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posted by [personal profile] dglenn at 12:07pm on 2009-07-02

An Important Message About Vocabulary

While I do have a particular instance in mind, this little epistle is really in reaction to several comments, essays, loaded questions, and diatribes I've seen over the past three or four weeks in various places (though I hadn't seen it blow up into a shouting match anywhere until a couple of days ago). Note that if you don't know what the verb 'to other' means, or how the umbrella term 'transgender' is used, you may have some homework to do before getting into this. I expect that most of my readers already know those concepts.

[Minor edit to fit use of 'cisgender' instead of 'cisgendered' to current accepted style.]

Folks, '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 'cisgender' 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.

('cisgender', from 'cis-', "on the same side", + 'gender'; in contrast to 'trans-', "crossing over"; both from Latin, and both prefixes used in Chemistry with similar meanings.)

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.

"gender is like underwear: if it fits ya don't notice. If it doesn't, you can't avoid noticing" -- LaughrioTgirl, 2009-06-30

Stop a minute and ponder for a moment the magnitude and type of privilege that is contained in not having to think about or acknowledge a label. Compare that to TVs, TSes, DQs, DKs, GQs, and all other subgroups of transgendered people. You don't like it? Pick and popularize a different label, but pick one that doesn't stigmatize everybody else in contrast to it. That you now have a label doesn't 'other' you; it merely makes you like everybody else who has a label. If one group gets to insist on not having a label, that 'others' everyone else. If we remove the "default class" from you, that loss of privilege you have a gut reaction to isn't because you're being insulted; it's because the field just got a tiny (tiny!) bit more level.

(Here's a big hint: 'normal' and 'real' fail the doesn't-stigmatize-everyone-else condition spectacularly. Prefixing 'man'/'woman' with 'bio-' or 'genetic' or 'born' to denote not-trans, 'others' the rest of us slightly more subtly, but only slightly, and no less problematically. Either respect us, be an ally, and use non-othering language; or admit up front that you don't respect us -- that holding on to your privilege is more important than supporting us -- so we can classify this as a variation on the "tone argument" and write you off as Part Of The Problem.)

[1] While I learned 'transgendered' as having '-ed' on the end to make it an adjective (and applied the same pattern to 'cisgendered'), within the trans community you will find most now insist on 'transgender' and 'cisgender' as adjectives themselves, without an '-ed' suffix. If you see the '-ed' versions, they mean the same thing but are an older form.

Othering And Non-Othering Labels

Othering | Not (or Less) Othering
Unmarked2Marked | Equally MarkedEqually Marked
normalsouthpaw | right-handedleft-handed
straightkinky | vanillakinky
straightqueer | hetgay, lesbian, bi
'queer' sometimes works here as well
faithfulpoly | monogamouspolyamorous
regular guygeek | lay usertechie
normaldeaf | hearingdeaf
real womantranny | cis woman trans woman
bio-mantransman | cis mantrans man

[2] I've labelled one member of each row "unmarked", though they're obviously no longer completely unmarked in a list like this, since they have acquired one or more form of normalcy tag as a result of the 'other' being talked about. In many situations these are literally unmarked however, so that the Other is assumed to be entirely absent unless specifically mentioned by label.

This table illustrates othering combinations of labels, and non-othering or at least less othering pairs.

Note that it is generally the name for the unmarked state, and its implications of being normal/default/good/real, rather than the name for the marked state, that makes the unmarked/marked pairings problematical and othering. 'rightie'/'southpaw' would be fine, because the problem with the first example isn't the word 'southpaw', it's the claiming of right-handedness as the unmarked state. The problem with 'normal'/'regular'/'real' should be obvious; the flaw with 'straight' may be less so. If that's the case for you, consider how many different layers of meaning there are on the word 'straight': pure (unadulterated), honest (not crooked), undamaged (not bent), sober (not using drugs), clear (not confusing or obfuscating). Now reconsider what message you're sending by defining your class as 'straight' and some other class as not-straight. (I did not get this myself until a stranger took me to task for using 'straight' to mean 'het', and even then my first instinct was to get defensive about it instead of thinking about what his point was.)

