Alex Blaze

Cisgender madness!

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 17, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: cisgender people, cisgender privilege, heterosexual privilege, language, LGBT, LGBT people, origin, pam's house blend, queer, straight, trans, transgender, transsexual

There's been a debate raging over at Pam's that no one here at Bilerico has been willing to touch with a 10-foot pole: Is it OK to call non-transgender people "cisgender"?

Well, the debate is mostly a small group of gay and lesbian cis-people who don't particularly like the word, and everyone else who either likes it or is OK with it in certain situations. I don't know if who gets to speak for the hundreds of millions of English-speaking cis people out there, but since most people don't even know the word exists, it's worth having this debate now.

The word was created, as I understand it, to have a word for people who aren't transgender in any way. It make sense, since words used before for that concept weren't always too nice to trans people (like "normal" or "biological" or "real," as in a "normal person," a "biological woman," or a "real man"). It comes from the literal, Latin opposite for trans, which is defined by Webster's as:

1 : on this side <cislunar> <cisatlantic>

A cisatlantic flight as opposed to a transatlantic flight. I remember my organic chemistry professor telling us to use the mnemonic device "Carbon In Same" to remember the difference between the cis and trans versions of different molecules. I personally can't think of a more value-neutral way to describe people who aren't transgender.

It seems to me that opposition to the word has less to do with the word "cisgender" itself and more to do with people who don't want a word for non-transgender people at all. It's nice to not have a word for something - it becomes the normal version of whatever. That's part of the impetus behind developing the word "cisgender" in the first place - to remind everyone who isn't trans that they aren't normal (although as long as being trans is medicalized as it is, I don't see transgender or transsexualism ever being considered on equal footing with society at large. That probably speaks more to the need to develop a new paradigm for understanding medical conditions and illness and variation outside of the current "here's a normal body, anything different is wrong" model. The same for homo- and bisexuality; we can call heterosexuals "straight" all we want, they're still going to think they're the norm by which everyone else must be compared).

One opponent of "cisgender" on PHB said:

If people can accept the fact that there is no "normal" and that we are all unique individuals, terms like cisgender and uniracial have no place in conversation.

It sounds a whole lot like "I don't see race" to me. Consider the fact that he said that the term "cisgender" has no place if everyone's a unique individual, not the term "transgender." That will still be necessary in this brave, new world where everyone's gender identity is unique and personal and in no way related to or even like anyone else's, because... well, we need a word for them.

Another opponent said:

For the record, I find cis- to be offensive. In general, I thought our community (I mean the whole LGBT rainbow here) uses terms that are acceptable to those being described. That is, we use the preferred gender of trans people, we call someone bi if they identify as bi, we don't say tranny, etc.

So why is it okay for (some of) the trans community to call us cis-? If members of the trans community said "stop calling us trans, we find it offensive" would we here at PHB continue to say "trans"? I doubt it very much.

Why the lack of respect in the other direction?

Good point, although it isn't easy to put into practice. Suppose, for instance, I didn't like the word "man," not because I'm not a man or think I'm more complicated than that or whatever, but because I just don't like the way it's been used in the past. Could I make up a new word like "waggup" (I don't know) and expect everyone to use it? In the real world, no. Does the fact that I'm one of the only men who doesn't like the word mean that I have to suck it up and take it? In the real world, yes.

That example is actually quite generous; I have yet to see someone opposed to the word "cisgender" suggest a replacement (maybe I missed it).

Autumn Sandeen gets to the heart of the issue with this chart:

CisTermsTable2_thumb.jpg

Many people who have an issue with "cisgender" do so because it's often used in phrases like "cisgendered, transbigoted privileged assholes." But that speaks more to the words "transbigoted privileged assholes" than the word "cisgendered" (past participle now?). As Autumn called it elsewhere, it's a "weaponized" used of the word cisgender.

Fritz makes a similar point:

I believe that one of the reasons radical feminism has failed to result in real equality for women is the movement's casual use of divisive language. "Male chauvinist" is a term that should have never been uttered outside of feminist workshops. Today, many men wear the label of chauvinist with pride. It has become a hackneyed term that is more widely used in crude jokes aimed at women. It is sad to see so many transgender activists follow in the footsteps of failure.

(For the record, I disagree with his assessment radical feminism's failure, but that's not the topic here.)

The thing is, "male chauvinist" isn't value-neutral. "Man" or "male" are. "Cisgender" is value-neutral; "cisgendered, transbigoted privileged assholes" isn't.

It goes back to how being called "stupid" doesn't, for some reason, hurt as much as being called a "stupid woman," or being called "lazy" doesn't hurt as much as being called a "lazy Mexican." In one case, you were at least put on trial, one assumes, as a person; in the other, it's just because of something you don't have control over or some other quality that's not related at all to the insult that's put you there. It erases a person's individuality.

Which is part of the problem with many of the people who are using the word "cisgender," and I've noticed it for a while: they seem to repeat the same "my oppression is the worst ever"/"everything should be seen through the lens of my identity"/"everyone who isn't in my oppressed group is out to get me" mentality that haunts far too many (generally) white, coastal-urban gay men and white, second-wave feminists. It assumes absolute privilege on the part of everyone who's not a part of that oppressed group and ignores intersectionality and class-privilege (since I have yet to hear an American say that rich and middle-class people, no matter their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, or sexual orientation, all have a privileged life, even though that's a whole lot closer to reality than people who say or imply that all straight or cisgender people, no matter their race, ethnicity, sex, religion, income-level, or social class, live a privileged life. Funny how that works).

And it's annoying to people who don't feel all too privileged to be referred to as either a "privileged cisgender person," just as it's annoying to many white people to be referred to as a "privileged white person" even if they can't get ahead. Yes, privilege exists along the lines of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, etc., but referring to someone as a privileged person, flatly, is an easy way to get them to stop listening because everyone thinks the hand they were dealt is shit. That's pretty much the only thing that unites all humans.

Pointing out that people experience privilege in a specific situation, on the other hand, might open up minds of people willing to listen. And the point of a term like "cisgender" is to make people think in different ways, not harden them up. Yeah, they have a responsibility to listen, it's not a minority's job to educate the majority, yada yada yada, but the majority won't listen if they feel like they're being attacked and telling them it's their fault they're not listening or that it's their privilege that's preventing them from opening up their minds isn't going to change anything.

If the issue is with how "cisgender" is being used, then let's deal with that. Because if we come up with an alternative, and the issues with "cisgender" haven't been dealt with, they'll just be transferred right on over.


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I use the term cisgender because it fulfills a definition that would otherwise have no terms. (I.E. "someone who is not transgender.") I use the word unapologetically and refuse to cow to pressures not to use the word.

I'm a linguist at heart, see. The simple fact of the matter is this: cis- has been adopted by queer discussion communities as a method of labelling for non-trans people. When a word is accepted by a majority of a language group, it becomes part of the lexicon. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here's a metaphor to take the queer out of the queer-drama: does microsoft take offense at the fact that the act of web searching is now covered by the coined phrase "Googling"? Of course not. That does not change the fact that people use the term on a daily basis; it's a simple word that explains an otherwise lengthy idea. Their only option is to battle back with their own terms in hope that the lexicon eventually changes.

Considering how many people wipe their noses with Kleenex, Xerox their document copies, and go home to Jell-O shots on the weekends, however, any attempts to replace cis- as a marker for "non-trans" will ultimately fail. Lexicons are historically inflexible.

Glad to see this discussed. I haven't been paying close attention to the PHB debacal, but I've been worried by how some of it appears to be playing out.

A great parallel to mention is that for several decades the word "homosexual" was in use but there was similarly no counterpart except for "normal." I've heard it was homosexual activists who created the term heterosexual -- another latin/scientific confusing term that heterosexuals didn't understand. Even this decade, I recall a survey that asked if you were homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual, and one respondent (either not knowing what it meant or objecting to the term) wrote in his own answer: "normal." If cisgender is an inapropriate word to use, so is heterosexual.

Additionally, the piece on privilege you mention is the typical inability to see things on an intersectional basis, and it's a problem that plagues every anti-oppression movement. I've picked up the idea of changing our language around describing privilege. Instead of saying someone *has privilege* or *is privileged* I prefer to say they *access privilege*.

