Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Today in the Kyriachy: On "Cis"

[content/trigger warning: post contains examples of transphobic and homophobic slurs]

Over at Bilerico, a side discussion popped up in a column about Dan Savage getting "glitter-bombed" for using the word "tranny" and "shemale." The side discussion is not a new one, for I have seen it crop up every now and then in radical feminist spaces as well, but a gay male commenter took issue with the label "cis," and so Bilerico dedicated a blogpost to that topic. Specifically, the man said:

"The people [glitter-bombing] Dan don't have a problem throwing around the word Cis, a word that was created by and pushed onto non trans people by the trans community. A term that I and many others find offensive yet trans people continue to push this word and attempt to foist it upon us. Maybe you should think about that before you blame others for simply using words that have been around for ages that were not directed at any one person in particular but were simply being repeated by Dan that were part of a question he was asked. I am going to start glitter bombing the next Trans person I hear use the term Cis to describe me."

Okay. So. Like two days ago was Transgender Day of Remembrance and, with that background in my head, it's been really hard for me to give two shits about this guy's complaint. I'm being upfront about that. But I also did take time to re-read and re-think this post several times to delete some instances where I thought I was being kind of.... harsh on dude.

So, there's that.

And yet, although I find the comment to be *clears throat* problematic because it evidences some serious privilege, it did raise some interesting points of conversation and divergence within the QUILTBAG "community." (I use quotes there because is it even accurate to talk about QUILTBAG as though it's a community?)

Anyway, one: This man who was complaining, unfortunately, failed to explain what specifically he found so offensive about the word "cis." His chief complaint seemed to be that the word was, in his estimation, "foisted" upon cis people by trans* people. As though it's unfair that there wasn't, like, a vote that he got to take part in about it at the last Gay Agenda meeting.

And yet, in all seriousness, the word itself, as Tobi at Bilerico notes in the above-cited link, is value neutral in that it denotes neither superiority or inferiority of being cis relative to being trans*. It simply doesn't have the history, or power behind it, of words like "faggot" or "dyke." Without additional context or examples of what he finds so offensive, his argument isn't convincing. If a person feels offended but can't or doesn't articulate why the "offense" contributes to the oppression of cis people, is it really fair to demand a ban on that descriptive word?

Indeed, a person has to read the subtext of his later comments at Bilerico to get at what he finds so very offensive about being called "cis." His comments suggest that it's less the term "cis" that he objects to, and more the act of others stating that cis people have relative privilege that he finds so offensive. He says:

"I will again repeat that I don't like the way I have often seen Cis used both on Bilerico and on PHB. You can call it privilege if that makes you sleep better at night but that does not change how I feel about the word. It is patently obvious that T's could care less how LGB's feel about the term. Just remember that when you don't like how your being referenced.

Call me non-trans, gay, queer, faggot or pick any word you choose, I still find every one of those terms less offensive than I do being called cisgenger....

The overt hostility by T's against gay white men in particular and how T's use the word cisgendered or cis as a slur or sneeringly is offensive to me. "

Note, because this man fails to provide concrete examples of transgender people using cis as a slur or "sneeringly," it's difficult to ascertain what he's talking about. But, I've been around Internet for awhile and so that "against gay white men in particular" is a big tip off. For, what group within the GLBT community both tends to hold disproportionate amounts of influence/power and, like Dan Savage, is regularly criticized within that community for its intersectionality/privilege, erm, "issues"?

Putting aside the irony of this man casually referring to transgender people as "T's" (is that rude?) while demanding that they call him what he wants to be called, I contend that what this man is suggesting is that while it's sad when transgender people are oppressed, what's really sad is how cis people feel about being told they have privilege.

Like, anyone else big time curious what this guy said to evoke a "sneering" response from a trans* person on Internet? And, given that a sneer is facial expression, how on earth did this guy ascertain that a response in the written form was "sneering" in the first place?

You know, for as much as some people claim that certain groups of people (minorities, feminists, other No-Fun PC buzzkill types) just look for shit to get mad about, it's abundantly clear that the mere act of typing statements to other people while avowedly trans* (or feminist, or both!) is enough to send some people ass over heals onto the fainting couch. It's as though some men of relative privilege are so utterly shocked and awed that their opinions aren't automatically deferred to that they think of course the other person just hates white cis men and is totally making mean faces at me over Internet.


Two. The commenter also said this:

"Wasting energy glitterbombing our allies is time wasted from fighting our real enemies. You might as well run out and vote for Herman Cain or Michele Bachman over Obama. It is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. That was my overall point."

So, yeah, I don't agree with the glitter-bombing tactic. I'm not sure it's "violent," but it does make Dan Savage and his fans more defensive than anything. But, also, whenever cis white gay men "people who as a group possess more privilege relative to other groups they are allegedly allied with" claim that "our" community has a standard set of "real enemies" or "most important goals" or anything akin to a Universal Game Plan, I'm always curious what they mean.

I like to joke about the Gay Agenda, but I wasn't aware that it was a real thing in the real world where people got together and mapped out which people constitute "our" authentic foes and allies.

Like, who specifically is in the category "we" and "our"?

And who exactly are "our real enemies"? People who oppose gay rights? People who oppose same-sex marriage? People who say "fag"?

What about people who say "tranny"? Do we give gay people a pass on that? Or is it only conservatives who get called out for that one? Or, what about gay men who mock female politicians' outfits and looks? Don't their actions harm members of the LGBT community too?

I guess this has been a long-winded way of saying that it's really really hard for me to give two shits about cis people who claim to be "offended" by the term "cis," when it's patently clear that their primary discomfort with the word is that it implies privilege. It implies privilege because it is a privilege to be cis. Unfortunately, when some people think they're winning every single gold medal in the Oppression Olympics, I think it can be really difficult for them to hear that they might be part of the problem for other people.

To me, a somewhat parallel situation would be if a white lesbian demanded not to be called "white," because people of color sometimes use the word "white" to signify that we live in a society that privileges whiteness, but as a lesbian she doesn't feel very privileged and in fact is "offended" by that "accusation."

To eradicate these labels would chip away out our ability to describe these privileges, thereby maintaining them. And, well, what Liss said: "if your revolution doesn't implicitly and explicitly include a rejection of misogyny and other intersectional marginalizations, then you're not staging a revolution: You're staging a change in management."

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