Cis Appropriation and Other Speshul Snowflake Deeds


This post was originally published Sept 17, 2009 here.

I’m sure you’ve all read up on the silliness from some well known trans folk on cis as a term. I’m certainly sure you’re aware of the entitled privileged cis folk who whined about it (like white people crying about being called white. What the fuck, people?). I’m sure you’ve seen the folk who have spoken against this cis oppression enabling foolishness (including my very angry, snarky self).

Cisgender, as detailed in the posts addressing this garbage about it being a bad or useless term, is simply a means to create discourse regarding transgendered people that doesn’t other the fuck out of us. Yanno, because beforehand it was trans vs. normal. Because we know how well that goes for people, right? Right.

The whole reason why we have this word is to give us a way to describe the privilege attached to folk who aren’t trans without going “normal people privilege! Not-freak privilege!”

So when people attack its existence, or insist it’s weaponized, I tend to find them… well… absurd. Either that or they are fighting their darnedest to escape from any responsibility of owning their privilege (for the cis folks) or fighting their darnedest for those delicious oppressor cookies, which are apparently enough to even make Kate Bornstein, Monica Helms and Autumn Sandeen sell the fuck out to the cis folk. Also I’m fairly certain that there’s head patting and free coffee for selling out. I can’t be sure though because I’ve never sold out to the oppressors before. And I plan to never do so. (If I ever do, please firmly kick me in the ass, I will need it at such a point of awfulness)

But sometimes, well, sometimes we have a Speshul Snowflake. Someone so sparkly, so darn important, someone who (thinks they) get it so absolutely and wonderfully well, that they just can’t understand why their Speshulness is not included! Enter the Speshul Snowflake land of Helen Boyd.

Apparently, if you’re a partner of a trans person, you know exactly what we’re going through, 100%, no take backs, nu uh totally take backs, no I called it first no take backs, fine you’re a jerk. Did that sentence seem silly, to you? Well it might be because the sentiment itself is unbelievably silly.

But hey, if you don’t want to go to the link, just read in this here quote box:

Telling me, & other partners whose lives are profoundly impacted by the legal rights / cultural perceptions of trans people, that we are “not trans” implies that we are also not part of the trans community. I’ve been saying for years now that we are. When trans people are killed, harassed, not hired, fired due to discrimination, denied health care, etc. etc. etc., their loved ones suffer along with them. Their families, their lovers, their kids especially. We are not just “allies.” We are vested, dammit, & a part of the trans community, so when “cisgender” comes to mean, or is used to mean, “not part of the trans community,” we are once again left out in the dark.


I’ll tell you all what, I’m going to be a fool and give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she doesn’t understand how marginalization and privilege work. Lots of folks don’t. In fact this kind of stuff tends to be mid level sociology course work, so chances are you won’t have exposure to it unless you do some AP sociology classes in high school or take at the very least a basic sociology course in a community college (and actually that isn’t sarcastic at all, sociology isn’t required for many degrees and a lot of folk can’t go to college. So really, I won’t hold it against someone for not knowing, I will merely inform them) or have a background in the activist community and have dealt with the language before.

Marginalization applied to a given group is not applied to another group. Group 1 is marginalized. Group 2 is privileged. The marginalization of group 1 can have secondary effects on group 2. This is not the same as the marginalization. This is simply a ripple effect. You, as a partner, are not experiencing your partner’s pain. Unless you’re some kind of emotion psychic. In which case, good Aspects, hide yourself, the government is searching for people like you to create super soldiers out of!

At worst, you are experiencing the pain of seeing your partner hurt. And that sucks. Undoubtedly. You may also experience some personal backlash, say if your partner loses a job for being trans and you both have to tighten your belts. And that sucks too. But you didn’t lose your job. You haven’t been denied medical care for having a mixture of structures on your body. You aren’t objectified by hundreds of fetish following chaser guys who care more about touching your genitals then they do about your feelings (on top of the set of het guys who fetishize all women). You won’t get murdered for having a penis. You won’t get beaten to within an inch of your life because you accidentally dropped your voice a little in the wrong place. You won’t get exploited by manipulative people who know trans folk are vulnerable and scared and then raped and not be able to go to a single woman’s shelter because you’ll be turned away.

Basically, you being a partner? Doesn’t fucking make you trans. It doesn’t let you understand how that feels. You experience it, at best, through a proxy and a lens. And that ain’t experiencing it.

Oh it gets worse. Because you see, she actually teaches about cis privilege and trans marginalization. So that benefit of the doubt I gave her? Yeah that was silly on my part. She’s trying to make an assessment and a claim built on nothing more than “I WANT A PIECE OF THE PIE TOO!” Because for some reason, apparently, a pie filled with nails, broken glass and thumbtacks that we are force fed by society looks so appealing to her.