It gets to the heart of the experience and is about doing rather then being. In that case, someone who experiences oppression in every other aspect of their life can still access cis privilege. It might not buy them as much as a trust fund, but having the right gender on your birth certificate or being placed in the right gender facility can really help out when the chips are down. Telling someone that they access cis privilege doesn't mean that they're better off then me, but it can mean that their behavior reflects their ability to do things that I can't.

Where do people with intersex conditions fit into this classification schema? Are they considered transgender, cisgender, both or neither?

Intersex and transgender are separate issues. You've probably heard how some trans people are gay, some are straight, some are bi, just like cis folks can be gay, straight, and bi.

Similarly, some intersex people transition, some intersex people don't.

It's true that there's overlap here and there in the areas of oppression, but they are distinct enough that separate language for them is important. I might say that the oppression intersex people experience often makes it more difficult to access cisgender privilege. The same way being a person of color can inhibit access to class privilege, or how being queer and having a disability can inhibit access to male privilege. Access to the privilege isn't cut off, but the experience of it changes.

Better to ask intersex people themselves, it really isn't for GLB and TG's, or the norm-borns of any stripe to place an identity on them.

http://www.intersexualite.org/

http://sophiaofthescythes.wordpress.com/

Wow. Alex, thou art a much braver soul than I am now for jumping into this cis- discussion when you didn't have to.

My neutral comment for your article is "Expect a sh**storm in your comment thread for this post." People have some pretyy strong opinions on the cis- terms, and these will no doubt come out in the thread. It's important to discuss these cis- terms, but in discussing any trans-related terminology one should expect a bit of a bumpy learning curve.

And, my "snarky" comment is: "Eep! My name is mentioned again in relationship to the cis- terms. (Snark:) Just can't wait to read the I-hate-Autumn-Sandeen comments! W00t! (/Snark)" Ah...maybe not on the "W00t." (D'oh!)

Thanks for stopping by, Autumn!

I can se there are plenty of people chiming in, which is great. I think we can have a vigorous discussion of this issue, which you helped bring to the fore.

How about an "I LOVE AUTUMN" comment from Phil/philipot00/Ameriqueer! Because its 100% TRUE!

In five years of living in NYC, I have received a crash course in gender from my friends who identify as trans. My learnin' has not been academic, but rather a practical course in relating to, living with, and respecting people who have had dramatically different lives than me because of these common issues. Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is: assume nothing. Gender and sexuality are expressed uniquely for every trans person I know, and the binary does not apply. Expanding this lesson, I have begun to think of all gender and sexuality as fluid, including my own.

The first time I heard myself described as a "cisman," I immediately bristled.

By all of the above academic and linguistic standards, it is true. I recognize the utility of the term and can't argue with the bulk of the perspectives I've read here.

And yet, I still don't like it.

My trans life may have been limited to transvestism thus far, but will that always be the case? If I don't identify as trans, have I by default accepted the identity of cis? Must we replace the male/female binary with a trans/not-trans binary? That doesn't feel like progress to me.

If my only choices are cis or trans, then I choose trans. No, I may not meet the usual criteria, but my gender is not a subject the world is allowed to judge. As a trans person my gender has a whole range of possible expressions, which I prefer to the limits of cisgender.

In a way, it's fun that the world is still coming up with labels for me to reject.

I won't assume that I have you figured out, and I'd like the same consideration in return.

In a way, it's fun that the world is still coming up with labels for me to reject.

Love it!

So maybe space needs to be made outside of cisgender and transgender for it not to be a binary? Homosexual and heterosexual aren't a binary because space was made for "bisexual," "queer," and "pansexual."

Would "genderqueer" work for people who are outside of the trans/cis binary? I don't think that was the original intent of the word (which, as I understand, is meant to be for people outside of the male/female binary), but it seems to dovetail nicely into this discussion.

Bigender? That might not be the right direction.

"Bigender? That might not be the right direction."

Gee, when I read that in e-mail, for the life of me, I couldn't understand why Big Ender would be appropriate in this discussion. It wasn't until I saw it online that I figured it out.

I would definitely recommend a hyphen.

I agree that its best to reject binaries. On one hand cisgender is set up as a term to be "opposite" of transgender--this is a false binary, as people have already wisely pointed out, gender is as much a spectrum as sexual orientation is--I love queer because anyone can be queer, even someone who prefers the opposite sex!

That said, cisgender is still a very useful term. Like Austen says, its a short word that helps explain a very complex idea.

Though its trough--especially when it comes to gender identity--there is no real 'normal' and everyone's expression of their gender identity is unique. The idea that anyone believes that their own expression is 'the norm' is most likely ignoring a lot of holes in the plot. However, that does not mean that there aren't unique difficulties faced by members of the transgender community. There is a sort of invisible, intangible line crossed to enter this community, and though there may be sissies and tom boys left back on the other side, what they'll face for their different than mainstream identity expression will pale in comparison with what a transgender person will likely have to go through.

Even though we are indeed all on a diverse spectrum of gender identity expression, because of the unique difficulties faced by those who truly embrace the 'transgender' identifier, there needs to be language to discuss this dynamic. Therefore, cisgender falls into the mix.

I am a proud cisgender ally to my transgender friends. I don't consider my own gender identity expression 'normal' whatsoever--I played football and baseball in high school, but I also danced, studied theatre, slept with boys and I still love a good tiara (I was on homecoming court. My poor escort, little did she know she would have the tiara torn right out of her $200 up-do as soon as noone was looking). I don't fit any (fictitious and fabricated as they might be) gender stereotype, though I would not identify as transgender or even genderqueer.

I'm fine with, and embrace the cisgender term because it helps me understand the tangible issues that our trans brothers and sisters face every day.

I agree with Toby. Cisgender is to transgender (or cissexual to transsexual) as heterosexual is to homosexual. If heterosexual was controversial at one time, it no longer is. So I figure the cis- words just need time.

Thank you for a calm elucidation of the issue!

"It make sense, since words used before for that concept weren't always too nice to trans people (like "normal" or "biological" or "real," as in a "normal person," a "biological woman," or a "real man")."

There was natal but, of course, the transgender needed their own term...hence cis. I'll bow out and look forward to the ze, sie, and hir post. Must respect those sensibilities you know though a rose by any other name is still...well, a rose.

Except that if we oppose natal to trans, we suggest that the first group was born with their gender, and the second group was not.

A trans person is natal. A trans womon is just as much a womon-born-womon as any cis womon. The difference is that we have to fight to be who we were born, in ways that most cis people do not have to.

Excellent article, Alex. I love the term cisgender because it allows transfolk to be on the same footing as non-transfolk like me, as they should be. I see it much like women in the 70s refusing to any longer be identified by their relationship to a man by refusing "Mrs." or "Miss" and creating a title "Ms." which is completely equal to and independent from "Mr."

"Excellent article, Alex. I love the term cisgender because it allows transfolk to be on the same footing as non-transfolk like me, as they should be."

And yet you didn't use it to describe yourself. So there is a simple way to convey identity without it.

True I didn't use it there because of the very nature of the comment. But elsewhere I will and I have, because "non-transgender" reads clunkily whereas "cisgender" doesn't. Where the word works, I'll use it. Where it doesn't, I won't. This is what I love about English - a rich, multi-layered and ever-evolving language with an array of synonyms to help color most any conversation. :)

-- Lurleen, Your cisgendered correspondent from Seattle

Some say potato, some say potato... ;-)

I do try to describe privilege to folks that don't understand it whenever I can and I really think that "access privilege" line is probably a really good way to refer to it.

Often what I tell folk is that privilege is applied. It is not something you ask for, seek out or even necessarily want. It is merely applied and as such robs you of your perspective.

I find that this method is extraordinarily successful in getting through to folk because no one likes it when something is applied to them without consent, especially when it hurts people. And people don't like the idea of not having perspective.

I agree that cisgendered is a necessary term. It is here to prevent othering and Fritz's claims were privileged, cissexist and wrong. I sincerely doubt he would support eliminating the word "straight" and not discussing straight privilege anymore.

Thank you for the straightforward and reasonable post.


