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)



  1. What would be privileged thing to say? With regards to being cissexist

  2. OK, this is a fantastic response and really deserves more thought than I have time to muster right this second, but I'll work it out today and comment again tonight after work. :-) Love your words Lyn! Very well said and exactly the type of discussion I was hoping to generate by my blog. Thank you! I often hear a lot of "yes, you are right!" replies that leave me thinking, "really, no one has an objection to this?".
    Love, Michelle

  3. Hi Lyn,
    Loved the follow up to Michelle's article on CIS sexualism. When you said, if ppl do not know what CIS is then educate them I was like oh good I am finally going to get the definition to the initials "CIS", Doh! Missed it again... I know what it refers to as in genetically correctly born ppl. However CIS? I am forever clueless, And i have been in the community for many years! LOL I prefer knowing what a term is to better utilize it. So PLEASE help me!
    Thank you.
    Kristine Tarcy Hollander

    1. If I may respond, both cis and trans come from Latin.

      Trans is a prefix in Latin that means "on the other side", so someone who is transgender is "on the other side" of their assigned gender.

      Cis is the antonym of trans in Latin, it means "on this side", so a cisgender person is "on the side" of their assigned gender.

      Hope that helps (and that you were asking why "cis" is used, I think that's what you wanted? Sorry if I said the wrong stuff and came across as patronising or anything.)

    2. Orangeban,
      Thank you for responding. It certainly helps for sure and patronising you weren't. Very helpful indeed. Ijust felt silly being around for as long as I have, and missing something that is more and more becoming common use.
      Thank you again!

  4. Hi Lyn,

    Great post! I’m honored you took the time to generate a very well
    written and excellent commentary to my post.

    OK, first things first, no worries on taking exception to any of my
    points, ever. I throw a lot of thoughts out there, but I’m no guru by
    any means and when I started this venture a few months ago, I decided
    to label my blog ‘Transgender Talk’ in the hopes that it would get
    some good dialog going. Sometimes it happens, but starting to think
    that maybe I should subtitle it “Share Your Thoughts Already, Dammit”
    if that didn’t sound too mean and dictatorial.
    (end of part 1 - sorry, it only lets me post so many characters!)

  5. Part II

    I tried my best to come up with some heavy weight counter arguments to
    your points, but in truth I agree with most of it. Actually, I agree
    with all of your points. I didn’t want to because I enjoy a good
    debate as a way of furthering thought, but I have to concede on each
    of your individual points, but looking at the same thing from
    different angles. We are on the same page, except maybe, and only
    maybe, on a macro context level.

    I’m going to revisit what I suspect is a sizable issue in the
    advancement of trans rights and education. While I concede that your
    approach is excellent for personal interactions, I’m still wavering on
    whether it will have overall societal impact. True, I think direct
    education is the best way to ensure we make clear our equality as
    women and the use of ‘cisgender’ is the right way to go to create an
    environment of “same but with differences” as opposed to one of
    “normal and outlier”. I also agree that attempting to educate the lone
    bigot has merit if it can affect bystanders (assuming there are some,
    and that doing so doesn’t pose personal danger). Where we veer a bit
    from each other is on normalizing this for society by doing so.

    1. It has impact by virally spreading the language to the masses via cisgender discussion of transgender people, and further, by, basically, converting allies.

      It's a small change. On the individual level, it's not much. But if every trans person identified tried like my method to educate and expand everyone's understanding of trans people, and if everyone who heard these issues became an ally, or even 50%, then that's a large chunk of people who will support us when voting comes around.

      Change starts at the personal level.

    2. Hi Lyn,

      You see, that is the very point I'm stuck on. I'm not at all saying this isn't true (the viral method of spreading I mean), I'm saying I don't know if it is. The million dollar question in this is, do cis people talk about trans people in any kind of meaning full way when we are not present? I want to think so, but I'm wondering if it ever goes beyond the level of "Hey was your friend Michelle born a dude? ... Yeah, she's transgendered. It's OK, she's cool." Maybe, but I really don't know. When I'm in observational mode I've noticed that it is a rare case that someone really makes an effort to educate someone educate on a social issue that doesn't affect them directly. Some seem born to do this, but they seem few and far between.

      My own internal rambling, "Great Michelle, just point out potential problems with no solutions. Nice." Shamed by my own self, I have to say, any effort is a good effort and can make a difference, even if it isn't as big as we like, and way, way better than doing nothing at all.

      Again, excellent thoughts Lyn!

      Love, Michelle

  6. Part III

    I certainly like the notion of ‘cisgender’ becoming as ubiquitous as
    ‘straight’. I like it a whole lot. I certainly don’t think education
    by direct communication is going to hurt this one bit. I’m also not
    quite there in thinking it will bring us to a winning place. The
    relative rarity of our existence is such that we can influence those
    around us, but we are too spread through the general population for an
    ‘oil-spot’ effect to take place. At least that is my contention. My
    thinking on the matter is that even by well educating those we
    immediately encounter or already know, we are inundating them with an
    understanding and terminology of something very unfamiliar, and as
    such, even gaining their support is on the norm of simple acceptance
    rather than advocate. To sum up my point, currently we can have small
    successes in self-advocacy, but are too few in numbers on a highly
    complex and infrequency encountered existence for the knowledge to

    Again, I could be wrong as I only really have my own tiny slice of
    experience to draw from. So far though, my best attempts to fully
    educate those closest to me have been enough to enlighten them, but
    totally insufficient in giving them the tools to intelligently explain
    us to another cisgender person who never encountered a trans person
    before. It’s been frustrating. Honestly, I hope I just happen to
    really suck at this and that the true norm is that others are not
    finding this so problematic as I am.

    OK, it seems I’m starting to drift into a whole different area here.
    I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the overall perception of
    trans in society, so my viewpoint may just be a tiny bit skewed. 
    Getting back to the point, I really liked what you had to say, it did
    make me think about it more, and I do think you are right on every
    point, although not quite convinced on the macro-societal level, but
    think that is a different topic anyway. Thanks again so much for
    putting your own thoughts out there! I think the more of us who do it,
    the better and we can learn from each other and further develop a
    better understanding of ourselves and how we relate to the world
    around us as a result. I look greatly forward to reading more and
    added you to my blog roll of sites I respect, admire, and consider
    excellent writers and thinkers.

    Peace and love sister, Michelle