Note also that some of the marked/unmarked pairs have problems of inaccuracy as well! Many people who do not identify as polyamourous, are not in explicitly polyamorous relationships, and even sneer at poly folk for being immoral, cheat on their partners. And many members of polyamorous N-ads are faithful to the promises they've made to each other. A "genetic woman" (an older usage that I don't hear as often nowadays) usually only knows her exact chromosomal makeup if something goes wrong that leads to a test -- we just assume that babies who look female and grow up to be women are XX because that's most likely, but we don't check ... and a few transsexual individuals discover along the way that they aren't the XX or XY their parents had assumed they were (for a particularly well known example, see Caroline Cossey, who is chromosomally XXXY).

Another set of terms, the cumbersome 'FAAB' and 'MAAB' meaning "female-assigned at birth" and "male-assigned at birth", attempt to sidestep that problem by digging down to what we usually mean to refer to anyhow: whether the parents were told, "congratulations, you have a daughter," or, "congratulations, you have a son," when the individual was born. Even "bio-" isn't a very meaningful label, since all humans are still biological, trans or not. Note that while 'FAAB' and 'MAAB' are useful in certain contexts when discussing the ideas of sex and gender abstractly, when used casually outside of that context they still reveal too much emphasis on the idea that initially-apparent biology = destiny, and can be used as sneakier ways of saying "real man" or "real woman" for cisgender in order to exclude trans individuals from gendered spaces.

Othering | Not Othering
UnmarkedMarked | Equally MarkedEqually Marked
real womantrans woman | womanwoman
bio-mantransman | manman

Finally, note that in most everyday contexts -- that is, normal social encounters and conversations and most policy matters, not specific medical or research or rights-activism contexts -- an even better version of the last two rows of the table would look like this version to the right --->

... but alas, I know there'll be a lot of pushback on that, from various quarters. Some of which really ought to know better. (There are some valid concerns there, and the conflict between different sets of rights and needs can be tricky to resolve, but more often the opposition to this idea stems from simple, conscious or unexamined cissexism.)

About Neutral vs. Non-Neutral Terms:

This started off with my observation of some same-gender-the-delivery-room-doctor-thought-they'd-be people's objections to being called 'cisgender', and complaining that it felt like a pejorative term (and one they hadn't chosen for themelves). So let's compare some value-neutral terms to some negative ones.

Value Neutral
or pretty close
Disparaging Or Worse
gay man, lesbianfag, dyke, pansy, lezbo
heterosexual, hetbreeder
person of color[I'm sure we can all come up with far more examples to go here than we need, and I really don't even want to type most of those words]
indigenous peoplessavages
ChristianJesus freak,
fundamentalist Christianfunnymentalist,
fundamentalist with OT emphasisLevitican
atheist, apathistGodless heathen
RepublicanRepug, Rethuglican
transgender person,
tranny3, shemale, he-she, it
cisgender person,

cis person
cissie or cissy4

[3] N.b.! There is ongoing debate within the T* community over the use and attempted reclaiming of this word by trans men. Many trans women feel that since the negative use has mostly been directed at trans women and also used against any woman the speaker deemed "not femmy enough" (or in at least one case that comes to mind, for just being wrongheaded and mean-spirited despite being gender-conforming), it is therefore not trans men's word to reclaim.

[4] I've never heard these in the wild. And, significantly, the only real sting in them comes from being homophones of 'sissy' -- by suggesting a meaning very different from their actual root!

The examples I'm giving here may become dated as language shifts, and may even already be subject to differences in regional usage. There is a sort of euphemism treadmill for some terms so that the more-polite phrase gradually accrues all the negativity of the original epithet and needs to be discarded for a new euphemism; and there's 'reclaiming', by which some terms lose their stigma and become mostly neutral barring tone-of-voice cues. (Also, at least with the T* community, when the community was much younger and still discovering/inventing apropriate and useful language, it embraced terms that were later realized to be troublesome. So if you read older texts, you may see trans folk casually phrasing things in ways that would attract flames today. We were -- are -- still learning and evolving.) Bear in mind that even some of the neutral terms can be suspect if used when there was no reason to bring them up in the first place. But in my dialect at this time, I think this is a useful illustration.

