234 responses

  1. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    I see merit in both sides of the cisgender label debate.

    On the one hand, “not-trans” may sound fine as a description to those who are not transgender, but to a trans person the “not” comes through as a rejection or a dismissal.

    With attributes that are binary, we tend to have names for both sides. And when we don’t, it’s usually because one side is not just outside the norm but also an affliction or detriment.

    On the other hand, it can be a bit offputting to discover that some community has a special term for “people not like us”. For transgender people to announce that they call others “cisgender” can send a signal to some of those outside the community that they are the ones who are being excluded and perhaps mocked.

    And defining cisgender as “all the people who are not covered by the term ‘transgender’” feels like the same sort of rejection that trans people can often feel from others. A description that is affirmative is less likely to meet resistance.

    No one really wants to be defined by what they are not, either transgender persons or cisgender persons. So perhaps we can be both a bit lenient and a bit patient with each other.

  2. Amicus
    November 11, 2010

    Jane, Thanks for your reply. I’m always trying to think a step ahead, and I know I’ll get that question, if someone presses me on trans.

    As for LGBTQQIAA, it’s not over. My mind works in the shower. We’re short a “Q”. If there is going to be an “A” for ally, then there out to be another “Q” for “quisling”, which is all the rage these days, I guess. … I jest, of course.

  3. Jane Laplain
    November 11, 2010

    Timothy Kincaid

    I appreciate your willingness to have an honest discussion so I don’t mind continuing exchange with you.

    I can respect that you see value in seeing “both sides” but the fact is there is no symmetry of experience or impact when comparing the way cis people can exclude and label trans people and the way trans peopel can exclude and label cis people.

    Trans people are systematically excluded and punished for existing within a framework that rewards and demands the gender congruence cis people take for granted. The fact is, even IF trans people were using Cis as some sort of insult (which we keep saying again and again it is value neutral term) but even IF we WERE trying to be insulting… what effect does that have institutionally or even personally on cis people? Other than being “annoyed” by being called such a silly sounding word, nothing. (Feel free to debate me on this point).

    Being excluded and labeled as a trans person by people who are not trans (cis, if you will) has well-documented real life harmful consequences for trans people. And not even allowing trans people to name the actors in a system that specifically oppresses them, or trying to control the language of that naming, even MORE harmful. Dig?

  4. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    Jane,

    No, I’m sorry but I don’t agree.
    No one doubts that trans people have been excluded – many of us here have trans friends and have seen it first hand. Nor am I suggesting that one experience is equal or equivalent to another.

    But having experienced mistreatment does not entitle us to disregard the feelings of others. Being marginalized does not entitle us to marginalize others. Being excluded does not give us the right to exclude. And having been assigned labels that we don’t like does not then free us to assign unappreciated labels to others.

    If we want our feelings to be given credibility, we must do the same to others. “Being right” is a luxury that only non-thinkers and non-carers have.

    The point here is not whether cis is the right or wrong term. The issue isn’t whether it does or does not carry baggage or insult.

    The issue is how we treat others when they say to us “you are making me feel excluded and diminished.”

    We can insist on our patented right to do what we want with a big screw-you or we can listen to their concerns and consider whether they have merit. Ultimately we may come to the same decision, but we will do so in a quite different way.

    You are claiming the right to the nomenclature; I’m not challenging you on that. But I am suggesting that if you invoke the right to ‘name the actors’ that you do so gently.

  5. Mihangel apYrs
    November 11, 2010

    I really wish I hadn’t thrown that pebble into the pond!!

    But just one important point: putting together all us non-standard sexualities, genders et al, we’re still outnumbered by the “norm”.

    What has happened is a debate that got a little heated, but remember more unites us than divides us

  6. Jane Laplain
    November 11, 2010

    Timothy

    I certainly hope I wasn’t arguing in favor of a patented right to say screw you or to be a hypocrite. I am not, if that wasn’t clear.