@Autumn:

Come on. You made a mistake. None of us hate you. We just don't like it when folks in our own community enable the othering of us all for dubious reasons.

I thought the article was rather good myself. I use the term cisgender also.

However, those that don't like the term cisgender will probably like the term cissexual even less.

And I suspect those that see no difference, or no difference worth mentioning, between transgender people and transsexual people won't like it either.

The argument for using cissexual is precisely the same as using cisgender and, for that matter, heterosexual, to deprivilege, to remove from the pedestal all the terms for normal.

Even as you pointed out, Alex.

The lines of confrontation delineated by cissexual are very different than those delineated by cisgender, also.

Just about the same as the difference between identity and medical condition.

Yes, the difference between cisgendered and transgendered, vs cissexual and transsexual... that's not Trans 101 any more.

There's no opposite to Intersexed too. I propose Intrasexed.

You heard it here first. If it catches on, etymologists will state this as, if not the first, then an independant usage.

I'll point the etymologists to this post. :)

You should click through Helen Boyd's post below. She's more OK with cissexual than cisgender. Interesting.

This is a peeve of mine, Alex. I really dislike the (made up) word cisgender.

First, it's contrived and meaningless to the overwhelming majority of people who have never heard of either it, or its derivation. Therefore, it has almost no value.

Second, I've investigated how 'cis' is normally used (usually in plant biology), and it's really not completely analogous to non-transgender people. Just because a word is translated to the opposite (or same) word in a different language, doesn't mean it's the correct usuage. That's how foreign films get absurd subtitles:

an 8" knife is ploughed deeply into a man's thigh, and the subtitle of his reaction is, "You pricked me!"

Probably technically correct, but hardly the message he was trying to convey.

Next, it's unnecessary. It is a lot more understandable and accurate to simply say "non-transgender" than cisgender. The same can be said of the phrase "natal man (or woman)". there's no point using a word most people don't understand.

Language does send signals in addition to its meaning. And God knows trans people can't agree on pretty much anything. A similiar dispute is held over the term "tranny". I think it's appalling and disrespectful, and gives others permission to denegrate our community. Other trans people will tell you that they love the word, and won't give it up no matter the effect it has politically or psychologically on the general public.

I'm not sure about chemistry or botany, but in geography, cis has always been opposite trans.

At one point, all words are made up.

Words are the tools of power and oppressed people use and make up words in their struggle for equality.

I am contributing to a text book in which it is described that heterosexual, if not made up by gay and lesbian activists, was used so that the language itself would not privilege certain orientations by leaving them invisible--and make visible their power over and oppression of those they called homosexual, and worse.

Why should the same strategy--the same successful strategy--not be used by both transgender and transsexual people?

Why should transgender people not challenge the privilege of cisgender people?

Why should transsexual people not challenge the privilege of cissexual people?

Why should we not challenge power?

Power is also a state of consciousness, as is oppression; language challenges both.

I, for one, do not submit to either!

Rory,

I've never heard the plant biology uses. How is it used if it's not analogous?

Also, why use a term people don't understand? The same thing could have been said about half the language I use. Pansexual, dhtml, gigahertz, rofl, just to name a few. Just a couple years ago, "blog" was one of those terms too.

Not to mention, plenty of people do know the word cis. 90% of the time I use the term, it's among people who already know it. Another 9% of the time they have no problem picking it up. It's just that 1% of the time that people object. And it's the concept of equal footing with trans folk that they are usually objecting to, much less the requirement of learning a new word -- which they invariably are doing all the time anyway.

Tobi -

I suspect, although I cannot prove, that the familiarity with the word cisgender is related to the amount of time people spend in online environments. Our group runs eight support meetings a month, and only one time (I guess about a year ago) has someone used the term. No one else in the room knew what it meant.

As far as new words, if there is a recognizable basis for them such as a common root, even if you've never heard the word before, you can extrapolate its meaning. Your example of "pansexual" is a good one. "Pan" is a common root known to mean "all". Together with "sexual", there is little doubt about the meaning. I believe that pansexual has been in use for something like 30 years, though. But I've never heard of "cis" used as a root word before.

I Googled the word when I first heard it, and that's when I read the plant biology reference. I don't remember the details, but I do remember thinking that it just didn't work for me.

Oh, I never meant to indicate that those who know the word cis aren't a limited population, only that 90% of the time I use the word it is within that population. That's no different from the technical terms I use at work or the chemistry terms my partner uses at the lab. Does it really matter if 99% of the world doesn't understand a word when it fills a needed gap in language and you're talking with the other 1%.

Also, while "pan" is a slightly better known prefix then "cis" I still find myself explaining it to people all the time. And it would be very difficult to hazard a guess at the meaning of "gigahertz" or "rofl" without someone explaining it to you. My point is not that cis is intuitive, but that very few of the new words that crop up are intuitive. They make perfect sense when you know them, very little sense when you don't.

Yet I pick up new slang words, technical phrases, and internet jargon all the time. I'd guess that most people learn new words on a regular basis. So why the problem with this new word?

Personally, I think most it has less to do with the fact that the word is new and more to do with the fact that many cis folks feel threatened when their gender is designated as equally valid as trans people's genders. Especially if they harbor feelings that trans people's genders are somehow not natural, it can feel very threatening to be told that their gender is no more or less natural then ours.

Tobi -

Words that are only known by 1% of the population aren't terribly useful. And your theory that "cis" people don't want to be equated in any way with trans people by naming their gender history doesn't apply to me. So while your ideas about the word might be a valid political point, it doesn't change my feelings about it.

Rory,

Can you explain again what your criticism of the term was? My reading of your comment led me to believe you were concerned that most people wouldn't understand it or want to use it. That's why I shared my concern that the most people won't understand or want to use any terms that put trans and cis people on equal footing.

Words that are only known by 1% of the population aren't terribly useful

I somehow doubt much more than 1% of the population knows terms like accounts payable, MAC address, or cisplatin (hint, it's the opposite of transplatin). Yet without knowing and using those words I'd have failed as a non-profit treasurer, been unable to recieve wireless internet access, and my partner's lab research would crumble and my mother in law's cancer would have been stronger. Words can be very useful even when understood in limited populations.

The thing is, no matter what term is being used, we're goint to have to explain it. If I go up to a random person on the street and use the word "cis", then they are going to ask me what it means. But if I use the term "non-trans" then they're going to ask me what "trans" means. Hell, when talking with the general public, I often am asked to explain what transgender means.

When talking with the general public, I'd rather use a value-neutral term that I have to explain then a term that marks me as lesser then (I don't like the inference that I am a non-natal female. I like the inference that I'm a natal male even less) and I still have to explain. And when talking in spaces where people are aware of all these words, the decision becomes even easier for me.

Can you explain again what your criticism of the term was? My reading of your comment led me to believe you were concerned that most people wouldn't understand it or want to use it. That's why I shared my concern that the most people won't understand or want to use any terms that put trans and cis people on equal footing.

My concern is that it is contrived and imprecise, and that people don't know what it means. I don't understand how you can take heart from people not knowing the meaning if you like the word. To me, that makes it superfluous. I think anyone who is interested enough to even learn the meaning of the word is someone who is trans-friendly enough to consider us equal to non-transgendered people.

Words that are only known by 1% of the population aren't terribly useful I somehow doubt much more than 1% of the population knows terms like accounts payable, MAC address, or cisplatin (hint, it's the opposite of transplatin). Yet without knowing and using those words I'd have failed as a non-profit treasurer, been unable to recieve wireless internet access, and my partner's lab research would crumble and my mother in law's cancer would have been stronger. Words can be very useful even when understood in limited populations.

Technical terms or terms of art used by specific professionals as part of their jobs aren't an apt analogy to compare to a generally descriptive term. Assumedly, having a term for non-transgender people is for the purposes of consciousness raising and political awareness. (BTW, I had to look up the two chemotherapy drugs, having never heard of them. But I still don't know what a MAC address is)

The thing is, no matter what term is being used, we're goint to have to explain it. If I go up to a random person on the street and use the word "cis", then they are going to ask me what it means. But if I use the term "non-trans" then they're going to ask me what "trans" means. Hell, when talking with the general public, I often am asked to explain what transgender means.

