The word “cisgendered” makes privileged folk cry, apparently.
This post was originally published August 13, 2009 here.
Welcome to clusterfuck city. In order to give you folks a little bit of background here, there was a bit of an incident involving Pam’s House Blend and a wonderful concept known as privilege enabling (or as I like to call it “oppression collaboration”. More poetic that way.)
There was some fine commentary on how asinine it is to let people dodge their privilege and continue othering trans folk on QT
and a really brilliant analogy for the kind of nasty power cis people (I refuse to stop using that term. Outright. Refuse.) have over trans folk at Femmessay (which I commented on in thanks) [Note: That blog got deleted for reasons I'm not sure of so the link is dead now ~RP]
I won’t go too deep into the details (that’s what the links to the wonderful blogs are for, with the exception of Pam’s little coffee shop of privilege) but the basics are as follows:
A gay cis male decided that the word cis is offensive to cis folk and compared it to several common trans slurs. And then discourse on the topic (and by “discourse” I mean any attempts by trans folk and allies to address this pretty clearly privileged bullshit) was silenced. Gotta love enablers, right? Nothing makes it easier to stomp on the heads of trans folk than someone discouraging the critique of privileged behavior and encouraging the use of othering and cissexist separation of terminology like trans vs. normal.
I may have expressed some things on this blog that folks have found privileged, but I’ve never once silenced the discourse on it. I address those comments because privilege is a serious goddamn problem. So if you’re in the position of being accused of using it or speaking from a privileged perspective, it is always a good idea to keep that discourse open in case you are actually privileged and didn’t realize it.
I’ll do a relatively mild analysis of cis as a word here and why that is epic and privileged bullshit on the commenter’s part to act that way. I may follow up with a slightly less enraged “For The Uninformed” post after this one rehashing the description of cisgender as a term and discussing privilege in general (I’ll throw in some other important descriptors too). They’re closely intertwined because cisgender is a word used to articulate the differences (including privilege) between those who are or are not trans without othering the fuck out of us trans folk.
Oh look, just that sentence alone summarizes it doesn’t it? You see, a marginalized group and their allies have to be able to create discourse on not just their marginalization but the privilege of the majority/empowered group(s) that either oppress them or benefit from the oppression of them (usually both).
One of the key important cardinal needs of that discourse is to avoid phrasing, word structure and tone that is in and of itself a component of that marginalization or the privilege of the oppressing/majority/empowered group(s). I know, I’m getting verbose and science-y.
To make it basic: if the words we use to talk about our problems, our oppression and another’s (i.e. cis folk) privilege are oppressing to us then we are just defeating our own efforts. Language has an effect on things. It’s why slurs actually do have power and marginalizing language can actually train marginalized people to submit to their oppression.
The single most best example (and most relevant to the term cis) is the othering of trans people. Before cisgender came into play as a term the way that trans folk and cis folk were referred to was as such:
(nonbinaries weren’t really mentioned back then and they still get screwed now. Oppression is like a layer cake made of fail.)
After the word cis came into play (and we cut the qualifier from the gendered word itself):
(unfortunately, as you can see, nonbinaries are still othered quite a bit. Not a lot of great solutions have been come up with there)
Notice the difference? The above (old school version) made trans folk out to be an abnormality, an adjusted man or an adjusted woman. Cis folk were assumed to be the natural state because the phrase applied to them was the overall phrase for man or woman (if anyone has more knowledge of nonbinary terminology back then and now, please comment. This description is incomplete without nonbinaries). By applying the word cis to cisgendered people’s descriptors when discussing a comparison of trans and cis folk (and just applying the actual gender word itself to the people it applies to, whether cis or trans) we succeeded in reducing the othering effect of the terminology we use for discourse on trans oppression and cis privilege. It also, as you can see, offered up a term that can be used to describe that privilege that cis folk have. I mean fuck, what did we even call it before then? “Normal privilege”? “Non-Trans privilege”? That’s terrible for discourse and othering as hell.
So the phrase has a defined, specific purpose that is only relevant in certain contexts (much like trans ought to be). I’m not going to walk around and call cis folk, cis woman or cis man when I introduce them to people. “This is Candice, she’s a cis woman.” Just like no one should introduce me like “This is R.P., she’s a trans woman.” Although in Candice’s case, she won’t get beaten, killed, raped, denied jobs or etc etc etc for being revealed as a cis woman. But quite honestly there’s no reason to apply the word in a day to day basis. Only for trans related discourse.
So now we know why it’s around. What if someone finds it offensive? What if it makes a “privileged person cry” as I so cheekily put into my title? Well, let me put this as nicely as I can:
Get the fuck over it.
As described by the very nice lady at Femmessay, there is a huge worlds’ of difference between having your feelings hurt by a phrase that doesn’t sound nice or seems unfun being applied to you and being subjected to a level of oppression that defies description. Many of us aren’t even fucking allowed to piss in a bathroom that is safe for us. Yeah, I’m sure privileged tears are so awful in comparison to that.
It’s like us white folk saying it’s offensive to be called privileged. Oh boo fucking hoo, folks. Or calling affirmative action “reverse racist” (the most godawfully stupid phrase in the universe, by the way). Here’s a more prickly barb for the commenter himself: It’s like straight people saying that the word straight is offensive, because “omg I’m normal, not straight”. Yeah. I went there. Because its the same exact thing.
There are straight folk who have done that. Who have said, to my face and others faces, that the word straight is offensive and why is it necessary for gay people to apply a word to them? Well because its awfully hard to have a discourse about gay rights and straight privilege if the word gay is compared to the word “normal, assumed, expected, standard state of affairs”. Welcome to being othered. Your hypocrisy, commenter on Pam’s house blend, has been noted.
So there’s the comparison. The fact is, the only thing, the exact only thing the word cisgendered can do applied to a cisgendered person is make some hurt feelings. Just like the word straight applied to a straight person. Guess what the word trans can do? Some helluva worse things than cis can do, that’s for sure. Not only can it hurt our feelings, it can act as a reminder of past oppression or be accompanied by beatings, rape, murder, denial of service, denial of use of bathrooms, denial of medical care, denial of children, denial of bodily domain and self autonomy, denial of a home and loss of family, friends and loved ones.
And you know what? If cis is removed from discourse and we just use the word trans, the othering will make it all worse. So wow, folks, I’m really choked up about how hurt you are with the word cisgendered and all, but really, you’re just going to have to get the fuck over it.
Be a little more mindful of your privilege, offended cis folk. As for Pam and Co.? I used to go to that site pretty often (I wasn’t a member yet) but I will gladly avoid your privileged bullshit (and privilege enabling) site from now on. For the transfolks working there, I hope the pat on the head and the hair ruffling from the oppressors was worth alienating the rest of us.
Must have been a damn good hair ruffle.
Go here to read the comments on the original post.
Filed under: activism, rant | 2 Comments
Tags: cis, fuck this fuckery, infighting, linguistics, privilege, rage, transgender