If you read around a bit, you’ll see that Helen has a very inaccurate view of how cis is used. Apparently we use it like a curse and we equate cis to being cissexist. This is categorically bullshit. You know what I use cis for? Not trans. That’s it. That’s what cis is. Cis is aligned together. Trans is aligned apart. So if your gender identity and assigned sex are aligned apart then you are trans. If not than you are cis. It is not a weapon, it is a classifier, used for discourse only.

Like I said in my other post, I do not introduce hypothetical cis woman Candace as, “This is my Candace, she’s a cis-woman” and no one should introduce me as, “This is Kinsey, she’s a trans woman.” The word is not for common day to day use. In common day to day conversations I am a woman with no fucking qualifiers attached.. Just like any other woman, cis or trans.

To me, when a cis person criticizes the word cis it means one of two things. They either don’t get the concept of privilege, othering and safe discourse (and that is normal and I work to help them figure it out in such a case) or they want to not have a word that means not trans. And that comes down to them being privileged selfish assholes who want to be seen as normal and default and have us be “those other people”.

Helen comes across as a brand spanking new one though. Someone who doesn’t like being told she isn’t trans because omg she has a trans partner. And is maybe slightly variant in her expression. OMFG. That is some serious unique snowflake traits right there.

Now I can understand some confusion regarding cisgender vs. cissexual. Cisgender is purely gender vs. sex and cissexual is gender identity vs. sex. So Helen could very well be transgender, if she’s got some gender expression going on that isn’t very mundane and is notable to get a response from cis society. Yes, if this is the case, she’ll face at least some minor trans oppression. I can bet you though, that she is cissexual. That her GI and body match. That she possesses no bodily or role dysphoria related to her sexual structure or gender.

Of course if none of that applies to her, then she’s cis, no matter how unique and sparkly her snowflake ice crystal edges are. And this goes for the rest of cis folk. Don’t appropriate the trans realm. You only hurt us when you do that. And that makes you a shit ally.

Note: “This is my Candace, she’s a cis-woman” should be “This is my friend Candace, she’s a cis-woman”. I really ought to proof read more. XD

Go here to read the comments on the original post.

27 Responses to “Cis Appropriation and Other Speshul Snowflake Deeds”

  1. 1 nome

    >.> Sorry to leave so many comments.

    But what I find is that people who defy gender norms are subject to some marginalization. But they’re experiencing genderphobia, which can be experienced by anyone. Transphobia (to me) is only felt by transfolk. Sometimes the distinction is really slim, but that’s how I understand the oppression that cisfolk face when they do not fit neatly into their boxes.

  2. To a certain extent one could call that sexism, when cis folk don’t fit in the neat little boxes.

  3. I’ve met her. She does not present as particularly other than cis female ime. It’s possible things have changed since I last saw her, but I doubt it. maybe she’ll, like, wear a suit. I also didn’t like her much, but couldn’t quite pin down why, at the time.

    I dunno. I guess it’s painful to receive the information that you’re -separate- from your partner in such a profound way, but it still-she’s not being self-aware, and she’s really been tromping over lots of people apparently. I mean I guess I’d experience it as something like “this is painful because I can’t share it with you and I can’t make it better either,” but I’m not her, either. and I can’t for the life of me figure out where she’s getting the “cis” as insult thing.

  4. not to mention this is not exactly the first time she’s been accused of special-snowflake-ism in one form or another that I’m aware of…

  5. I won’t guess at her motivations. She could have an entirely reasonable level of pain guiding this decision. But I can criticize her actual words and actions, which are problematic at best.

  6. Sure, wasn’t trying to imply otherwise.

  7. For the record, Helen Boyd is a visiting professor at a university in Wisconsin. She actually teaches women’s studies; she teaches students about feminism.

  8. Well crap, that makes this behavior on her part substantially worse then.

    Thank you for the info, Autumn.

  9. My reactions as a cis-man hearing cis- for the first time:

    “Wait, what the hell does that bit of latingreek mean? *Teh Google* Oh, ‘kay. Weren’t we just using bio- like last week… *fifteen seconds of reflection* Oh, duh, okay, that is an obviously broken term. Cis it is!”

    I’ve yet to figure out what my peers who take it as an insult are actually hearing.

