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Friday, 22 March 2013

Some cis people don't like the word 'cis'

Before you ask, here's a wikipedia link to a definition of cisgender.

There was an article in the New Statesman today where a cis woman complained that she was being asked to be aware of privilege when approaching feminism (horrors, I know) and complained specifically about the word 'cis.' Others have done a better job than I responding to that article. But I want to put my oar in.

This reminds me about some previous and ongoing conflicts in feminism and society. One has to do with LGB issues. A lot of straight people didn't like the word 'straight' at all. Nobody asked them if they wanted the name. Gay people just foisted it off on them and then told them to check their privilege when they complained. 'We're not monolithic!' they said. 'We all have differing and subtle approaches to our sexuality and deserve to be taken as individuals!' Which is funny, because a lot of gay people feel the same way about themselves!

No group is monolithic. There are as many ways to be gay as there are gay people and as many ways to be straight as there are straight people. The word 'straight' actually was meant as a value judgement, wherein heterosexuals were being called uptight and boring. Speaking as a straight person, I think that's a bit unfair, but then given that straight people then were insisting that they be called 'normal,' I'm not overly excited about a minor slight in return.

Trans people are also not monolithic. There are a lot of ways to be trans - despite medical gatekeeping insisting on a standard narrative, we still have a huge amount of variation. And, indeed, there are as many ways to be cis as there are cis people.

Maybe you're a cis person who doesn't like the word 'cis.' You weren't consulted on this. You're not a carbon copy of your gender ideal. How dare people imply that there should be category for non-trans people! You should just be called 'normal.'

I would like to urge you to examine your privilege. Which is another way of telling you to get over yourself. There's billions of cis women and cis men on the planet. Nobody is alleging that you're all carbon copies of each other. You say you're more complex than just that. Well, so is everybody.

Another monolithic grouping is 'white' as in 'white people.' Past arguments and current about privilege in feminism often revolve around race. White feminists didn't want to have to deal with their dual status as both members of a victim class and members of an oppressor class. Some meant well. Some were all for their own liberation, but still wanted people of other races to know their place. Many found it jarring to think about themselves as privileged.

And indeed, cis women who are fairly gender non-conforming don't tend to think of themselves as having privilege. And in many ways, they certainly don't. Yet, they still aren't compelled to tell their life stories to psychiatrists in order to access appropriate medical treatment, but even aside from that something else came up in the news today.

A primary school teacher named Lucy Meadows killed herself. She had transitioned over winter break. The UK is a small country, so this was national news. The media was swarming around her home and her work. Richard Littlejohn (the UK's equivalent of Rush Limbaugh) wrote a column attacking her. She was just trying to live her life and the media decided, during a vulnerable time, to turn her life into a spectacle and showcase her as a freak.

So no, gender-nonconforming cis people don't live lives of amazing luxury, but they don't need to worry about being attacked in the Daily Mail, misgendered even in death. Effeminate, straight cis men don't need to worry about facing jail time for having relationships, but this has happened twice recently to young trans men in the UK.

But hey, nobody forces cis people to hang out in the feminist haunts of tumblr or other corners of the internet. If they don't like the word 'cis,' they don't have to engage it. Nor pay attention. Nor let it define their lives at all. And trust me, that's a privilege trans people don't get.

The purpose of talking about privilege is not a contest to give an award to the least privileged person on earth. It's to be respectful in dialogue and to prevent furthering of injustice - something that can easily happen by accident. And really - I'm not overly impressed with somebody taking to a newspaper column to complain about being made aware of their privilege. Especially not given the role of newspapers in Lucy Meadows death.

If you're feeling despondent over this and are in danger, please contact your doctor or GP (Americans can google to find free clinics in their area). There is also help over the phone. In the UK, LGBT people can call the LGBT switchboard (before 11:00 pm) 0300 330 0630, call the samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 or ring 999. In the US, LGBT people can call 1-866-488-7386 or anyone can ring 1-800-suicide. In an emergency you can got to a hospital emergency room or call 911. You are not alone and there is help available.

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