“Don’t call me ‘cis’”
Dear cisgender/cissexual sisters and brothers:
Somehow, there seems to have developed a pathos for using the scientific prefix “cis” in reference to people who are, by and large, not trans. The commonly used arguments for this generally fall into some category of claiming that “cis” is an insult to “normal” people, and that “cis” is not terminology which these people have adopted to describe themselves, and therefore constitutes coercion and oppression on the part of trans people.
This completely ignores the fact that the terms “transgender”, “transsexual”, and “trans”, as well as other variants thereof, originated with cis people themselves as Othering language in the grand tradition of the Hegelian dialectic, as famously demonstrated by pioneering feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvior in her landmark book, “The Second Sex”. It is ironic in the extreme that these tactics are commonly employed by those who identify themselves as feminists.
There are limited opportunities in a society built upon reinforcement of traditionally accepted behavioral norms for people marked as “Other” to express their dissatisfaction with this state, because all forms of communication must, if they are to be considered effective in advancing dialog, have agreed-upon symbolic meanings. In our society, all of the language we have available that can even be marginally considered generally accepted originates in such Othering. The definitions of the very words we use are biased against those of us marked “Other”, and we cannot help but employ them, for they, although they are poor tools ill-suited to our hands, are the only means by which we can be known, even if we run a great risk of being misunderstood, for the Other is powerless to enforce meaning compared to the Same, and we are left with no terminology which describes us as self-contained beings, only as things in relation to something Else.
Consequently, whenever trans people make an attempt to place ourselves on an equal footing with cis people, we are marked as Oppressor, and even ridiculed for presuming to speak above our place. This is of course, utterly nonsensical. Yet, when the cries of oppression and coercion are raised, rarely do we see cis allies come to our defense. “Cis” is no more a derogatory term than “white” is when used in relation to Caucasian people, than “hetero” is when used in relation to those who engage in “opposite” sex/gender pairings, than “affluent” is when used in relationship to “poor”, than “female” when used in relation to “male”.
The silence is deafening. That trans people constitute a class of people subject to denigration, violence, poverty, dehumanisation, and death in our society is a fact about which there can be no serious disagreement. That the realities of our lived experiences and our internally experienced senses of self are summarily dismissed cannot be denied by anyone who expects to be taken seriously in responsible debate.
We are a small minority of people, even in the most generous estimates of our numbers, when compared to the population at large. We are vulnerable. We are human beings, just like you, and we need your help.
It is long past time that this ridiculous notion that “cis” is a derogatory term be put to rest. Every time someone makes that claim, they need to be told that they are wrong and that they are propagating the language of Other. Every time, they need to be made aware that the consensus has long since spoken, that “cis” threatens no one except those who seek to reify patriarchy, kyriarchy, hatred, Other.
This is not simply a matter of hurt feelings. It is a very real struggle for life and death that an estimated 700,000 adults face every single day in the United States alone, and if those numbers hold true globally, between approximately 7 million and 35 million adults around the world, and this doesn’t even begin to address the uncounted children for whom being trans is a reality. The estimate from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law is that somewhere between 0.1% and 0.5% of the adult population of the United States is trans, with a compromise estimate of about 0.3%.
Being trans is, while relatively uncommon, a reality of the diversity of human development, and as human beings, trans people have exactly the same human rights as cis people. Not special rights, human rights. Please, help us to ensure that every person is accorded equal value, that every person enjoys the equal protection of our shared rights, that every person is granted the respect demanded of basic human dignity.
Please, stand up and be counted among those who understand that being called “cis” does not demonise anyone, but is simply a non-stigmatising descriptive of a feature of humanity which by all rights ought to be regarded as relatively insignificant in our daily relationships with each other. The lives of very real people depend upon it.
Thank you, and may peace be with you all the days of our lives.
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