  10. I can’t figure it out either. We’re both in the dust on that one.

  11. 11 nome

    Nen, you’re beautiful. I could hug you. (after making sure it’s consensual)

  12. I don’t know If I said it already but …Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  13. heh. I had already pegged Kate Bornstein as a rather unusual combination of a transgressivist (as in “Lookee me! I disrupt gender better than you, buddy! See, I got all these tats!”) sellout.

    But having read that tweet of hers? I will be sure to put as much distance between her and myself as possible. (Thank goodness that I never subscribed to hir account!)

    And Helen Boyd is an appropriative little shit.

    (BTW, i’m here from a link round-up regarding the rapist Polanski.)

  14. 14 nome

    I don’t know enough about hir. What was the tweet?

  15. It should be linked up in the post.

  16. 16 nome

    Ah. Gotcha. Ya, that’s so uncool.

  17. 17 Ryles

    From what I can tell, Helen Boyd is multigendered/genderfluid or something like that and doesn’t want to recognize it. Or something. I have no idea, and I don’t care enough to know.

    She still annoys me, though. I commented that I know crossdressing guys who identify as men and are perfectly happy with the label ‘cisgendered’ and I don’t understand her saying that crossdressers aren’t cisgendered just for that- and she replied with “Crossdressers can be multigednered/genderfluid” (not her words). That’s kind of irrelevant.

    Also- Kate Bornstein always annoyed me for some reason. I feel a bit better about this now.

  18. Well like I said in the post, she could easily be transgender but she sure as hell is cissexual. Also that having a trans partner changes nothing in that regard.

    Kate’s a good person. She just lets too much shit go.

  19. 19 Jane

    This post was bad ass and made my whole night! Thank you for that. However I DO have a problem with the way our community has been using “cis.” I do not think of it as simply “not-trans.” It’s been useful as binary terminology perhaps, but it is far more loaded and complex than that. I think of Cis as shorthand for the very real phenomenon of 1) Being assigned a Gender Identity at birth, 2) Growing to awareness of that assignment, 3) Feeling little conflict with or internal resistance to that assignment, and 4) Maintaining the assignment thru out one’s life. It isn’t just the opposite of the transgender experience. It is a unique spectrum experience all on its own and it deserves to be named, critiqued, explored just as much as trans spectrum experiences. Just because the vast majority sees the cis experience as the “default” or “normal” doesn’t mean it isn’t hella biased. In fact that IS the bias which informs the experience to begin with. All in all I am soo thankful that this term is finally catching on, because it has freed up my mind in so very many ways. _Peace. Jane.

  20. Wow.

    You do realize that society as a whole constantly centers the cis experience right? That most of the scientific and social movement knowledge of gender itself is actually predicated entirely on the 1 through 4 that you just stated? That in fact, it is so ingrained to assume that the cis experience is the only one that the entire English language is built to treat cis as the default?

    When you say “it deserves to be named, critiqued, explored just as much as trans spectrum experiences.” you are way way WAY off on the levels of naming, critique and exploration that the trans spectrum has in comparison to the cis spectrum. We have to fight, constantly, just to talk about ourselves and our experiences in ANY venue. Feminist communities, disability communities, pagan communities, you name it. If a trans person has a tie to any community, the cis experience will invariably be centered, critiqued and explored above the trans experiences. This happens without fail.

    The reason why the cis experience wasn’t named until now is because it is regarded as the default. The base. The natural state. And thinking that our experiences are somehow given more time, more attention and more validity than the cis experience is the height of ignorance. You’d think, as a trans person (and I’m assuming you are since you said, “our community”) that you would have a solid grasp on how hard we have to fight just to get our experiences noticed or treated as existing and how prevalent and default the cis exp is in society.

    I’m boggled that you don’t know this.

  21. 21 Jane

    Hon, please stop assuming I’m stupid. I dont care so much that your tone is condescending, but if this is the tone you take with people you’ve never spoken with before, you are really shooting your cause in the foot if you want to bring more people to the table as trans allies. If all you want from this blog is to suck your breath and seethe with rage at how hopelessly ignorant everyone else in the world is… well then proceed, I guess. It is your blog after all neener neener. But I do think there are much worthier goals at stake, your rep as “GenderBitch” notwithstanding.

    Now on to my reply. Of course I know this!! I said exactly what I said BECAUSE of the very reasons you stated. A blatantly biased, terribly exclusive, narrowly defined social experience has been foisted upon society as the standard default, as “natural”… and it is so normalized as to be completely invisible with no word to refer to it except in opposition to all that deviates from it. However, that does not mean it doesn’t deserve calling out and analysis.

    Maybe that’s where you’re getting caught up.. the word “deserve.” To me I mean deserve as in, “you’re gonna get what’s comin to ya.” I think you might be taking it as “this is my reward mine mine all mine!” Was that where you jumped the train tracks on what I was saying?

