E. Winter Tashlin

A Cis Guy's Perspective on #fuckcispeople

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | August 19, 2013 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: #fuckcispeople, cisgender privilege, privilege, trans, transgender identity, trending, Twitter

My assigned gender at birth and gender identity are the same, what is often referred to as being cis (Latin for same) gender. Cis is a far more neutral and valueless term than some of its predecessors such as "bio," "gen (for genetic)", and "normal," and has come into widespread, if not universal use to describe someone who is not trans*.

I know that a cis person writing on an LGBT blog about the hashtag #fuckcispeople trending on Twitter could easily be seen as already having missed the point, but we're gonna go for this ride regardless so please hold your comments until the end.

Let's get this out of the way upfront: when I first heard about #fuckcispeople trending on Twitter, it kinda bruised my feelings.

I'm going to talk about why for a bit, then I'll get to why that (mostly) doesn't matter.

My husband is trans*. One of my boyfriends is trans*. The vast majority of my play partners are trans*. And a huge percentage of my social circle and friends are trans* or genderqueer.

Which is why the notion put out there in a statement to Pink News by the hashtag's creator, Laurelai Bailey, that if someone's feeling got hurt it means they don't care about violence against trans* people, strikes me as particularly narrow and oversimplified.

What's useful to understand is that for some of us who are cis but partnered with trans* people and/or deeply involved with parts of the trans* community, there is a constant and difficult balance that has to be maintained.
We encounter pushback from the trans* community, which often sees us (understandably) as interlopers or "tourists." I recently commented in an online discussion that I considered the fight for trans* equality my fight too, as someone whose family is directly impacted by laws and societal views hostile to trans* people. I was told that I had no business appropriating the difficulties trans* people face, and as a cis person should not be involved in the work for trans* equality. The reason given was that I can always "escape" by simply divorcing my husband. Which as I've mentioned on Bilerico before, is exactly what some people have told us we should do.

Things aren't all roses and sunshine with fellow cis people either. The crap partners and friends of trans* folk are exposed to represents a tiny sip of the bitter cup of discrimination, harassment, and stupidity that trans* people have to deal with of course, but it's there.

Hence, the initial reaction I had to #fuckcispeople was that it was one more wedge from the outside pushing between myself and the people I care about.

Reality is that there is nothing I can do to escape the fact that I move through the world with a level of privilege not shared by my trans* friends and lovers. An additional bitter truth is that much (but not all) of the oppression faced by trans* people comes from those who share that privilege with me.

I can get defensive when I'm reminded of that. Which doesn't mean that reminders aren't needed now and again, quite the opposite in fact.

Ok, moving on.

In their excellent analysis of the brief firestorm around #fuckcispeople, the blog Cisnormativity had this to say:

It burnt through a fraction of pent-up abuse, trauma, and anger experienced by people who are trans and gender-non-conforming, at the hands of people who are cis.

This gets to the heart of where it seems the real value of #fuckcispeople lies. There's been much discussion about whether or not #fuckcispeople was "useful" from an activism standpoint, which seems to me to miss the point. Those of us who belong to minority and oppressed populations are allowed to have experiences, beliefs, and expressions that exist outside of the context of politics and activism; catharsis has an intrinsic value all its own.

That said, if you haven't read through some of the #fuckcispeople tweets, you'll have to go back a ways to when it was first taking off to get past some of the debate around the hashtag itself, but it is worth the (minimal) effort. In the media, we tend to hear about great acts of oppression against the trans* community: violence and murder of trans* people, housing and job discrimination, and the dehumanizing rhetoric of those opposed to trans* equality.

#fuckcispeople certainly included mentions of those topics, but perhaps the greater theme that showed through had to do with the grinding daily, often unconscious ways in which cis privilege impacts the everyday narrative of what it means to be trans*, or at least what it means to be a trans* person of the cultural and financial privilege to have access to Twitter.

So where then does that leave us?

My husband, who just read through my draft, thinks that this is the part of the post where I should put forth an opinion on what our final takeaway from #fuckcispeople should be. But there are two problems with that.

The first issue is that I am not sure it's my place to have an opinion. I have already explained how and why hearing about #fuckcispeople trending on Twitter left me feeling a bit bruised. That is my personal experience, and whether or not other people think my feelings were legitimate does not change what they were. An important part of my belief system is that every person is entitled to their own experiences and personal Truth.

However, at its heart, #fuckcispeople is about the trans* experience. I do not want to put myself in the paternalistic role of speaking on behalf of a community and people that I don't personally belong to. That is disempowering, and an insidious form of oppression in its own right.

Additionally, even if I did want to wrap this post with a clear "and here's what I think," it isn't an option. This is a big, complex, and polarizing situation. There have been arguments made within the trans* community, on Twitter and elsewhere, both in favor of using #fuckcispeople, and against it. Personally, I believe deeply in the power of catharsis, but also in the cold calculation of pragmatism. There were people who were helped and people who were hurt, and not all of the latter were cis people, whose feelings in this matter I have come to believe really aren't all that relevant to the discussion.

I will say this though: the gay & lesbian community celebrates these spontaneous moments of impolitic outrage when they happened in our own history: Stonewall, Act Up, the disruption of the American Psychiatric Association conference, etc. If gay rights were today where trans* rights are, it's hard to imagine we wouldn't have #fuckstraightpeople trending on Twitter every damn day.

img src - Neon Gender 04 by Flickr user Carolyn Speranza used under CC license

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.