Endeavouring as ever to prove the veracity of the sentiment behind this journal’s title, reality dealt another interesting pinprick the other day. Apparently the trans-sphere exploded over a series of posts and comments made on Pam’s House Blend, a blog way more popular than this one and with more employees. This link is a very good place to start.
Another nuclear situation exploded in the blog-O’Sphere apropos us damn bitchy trans people and all our irritating talk about oppression and what not.
Apparently the terms “cissexual” and “cisgendered” are now offensive according to one professional gay man and Autumn Sandeen deigned to agree, fundamentally, with him and his ideological fellow-travelers in a very long blog post meant to rationalise the fundamentally fallacious idea- saying over and over that the term was “weaponised.” At first, I will admit, I wanted to empathise with her. But as I read her links and really absorbed the meaning behind her post, that was quickly replaced with the sort of solar plexus punch I wasn’t expecting from someone in the trans community.
As I absorbed what she was saying, I really began to take serious umbrage at it. She was handing away our ball to people who couldn’t care less about our struggle. Our verbal ball. The ball of equalising language. Sure, I’m straining a metaphor to death here, but it’s not even half the equal of Ms. Sandeen’s crime against language in this case. The terms cissexual and cisgendered are neutral terms used to (essentially) describe those who are not trans. There are complex exceptions but that’s just another reason we need these handy grey terms for any discussion about the issues trans people face. Why?
Well I’d sooner not say “normal people want to do x, y, and z” to me. That’s accepting a rather unpleasant first principle, that I am implicitly abnormal, and thus making it much harder for me to argue for my rights. Even the term ‘non-trans’ is a bit othering. Cis- terms level the playing field and decentre things in everyone’s favour.
The word is not meant to be insulting. Some folks didn’t get the memo, however.
“And one last wading into the deep:
For the record, I find cis- to be offensive. In general, I thought our community (I mean the whole LGBT rainbow here) uses terms that are acceptable to those being described. That is, we use the preferred gender of trans people, we call someone bi if they identify as bi, we don’t say tranny, etc.
So why is it okay for (some of) the trans community to call us cis-? If members of the trans community said “stop calling us trans, we find it offensive” would we here at PHB continue to say “trans”? I doubt it very much.
Why the lack of respect in the other direction?”
The problem with seductive arguments like this is precisely their succubus (or perhaps in this case, incubus)-like nature. They allure you with all of these other verbal sops to our dignity while fundamentally arguing to take back something that matters a great deal to us. A lexicon that allows us to fruitfully and fairly discuss our issues.
I wish I didn’t have to discuss oppression in my life or why it occurs. I wish I didn’t have to deal with the sort of nonsense that underlies crap like what I spoke about last time, the simple fact that by casting me as abnormal I cannot legally use the women’s bathroom in some places. But it’s there, and I do. I won’t stop using the terms cissexual and cisgendered to describe those who very often have the power, privilege, and authority to pretend I’m a paedophile or say that it’s “immoral” for me to change my passport’s gender marker.
This is all stuff Lane will never have to consider, and good on him. I don’t wish it on anyone. But you set me back a few unnecessary steps when you even try to redefine my language on terms that are favourable to your privilege. How would he feel if the Christian Right began a campaign to remove the term “heterosexual” from our discourse because they found it insulting? Would he simply roll over because a soccer mom from Missouri pleaded with him about how offensive it was to her? I somehow doubt it, don’t you?
If we divorce all these terms of their deepseated historical and political context and move to this wonderful, abstract plane of pure nothingness where only us and these words exist, maybe we can horsetrade and talk about offence on equal terms.
But look out the window, we’re not there, are we? We’re in a very real world where all of that context does matter and it does materially impact peoples’ lives. I have no authority to deny cis-people their rights, and my use of the term is heard by virtually no one except perhaps the people who read this blog which number 20 on a good day. I’m not wounding anyone with it, I’m not perpetuating a cycle of oppression with it, I’m not restraining people from living their lives as human beings because of it. As my good friend at Femmessay put it, even if I did say something meanspirited about cis people, it has no teeth whatsoever.
If I did happen to angrily declare Raaar, all cis people should be put to death. Fuck yo vagina! that’d be pretty hateful, stupid, and, yes, offensive. Because it’s a complete thought. Not, however, because of the term cis. I could’ve easily replaced that word with ‘brown haired people’ or ‘Sephardic Jews’ or ‘Blink 182 fans’ and the sentiment would’ve still been the same. The adjective, the descriptors, were not the offenders. The complete thought (putting them to death) is.
Yet even with those words, stinging as they are, hurt feelings are all people like Lane will ever have to grapple with in that department. When I feel the reverse, if someone were to say “all trans people should be put to death” I know that it’s not just hurt feelings I have to deal with. I have to also confront the reality that this sentiment is why I am legally restrained from adopting children, altering my birth certificate or social security info, why I can’t get certain jobs or live in certain parts of the country, why I might be restrained from even using the bathroom of my choice, why I might be regarded as a perv, or a paedo, or a freak, or a sin against nature. All of that is rolled up into those barbs. Whereas… what exactly is rolled up into “cis” other than its default, neutral, academic meaning? What does the occasional angry, thrashing insult of a trans person who might use that term in a rant do to ruin a cis person’s life, exactly?