    Naming the actors in any oppressive system, whether that is institutional racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism or ableism or what have you, in my opinion must be done accurately, objectively and truthfully. To be honest with you “gently” is waaaay down on my list of priorities when I am analyzing the mechanics of oppression and how it functions. Particularly when that oppression is being directed at me.

    I agree that nobody has a right to disrespect or belittle or insult another and expect to go unchallenged. I agree tha empathy and and tact are more useful tools for dialogue than their opposites. But to ask any marginalized person to please be “gentle” when naming the privileged parties who actively engage in disenfranchisment of that same marginalized person is in fact asking for special treatment for the privileged.

    (Truth be told all marginalized persons regularly prioritize the feelings and comfort levels of the privileged in order to survive. Make them comfortably and maybe they won’t use their power against you. Make them uncomfortable and watch out!)

    To refuse to engage the mechanics of the ideas proposed because the words or labels used weren’t “gentle” enough is basically a Tone Argument. Ie. “I refuse to listen to what you have to say about oppression until you say it more gently, no matter how valid your arguments may be.”

    Sorry we can’t agree here.

  7. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    Jane,

    In my thinking, I do not separate the world into marginalized v. privileged people and allow such assignment to dictate my analysis of their views or my respect for their feelings. So, while they may be effective with some here who share this dichotomous worldview, appeals to entitlement due to marginalization are not effective with me.

    If my call for gentleness must be filtered through the marginalized v. privileged paradigm, then I fear you are right when you say that we cannot agree.

  8. Brian
    November 11, 2010

    Ironic isn’t it that GLAAD doesn’t include ‘B’, ‘T’, ‘I’, ‘Q’, etc. in its name. :-)

    GLEE is one the most queer-friendly show on TV these days.

    Mountain out of molehill I think, and there are better ways to do education about trans people’s needs than fighting over a word clearly not intended to cause distress.

  9. truthteller
    November 11, 2010

    @ Timothy Kinkade

    Well said:

    “But having experienced mistreatment does not entitle us to disregard the feelings of others. Being marginalized does not entitle us to marginalize others. Being excluded does not give us the right to exclude. And having been assigned labels that we don’t like does not then free us to assign unappreciated labels to others.”

    If the people who want to use that label had come in here with the objective to win us over into using their word for us, instead of, like George Bush invading Iraq, the conversation would have taken a different tone.This is a GLBT -and-anything-else-you-want-to-include-in-there-site. Remember?

    I have now been called the oppressor a few times, simply because I take offense at a label given to people like me by those who are different. I heard their circular logic and I still don’t buy it.

    @ Desiree
    You have yet to say why “cisgender” is “offensive” – that is how it demeans or dehumanizes you… You may *object* to a new label, but knock it off with the faux “offensive” rubbish. You sound like someone running around claiming the word “banana” is offensive and no one better talk about them ever again.”

    You are not interested in finding solutions. You are interested in winning, by any means necessary.

    FAUX offensive?
    You will never gain my cooperation by ridiculing and dismissing how I feel. I do not have to justify my feeling to anyone, and least of all, you. You seem to think only what you think and feel is valid and everyone who disagrees with you is your enemy and oppressor.

    I am done “talking” to you. It is more important for you to be right, in order to maintain your place in that oppressor/oppressed-world, than to find ways of working together to heal the divisions within our communities.

    Good luck in that little world.

  10. enough already
    November 11, 2010

    I said I was done, but one question more:

    Has anybody taken into consideration how other cultures (many of which are advanced beyond the US in recognizing our humanity as queer people) deal with this matter?

    For heaven’s sake, they’re now kicking straight kids off of football teams for supporting (cover the children’s eyes) breast cancer!

  11. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    enough already,

    Good point. Cultures outside the West have rather different perspectives on sex and gender and what they mean. For example, in some gender roles can be as defining as appearance, self-expression, or internal sense of identity. And some cultures experience shifting gender identity based on circumstance.