I suspect that's because transgender is a newish (made up) word. I imagine that people would be more familiar with "transsexual".

When talking with the general public, I'd rather use a value-neutral term that I have to explain then a term that marks me as lesser then

That's certainly understandable. But since you don't have to describe non-transgender people to explain who you are, I don't see how "cisgender" will help you.

(I don't like the inference that I am a non-natal female. I like the inference that I'm a natal male even less) and I still have to explain. And when talking in spaces where people are aware of all these words, the decision becomes even easier for me.

I don't know what to say about how you feel you were born. That's very personal. To me, there are certain facts about my life, regardless of philosophy or identity. One of them is how I was born. If I was born male, I wouldn't have had to transition, and wouldn't be identified as trans. Obviously, others have different views. In any case, people can use whatever phraseology they wish. But if it isn't understood by others, what good is it?

Rory,

Can you explain again what your criticism of the term was? My reading of your comment led me to believe you were concerned that most people wouldn't understand it or want to use it. That's why I shared my concern that the most people won't understand or want to use any terms that put trans and cis people on equal footing.

Words that are only known by 1% of the population aren't terribly useful

I somehow doubt much more than 1% of the population knows terms like accounts payable, MAC address, or cisplatin (hint, it's the opposite of transplatin). Yet without knowing and using those words I'd have failed as a non-profit treasurer, been unable to recieve wireless internet access, and my partner's lab research would crumble and my mother in law's cancer would have been stronger. Words can be very useful even when understood in limited populations.

The thing is, no matter what term is being used, we're goint to have to explain it. If I go up to a random person on the street and use the word "cis", then they are going to ask me what it means. But if I use the term "non-trans" then they're going to ask me what "trans" means. Hell, when talking with the general public, I often am asked to explain what transgender means.

When talking with the general public, I'd rather use a value-neutral term that I have to explain then a term that marks me as lesser then (I don't like the inference that I am a non-natal female. I like the inference that I'm a natal male even less) and I still have to explain. And when talking in spaces where people are aware of all these words, the decision becomes even easier for me.

Thank you, Rory.

Speaking for myself, it isn't only nontransgender people who don't like "cis." It is inaccurate, pretentious, and assumes as much about how nontrans people navigate their gender as the labels and diagnoses do to transgender people. "Cis" also erases the very real differences between -sexual and -gender.

This jury is still out, and alienating transgender people isn't going to make it return any sooner.

Nope, nope, nope, Alex Blaze, as involved as I was in the cis/trans wars over at Pam's, I will not get into this one.

However, I would love to touch a 10-foot pole. ;)

Haha. 10-foot poles. That sounds like weekend content!

to be my usual complicated self, & not to take up all the room in your comments, but we've been talking about this on the mHB boards, too, so i wrote more on my blog: http://www.myhusbandbetty.com/2009/09/17/jeez-louise-this-whole-cisgender-thing/

Helen -

I read your article, and agree with it. The points you raise about labels and being an inclusive community are why in my organization we refer to the "gender community". Not everyone we help identifies as trans, and some aren't sure how they identify. And we recognize that the people in our lives are just as much a part of our community as those who are dealing with gender issues.

We also include in our guidelines the admonition that people shouldn't tell others what they think their life is, or should be, about. I think that goes for labels as well.

Very informative article. I myself have never had a problem with being described as cisgendered. It is a new term but I find it far more useful than the other options especially the option of not identifying it with anything. because if 'it' remains unnamed it cannot be identified, grasped, discussed or managed. It becomes the invisible standard the normal which need not be named and that to which all other things compares as abnormal or unusual.
I like it and think that it is a keeper. ....... the Cisco kid was a friend of mine.....

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | September 17, 2009 10:09 PM

It seems to me that opposition to the word has less to do with the word "cisgender" itself and more to do with people who don't want a word for non-transgender people at all.

Personally, I think that statement sums it up succintly.

Another great post, Alex!!

>debate is mostly a small group of gay and
>lesbian cis-people who don't particularly like
>the word

Do these words actually bring people to accept or understand you any better?

Why not show respect for people and call them what they ask to be called. If gay, lesbian or anyone for that matter, does not like to be called cis-gender; don't use it.

After all wouldn't you ask the same?


>debate is mostly a small group of gay and

>lesbian cis-people who don't particularly like

>the word

Do these words actually bring people to accept or understand you any better?

Why not show respect for people and call them what they ask to be called. If gay, lesbian or anyone for that matter, does not like to be called cis-gender; don't use it.

After all wouldn't you ask the same?

BINGO !

I ask that you don't call me transgender.

I ask that you don't impose this umbrella term on those who do not share this identity.

Why not show respect for people and call them what they ask to be called. If gay, lesbian or anyone for that matter, does not like to be called cis-gender; don't use it.

After all wouldn't you ask the same?

We do ask the same.

Damn, you've asked this over and over and over . . . and we keep telling you we don't want you under our umbrella. When are you ever going to learn? You can leave, now.

"I ask that you don't call me transgender."

Who called you transgender? The word wasn't used at all in the comment to which you replied, nor in the comment to which I replied. So it certainly couldn't have been applied to you. I don't know what your gender situation is, so I have no reason attribute any sort of label to you. Furthermore, I don't ever assign a designation to someone, even if I do know them, because I know identity is such a personal and touchy subject. Besides, this discussion is about the term cisgender, which is quite different than being transgender.

Geena,

Why use a term folks aren't comfortable with? Well, typically it's an important issue of respect when dealing with self identification, but there are several different factors that make that a bit different.

1) That usually isn't how it works for dominant class groups. When white folks complain that they are actually pink or that white is a color too, they still don't get to be called people of color. Or just because someone doesn't understand what able-bodied means, doesn't mean we shouldn't call them that. If you want to create another term, go ahead, but it's not okay to pretend you aren't a member of a dominant group when you are.

2) The only alternatives offered ("normal" "biological" etc) indicate that they are superior to trans people. You can call yourself what you like, but when you start calling me abnormal and non-biological, as those terms indicate, that's not okay.

3) There's no consensus. Plenty of cis folks prefer being called cis. Should we call them something else because there are some cis folks who don't like it? Should we never use any term until consensus is reached (i.e. never)

4) I never chose to be called trans. Cis people came up with the idea to apply that prefix to people like me. As it is, some trans folks prefer to be called HBS, WBT, genderqueer, or nothing at all. Yet all the major organizations still use trans in their acronyms despite the lack of consensus.

5) If I have to be referred to by a latin root phrase referencing my gender, then so should cis people. If you want to come up with another value neutral way to identify cis and trans people that places both on equal footing and you think cis folks will be more agreeable to, go ahead. If you can get a bunch of cis folks on board, I'll do what I can to popularize the switchover for whatever new term applies to trans people. But until I hear it, I'm somewhat doubtful that there's a value neutral way of describing this that cis people will be any more ready to get on board for.

I've asked for the same so many times, Geena, and I've never gotten it.

Seriously, I remember my phase a couple of years ago when I didn't want to be referred to as "gay" anymore, mainly because it was turning from "ManHunt" into Will & Grace. I really thought I was on the edge of a new movement. Suffice it to say, that trend didn't catch on.

So I'm still gay, and there wasn't really another word that's worked to describe the same (homosexual? No thank you, at least in English. In French, though, the only substitute for "homosexuel" is "homo," or "pede" or "gay," but they're slang). It's efficient, people get it, and it's as close to value-neutral as we can get. Plus, I was pretty much the only one so I had to suck it up and take it.

How else am I meant to describe the debate? I suppose I could have just said "gay and lesbian people," but that's not precise enough since there are transgender/transsexual gay and lesbian people, and that's important to this discussion. I could have also said "non-transgender gay and lesbian people," but that's not really a word, instead a negation, leaving the same issues with normalization.

I'd be happy to use an alternative if they'd propose one. But they haven't. So here we are.

(Plus what Tobi said.)

I could have also said "non-transgender gay and lesbian people," but that's not really a word, instead a negation, leaving the same issues with normalization.

Why not say cissexual gay and lesbian people for those who do not have a transsexual history and cisgender gay and lesbian people for those who are gender conforming?

One could even say cissexual, cisgender gay and lesbian people for those who neither have a transsexual history nor adopt a transgender identity.

