A blog for answering questions, and sharing ideas pertaining to all things transgender.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Response to: The Unawareness of Cissexism
Michellelianna of Transgender Talk discussed the idea of Cissexism, and how using that term, or calling people out on it, is counter-intuitive due to widespread ignorance of both the term cis, and ignorance of cis privilege. She also poses that most people don't want to be insulting, so we should be careful when addressing people on this topic.
Now, let me preface by saying I read her articles all the time (pretty much whenever I'm aware there's a new one) but there are some points with which I *strongly* disagree, and I would like to pose my counterargument, with all respect to her.
Now, to begin, widespread ignorance of the term cis is not a reason to not educate people on what the term means. To accept "trans" and "not trans" as the modes of existence, we're othering ourselves. The word cisgender exists to promote equality "I may be trans, you may be cis, but we're both women". Not using this term, creates the atmosphere of "Well, I'M a woman, you're a 'trans woman'. I'm real, you're not." The term exists to bring everyone down to an equal level. And to be honest, I 'identify as trans' about as much as cis people 'identify as cis' - I'm a woman. I was born with male anatomy. That makes me trans by definition, and I know this. But it's a byproduct of me identifying as female.
Also, when the gay rights movement really kicked off, tell me how many heterosexual women and men 'identified as straight'? That word existed to bring the privileged, unaware majority back on equal footing, much the same way cisgender does. We need to be propagating this word, and educating people about it, because the language itself impacts how we're seen. It's much easier to say, and have people agree, that "Well the trans prefix means you aren't a woman like me. I'm a woman woman, no qualifiers!" than it is to say "Well cis women are real, but trans women aren't". If the word 'cisgender' becomes as common as 'straight', we're winning.
It also makes them question the circumstance of their gender. "But I don't identify as cis! It's not real!" then after they consider that we don't, necessarily, inherently identify as trans either, and that it's a circumstance of our birth, it helps them to understand us a bit better as well.
Onto privilege: I don't think it's necessarily a great idea to wave someone's privilege back in their face, under most circumstances. However, I've met more than one cisgender person (sometimes even close friends!) who assume that because their intent is good, that they can't be cissexist. The key here is discretion. You shouldn't sling it as an insult, but use it as a gentle reminder. "Hey, you know, that was a pretty privileged thing to say. You probably didn't realize it, but it was very cissexist" The key is letting them know you appreciate their intent was to NOT be that way. In this way, you can make them aware of their privilege, that the way in which they exercise their privilege was not really okay, and to, basically, check themselves. Just because they're ignorant of their privilege doesn't give them a free ticket to be a privileged ass. And if they ask "wtf is cis" explain it. I've said it before, I'll say it again: if 'cisgender' becomes as common in language as the word 'straight', then we're winning. So yeah, mostly agree with her here, except that I think I advocate being a bit more active with this than she does.
One more point I agree with is that, if a person is determined to be a bigoted asshole, nothing you can say will make them change their minds. But defending yourself from them is not intended to do that. The people you're reaching out to are the onlookers who might be swayed. So again, discretion. If it's you and the bigot, and they have no other relevance to you, then yeah, it's not worth it. Steel your heart, and realize they're a lost cause. But if it's a public affair, with casual onlookers, use your superior grasp on trans issues and rights to call them out. Not for the sake of the bigot, but for the sake of those onlookers who might be swayed.
So yeah. That's my thoughts on cissexism. Again, props to Michellelianna, no disrespect, I read her stuff a lot, I just happen to disagree with some of her points.
(The questions on my last article: I have them. I wanted to respond to this article in a timely manner, and I'll get to them in the following blog posts. However, if you have questions or ideas you would like me to weigh in on, please leave them in the comments section)