    I never said and I certainly have never thought that trans identities are given more validity than cis identities. (… the fuck? 0_o) I do however believe that we’ve spent way more time thinking about our gendered selves and our situation and exactly how the hell we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten than cis people ever have. And you know why they haven’t? Because they don’t HAVE to. Because they ARE the default!! But just because you don’t have to do the hard work of self analysis and introspection, doesn’t mean its not a damn good idea.

    For me personally, all of the increased self-awareness (not to be confused with self-consciousness) that comes with asking the tough ass questions about myself and society , the insight and self-knowledge i’ve gained… I consider THAT one of the precious few “perks” of my having been trans. No, being trans doesn’t render me more valid or more privileged or better evolved than everyone else. It doesn’t render me abject and powerless either. Even tho the cis world would have me believe I am abject and powerless. And they would have me believe it by refusing to name themselves as anything but normal and sending sundry goons after me to correct the error of me by force. This is one of the defining experiences of oppression. And calling it out is the only way you can begin to stop it.

    But for the sake of second chances let me try and re-phrase what I said before, since somehow you got this fucked up idea about what I believe about cis vs trans. Here is what I think:

    I think it would do cis people a world of good to start recognizing their own gender identity experiences as constructed, rather than natural.

    I think cis people have a whole spectrum of life experiences that come with adhering to a system that actually works for them for the most part, but still limits them and keeps them from full self-awareness. They should question these life experiences.

    I think cis people AND trans people are born into the same world, are assigned the same narrow oppressive identities from birth, and are subjected to the same oppressive gender expectations, or “rules.”

    A cis person rarely has to confront the full consequences of breaking the rules. That doesnt mean the rules don’t still apply to them. That doesn’t mean it’s not necessary to say “Hey these rules are oppressive and they need to fucking stop. Here’s why, and here’s how.”

    The work the trans community has done indicting gender oppressive institutions, work that has been informed by feminism of course, has resonance for cis people as well. I mean obviously… it resonates so much that some cis people are trying to claim THEY are trans, even when they arent!!!

    Over all, I think the term cis has much potential to help cis people leave trans people the hell alone, check their own privilege, and name their own suffering.

    To me… because of all that, the term “cis” means something way the hell more complicated than “not trans.” That’s all I’m saying.

  22. It’s remarkable how you claim I’m being condescending and then call me “hon”. I don’t regard you as stupid. I regarded you as painfully, obviously wrong. (With your clarification, I just regard you to be mildly mistaken)

    As for your tone argument derail, I’ve actually done far better with Nuker tactics than I ever have with Appeaser tactics. Cis “allies” really enjoying taking advantage of politeness to get away with shit and I’ve yet to chase away any genuine allies after I abandoned that politeness (and only chased away 2 ingenuine “allies”). So your complaint is utterly void of any value next to real world experience that says otherwise.

    Moving on to your statements of analysis of cis, I appreciate the clarification. What you’re saying makes more sense. However, I still disagree. What you aren’t seeing here is that the cis world has been analyzed. The gender variation and systems of cis folk have been the focus of feminism (and sociological gender analysis) for decades, possibly even centuries. This includes recognizing stuff about their experiences. This includes questioning their experiences. This includes dealing with the oppressions of gender. In fact, really the only thing about the cis world that hasn’t been analyzed in the way you’ve asked for has been the existence of anything but being cis. It isn’t ignored because it is the default, all the things you’ve brought up have already been done. Ad nauseum.

    As for appropriation of trans identities, well that would stem more (presumably) from the standard causes for appropriation: Entitlement, preception of power and uniqueness (with denial of privilege power), perception of tight knit community (with ignorance of why that community exists) and regarding us as lesser enough to access without our permission. Some of that ties to what you said, about the resonance of our achievements and community.

    I do agree that the term cis has potential to help us (to avoid being othered) and them (to leave us alone). But naming their suffering? For the last century or longer, the name of their suffering has been gender oppression. They had a name, now we’re just carving our place and forcing them to stop laying a claim to all of gender.

  23. 23 Jane

    Thank you. I can see alot of validity in the argument that cis people have been analyzed plenty. I disagree that they have been analyzed enough. I agree feminism and feminists have done a ton of work on this score.. but certainly not the majority of cis people. I don’t believe most cis people have thought deeply about how theytoo have been assigned a gender identity which informs the rights, responsibiltiies and social and legal obligations they will have for the rest of their lives. I don’t think they’ve spent nearly enough time thinking about the constructedness of sex as well as gender, nor about how much of their gendered identities is actually separate from their gendered bodies. Even a disappointing number of cis feminists seem to stop analyzing themselves when it comes to trans identities… they can be just as “i’m normal you’re not” as any of the unwashed masses. I think they do this because they haven’t spent enough time thinking about themselves as cis.