    This is a rather difficult concept to fully understand and just when I think I have a grasp on it, some other aspect raises its head to knock over all of my carefully stacked assumptions.

  12. Jane Laplain
    November 11, 2010

    Timothy Kincaid

    I do not propose a “dichotomous worldview” Timothy, and I feel its dishonest of you to say that I am.

    I am proposing that in context specific situations, ie. discussions of trans issues and the trans community… that actual trans people’s voices and feelings be centered.

    If you are going to take the time to discuss the reality of oppression in trans people’s lives and how it works, and discuss the language we use to analyze this oppression we face, it is NOT unreasonable to propose that actual trans people’s opinions should weigh more than your own **in this specific context. **

    Now if I were proposing, re: your worldview dichotomy critique, that everybody should stop watching GLEE and anybody who disagreed with me was a privileged arsehole for not deferring to me as trans person because I’ve suffered.. now THAT would be unreasonable.

    But I’m not saying anything like that and you know it.

    So why you would resist the idea that its important to defer, in specific contexts, to trans people who are documentably much more severely affected by certain gender-assignment based oppressions than you are. I am unsure. And frankly, I’m disappointed.

  13. Timothy (TRiG)
    November 11, 2010

    Supporting breast cancer? Do you mean supporting breast cancer awareness?

    ;)

    In all seriousness, none of the objectors to the term cissexual have come up with a replacement that isn’t disrespectful to a marginalised community. All the variants on “born male” or “biological male” are problematic. “Not-trans” is problematic. No other term has been suggested.

    One objector has said that the word cis “sounds silly”. Well, that’s a personal aesthetic argument, and I’m afraid you don’t get to redefine language out of your personal sense of the euphonious.

    Most objectors do not object to the word cis specifically, but to any word at all which fills that space in the lexicon. They don’t want to be “labelled”. Well, sorry. A form of oppression needs to be labelled before it can be discussed. A label is needed. You are not required to “identify” with it or to use it to describe yourself, but people need to talk about the trans population in contrast with the majority population, and they need a word to do that.

    TRiG.

  14. Jane Laplain
    November 11, 2010

    And just to had off accusations of “but you’re not talking about your own trans issues when you use cis, you’re talking about US and labeling US!”

    The only time the term cis is ever used is in trans-specific contexts. It is NOT an identity. It is not an oppressive label or insult. It is merely a value-neutral descriptor for specific actors in a specific system of oppression.

    No one is about to be forced to fill out “cis” on their driver’s licenses or tax forms. Nobody is going to be forced to wear “Nobody knows I’m Cisgender” t-shirts to work. Nobody is going to to be required to mark “cis” on the next Government Census.

    Cis, as a term, doesn’t affect you in any way shape or form other than describing the reality of your congruence with your birth sex assignment. That’s it.

    So objecting to that as offensive is is is.. …. oh nevermind. Desiree said it much better than I ever could and people are still arguing this point into the ground.

  15. truthteller
    November 11, 2010

    @ TRIG

    “And truthteller’s claims that trans people have a “condition” and cis people have no “condition” is exactly what we were saying earlier about the importance of denormitiving normality.”

    Trig, do not misrepresent my post!
    You are either intellectually deficient and unable to read things in context or just a plain A.H.

    I do not take kindly to people assigning prejudices to me that I do not have.

  16. Timothy (TRiG)
    November 11, 2010

    So what on earth were you saying?

    TRiG.

  17. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    Jane,

    If you are going to take the time to discuss the reality of oppression in trans people’s lives and how it works, and discuss the language we use to analyze this oppression we face, it is NOT unreasonable to propose that actual trans people’s opinions should weigh more than your own **in this specific context. **

    If you re-read my comments above along with the original post, you will see me say that the voices most important in defining terms for trans people are trans people.

    I believe this to be true and right.

    But – and please note my words carefully – when we are discussing treating others with gentleness or courtesy, it simply isn’t relevant that you might be documentably much more severely affected by certain gender-assignment based oppressions than am I.