What could be easier or clearer?

The term perforce qualifies the womanhood of women of operative or trans history. As a member of group of women with members and friends who are women of operative history I feel compelled to convey the dismay of these women, who simply identify as women.

So in all these comments, no one has said what I'm thinking, so I'm going to delurk and say it.

Usually the dominant group labels the oppressed group. This is a case where the oppressed group has labeled the dominant group -- I kinda like that. It's subversive. And personally I read a lot of privilege in this tempest in a teapot. Cis people are used to having all the control over how their gender is named and interpreted. Any loss of that privilege to transpeople and their allies is going to feel like an affront.

Plus this whole thing strikes me as kinda moot. In most of the progressive circles I travel in online and off cisgender and cissexual are commonly used. People can crab about it all they want, but eventually its just going to become common and widely used respectful terminology. I liken it to older gays and lesbians complaining about the word queer. They can still complain but it if they want, but it isn't going to change.

I think the cis prefix provides a necessary vocabulary to allow discussion about extremely disparate social privileges of trans and cis people.

Myself, I identify as cisless.

People have mentioned the need for gender-bending gay men and lesbians, so what about "cissy" and "cister"? I think they get to the point.

"People have mentioned the need for gender-bending gay men and lesbians, so what about "cissy" and "cister"? I think they get to the point."

I think that might bring up a lot of gender/sexual orientation issues from youth that might trigger anything from the heebie-geebies to full blown PTSD.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 19, 2009 8:39 AM

How long do you have to be in therapy these days to be a Gay Activist? I mean...really!

Mostly, I think we just have to expand the usual "gender role" concept of what is usual behavior. Men can be empathic, women can be strong, everyone should behave with respect toward anyone else.

I think we have successfully complicated a fart.

Autumn,
I just had my round of the haters dumping on me on all the same crap they have dumped on me for the last decade. It's your turn this week. Have fun.

Alex,
The words with "cis" in front of them are doing nothing more than making the world more confused then they were before. It must have been invented by a person who hasn't spent a lot of time trying to get people to understand us. The younger generation (40 and below) seem to have latched onto this more than others. "Genderqueer" still causes the "What-the-fuck" look on people's faces. Now, we want to throw another cluster-f___ of words into the mix? So, what will be the next English language verbal flavor of the month to screw with people's minds? How about "monocisfauxtranssexualgender?" I'm sure that will be on all the politicians lips and it will help us further our issues.

(Sarcasm, in case some of you didn't catch that.)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 18, 2009 7:29 AM

Monica, thank you, with the possible exception of
Geena above you treat this nonsense as what it is. It is a complete waste of time over nothing, that serves no one anything, and does not advance our civil rights one millimeter.

I call myself a Gay man who seeks Gay Rights and advancement of All People to legal equality.

The rest of this has the strength of balsa wood. By wasting time with undecipherable categories you insure your marginalization.

How many times can you shoot yourself in the foot looking for a new way to be a victim? Be a victor instead.

Its always a pleasure being dismissed by gay men.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 19, 2009 1:10 AM

Jessica, I am sorry you do not consider yourself among "all people."

I call myself a Gay man who seeks Gay Rights and advancement of All People to legal equality.

You'd have a point there, except for the fact that while you, as a cis person, can reasonably expect to be viewed as just a gay man by society as a whole, I don't have that luxury - society's anti-trans prejudices ensure that my identity as a woman will always be up for questioning. Until trans people can reasonably expect to be seen as just a man/woman/whatever like you can, "cis" (or any equivalent term we might come up with to replace it with) will continue to be a useful element of the vocabulary to describe the prejudices trans people face in this world.

Second (and this is addressed to everyone who complains that "cis" is a term applied by people who aren't cis themselves, not just to you, Robert), all of the trans* terminology wasn't invented by trans people; it was originally a descriptive term introduced by cis researchers to describe people like myself. Some of us may have adopted it and made it our own language, but we didn't make the term up to describe our own community, either. You don't like the term? Don't use it for yourself, but also don't begrudge us when we use it as a descriptor when we describe situations in which cis and trans people are treated differently.

Monica -

I love the fact that you spell out "what-the-fuck" but disguise clusterfuck, like one is more naughty than the other!

And I agree with your main point.

This whole debate is news to me, and I don't mind if someone chooses to call me cisgender, though, really, it's hard for me to imagine that many contexts in which anyone's going to care whether I'm transgendered or not.

Purely on aesthetic grounds, however, I object to the notion that cisgendered is any less awkward than non-transgendered. To me, they are equally inelegant, and it's an inelegance that doesn't seem all that hard to live with.

Alex, you still erred in one major way that is still blocking the conversation.

You failed to note that cis* terms are not identities, but descriptives.

And a lot of the issues held by and around it are, basically, "you aren't respecting my identity" arguments.

Cis* has NOTHING TO DO WITH IDENTITY.

at all. It can only be used as a description.

Some folks might choose to identify a such, just as some might choose to identify as in between cis and trans -- but, in the end, that's them doing it as individuals, and we have far too many people identifying as something they cannot be described as.

Cis is a descriptive term.

I'd assumed I'd erred in plenty of ways, since "err" in this context is usually defined as "disagreed with me."

That's an interesting way of looking at it. I agree, and I think that's what I was getting at without making that distinction. Like I said in my example in the post with the term "man," imagining I opposed it, not because I didn't identify as a man but because I just didn't like the term, I'd have to suck it up and take it.

That's a good distinction to make and I think I'll use that in the future. We have some control over how we identify, which is can be, but isn't always related, to how we're described. A transgender woman who's non-op identifies as a woman and therefore should be described as a woman, but if her hair is blond, no amount of self-identification can change that. She'll need to get a bottle of dye.

Is that how you mean?

yes, to a great extent.

For me, its not so much a case of disagreeing with someone (although we all know I do often, lol) but more to the fact that the issue and political discourse of identity often interferes with our ability to discuss descriptively.

You were on the same track, but people still don't get it because all too often we assume that Trans* is an identity (since Transgender is such), and forget that is it, before it is that, a descriptive term.

The argument against it are ways facile -- about the only true part is "i don't like it". From there on, it becomes a case of justifying an motional feeling one gets when one is sorta reminded that we are different, and that normal is not what makes us so.

I fault *anyone* who makes the argument that cis is an identity -- regardless of who it is, since it ws never intended to be used s such under current construction -- its a descriptive term that allows for people who do not let their personal feelings interrupt to have a discussion about the very real issues of a social nature that transfolk face that are markedy because they are not cisfolk.

Indeed, the rasns for why I use cis the way I do are very simple and direct -- they avoid, utterly, any element of collaboration between SO and GI, and cross all the other lines of clss and race and social status.

Much like straight does the same thing in terms of SO -- it gives one the language needed to have a discussion.

And, to be blunt, those of us who promulgate the use of it have found the reticence to adopt t is inevitably because of some sort of personal gender issue or confusion about the nature of trans lives.

Inclusive on the side of trans folk who have a problem with it.

By allowing it to become a term of identity, then it becomes a question of not stepping on their toes, because hey, they have feelings too. Instead of keeping the focus on their unseen and iunrecognized privilege -- which is merely the basic set of expectations that they can have as a result of being cis.

SUch as not having a word for themselves.

Off to explore Denver, lol


I like the way you think.

The argument against it are ways facile -- about the only true part is "i don't like it". From there on, it becomes a case of justifying an motional feeling one gets when one is sorta reminded that we are different, and that normal is not what makes us so.

And, whilst I've been away, I see the thread went pretty much as I described.

Guess its a good thing I'm thinking on giving all this BS up, huh?

I mean, if I can predict how something will turn out, explain why it happens, work hard to change that, and still have it happen, well, I'm thinking the old definition of insanity may start to apply.

Ugh. More fights over labels?

Surely folks can see that if there were no term for "heterosexual" or "straight" that there would be a need to invent one? Especially if "normal" or (to use an orientation-equivalent one to "genetic / natal") "natural" were the alternatives?

I'm not big on political correctness, but have taken to cisgender and cissexual. To me, they're clinical terms, with no intrinsic positive or negative connotations outside of how they're variously modified and used.