Here's the thing: if we meant to be insulting or disparaging in our choice of word for people who are not transgender, you'd know. It wouldn't be this nagging discomfort over finding yourself in a marked class and worrying about having a label at all for a change. It'd be a proper insult. (And as people have noted elsewhere, expressing exasperation with an individual member of a class does not make the name for that class into a derogatory term. It's possible for a T* person annoyed at a cis person's abuse of cis privilege to call them a thickheaded, bigoted cis person without making 'cis' the insult; it's the first two adjectives that are negative, not the identifier at the end. In the same way, someone can refer to "an evil man" without making 'man' into a derogatory term, because the negativity is in 'evil', not 'man'. So just because you've heard a trans person complain about a cis person, that is not enough to serve as an example that "'cis' is used pejoratively".)

Similarly, I've seen plenty of men try to argue that a woman who has said anything negative about one man or an identified subset of men must hate all men (therefore her opinion can be ignored), white people who've cried 'reverse racism' when a person of colour has called them on their bullshit (therefore PoC are "just as bad" and their complaints can be disregarded), and countless cases of would-be allies complaining they feel attacked when a disprivileged person has complained about specific actions of some members of the group the would-be ally is a member of (and therefore the minority group is about to "lose an ally" because they were "mean"). Tone Argument, "it's all about me", and strawman "you people are just as bad", are derailing. Fifteen yards and loss of down. Don't go there.

And yes, some of the negative words can be used by members of the communities they're applied to, either as an early stage of reclaiming or because they have different connotations when used ironically by people who have a stake in those words. That's really a large enough matter on its own to warrant a separate essay. For our purposes here, consider uses of the words by a random cashier, cop, or passer-by who is not a member of the described group and isn't already a friend of the listener who is a member of that group. If you pull out the "Well, I heard some _____ people saying ______ once so it doesn't belong on the bad list," in this context, that'll be a five yard penalty for distraction. That is, it'll put you farther away from making your case, not closer. We can have the discussion specificaly about that phenomenon elsewhen.

(I should probably note discussions elsewhere regarding 'person with attribute' vs. 'adjectived person' vs. 'just a noun' labelling styles -- e.g. "person of colour" vs. "coloured person" vs. "black" (or other 'racial' marker used as a noun); or "person with diabetes" vs. "diabetic person" vs. "diabetic". Even a cursory examination of that topic would be too much of a distraction right here, but it's something that folks preparing to discuss labels should at least be aware of.)

If this sounds like I'm saying you have to agree with me to be allowed to speak, do a Google search for privilege bingo card and see how many of these "clever" arguments have been used so many times, regarding sexism, racism, ablism, poverty, and pretty much every other topic that involves a group struggling to be treated decently, that the very existence of these tactics has become a bitter joke. The rule isn't that you have to agree with me; it's that you have to fight fairly and argue in intellectually honest ways, rather than adopting the tactics of oppressors while claiming to be on my side.

A Significant Distinction:


"Now can het people jump in and declare they are insulted by being called 'het' or 'straight?' or can i cay 'i never really agreed to be called 'white' so it's insulting? and if not, what's the fucking difference?"

-- maevele, 2009-06-29

An argument I've heard is that since we transgender people get to tell others what labels to use for us and which words are unacceptable, cisgender 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.

"I'm giving up on using the words man and male because in a patriarchy, it's the default assumption behind human, just as cissexual/cisgender is the default assumption behind man and woman.

"So, instead of men and women, we'll have humans and women.

"There, now we can avoid offending men, er, I mean humans."

