Since I started down this strange and exhausting (but ultimately rewarding) path of openly talking about what it’s like to try to just exist in this society as a transgender person, I’ve gotten lectured a lot by people who don’t like what I’m saying.
While I never enjoy these lectures, they do have an upside: they often give me ideas for posts that need to be written, because the lectures usually come out of ignorance. When enough people get combative with me based on the same misunderstanding, I see the pattern and take it as a chance to educate on a broader level.
One subject that has been the topic of many of lectures is cisgender people getting angry with me for using the word “cisgender” to describe them.
So far, the argument has always essentially boiled down to this:
It’s rude to call me cisgender. I don’t identify as cisgender. I’m a regular dude.
(So far all the people who have lectured me about this have been dudes.)
What the people giving me these lectures don’t realize is that they’re actually revealing their own unrecognized bigotry. I’ll do my best to explain.
First, a quick definition.
Cisgender: people who aren’t trans
Cisgender is a simple, clinical word used to describe a group of people. That group of people includes everyone who is not transgender.
The prefix “cis” just means “same,” and it’s in reference to a person having the same gender as the one they were assigned when they were born.
This word did not originate as any sort of slur. It’s just a simple, useful descriptor.
What it reveals when being labeled “cis” bothers someone
First off: if someone’s intention is to insult another person, they can do it using any words whatsoever. The nature of words is slippery like that. I’m not saying that “cisgender” can never be used in an insulting way, because any word can be used in an insulting way.
I’m talking about when the word “cisgender” is used in a descriptive way that means “not transgender.” I use it this way a decent amount, because cisgender people tend to interact with me much differently than fellow transgender people do, and the distinction makes a difference in my everyday life. Here’s an example of a sentence I wrote (from this Facebook post) that a cisgender person took offense to:
When a trans person comes out to a cis person, the response is often “I don’t get it. Explain it to me.”
If someone takes offense to being called cisgender in this way, it should be cause for some serious self-reflection.
Cisgender is the equal inverse of the word transgender. Someone who can’t handle being called cisgender is revealing that they’re not OK with transgender people being treated as equal to them.
A cisgender person getting offended at being called cisgender is taking for granted that they’re the default. They are the “most normal version” of human, so therefore, they shouldn’t need a descriptor for themselves.
That’s what people are revealing when they say “I’m a regular dude.”
Whether or not they like it, this is bigotry.
Yes, you are a dude who just thinks of yourself as a regular dude. But a trans guy is also a regular dude. You’re a cisgender “regular dude,” and he’s a transgender “regular dude.”
Cisgender people are used to living life as the baseline definition of normal that the rest of the world has to revolve around. If some of them get upset with me for trying to help other kinds of people feel normal, too, that’s not surprising. Sharing privilege can take some getting used to. But ultimately, it makes everything better for everyone.
I hope one day they’ll realize that, and join in.
In the meantime, here’s this article.
Know of any other resources on this subject? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.