Some might remember that "straight" was once one a far more loaded term, deriving from the phrase "straight and narrow." To the bigots, "straight" connoted righteousness, while to us it connoted narrow-mindedness. Today, neither connotation dominate or define the usage of the word, although they may sometimes be hinted at contextually.

@ Tobi: "Heterosexual" is actually a clinical term that goes back farther than you realize. However, it didn't come into common use until the need arose for a term opposite "homosexual."

@ Jessica: Don't assume that we all conflate transsexual with transgender. Many of us realize that transsexual is something far more specific, but still use transgender when talking about issues that multiple trans communities have in common: less self-erasure and more an invitation to alliance.

@ Mercedes Allen: The people who use the term transgender in Canada--i.e. Egale Canada, and by broad implication, Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition and others--no longer mean those with history who transition medically for whom sexual orientation is not the primary question in their lives.

They go to rather deliberate measures to escape their constitutions, mandates and established policies--and are nearly silent about transsexual people; it is difficult to be as sanguine about this as you are.

Those that actually recognize the difference, why wouldn't they just say transsexual and transgender?

You may well be inviting to alliance--let's explore this!

But the desire for sameness, where there is none, and for identical treatment, where there shouldn’t be, serves only to subjugate, erase and repudiate the one minority remaining without formal human rights or hate crimes protection in Canada. One can certainly argue the value of human rights and hate crimes law—what cannot be argued is these protections, and formal recognition, are not available to transsexual people.

And those that say transgender only, say

lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are all first class members of society, without caveat or exceptions

Re: Egale, I do have to say that they did act in a positive way (and more than just writing a letter) when GRS was delisted in Alberta this year (which is a transsexual-exclusive issue). Which doesn't erase the past, but is perhaps reason enough to give the current administration room to demonstrate change.

"Those that actually recognize the difference, why wouldn't they just say transsexual and transgender?"

Because it others both to an extent, rather than trying to draw together. Personally, I don't care if the term is "transgender," "trans" or something else, as long as there's something singular to rally together under when appropriate. Personally, labels tire me, and don't get to the heart of the troubles we all face.

"the one minority remaining without formal human rights or hate crimes protection in Canada"

While I agree with the need for protections, there is a danger in this thinking. Sex workers, overweight people... there will always be groups forgotten if we as marginalized communities continue to think singularly.

All those populations you mention, not counting those who are transsexual people, have both formal human rights and hate crime protection.

Now, you may be among those, like many of the gay people on the Egale email list, who don't believe human rights are of any importance these days--now the euphoria of recent struggles has faded.

Well and good.

Though I haven't heard any of these people call for the repeal of their human rights; I have heard some, quite explicitly, argue that maybe they will help with our struggle, maybe they won't. Kinda like they've forgotten it was not, as some assert, just gay people for gay people who struggled for their rights.

They've also forgotten Canadians appreciate human rights quite a bit--and really aren't much interested in anything like substantive rights.

Yet, the side effects, as it were, of human rights struggles have a positive effect for others.

Unless you subscribe to the view that there really is no need or purpose, or that the human rights of transsexual people is somehow reactionary and counterproductive.

It is curious how transsexual people are always being told, often by transsexual people, how they must submerge their interests in someone else's--after they've watched all the others receive little things like formal human rights and hate crime protections.

The point I make is that we have to recognize that we are part of a global struggle against oppression and need to build bridges, rather than competing amongst each other for some special status. Part of that is never assuming that we are "one minority remaining without rights" -- minorities have assumed and declared this before us, and we would be blind to think that there will not be anyone after us. People can still lose their jobs or children if it is found out that they practice consensual BDSM, for example. No one will ever be the "last" frontier, nor can we assume that other minorities before us have achieved their equality simply because there is a law that says so. Laws are an important first step, yes, but only one step.

I say this not to discount our own struggle, but to keep the perspective needed to build the bridges that are needed. We cannot win our rights alone -- but we don't win allies by dismissing their own struggles and failing to recognize our common ground.

"Unless you subscribe to the view that there really is no need or purpose, or that the human rights of transsexual people is somehow reactionary and counterproductive."

Not at all. But laws are secondary to (but undeniably one step toward achieving) changing minds in the quest to win real and substantive change. It is an important goal, but not the only goal.

This is precisely the argument made by many gay men, now that their human rights and hate crime protections have been assured these protections are no longer important.

This is also the argument of organizations, such as Rainbow Health Ontario, and apparently the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, which supposedly adhere to the social determinants of health doctrine, but, somehow, seem not to believe social exclusion of transsexual people from these very pieces of legislation--that all other identifiable, Chapter 15 populations are included in--does not cause transsexual people any harm.

The Coalition has managed, by filing a human rights complaint, excuse me, the Executive Director and other, non-Coalition members, have filed a human rights complaint, on health matters, excluding transsexual people--by the sleight of hand of not filing on behalf of the Coalition, but using Coalition resources, including the time of the Executive Director. Thus escaping the Coalition's Mandate, which includes transsexual people.

O, and formal recognition is the foundation of advocacy and, as indicated above, the requirement for any advocacy of social determinants of health actually to work.

The Supreme Court of Canada made a similar argument in Vriend v Alberta regarding gay and lesbian people; the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel made this precise argument with respect to transsexual and transgender people.

Your argument from privilege simply legitimizes these erasures and repudiations.

Wow. It must be interesting to be able to dismiss folks whose experience you don't share so easily.

You identify as a Gay man. Great! Many folks struggled (and many still do) to use the word Gay to identify themselves, and fought/continue to fight heterosexist societies which claim the word is problematic. But i suppose you wouldn't dismiss the rightness or validity of *that* struggle though, because for you it has meaning.

Well, "cissexual" and "cisgender" (as well as "Queer") have meaning to me as a Queer Trans person, and while i certainly require some measure of cooperation of cissexist society in order to live my life unharmed by it, i don't require permission from cissexual or cisgendered folks to create and adapt it's language as i see fit, to identify and speak to how i survive within it. That desire to have language to speak to the conditions we live in isn't what ensures trans peoples oppression and marginalization (and it might be useful for more people to examine the particular privilege they're accessing when they can say such things about a group of people). What does that (very effectively i might add) is when individual cissexual and cisgender folks refuse to change how they imagine this "other" (including what are "appropriate" ways for this "other" to identify our situations), and take that thinking into their lives systemically as lawyers, doctors, police, emts, teachers, journalists, the local librarian, taxi drivers, plumbers, etc. You name it, we have to deal with it.

All this language does is suggest that people who are not trans are not the be-all end-all, are not the centre from which all else must emanate (or not exist at all), and that folks could really do with some new thinking around this stuff.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 19, 2009 1:17 AM

Jessica, I am sorry you do not consider yourself among "all people."

Romham, I have no idea what you have said other than to suggest that if you wish to rely upon obscure terms you at least avoid run on sentences.

Robert, this: "I have no idea what you have said other than to suggest that if you wish to rely upon obscure terms you at least avoid run on sentences." makes no sense whatsoever. Did you read what i wrote, or were you too concerned with my run on sentences to pay attention?

Well in any case, if your only complaint about what i pretty clearly wrote is that i run on a bit, case closed i suppose LOL.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 19, 2009 7:06 AM

Sorry, still not a clue, and I read it again. You may wish to visit Austin Crowder's fresh post on this topic.

OK Robert, here's the breakdown for you:

Because something doesn't have meaning for or make sense to you personally, does not mean those of us for whom it does have meaning are the cause of our own oppression and marginalization.

oops i pressed send too soon...

Robert, what does Austin's post have to do with what i wrote? The part where Austin says use of cis will "ultimately fail"? Did you read the rest of the post? And honestly what does that untested assumption have to do with you suggesting that because use of the word doesn't have meaning for you therefore it shouldn't have meaning for anyone else and is ultimately just about trans people ensuring our own marginalization?

