Why Does the word “Cisgender” Offend You?

October 11, 2014 at 3:07 am 6 comments

I keep hearing about non-trans people complaining about how offended they are by the term cisgender- which means non-transgender, a person whose gender identity “matches” the biological sex they were born with. I’m not clear if genderqueer people are considered cis or not, it’s a very broad term, so I suppose it may depend on the person. I consider myself *loosely* genderqueer (I’m a little old to be a tomboy…) but I do sometimes mention that I have cis privilege, if it’s relevant to the discussion.

I don’t understand why are they are so offended. I can think of a few reasons, but they are still bad reasons.

1) It’s unfamiliar, so it must be bad!  

If you don’t like unfamiliar words, get off the Internet. Hell just go jump in a time machine to a pre-literate age. ‘Nuff said.

2) It’s a term they didn’t choose, that’s being applied to them. I’ve heard my fellow pale-faced folk complain that “white” is offensive, and maybe it is in some ways, but did other people choose to call themselves Negros and Indians? No they didn’t! Cry me a river!

3) Because they’re “normal” or “real” men or women, and shouldn’t need a term to qualify that, gosh darn it! 

This is exactly *why* the term cisgender is useful, non-transgender gets awkward, it is intended to de-center so-called “normal” gender identity development into one kind of experience, rather than the standard one that other people are deviating from. It’s much like how in the autistic community, we’ve coined the term “neurotypical”. It’s not because we want to stigmatize being neurotypical- that wouldn’t help our NT friends and allies or ourselves, we just use it to point out that “standard” mental wiring shouldn’t be the standard for everyone to strive towards!

4) They first heard it in the context of “die cis scum” or other expressions of frustration and anger from transgender activists.

Part of the reason we need minority spaces (both physical and online) is sometimes members of minority groups need to express their anger and frustration with others who understand their experiences, without being judged by the majority group. Most people I find, who go through a process of politicizing or learning to be proud of a stigmatized identity go thru a sort of militant “Black Panther” like phase. Some people stay in that phase longer, others move on. It’s not OK to threaten violence (whether we mean it literally or not) against majority groups, however it should be remembered there is far more violence directed towards minority groups. Just because you first heard it in that context doesn’t make it a slur.

5) Maybe they’re insecure about their gender identity and super-defensive about it…

I’ve known trans people who were far more comfortable with their gender identity, bodies and sexuality than many cisgender people I’ve known. If you have such a reaction to the mere existence of trans people, maybe you should look at your own gender identity. Its something many us take for granted, and when we see other people who question their identity or don’t fit within pink and blue boxes it can be threatening to our worldview.

I also want to clarify that the words cisgender and transgender (or just trans) aren’t always necessary to put in front of woman, man or person. Most trans people just want to be people, men or women without any special qualifiers. Much like you!

(And there’s also non-binary folks who don’t identify as men or women, but this is enough to make some people’s heads explode, so I’ll save that for another day…)

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ruadhán J McElroy  |  October 11, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Just n FYI, while I realise that Kate Bornstein’s work has been beneficial to many people and may continue to do so, but I think it’s best taken with a grain of salt. She’s since defended transphobic “butch flight” screeds (i.e.: butch-identified and other [typically] lesbian women who rant and rave about how the trans community is “convincing all the butches to transition to male”) and has endorsed at least one such blog (apparently by a friend of hers) as “valid feminist analysis”. She has also written a piece for The Advocate that not only defends the word “tranny” (which many trans women see as a slur), but also suggests all over the place that cis women understand what it means to be a woman more than trans women.

    When she’s been confronted about this, she’s consistently blocked people on social networks and then made passive-aggressive statements to Twitter about how people are being mean and (paraphrased) “whaa whaa, poor Martyred Auntie Kate can’t help being right about Everything.” I have frankly lost all faith in her. She’s let her status as a “transgender icon” inflate her ego to a point where she believes she can do no wrong and doesn’t have to listen to criticism any more than she can circle some reasoning around to argue that she’s Right About Everything.

    Reply
    • 2. caelesti  |  October 12, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      Thank you for the info- I have heard that there was some controversy over things she’s said- but granted there is controversy over almost anything any publicly trans person says, (or extra fun non-trans GLB people who claim to speak for trans folks) this is why I try to read a variety of opinions from across the trans/gender diversity spectrum, and try to be impartial as an outsider- but I trust your opinion, and it sounds like definitely she has said/done enough messed up things to warrant at the very least a big disclaimer. There are a lot more books and resources out there than there were when I first started trying to learn things back in college in the 2000s, pretty much at that point I was aware of Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg, but the trans movement/community has grown and changed a lot since then.

      Reply
      • 3. Ruadhán J McElroy  |  October 12, 2014 at 11:19 pm

        And a lot of people *do* still get a lot of good out of her early work, so it’s not like it’s completely useless, *but* anything she’s publishe since maybe MY GENDER WORKBOOK (and even that seems to have more problems than solutions for anyone who identifies as binary trans wo/men) is best taken with a heavy disclaimer, and her early stuff may be best regarded with a grain of salt, cos it was the only truly accessible info both by-and-for trans people in the early to mid-1990s.

      • 4. caelesti  |  October 13, 2014 at 12:00 am

        I think I will take another look at the book before recommending it. I admit I only read part of it, a friend of mine had heard her speak on campus & bought a copy. I read Gender Outlaw in its entirity though, I’ll write a review of it sometime, then anyone (well other than TERFs and other transphobic people) can add their opinions.

  • 5. Astrid  |  October 12, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    I am cisgender and not offended by this term at all. I went to this post checking if you were meaning that “cisgender” is an offensive term for trans/genderqueer folk or that cis people see it this way incorrectly. I knew “cisgender” was coined by trans people but I haven’t been involved with the gender diverse community in like three years so didn’t know whether it was still the acceptable term. Thanks for this post.

    Reply
    • 6. caelesti  |  October 13, 2014 at 12:03 am

      Yes this post was written with the intent of educating the general public about trans issues, I know many trans people get sick of repeating Trans 101 so I’m trying to do my part to help as an (aspiring) cis ally. I try my best to research these issues and use sources from trans people themselves, and am happy to take any constructive criticism into consideration from the communit(ies) as my fellow blogger has done above.

      Reply

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