    It was your rejection of civility – justified by an appeal to marginalization – that I found objectionable, not either your right to self-identity or nomenclature.

    In other words, if I can channel some adult from your childhood, “I know you’ve been hurt but you still can be nice.”

    (And that goes to you too, truthteller)

  18. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    TRiG

    A form of oppression needs to be labelled before it can be discussed.

    Do you really want to imply that cisgender people are, by definition, oppressors?

  19. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    truthteller

    “And truthteller’s claims that trans people have a “condition” and cis people have no “condition” is exactly what we were saying earlier about the importance of denormitiving normality.”

    Trig, do not misrepresent my post!
    You are either intellectually deficient and unable to read things in context or just a plain A.H.

    When you say that someone who is not a transgender person does not need a label because they don’t have a “condition”, it does imply that transgender people – who do have a label – do have a condition. That is not an intellectually deficient flow of logic.

  20. celticdragon
    November 11, 2010

    Whoa! I know a lot of trans people who think “tranny” is as bad as “faggot”.
    *****************

    Indeed. I have always associated “tranny” with porn and Jerry Springer shows.

    I use “t-girl” somtimes, but I often just say I am a transgendered woman if I have to say anything at all. “Tranny” is not something that you associate with professionalism and competence, and as a geology sudent and potential educator or field researcher, professionalism is something I believe in.

  21. Jane Laplain
    November 11, 2010

    Timothy Kincaid

    I understand what you’re saying. I appreciate it and in most types of conversations I even agree. But when it comes to this specific context, ie. discussing, naming and analyzing oppression, saying “be gentle and be more courteous when calling out people’s privilege or they won’t listen” … that’s called The Tone Argument.

    Believe it or not I really do value civility and tact. But not at the expense of honesty and accuracy. It isn’t realistic, let alone fair, to expect people who are naming their oppression to always be kind and sweet and gentle about it (lest they, gawd forbid, alienate the unlearned masses, being so gosh darn blunt and angry!)

    You are always free to opt out of any conversation where you feel uncomfortable. I am equally free to call toxic stuff out as I see it and not be worried about phrasing myself in the nicest possible way.

    Now if I’m lying, if I’m flat out wrong about something then call me on that and we’ll have a conversation.

    But, to my ear, saying “be more gentle when describing this awful thing to me” means privileging civility over honesty, over gaining deeper insight into the oppression at hand and my part in it… so I must again agree to disagree.

  22. Timothy Kincaid
    November 11, 2010

    Jane,

    I do believe that you value tact and civility – it is present when you speak to me. And I don’t want to read something extra into what you are saying here.

    But it seems to me (and correct me if I’m wrong) that you see cisgender as a description of something that is awful to you. Am I misunderstanding this?

    It seems – and again this is but my impression – that because truthteller is not trans, that his concerns about being labeled have absolutely no value because he is, by default, the enemy. Again, correct me if I’ve got way off base here.

    Because, if this perception is correct, then it does seem that truthteller may have some merit to his complaint. And I would have to say that if you find “cisgender” to define something oppressive and toxic, then, indeed, please don’t apply that term to me. No one wants to be defined as an oppressor based on an immutable attribute.

    I hope I’m misunderstanding and that you are actually speaking more generally about oppression.

    But if we are discussing oppression and attitudes that dismiss others and see them only in terms of just an attribute (as the world so often sees trans folk one dimensionally), is there no place in that discussion for listening to someone else’s discomfort and finding empathy?

    I’m not trans. I don’t have your experiences and I am not in a position to measure or judge them. I only know that I’ve seen enough and heard enough to know that there is more than adequate justification for a certain level of cautiousness and even cynicism.

    But I do hope that there is a space for us who are not trans to find bonds, and bonds that work both ways. A way to be supportive, but also heard. Perhaps even a way for those who aren’t fully there yet to find commonality which can grow to stronger support.