    As for the “derailment” about your tone. Um no that wasn’t a derailment, but nice try anyway. It was a separate comment independent of my reply, which I made clear in the construction of my response. I apologize for the condescending “hon”, two wrongs not making a right and all, but if you dont believe that saying things in the spirit of “i can’t friggin’ believe you don’t understand this?????” and subtle and not so subtle ways of saying “wtf is wrong with you, moron????” .,,. if you don’t believe that that kind of speech is viciously, deeply, unnecessarily condescending… then I’m inclined to think you are either being disgenuous, or you simply don’t give a fuck about first impressions.

    For the record, I had no idea who you were til I saw this blog post,which I found by doing a general search on ‘cisgender.’ It’s a topic that i’m pretty curious about right now. but I liked what you had to say and I looked forward to reading other writings by you. Now I’m kind of on the fence about reading your other stuff. No not because of any hurt feelings, but because of your rather unreasonably rude initial response to me; I have doubts about your basic level of objectivity. Yes I know, boo hoo, big loss for you, right? Why should you care if I read your blog or not? You shouldn’t and you won’t. But consider this… whether or not you’ve alienated an insignificant number of alllies, you’ve made a pretty poor first impression with me. I’m nobody of consequence. But I’m sure there have been/will be others needlessly turned off from you and the terribly important things you have to say, simply because you seem to think talking to people like they are stupid is a reasonable thing to do.

    Peace out and keep fighting the good fight.



  24. 1st paragraph: If you mean analyzing their own placement in regards to trans folk, that’s really more an analysis of a cissexist society than it is an analysis of the tribulations of being cis.

    2nd paragraph: It’s referred to as a tone argument derail whether it is actually used to derail or not. In other words, my tone is irrelevant to what I say. You made it relevant. Oops is on you. As for my response to your first, poorly worded comment: the words “I can’t believe you don’t understand this” is quite literally just that. Disbelief that you, as a trans person, apparently did not understand this phenomenon. Your clarification helped me realize that no, that wasn’t the case, but had you meant what I heard in your first comment? My response would have made plenty of sense. Your first comment was basically, “cis people don’t get enough attention” (said by a trans person). If you’re surprised by a response of “wtf, how can you believe that?” to that statement (which we are all aware now was merely a misstatement by you), well then, you have a weak grasp on reality.

    3rd paragraph: Now you’re just being silly. Objectivity and “how nice I am to you” or my “politeness level” are not in the least bit linked. Objectivity, obviously, being the capacity to describe a situation without significant bias distorting the truth of the matter (as no one is truly objective on matters of social oppression, this would simply be the journalistic level of objectivity). The fact that you are attempting to link them leads me to conclude that either you are acting in extraordinarily poor faith (and your passive aggressive bullshit throughout the comment is more evidence towards that) or you fail completely to grasp what the concept of objectivity means when applied to journalistic writing. Maybe both. So really, if it’s the former, once again, I haven’t chased off anyone that wasn’t already useless to begin with. If it’s the latter well, then once again, I haven’t chased off anyone who would actually be helpful. For more on why attempting to force everyone in an activism group to be polite, you might want to read the AMO post on communication styles. It’s actually very scientific in its presentation so maybe it’ll fit your needs a bit better since anger makes so deeply troubled.

    As a note, the word you’re looking for is probably “decorum”. Following a set of standards for journalistic presentation. Politeness or being nice would fit under decorum, not objectivity. And, of course, if I worked for a publication that had certain decorum standards, your complaints would be entirely valid.

    I hope that aided you. Pleasant journey.


  25. 25 GhotheGirl

    But my box makes my butt look big! *pouts*

  26. “Hon, please stop assuming I’m stupid. I dont care so much that your tone is condescending, but if this is the tone you take with people you’ve never spoken with before, you are really shooting your cause in the foot if you want to bring more people to the table as trans allies. If all you want from this blog is to suck your breath and seethe with rage at how hopelessly ignorant everyone else in the world is… well then proceed, I guess. It is your blog after all neener neener. But I do think there are much worthier goals at stake, your rep as “GenderBitch” notwithstanding.”

    … wow, I’ve never seen so many bingo squares in one paragraph before. Honestly, this needs to go in a museum of some kind as, like, the holy grail of bingo.

  27. I won at least 3 times. I wish we got actual prizes. XD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: