Question Ten: Why do you have to call me ‘cis’?
April 3, 2013 § 12 Comments
So this seems to be a popular question at the moment – as ever, panel bios here.
Question Ten (which is more of a statement)
Not all “cis” people are ignorant of trans issues (I put “cis” in quotation marks because I think “cis” as applied to all non-trans people is an overly simplistic division, in the way that you would probably perceive the tags of “man” and “woman” to be – I think the same of homo- and heterosexuality, if you’ll accept that as an analogy. Also, basically all labels of identity). Especially those who will be on your blog, and interested in asking questions – there is a danger of patronising us as “poor little uneducated cis people” into which q&a’s like this can fall. Although not trans myself, I do think that I have a good understanding and I am still attempting to deepen my understanding – particularly of the philosophical views of gender that are associated with trans issues and their relations to individual people trying to live “the good life” and be happy.
Roz: So what was the question?
Maeve: I think it sounds a bit here like the person posing the question takes some offense at being labeled ‘cis’. I’m not sure how using it as a label for non-trans people could be considered an over simplification, given that is precisely what it means. Taking the homo/hetero -sexual analogy; many people didn’t like being labeled as heterosexual when it started being used in common language, but I see that as simply a response to no longer being categorised as ‘normal’. The labels of ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘homosexual’, ‘heterosexual’, etc., are insufficient to describe the full variety of human experience, but that is why we have terms like ‘bisexual’, ‘pansexual’, ‘genderqueer’, etc. If you don’t like the word ‘cis’, then that raises alarm bells for me, as it is purely a descriptive term for someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth, it’s not a value judgement and so really shouldn’t cause offense.
Natacha: This blog seems to have been set up in response to large numbers of trans people who have experienced ignorance about what it is to be trans from a large number of cisgender people. This is probably partly due to the media but also due to assumptions made based on no evidence.
CN: Well, ‘cis’ is the literal counterpart to ‘trans’ – ‘not trans’ is its exact meaning so I’m not sure of the problem there (and it has a long history, as the Chemists and Classicists already know). In terms of dividing people into trans and cis, I do agree that it errs on the simplistic side – but, in doing this, I think it reflects a world which DOES divide people based on their experiences of sex and gender, in crudely simplistic ways. Personally, I think that these words, ‘cis’ and ‘trans’, are useful for describing our current state of play – but I think they’re often better suited to describing behaviour or experience than ‘identity’ and selfhood – simply because trying to contain the self in words is a slippery business. My personal goal is to have the cissexism of society challenged and transformed to an extent that future generations won’t need to use ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ in the way that we do, if at all, because we won’t seek to divide and discriminate in the way we do now. But division and discrimination against people who challenge their assigned place in an unbending gender/sex binary is the prevailing norm, and having words to catalogue and challenge that are vital if we’re ever to effect real change.
As to ‘patronising the “poor little uneducated cis people”’ – if you have a good understanding of trans issues then you surely understand just how much ignorance and oppression there is – it’s staggering and, frequently, utterly dispiriting, if not outright harmful and/or dangerous. On a personal level, being asked about trans issues by cis people is a daily occurrence – through my public email, on social media, from colleagues, from friends, friends of friends, acquaintances – and I know many trans people have the same experience. Failing to provide information to all those who ask because some people already feel that they know enough doesn’t seem particularly helpful – if we’re covering topics you already know well then you’re under no obligation to read.
EDIT: (because I was thinking out loud elsewhere) I don’t think that there can be a particularly nuanced set of terms used to describe externally assigned life experience and oppression when the world at large treats you differently based on whether you (in any way) ‘trans’ your assigned birth sex andgender (transform it, transgress it, transcend it, transport it…you get the picture) or if you don’t. Using the words ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ is not presenting a binary option of how people are – it’s saying that a world obsessed with binaries treats people differently depending on whether they’re classed as ‘normal’ or ‘deviant’ in regards to assigned sex and gender. Using the words ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ describes that situation, but doesn’t prop it up as an a priori foundation of how we are as people. Naming the ways in which systems divide and oppress us is not to legitimise those systems, but to begin to dismantle them.