First, I’m going to claim a difference between cisgender & cissexual. Cisgender, the problem seems to me, is not the easy opposite of transgender. Cisgender implies, or means, or could mean (depending on who you talk to), that someone’s sex and gender are concordant. So your average butch woman, who is not trans, or is, depending on how she feels about it (see Bear Bergman), is now somehow cisgender. So is someone like me. So is a femme-y gay man who maybe performs a more gender normative masculinity for his job. That is, those of us who have variable genders, who maybe are gender fluid or gender neutral but who don’t identify as trans, are now somehow cisgender.
& Honestly, that’s bullshit. There’s a reason I use GVETGI to describe myself = Gender Variant Enough To Get It, is what it stands for.
So there’s the first issue, that “cis” may stand for “cisgender” and it may stand for “cissexual” but no one knows for sure which it is when it’s abbreviated. Crossdressers, for instance, are cissexual but they’re not cisgender. For instance.
Then there’s that little usage/connotation/denotation problem.
Telling me, & other partners whose lives are profoundly impacted by the legal rights / cultural perceptions of trans people, that we are “not trans” implies that we are also not part of the trans community. I’ve been saying for years now that we are. When trans people are killed, harassed, not hired, fired due to discrimination, denied health care, etc. etc. etc., their loved ones suffer along with them. Their families, their lovers, their kids especially. We are not just “allies.” We are vested, dammit, & a part of the trans community, so when “cisgender” comes to mean, or is used to mean, “not part of the trans community,” we are once again left out in the dark.
(Somehow, I can’t help thinking of the muggles & mudbloods of Harry Potter, here. Partners are the equivalent of the kids born to magical families who are not themselves magical. In the books & movies, they are part of the magical community, & without question. Ahem.)
That said, people like Betty & I express heterosexual privilege simply by being married, because we did so when we had an M & an F on our documents. Expressing heterosexual privilege, however, does not make us homophobic. Yet when the term “transphobic” comes up, it’s often used as somehow entirely the same as “expressing cissexual/cisgender privilege.” I’d argue the two are NOT the same, but they are used interchangeably.
Likewise, cisgender seems to get used a lot in place of “ignorant or unsympathetic to trans issues” which is also bullshit. Being cisgender or experiencing cissexual privilege – say by having a doctor assume correctly that I have a uterus – is not the same thing as being ignorant or unsympathetic to trans issues.
Finally, there’s the whole bottom rung of the ladder issue: cis allies, partners, & gender variant LGBs are not just the natural allies to trans people, but they are also the closest to them. So when trans people use the term “cis” like a curse – Calibanesque – the utility of the term for pointing out the privilege those who are non-trans experience becomes instead fighting words.
So, yeah. I love it as theory, in classrooms. I teach cisgender & cissexual privilege. But as a cissexual person, I don’t want to be called cis, or cisgender. It’s not my identity. I have lots of genders, but I’m not trans. Other women, feminists, LGBs, may not object. But here I’ll reiterate what I wrote to the trans people on our boards:
i guess the point is that there are women, & gay men, who actually have legitimate & well thought out reasons for objecting to the term.
but the times i have seen someone object to cis, they’re basically condescendingly told they are (1) unhip, (2) are ignorant/in denial about their own privilege – & often a privilege they are, until that point, entirely unaware of, and (3) told that those two things together make them transphobic.
& i don’t think that’s always the case.
so if all these explanations of why some people criticize the term or how it’s used, only convinces some trans people that anyone who is uncomfortable being called cis is (1) ignorant, (2) unhip, and (3) unwittingly transphobic, then i guess there’s been no point whatsoever in explaining that maybe people have their reasons, & that none of them have anything to do with being any of those things.
which i suppose means i should go ahead & go back to using “tranny” since i think it’s playful & sweet, & to hell with any trans people who don’t like being called that, because obviously they’re just (1) unhip, (2) ignorant, and (3) self hating.
I was being snarky, surely, but I really really detest when someone pulls a Freud on me & assumes my motivations even after I’ve explained, multiple times, that they’re wrong. I have experienced heterosexual, white, & cissexual privilege (amongst others) but that does not mean I am straight, don’t value my cultural Catholicism/white ethnicity, or that I’m cisgender.
If we could only realize that privilege, like gender, & like sexual orientation, is not simple, may change over time, & is not the same as prejudice or bigotry, we might just get somewhere.