 -- timberwraith, 2009-06-29

So here's the deal. I obviously do not speak for transgender people as a whole -- to be precise, I speak for nobody but myself -- but if instead of complaining about having a label, you propose a label you like better than 'cis'/'cisgender', a label that doesn't start with 'a-', 'an-', 'un-', 'non-', or 'im-' and doesn't simply translate as "real" or "normal", and you get a significant portion of the not-transgender people who are engaged in conversations with trans folk about language to agree that the word is a candidate worth discussing (I'm not asking for a majority of that group, just enough that we're not having the same conversation eighty zillion times with a different word that has only one supporter each time), I'll listen, and I think some other T*people will as well -- we I may still have criticisms of the label you choose, and/or helpful feedback; I may wind up pointing out that you've still left in 'othering' aspects that demean trans people; but I'll listen and discuss and you really do have a shot at convincing me to try to get others in the community to use your word instead of 'cis' if it really is a neutral term (i.e., not just a sneakier way to reassert cis privilege). Oh, there'll be pushback from some quarters even if its a great word, because some people just hate having to learn new words and habits (just look at the number of people who've used, "we don't need a new word" as an excuse to oppose 'cisgender' over the years! Or to step back farther in time, the men who used similar excuses for not wanting to use 'Ms.' when asked to), but bring labels you find respectful and acceptable that don't just go back to denigrating trans folk in contrast, that don't cast us as 'other' to your 'real', and there'll be a real conversation and maybe -- I hope -- a meeting of the minds.

But as long as what I'm hearing is, "Waah, I don't want to have to have a label," or, "I don't like 'cis' but won't suggest something better," you can shut the [expletive] up. Because that's not a polite request for the right to choose your own nomenclature, it's just incredibly privileged whining about suddenly being treated like everybody not of the default class. And clinging to your privilege at my sisters' expense doesn't make you much of an ally. And my transgender brothers and sisters (and bi-gender, agender, and polygender siblings-in-arms) can hear that too, and most aren't just going to roll over and say, "Oh sure, unmarkedclass, we'll other ourselves just because you say it's impolite to try to be equally valid to you." While y'all are feeling butthurt about being handed an adjective (and not knowing which pocket to put it in), there are a lot of trans people busy just trying to get consistently recognized as human instead of being considered piñatas/targets, fetish objects, scapegoats, and comedy props.

Bring it. Bring the suggestions. Get a real conversation about this rolling. Until then, I'm going to continue using 'cisgender' unapologetically unless someone can show me why it really is offensive beyond existing as a label at all. This essay is a rant rather than a conversation, a shout at a bunch of whiners-for-privilege, but it's also an invitation to start a conversation if there really is a meaningful conversation to be had. I'm not saying, "Here's your label, like it or suffer" -- rather, I'm saying "If you don't like it, suggest something better." Show me there is a real basis for a conversation. Or quit complaining. Either way works for me.

Some people will read this who have already progressed beyond this stage, with or without input from me. You should be able to figure out whether you're one of the people I'm yelling at or not. If you're offended because I yelled at all, then even if I wasn't yelling at you when I started, I might be once I find that out.

There are 83 comments over 3 pages. (Reply.)
1 2 3
chickgonebad: Photograph of me with my hand under my chin. (Default)
posted by [personal profile] chickgonebad at 04:14pm on 2009-07-02
Thank you. This is well stated.
minoanmiss: (The Priest King)
posted by [personal profile] minoanmiss at 04:41pm on 2009-07-02
Well said indeed!
Edited Date: 2009-07-02 04:57 pm (UTC)
silmaril: The word "geek" written in an English Tengwar mode (Tengwar Geek)
posted by [personal profile] silmaril at 04:53pm on 2009-07-02
I am Caucasian. I am heterosexual. I am a techie. I am a musician. I am a woman, and I was born with two X chromosomes, and I am happy being a woman, therefore I am cisgendered. I have brown eyes.

Inasmuch as a term was needed to make the discussion of these subjects possible and legible, and I believe it was needed, I have no quarrels at all with that term. It sounds a little odd, because the sound "cis" sounds a little odd to me (and I am not that deep in chemistry to be used to the sound of it) but its etymology is flawless and it fits the trans- pattern perfectly, so I don't think I could have even asked for a better word. Of course I need a label. Writing "people like my friend Silmaril [or whoever]" every time would get real old real fast.

I don't bristle when called Caucasian, or a woman, or an engineer. It is a neutral term. Anyone bristling will just have to deal; like you pointed out they are bristling because the label makes something that was invisible now visible, but see again "deal," because it's time for that visibility. In conclusion, deal.