Yes, i'm quite sure queers (oops i mean non-heterosexuals) ensure our continued marginalization by being out and proud, and are making heterosexuals (oops i mean non-homosexuals) uncomfortable, so we should tone it down a little for goodness sake. Disabled folks ensure our marginalization by...being so darned disabled! So we really should just stay indoors (and certainly not speak about our experiences dealing with ENabled folks) so as not to offend ENabled (oops i mean non-disabled) folks' apparently delicate sensibilities. That was a bit snarky, but really that's where this goes for me.
This argument (that trans people replicate and maintain our own marginalization by adapting language that makes some people uncomfortable) you're using is one i just can't get on board with, in the instance of the use of "cis" or any other word being used by marginalized people to describe what the deal is for us.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 19, 2009 8:47 PM

I can only infer that you are highly invested in marginalization for yourself. But don't listen to me, listen to Monica Helms.

No no, you're absolutely right Robert. If it doesn't have meaning for you, at least you're covered, eh? Phew!

Oy. Well, best of luck with all of that. Really.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 20, 2009 5:16 AM

It does not have meaning to our natural allies in obtaining your civil rights.

Please speak for yourself. It certainly does have meaning to many of those i am in alliance with.

Your continued dismissal of the usage reflects only your one perspective. You're certainly welcome to it. Your experience as a Gay man is not my experience as a queer trans person, so please stop behaving as though what you wish for your own community is what i need for mine, all the while dismissing what i seek as some kind of self-marginalizing wank session.

oops, my comment was for Robert Ganshorn, who wrote at September 18, 2009 7:29 AM :

"Monica, thank you, with the possible exception of
Geena above you treat this nonsense as what it is. It is a complete waste of time over nothing, that serves no one anything, and does not advance our civil rights one millimeter.

I call myself a Gay man who seeks Gay Rights and advancement of All People to legal equality.

The rest of this has the strength of balsa wood. By wasting time with undecipherable categories you insure your marginalization.

How many times can you shoot yourself in the foot looking for a new way to be a victim? Be a victor instead."

first of all,
we should ALL be SEEN as PEOPLE first.
we should be starting to work towards THAT.

people are saying they are "post gay"
(meaning MORE then just gay)
that's a very good thing.
but for politics, and discussion, and other purposes, until ALL glbt people have rights, and are "neutral" in the eyes of society,
we WILL need referance words......


so, as to:
"Why not show respect for people and call them what they ask to be called. If gay,
lesbian or anyone for that matter, does not like to be called cis-gender; don't use it."

(...as tobi also pointed out:)
so now, heterosexual people decide to be called "normal".
but they still identify all others as "homosexual".

um,where does that get you?
you KNOW you are not going to do it,
neither is anyone else "glbt".
so that argument holds little water.

and,people also bristle over words like "ze" and "hir"
but if we work towards an all-inclusive world
(and in that particular case for bi/duel/genderqueer people)
isn't it justified to create new terms?
-like "ms" was?

as has been asked,what is the alternative?
these labels WILL still be needed to be used, in lobbying, for instance.

(so,still waiting for that "alternative"....)
-j


ps
"cisless"lol!
pps
" It is a complete waste of time over nothing, that serves no one anything,
and does not advance our civil rights one millimeter. "
well, you are a "person"(in society's eyes) not "TG"(only)
so it may be a waste of YOUR time, but apparently, not ours!

ok:
cis-----genderqueer-------T
anyone still feel left out?
(big person pants needed)

Rory,

New thread. That was getting thing up there. Anyway, I'm feeling like wrapping up soon but I wanted to answer a few of the things you mention.

First, I'm not claiming that a word not being widely known is a good thing or something to be desired. I'm simply saying that it's not reason enough to reject use of a word. If it was, we'd have to toss a bunch of useful words. So long as a word is known between everyone communicating, then it's not a problem.

"But since you don't have to describe non-transgender people to explain who you are, I don't see how "cisgender" will help you."

Except that most terms describe not only who someone is, but who they are not. For example, the old definition of a "true transsexual" is obviously pretty insulting to the people who don't fit that definition. I like the saying that free speech only goes so far as the other person's nose, and similarly, self-identification is only valid when your identity language does not malign others in the process. So terms like "bio", "genetic," etc, don't just describe non-trans people, but also indicate that trans people are not biological or genetic. That's my vested interest.

Leaving the category of non-trans people unnamed (i.e. women and trans women, men and trans men) marks them as the inherent norm that others deviate from, and even "non-trans" does that too, although to a lesser degree. Part of why I am so happy to have "cis" as an option is because it's the first and only term I've seen that describes non-trans people without making some sort of indictment of trans people in the process.

As for the imprecise nature of the term, is it any less precise then the alternative language available? I think the lack of precision has more to do with the category we are seeking to describe. No matter what language we think up, there will always be those whose experience lies on the borders. But that's not unique to trans status. "White," "able-bodied," "upper class," and even "straight" are all rather imprecise terms with plenty of people who kinda but don't quite fit into them. Yet it's vital that we can name dominant groups, even vaguely, to be able to have conversations about the power dynamics that are based upon these categories.

There is one MAJOR POINT to all of this that just a few seem to understand and others want to brush aside. It is not a problem with using the jargon of "cis(anything)", but a problem with when a person uses this new jargon.

This very scenario has happened before and I unfortunately witnessed it first hand. Sitting in a Congressman's office talking about the need to support ENDA, and I'm there with a few people, one of them lobbying for the first time. We all get our chance to speak, and when it comes to the newbie, she starts telling her story, using all kinds of jargon commonly used in the trans community. ("Cis" hadn't been invented yet.) I glanced over to the Congressman and his eyes were glossing over and he had the "What-the-fuck" look I mentioned earlier. Needless to say, we lost his interest.

There is nothing wrong with creating new jargon, as long as people understand fully that it is nothing more than that . . . jargon. The trans community are starting to be familiar with it, even if not all of us use it or like it. A lot of new people glam onto this new jargon and start throwing it out like the whole world knows exactly what they are talking about. THAT'S my issue with the "cis"(anything) movement.

Not everybody has the experience of knowing when to use jargon and when not to. This is why the "cis"(anything) movement can cause problems and will do nothing to advance our rights. It has become nothing more than a bunch of "feel-good" words to make some people feel good that they can now separate people into further categories so they can bitch about them easier. That's all the "cis" words have become.

No one said the struggle was easy--or would be over in a short time.

We seem to forget that in the struggle around issues of sexual orientation, including formal, if not yet complete substantive, equality, heterosexual was equally considered jargon and dismissed.

You may also call these terms--formal and substantive--out of the feminist movement, and heterosexual, jargon and dismiss them, too, but they also have their purpose, evolved, accepted and effected over time.

If not, that raises the question why, in your mind, their terms are important analytical tools, while ours are simply nonsense and jargon.

This is a struggle, not simply over things, but most importantly over consciousness, over the way people think and see things.

To handicap ourselves by deliberately not using the very tools demonstrated effective for other oppressed people is, well, not the path I follow.

It is true that other groups and minorities have their own form of jargon, which also needs to be avoided in the situation I have described. Using them in the inappropriate times could slow the process of education.

Then, you consider heterosexual to be jargon and to be avoided in lobbying government representatives.

So, what should gay lobbyists say? Not gay or maybe normal?

Monica, I do think that there is an interesting point made here. And I'm going to do what I do and tell a story to help flesh it out.

Back when I worked at Mickey D's we had all sorts of burger-talk that we used back in the kitchen to efficiently and effectively discuss the different processes and intricacies back there (the kitchen of a McDonald's is a VERY intricate system, who wouda thunk'd!). When people would work there for a few weeks, they'd always get used to the language, and it would become second nature to them, which could sometimes create problems for the customer.

When you make a special order at McDonald's, the cashier hits a little button on the POS (that's Point of Sale machine--cash register--not piece of shit) that says "Grill." Now this button is called "Grill" because it literally means, 'communicate with the grill-area workers' or 'send special instructions back to the grill area workers.' The kitchen itself is called 'the grill area,' so this language makes sense to all of us there.

The term for the button "Grill" got verbified (grill, grills, grilled, or 'grill back, 'grills back' or 'grilled back') sometime in the middle ages to describe the action of hitting the button and inputting the commands to send to the grill:

"I 'grilled' that cheeseburger back no pickles, what the hell is the matter with you, are you high again?"

"How am I supposed to know that the fries were no salt, you didn't 'grill' it!"

