, and is not the same thing that trans people experience. I say this as a trans woman who is also a lesbian.

Go read the rest of the article.

Edited to add:

While we are on the topic, dglenn at Speaker for the Diodes has a comprehensive post on the language concerns surrounding cis, cissexual and cisgender:

Folks, ‘cisgendered’ (or ‘cisgender’1) and ‘cisssexual’ really are intended to be neutral terms and will be so until/unless some sort of general stigma gets attached to the concept of living / identifying / presenting as the gender society always expected of you because it was on your birth certificate. I don’t see that ever being likely. (I have a hunch that I’ll be responding to a lot of criticisms of this essay by pointing back to this very pragraph, starting at that “until”.)

It’s important to note that there’s no reclaiming of an old slur involved, nor repurposing of a word with other baggage, because ‘cisgendered’ was coined specifically for this meaning and this purpose, and wasn’t a word before that. Any baggage the word has now has to have accrued entirely over the last decade and a half.

The reason it feels jarring — “naming”? “marking”? — to you, and gets your hackles up is quite simply that y’all are accustomed to being the unmarked class, and giving you any concise name is going to feel like an imposed label that, because you’re not used to having to acknowledge a label at all, some of you start to suspect is somehow insulting or denigrating.

Dglenn also points out that being a member of an unmarked class does not justify one’s opposition to being labeled by the members of the marked class:

An argument I’ve heard is that since we transgendered people get to tell others what labels to use for us and which words are unacceptable, cisgendered people should not have a label forced upon them. But we never got to choose whether to have a label; we only got to argue about which labels we didn’t find insulting. The ‘cis’ debate appears (so far) to be about whether cis-folk should be given a label at all, which is hard to see as anything other than default-class privilege.

You don’t get to hold on to being “just plain [unmarked] men” and “just plain [unmarked] women” and not have a label for your class, because that continues to promote the idea that trans men and trans women aren’t really men and women. I sure hope that you can understand why trying to stop that meme is important enough to risk pissing off some folks we’d been on good speaking terms with before they started insisting on turning back the clock.

Please read the rest of the article at dglenn’s blog.


~ by timberwraith on July 4, 2009.

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