(And tangentially, magnificent entry.)
posted by (anonymous) at 07:17pm on 2009-07-19
Well since we're talking about terms I would highly doubt that your ancestry goes to the inhabitants of the Caucasus mountains. You are probably European-American and you may be able to more finely identify (Italian, British, French, German, etc). Blumebach's classification is just as insidious as the ones mentioned above. Have you ever considered why you see yourself as "Caucasian"? If you accept that definition then others are Mongoloid, Ethiopian (Negriod), Mayla and Indian.
Since everyone in the US came from somewhere else, place of origin is a better descriptor of ancestry. African-American, Asian-American, European-American, Australian-American, Latin-American and Native-American all at least give us a post Columbian system.

Just a suggestion
Re: proper terms(anonymous)
lomedet: text only icon: loss of privilege does not equal oppression (loss of privilege does not equal oppress)
posted by [personal profile] lomedet at 05:03pm on 2009-07-02
I was linked here from [livejournal.com profile] browngirl, and I'm commenting mostly to say "right on" and so I can use this icon.
moondancer: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] moondancer at 07:38pm on 2009-07-06
Icon love.
posted by [personal profile] kathrynt at 05:18pm on 2009-07-02
You introduced me to the term "cisgender" about four or five years ago, or anyway before my daughter was born. I thought it was a brilliant, neutral term to describe people like myself, and adopted it instantly. It never occurred to me that some people would find it pejorative.
posted by (anonymous) at 05:32pm on 2009-07-02
Also here from [personal profile] browngirl. I'm actually kind of amused to see that people are trying to use "bio-[sex]" as a term to apply to cisgender people -- I left LGBT activism about 3-4 years ago, but back then I saw "bio-[sex]" being used by transfolk to reveal their biological sex, because the genderqueer movement wasn't as known....so there were genderqueer folk calling themselves "trans".

ie, someone who might be called "androgynous" would self-label "trans" while a transman would identify as "trans bio-female" while presenting as male.

Also, I find the current use of bio-[sex] interesting because I actually kind of like it -- particularly *because of* the point you make -- "all humans are still biological, trans or not." ie, if I present as a woman and say I'm a bio-female, I'm actually specifying "I'm presenting female, and I happened to be born female too." If I present as a man and say I'm a bio-female, then I'm saying I'm trans.

(and yes, I know that "bio-[sex]" is not used that way, it's used as an antonym of trans, and therefore it's not acceptable. I just like the idea of asking *everyone* to specify the sex at which their parents/doctors assumed for them at birth, because it would really educate a lot of people who didn't realize it might be different now).
posted by [personal profile] auralsex at 03:03pm on 2009-07-05
Talking about biology as though it assigns gender is problematic, though. It implies that genitals=gender, which is obviously not the case. Saying that cisgender folks' gender "matches" their sexual phenotype is really just used as a justification for cissexism (because transgender folks' gender "doesn't match"), and it's false to boot: biological sex is gender-neutral. We still have only gendered terms to talk about sexual characteristics, which is unfortunate and perpetuates the idea of "matching."


posted by [identity profile] sinneahtes.livejournal.com at 06:10pm on 2009-07-02
Excellent post. I've never really thought about the term "cisgendered" before (I've never seen it look insulting), and the "Default vs. Others" thing has been bugging me for a while (fond memories of reading some article that talked about "homosexuals and lesbians").
zenlizard: One lizard to another:  "Please to be shutting up now!" (Default)
posted by [personal profile] zenlizard at 07:47pm on 2009-07-02
"cisgendered" ? I don't give a shit what label you apply to me, really.

Like Popeye, I am what I am.
posted by (anonymous) at 09:27pm on 2009-07-02
My only quibble is that I never thought of being the default
made me any better - just more average. And I never use the
terms to refer to other types of people to mean "unreal", either.
To insist we now have to have a label to "even things out" is a
little odd, but, I suppose, understandable. And, there is too
much baggage to the word "normal (which is what most people
are called)" - and especially "abnormal" - to not do it. So perhaps
what I'm saying is that I don't necessarily care (& taking up a
lot of space to do so, too....), except that it seems to be an
awful lot of fuss. Then again if it makes people happy - fine!
posted by [identity profile] kolraashgadol.livejournal.com at 11:09pm on 2009-07-02
I'm not sure I entirely agree with your analysis of straight (despite the other meanings of the word), but I'm sure I have no problem with cisgendered. However, I must object strenuously to the idea that God-botherers and Leviticans are either disparaging, or Christian. I consider myself quite the God-botherer thank you. After all Jews invented the idea of noodging...

posted by (anonymous) at 09:25pm on 2011-05-10
How can you not agree with the analysis of straight?