This was a sensible and effective way of communicating in the kitchen and behind the counter. However, the 'crew' (more Mickey D's jargon) would always get so used to saying it, they'd just go ahead and dump it right on the customers as well:

"Its not MY fault you had an allergic reaction, I 'grilled' that burger back no onions!"

What I believe you're saying, Monica, is that there's a time to use cisgender, and a time to maybe hold off on the education. With a Representative with whom you're just trying to get acquainted with the very EXISTENCE of queer people, it may not be best to hit them with every little intricate piece of education at once. I'd argue that it would NOT be a bad goal to educate the Rep on all of the transgender issues, but in the information sciences, as well as in Education, Communication and Journalism, we have a term called "information overload," when you hit someone with a little too much at once.

With someone who barely knows that gays, lesbians and transgender people even exist, let alone that there are words like 'pansexual,' 'genderqueer,' 'lesbian-identified-male,' or 'cisgender,' a first contact is not time to flesh out everything. Work on getting them on our side first, and then they'll be more than happy to learn more about us!

That said, cisgender is a VERY important term, especially when used by those of us in the community trying to communicate about issues of this nature within the community. ?think its useful and good. I'll agree, however, it's not LGBT 101, though. Its Intermediate Queer--the 200 level class. :-)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 20, 2009 7:56 AM

Folks, here is something I learned growing up, as I did, next to the railroad tracks in Michigan City Indiana.

Absorb this slowly please...

Educated people, regardless of from what region of the United States they hail, spoke and still speak a common identifiable language that is remarkably similar rather than incoherently different.

In our civil rights struggle we would be wise to remember this. Moreover, since I have "jumped ship" so to speak, and live in a country that is not at all as bigoted as America I am just peeling these observations off for your benefit and no agenda of my own.

I guess you're of the school of thought--as Monica seems to be--that language does not change.

Even though, at one time, there were those normal people, i.e., those who are not gay, who emphatically resented being called heterosexual.

But gay activists, before your time, obviously, used the term, not only in activism, but academia, psychology, social work, everywhere, so today no one, certainly not gay members of congress, lose interest when you and others say heterosexual.

And it is all of us who "roll our eyes" at the religious right who get angry and declare I'm not heterosexual; I'm not gay; I'm normal.

I don't see much difference between this and someone saying I'm not cisgender/I'm not cissexual; I'm not transgender/I'm not transsexual; I'm normal.

So, the No Cis School, while avoiding the issue on the use of heterosexual, sees things completely differently for transgender people--and won't even talk about transsexual people.

Why would you refuse this path from the margins to the mainstream for us unless there is something else at work here? Particularly for those who have nothing in this except their offended sensibilities?

You show no concern for those normal people whose sensibilities are offended by the word heterosexual; what argument could you possibly have for us?

You are normal not transsexual, certainly not cissexual.

And you think of yourself as an ally?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 20, 2009 8:45 PM

Since it is yourself, rather than I, who is so "oppressed" let's just say that I would want to see a situation where those who are positioned to be our natural allies do not have to spend an hour understanding jargon before their tired minds turn to our civil rights. Issues first please. Most of these people will never understand us and many will never care to understand us. We use them and they use us. Tis the nature of politics and sausage making.

And since I was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front at Purdue University in 1972 I think that I can assure you that I know language evolves.

There have always been "CAMP" endearments baby and you did not invent them. I again suggest you read Austen Crowder's posting above on this same topic where we had input from a linguist.

This is all being made way too complicated.

The cis terms are largely academic terms that are migrating into mainstream usage. I see no more reason to be offended by being called a cis male any more than having my willie called a penis.

However, the Rorschach ground-background argument that has developed here is interesting, but not new. Ultimately, it is the same challenge that embracing transgenderism brings to the word normal that homosexuality brought to that same word a generation ago.

But during that generation, the question did not get answered all that clearly: How abnormal can homosexuality be if it can be traced, in one form or another, all the way back through human ancestry to the great primates and before? Transsexualism may be more difficult to trace, but it is probably just as much a facet of the human species.

I hope the opponents of cis get over themselves and make peace with the term quickly, for it is a good term to have available.

Thanks to a couple semesters of organic chemistry over 30 years ago, I didn't freak over cisgender or cis-male the first time I heard either term -- they expressed in clear terms what was otherwise left to assumption regarding identities. As a Queerman prone to hypermasculine expression, despite mad kitchen and decorating skills, I'll gladly use cis terms for myself, though one friend often asks "How cis is sucking cock?" thereby conflating sexuality and gender.

"Most of these people will never understand us and many will never
care to understand us"

that makes it alright then.
why should they understand"us"
it's not like we're other PEOPLE or anything....
we are just all "too differant"
(what a load)

"I again suggest you read Austen Crowder's posting
above on this same topic where we had input from a linguist."

yeah, only the university educated get to discuss things in ivory tower-land.
back off the rest of you!
or get thee to community college!

.......but "cis" is just too "academic".
bitch please.

tell ya what.
anyone here who will give up hetrosexual for ye olde "normal",
we'll all give up cis.
i think that sounds pretty fair.

ps
"bigolpoofter"
lolol!
i also love "big_gay_Al"

...."poofter"
but i notice no one likes "shirtlifter"
is it too mean or uncool?
what in hell does it refer to as a "gay" concept, anyway?
showing manboobs?
where Do people get these sayings, speaking of words.
...guess i'll google.....
peace!
j


also:
the above comment is not meant to be disrespectful.
i just think it's so cool when people reclaim some words.for instance,chris crocker says there are many meanings for "bitch please".
like "dude"
lol, that figures!
pps
no one is cis.
it's just a descriptive of a "type"
like "hetrosexual"(as stated)
not an identity.
it's just a word.

(but some day we'll ALL be called "humans".
what a great day....)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 21, 2009 7:45 AM

I suppose we could wait around Javier until they want to understand us enough to accept how odd so many of us are (and I include myself).

Let's see, what time is it? Wake me in 2050.

Look, I do not care if I am liked, understood, appreciated or lauded. What I want now is exactly what I wrote and agitated for all those years ago coming from a crummy town.

I want there to me no means of anyone standing in my way or yours based upon personal choices within the adult human genome. I draw the line at children and livestock honey!

How extremely naive and self centered we are to think that even 30% of Americans (including LGBT persons)give our civil rights a thought at all. We had better be willing to communicate clearly.

Marty, I get your point below very clearly.

HEY EVERYONE!!! SOMEONE'S GETTING BLOG HITS ON A TRANS ISSUE!!! LET'S DO IT TOO!

*eyeroll*

The only reason this has ever been an issue is because of the drama Autumn caused over at PHB because of her ignorance of the term and its usage (ie. calling it weaponizing). Now it's a blog post here? Can you say echo chamber?

If you want to educate your readers about these terms, you'd do yourself good to read the person who actually made these terms mainstream in the the GLBT feminist communities, Julia Serano (Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity).

But hey, ya didn't do that and ya got 100 comments! Nevermind! Mission accomplished!

GLBT feminist communities and Julia Serano are hardly "Mainstream." Some Congress people don't even understand "gay." When you have only 5 minutes to talk with a Congress person on a specific bill or issue, you don't want to waste that time giving them definitions for "cis-(anything.)" Is that so hard for people to grasp? There is a time and place for everything. I'm trying to point out there is a time and place when NOT to use cis-(anything.)

CISGender is NOT value neutral...it is a ridiculous form of politically correct Newspeak that comes from an ultra left wing ideology that wishes to abolish traditional and scientifically supported gender roles, and turn the normal into the abnormal and vice versa.

A,

The intent I see is to put trans and non-trans identity on equal footing. In recognition that trans identity is often seen as less valid, inauthentic, or not real, it is an attempt to point out that it is just as valid and authentic an identity as not being trans.

For those who don't see being trans as a bad thing it is indeed very value neutral. For those who do see being trans as bad and unnatural -- and I would guess from your framing that you are among them -- it is indeed scary seeing the linguistical markers of superiority stripped away. It can be horrifying to see your identity described as equally valid as that of people who you detest.

In this case, the use of the term (not the term itself) is the political equivalent of the coining of the term "gay is good." The use of a value neutral term like "cis" rather then a term laced with superiority like "normal," "real," or "biological" challenges the base assumption that not being trans is inherently superior to being trans.