What’s astounding about this post is that I feel like I’m giving a basic grammar lesson here, but it demonstrates how far behind trans people are in so many areas that even this can be easily denied to us when it suits the privilege of others. I’m having none of it. I will not abandon my use of these terms so callously and so easily as this:
To begin with, I’m giving up on the words cissexual and cisgender. I saw these as neutral terms, and now I see these are not. Thank you for your reasoned explanation as to why.And yeah, civil tone matters, and thinking in terms of broad communities matter. I see these as being more and more as important as time goes on.
One more MLK Jr. quote:
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
For Ms. Sandeen to justify her betrayal with the words of Martin Luther King is even more stinging and unnecessary- and just a little ironic. Does she not seem to remember the fact that his speeches had to make mention of “white people” in ways both entreating and shaming? She might as well be saying that the words “White,” “Christian,” “Heterosexual,” or what have you are weaponised. That the onus of guilt is placed on us for merely using a term that academics responsibly use all the time to have a language to describe the various issues the trans community faces… that is irritating. For a transgendered person to do so is unconscionable.
Perhaps she thought she was doing it out of some misguided sense of fairness, perhaps she thought she was saying something meaningful, but what she did was give our ball away to the wrong people. To anyone who might be inclined to be as “accommodating” as Ms. Sandeen to those who really don’t care for us to begin with, let me quote George Carlin here:
“They don’t give a fuck about you. They don’t give a fuck about you! They don’t care about you! At all. At all. At all!”
I am not giving back the cis words. Language does belong to us all, which is precisely the same reason you cannot take it from me, and I will continue to use this terminology to assist me in talking about what matters when it’s relevant, as opposed to whatever appeasing constructions Ms. Sandeen decides to put together to please those who barely regard her existence. Because what she doesn’t seem to get is that it doesn’t matter whether you call them cissexual or zootsexual or zooblehsexual or wagga-waggasexual, the whole point is that some are miffed that language is putting them on an equal footing with us freaks. It’s not the word, it’s the idea that we’re in equal consideration that gets under these peoples’ skin.
If I am to be labeled an “angry bitch” for it, then so be it. I’ve cause to be angry. If it makes you uncomfortable, help do something about it, rather than blame me. For Ms. Sandeen to do this seems, to me, to forget the sacrifices made by trans people in the past, to claw ourselves the tiny bit of dirt we have today, like the fact that I can legally change my DMV ID’s gender without having had surgery. That tiny bit of dirt there? People died for that. Were raped for it. Had their killers and rapists go free because of it.
The cis terms are another clutch of soil that our bloodied hands have claimed for ourselves; the right to have de-centering language so we can talk about this stuff equitably.
If you think this is melodramatic, then look at the history of trans people, how hard won some of these rights are, just as the rights of other out-groups were clawed inch by bloody inch. I doubt Ms. Sandeen was thinking of this, and I know for certain that Lane and his set certainly gave not a thought to this, merely mouthing the words of tolerance to get to a fundamentally bigoted point: that he had no privilege to examine or consider.
Which is, of course, a privileged way of thinking. So, what do I want? Well, I’ll let Femmessay explicate:
“The point is not to give the gun over to the oppressed person — and it isn’t as though that could ever happen in any universe that doesn’t exist in your own head, and every transperson knows that, just like women know that we’ll never have a matriarchy — the point is to get rid of the guns. The prefix “cis” is one tiny step in the epically difficult process of removing the bullets from the cisprivileged gun. It is not being loaded into their own gun — they don’t have one! — it is being thrown away in the hopes that maybe one day we can all sit at the table together and enjoy our relationships without the unspoken threats sitting between us.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself!
I do not wish to hurt or offend cis-people. I’m just trying to get my rights and be respected as just enough of a human being to, you know, use the bathroom without being considered a perv. Without having everything I do, even my most intimate and private moments, second guessed in a way no one else has to contend with.
For example, if you are a cis-woman and you, say, enjoy kinky sex, there might be a slight stigma attached to that in certain circles but no one questions your womanhood. If you like sexy underwear, that will not be questioned, and will in some cases be encouraged. If you like having dirty words hurled at you during sex, that’s just considered a kink. But if you’re a trans woman, suddenly you’re a male pervert for wanting all or any of those things and fetishising your womanhood.
When something that private, personal, and intimate is questioned and held aloft as proof of my non-personhood, something is terribly wrong in this society, and if I can’t say that that comes from cis privilege, then something is really wrong.
Because understanding that hurt isn’t easy, and it has to begin with language. Language is the concrete poured into oppression’s foundation. Eliminating it also begins with our tongues. I, for one, will not stop.
Neither should you, my brothers and sisters.