It's not like it's two neutral terms 'straight' and 'curved' - it's 'straight' and 'not straight,' not even mentioning the fact that straight is the obvious 'default' and 'correct' way to be by use of the term. It is most definitely othering.

Anyways, good article. I found it very informative and will be using the term 'cisgendered' for myself in the future.
ext_12246: (Default)
posted by [identity profile] thnidu.livejournal.com at 11:27pm on 2009-07-02
"Cisgender", "cis-male"... I'm all right with those. Part of it may be that I'm already familiar with "cis-".
ext_12246: (Default)
posted by [identity profile] thnidu.livejournal.com at 11:28pm on 2009-07-02
Oh, and ... thanks to browngirl for the link!
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
posted by [personal profile] redbird at 12:54am on 2009-07-03
Speaking as a cisgendered person, I think you're right that the people who object to the word are looking for an argument: either because they want to defend the privilege of the unmarked state, or for some other reason (ranging from anti-trans prejudice to just being in a bad mood and preferring to yell at a stranger on the internet rather than their innocent kid, or their boss, or such). It's short and pronounceable, and not even asking for capital letters or the pronunication of each letter separately: that's better than a range of terms from POSSLQ to Yuppie to ATM.
katarik: DC Comics: Major Slade Wilson and Captain Adeline Kane, text but I can make you better (I tried to vote in 1880.)
posted by [personal profile] katarik at 01:24am on 2009-07-03
I feel the need to tell you that this is an *awesome post*.
posted by [identity profile] sethg-prime.livejournal.com at 01:29am on 2009-07-03
Here via browngirl.

Thank you for laying this out more comprehensively and patiently than I could have done; my reaction to this whole dust-up is more along the lines of OMG WHAT ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE SMOKING THAT THEY CAN'T RECOGNIZE WHAT IS SO BLEEDING OBVIOUS?

(yes, I know the answer to that question.)

FWIW, just in case it makes you feel better about the future of humanity, a friend of mine responded to my review of Julia Serano's Whipping Girl (http://syndicated.livejournal.com/sethg/120501.html) as follows: "As a word nerd, I saw the word 'cissexual' and fell in love."
lisaquestions: Phoenix looking toward the viewer. (Default)
posted by [personal profile] lisaquestions at 10:57pm on 2009-07-03
Do you mind if I add this to my Trans 101 links on QT?
dglenn: Female (Venus) symbol, with a transistor symbol inside the circle part (TransSister)
posted by [personal profile] dglenn at 11:06pm on 2009-07-03
I would not mind a bit!
maevele: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] maevele at 06:44am on 2009-07-04
i am always startled to see mself quoted as though i made sense.

mind if i add you?

dglenn: Spaceship superimposed on a whirling vortex (departure)
posted by [personal profile] dglenn at 04:13pm on 2009-07-06
I don't mind at all. And I know what you mean about seeing oneself quoted!
posted by (anonymous) at 08:49am on 2009-07-04
This is excellent. Thank you!

Jennifer (http://www.uncharted-worlds.org/blog/)
posted by [identity profile] hauntedtimber.wordpress.com at 06:18pm on 2009-07-04
This is a great post and thanks for quoting me, by the way. In other matters, I looooove your avatar. Schematic puns are much too rare!

softestbullet: Seven of Nine in a space suit. (ST:XI/ yes she has a fucking first name)
posted by [personal profile] softestbullet at 02:55am on 2009-07-05
Great, great post. Thank you.
lavendertook: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] lavendertook at 06:36am on 2009-07-05
Thanks for this post. It really got across to me how cisgender fills the need to mark the unmarked category here and how it does important work that way. I still have greater reservations about the binary the term creates and what that elides. I love your call to come up with better language and dialog on this. You got me thinking and posting an entry.
posted by [personal profile] auralsex at 03:16pm on 2009-07-05
Can you talk a little more about the binary you perceive here and how it's problematic? I, too, am mistrustful of binaries, but I believe that as you pull back to the various upper layers of metadiscourse, they become more and more unavoidable. I'm curious to hear what you think this one elides.


posted by (anonymous) at 09:10pm on 2009-07-05

While coining a term that literally means “not trans” would seem like a useful concept, in practice, “cis” actually obscures the reality that trans people face in mainstream society. What counts in real life is not whether you are in fact trans or cis, but whether or not you are perceived as trans.