    I am not by any means suggesting that anyone else have any veto over the nomenclature used in discussing trans issues. That belongs to the trans community (which kinda was the whole point of this post).

    I just don’t want those who could be allies turned into enemies. We are a small community – all of us – and we really do have to have each others’ back. And I do think that truthteller can be an ally.

  23. The Lauderdale
    November 11, 2010

    Wow. I’ve been reading this thread for the most part without commenting, but figured I’d throw in by saying: I agree with Jane Laplain. So far I haven’t seen J. L. say anything that I disagree with, and generally where I see people disagreeing it’s been based on misinterpretation or distortions. Maybe that’s because this has become the Lengthy Thread O’ Doom™ and people are posting quick responses without always going back to reread what has been said. I’m hoping that’s the case, because otherwise, when I see this much derail I start to grow a little suspicious.

  24. johnathan
    November 11, 2010

    Jane,

    I echo Timothy Kinkade’s words entirely, and I suppose that is what I was trying to state, albeit without the passion in my earlier text. I was up WAY past my bedtime, transitioning from one medication to the next, and well…

    I was, in my own convoluted manner, wanting to also echo the sentiments that I did not want to be “defined as an oppressor based on an immutable attribute.” My intentions — and yes, they were sincere, noble, and well-meaning — were not received in such a fashion. For this I apologize.

    However, based on your later writings and conversations with Timothy Kinkade and others, I have a deeper understanding of the applications of “cis-” and “cisgender” than I did earlier. For this, I wish to sincerely thank you for the information and the educational opportunity.

    Thank you. Sincerely.

  25. Désirée
    November 12, 2010

    @Timothy et al

    Cisgender people are not the oppressors. Cisgenderism is. That is, the fact that we live in a world that has largely been created as is defined by the assumption that people are cisgender. Just as we as gay people rally against heteronormativism in culture, trans people fight against cisgender normativism. This doesn’t make cis people oppressors but it does indicate an imbalance.

    I was discussing this with my wife (who is cisgender) and it’s funny sometimes the direction a conversation can go. We wound up discussing the proper terminology for those who used to be known as midgets. I think the proper term now is little people (I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, and if I am I apologize). The slightly odd thought popped into my head: “A little person will never get to ride a roller coaster except at the kiddie park, solely because of their height,” and I had to catch myself of this next part “because roller coasters are designed for normal sized people” Ah! see? I’m not a little person, so I think of my height as in the range of “normal.” Am I a “little person oppressor”? Not that I know of. However, the world around, that I contribute to, is designed for people around my height. I have height privilege – imagine that! I get to ride roller coasters.

    Now, you could argue that it’s not my fault specifically that roller coasters are made for people my size so therefor I have no responsibility for little people lacking access to them, but to a little person, I am part of the majority that is catered to that makes their lives that much more difficult *in this regard.*

    When we say “gays are oppressed” we don’t mean “every straight person oppresses gays” and when we say “women face sexism” we don’t mean that all men are sexist. But but we are doing is acknowledging an imbalance in power in the culture we live in.

    Sorry “power” is not the right word there – just as the majority of things in the world are designed for not little people (I’m sorry, I don’t know how not little people are referred to, sounds like I’ll be making a stop at Wikipedia after this), the majority of things in the world are designed for cisgender people, or at least the assumption is “everyone is cisgender unless otherwise stated.”

    Personally, as I’m not a fan of identity politics or discussions of privilege (as I have said before privilege can almost never be brought up without it becoming an accusation that one most atone for) I find the word “oppressor” too harsh and oft-putting. I completely understand your reluctance to be called “cisgender” if it is for the sole purpose of being the “cisgener oppressor” Who the hell wants to be that?

    But non-trans folk have so far gotten to set the rules for trans folk, just as in the past straight people set the rules for gay people. Having a name for the group that most people assume everyone is is not a bad thing.