What posters here refer to as “cis-privilege” is what we have long called “passing privilege”. Regardless of how we each choose to deal with it, passing is one of the core issues that isolate trans people in mainstream society, either externally for those who do not pass, or internally for those able and willing to maintain stealth.

Pointing out “cis-privilege” to non-trans people obscures the uncomfortable fact that many of us are able to take advantage of those same social privileges by virtue of passing. And it has nothing to do with how authentically we each embody our true gender identities, and everything to do with how we are perceived by other people.

In the extreme case, some of us fortunate enough to fully transition, both surgically and socially, refuse to accept any sort of trans label and insist on nothing short of full recognition as non-trans women. They explicitly identify as “cis-women”, at least as emphatically as anyone else we might apply the term to. Should the term more appropriately be applied to anyone who claims not to be trans?

>,< Lish
That's an interesting point.

There's no denying that I'm accorded tons of privilege as a trans woman who passes as cissexual. While I'm deeply privileged, I don't think that changes the fact that I'm transgender. I still lived through about 25 years with people assuming I was a guy. That alone makes my life experiences different from cissexual women. (Mind you, that doesn't change the fact that I'm a woman. It just means I'm a woman with an unusual set of experiences.)

As trans people start to transition younger and younger, their life experiences are going to more strongly resemble cis people's experiences. Do we still call them transgender?

The drawback of the human tendency to break the world down into categories and simplistic models is that the world is, in reality, a vast intersection of continuums. It doesn't truly break down into discrete categories. I suppose that's the point behind people wanting to dissolve the gender binary.
posted by (anonymous) at 01:47pm on 2009-07-06
I heart this.

A lot.

Northbard on LJ and here when I get my ass in gear and set up my account.
posted by (anonymous) at 02:10pm on 2009-07-06
Well said!

I'm cisgendered, and have never had the problem with the term. Actually, when I first heard it, I felt glad I finally had some word to use, other than saying, "I've just always felt comfortable with the gender which was ascribed to me at birth." That can be kind of long.

I am surprised to hear other cisgendered folks have taken offense to it! Perhaps it bothers me less cause I use other labels already (ie. queer, polyamorous) and am also because I am familiar with the concept of being privileged (ie. white privilege)?

Anyway, well done.
posted by (anonymous) at 03:39pm on 2009-07-06
Hey there - Shakesville's CaitieCat here, twice_immigrant over on LJ. If it's alright, I'll be passing this link along to be added to the Monday Blogaround, or I'll make a post myself.

Brilliant post. Very well done.
dglenn: Female (Venus) symbol, with a transistor symbol inside the circle part (TransSister)

Anything I post not locked or filtered, I consider fair game for others to link to (and that's 99.8% of what I post).

(BTW, if you're logged in on LJ -- or many LJ-like sites and some non-LJ-like blogging sites -- you can use OpenID instead of picking the Anonymous option. A few people have had trouble with it, but it seems to work for most. The OpenID user ID on the comment will link back to the site you told it to authenticate from, and I'll have fewer "oh crap, I forgot to unscreen that anonymous comment I got notified about twelve hours ago, I hope they don't think that was on purpose" moments. (Did that to somebody else earlier today. Whoops.) Of course, if for some reason you actually want to break the automatic back-link to your journal, than you still have to use the anon option.)
angelikitten: Hands with painted fingernails tying a bowtie (Queer - Going Out)
posted by [personal profile] angelikitten at 02:02pm on 2009-07-07
I know I'm late to the game here, but:

I'm not saying, "Here's your label, like it or suffer" -- rather, I'm saying "If you don't like it, suggest something better."
I think that says everything I've been trying to say for the last few weeks, only in a better way.
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