  26. P.R.
    November 12, 2010

    Timothy Kincaid:

    I though that those (usually heterosexual male) persons who dress in the clothing of the opposite sex for pleasure were properly called transvestites and that crossdressers was the offensive term.

    I’ve never known such people to be offended by any particular label. The most common ways they self-identify are crossdresser (or just CD), TV (you almost never see transvestite spelled out), and t-girl.

    Crossdresser seems to be used by people more casually involved who don’t see the practice as part of their gender or sexual identity (and most don’t).

    T-girl seems to be used by those more deeply involved and who identify to some degree as cross gendered, though not necessarily being same-gender attracted or wanting to transition.

    TV is an all-purpose label.

    I have also seen the term tranny used as short for transvestite. It seems to be a Britishism. Or else I’m just confused.

    There is definitely a murky area where transvestism bleeds into transgenderism. For example, some male TVs will go as far as becoming post-op “lesbians”. Others will engage is same-gender relations, but only with other TVs. There’s a lot of variation.

  27. NoxiousNan
    November 12, 2010

    Wow, go BTB. Lots of comments – too many to read unfortunately.

    For me, it all comes down to size. Things I don’t say: caucasion, african american, homosexual, heterosexual, transsexual, republican, democrat. Things I say instead: white, black, gay, straight, tranny, repub, dem.

    If it offends, well I probably don’t have time for that eitehr.

  28. truthteller
    November 12, 2010

    @ Timothy Kinkade

    I disagree with your following statement:

    “When you say that someone who is not a transgender person does not need a label because they don’t have a “condition”, it does imply that transgender people – who do have a label – do have a condition. That is not an intellectually deficient flow of logic.”

    I have different labels: male/gay/Latino. None of them are conditions, they are states of being, just like trans is a state of being.

    I find the need to measure ones wholeness against another (person or group) fallacious and I took offense at someone saying I believe trans people have a condition because I find that idea dehumanizing and idiotic. Perhaps we (society, not you specifically) have different ideas of what a human being is, but I don’t find people’s value measured against others’.

    As to your civility comment: I will treat others as they treat me.

  29. truthteller
    November 12, 2010

    Timothy,

    “I just don’t want those who could be allies turned into enemies. We are a small community – all of us – and we really do have to have each others’ back. And I do think that truthteller can be an ally.”

    I already am an ally; families sometimes have heated arguments, but your point is well taken. We must not injure and turn allies into enemies.

  30. Mihangel apYrs
    November 12, 2010

    I will regret this but, …
    but

    I honestly consider people as individuals, not a unit in a group. I really don’t care what you do, just don’t frighten the horses! By which I mean anything with consenting adults.

    As I’ve said before, “trans” is a label that suggests to me at least a journey, “cis” is useful in an acedemic discussion but otherwise…

    So step away from the issue and accept that others have valid points. Here we ARE family: we disagree, but that’s within the family

  31. Tiff
    November 12, 2010

    I have a feeling I’m going to regret posting this and thereby becoming further involved in this thread, but…

    I think one of the issues in the objection to the cis term is that it has been defined here as “not trans.”
    Straight doesn’t mean “not gay.” It refers to an individual who is primarily attracted to people of the opposite sex and/or gender.
    Similarly, cis doesn’t mean “not trans.” This term refers to an individual whose sex, gender identity, and gender presentation are basically in agreement with one another. It’s not describing the absence of something, but rather one variation of the many potential variations of this aspect of a person.

  32. Donny D.
    November 13, 2010

    “Straight doesn’t mean ‘not gay.’ It refers to an individual who is primarily attracted to people of the opposite sex and/or gender.”

    “Straight” is slang, therefore doesn’t have an exact meaning or necessarily even a single meaning, but “not gay” is exactly what it means to most people, as well as “only heterosexual”. Like “white” (which in its American version excludes any non-European ancestry at all), straight is an intrinsically excluding label.

    Cisgendered just sounds funny/odd.

  33. Timothy (TRiG)
    November 17, 2010
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