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January 23, 2012 3:50 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything we can do to stop this happening? There are so many interesting conversations to have about trans issues and that ain't one.

I appreciate that people are at different levels of education about this topic, but the question of whether the term 'cis-' is hate speech is just so far from being the most interesting conversation that could have been had about that article. As ArmyOfKittens so beautifully pointed out, trans threads are now a crapshoot depending on whether someone comes in within two or three comments trying to steer them towards the same discussion. Again. And again. And again. The thing that's odd to me is that these people

1) Are interested enough in the topic to post in trans issues threads
2) Are not interested enough in the topic to have got used to the idea that having a label for 'the state of not being trans' is more convenient than not having a label.
3) Are not interested enough in the topic to have noticed that we have had this conversation before.

What is the best way to solve this? I appreciate that this is on the uneasy boundary between 'noise' and someone trying to have a genuine conversation, but I do think at this point that it's edging towards 'noise'. I don't want this place to be an echo chamber, but the problem with this kind of discussion is that it edges out all the other discussions we could be having. Would it be possible to delete as 'noise' comments only about the 'cis-' issue when the topic of the thread is not specifically the 'cis-' issue? I am sure people would be far more likely to FIAMO if there was some indication that this would be dealt with.
posted by Acheman to Etiquette/Policy at 3:50 AM (779 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

You're going to have this conversation as long as people are uncomfortable with the usage of cis, and people are going to be uncomfortable about cis until they've had that conversation. Sucks for some, but as a wide community it is inevitable. I see no reason to alienate good faith responders because they're not 100% on board with the terminology.
posted by seanyboy at 3:57 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is there anything we can do to stop this happening?

That's just a link to the thread. You want to stop posts from happening? Words being written?

And what seanyboy said. If new words are being introduced, it's not unreasonable that debate and confusion and discussion and reistance to those new words come into the conversation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:00 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I guess I'm still astonished that otherwise reasonable people have a massive problem with there being a word for "not trans" that applies to them. It doesn't oppress them or anything, like being trans does to me, it's just a neutral description that makes absolutely zero difference to their everyday lives.

Apparently I'm "neurotypical". Am I bothered about that? Not in the slightest.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:05 AM on January 23, 2012 [37 favorites]


Count the seconds before Hermitosis chimes in and Jessamyn deletes this comment.
posted by gman at 4:09 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Brandon, I think I made clear below the fold what I was talking about. I also think you understood what I was talking about, since you responded to it. And I guess my response to that would be that at this point it seems like 'cis' isn't really all that new a word?
posted by Acheman at 4:10 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I completely empathize, and I am actually frustrated myself because I'd like to read more feedback on the topic of the post, which is very interesting, and which has brought up a lot of information that I hadn't considered and would like to learn more about.

The problem that we're seeing in this thread that we also run into in feminism and some other threads is that this is a general interest site, and while many are much more informed about the specific issues and terms used, there will always be people who will be responding to particular points that are unfamiliar to them, or that they feel personally insulted by or resistant to. Too often when this happens everyone who might normally be discussing the topic stops discussing in order to address those comments (sometimes with very little patience), tempers flare back and forth and the entire thread is derailed.

Moderators cannot tell people that they need to have prior familiarity with the subject and its lexicon in order to participate, or that they shouldn't ask about concepts they don't know that much about, and we cannot tell people that they shouldn't respond to questions posed or objections stated – or that they can only respond in a certain way.

The best situation is when people who are unfamiliar with the ideas remain respectful, and when those who are more familiar are helpful, but also stay focused on the actual subject instead of turning all attention toward the derailing comments.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:13 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Brandon, I think I made clear below the fold what I was talking about.

Perhaps, but your link makes zero sense in the context of the sentence. Were you linking to a comment that has sense been deleted?

And I guess my response to that would be that at this point it seems like 'cis' isn't really all that new a word?

It's weird how people are refusing to believe that people think it's a new word when they say as much right in the thread. It's at the point where Army of Kittens has made a game out of it, yet people are still surprised by that yes, people discovered a new word and don't understand the conversation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:27 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would somebody mind linking to some of the relevant past discussions about this (I know that there are several, but I'm probably not the best person to compile the key links)? I'd like to go back through and re-read some of those older threads.

For example, I remember reading Army of Kittens' comment about the 'decades to pick a name' previously...it was brilliant then and is now. I'd like to see that comment, and others like it, in past contexts.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:28 AM on January 23, 2012


gman and blatcher, when do you guys sleep? You are like the first responders of meta, no matter the hour, in with one of the first few comments.
posted by mlis at 4:31 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whenever gman is awake, I'm awake. Someone had to protect the world from him.

For example, I remember reading Army of Kittens' comment about the 'decades to pick a name' previously...it was brilliant then

I'm curious, what's brilliant about it?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:39 AM on January 23, 2012


Neurotypical, heterosexual, cisgendered, and so many more. We need these terms and their complements.

My brain has been exploding all morning at some of the things I've read from that thread. I just can't believe the ignorance, stubbornness and privilege on display. It really saddens me. I can't think of much more to say, really. I'm crushed by the lack of understanding and unwillingness to listen and believe the feelings, experiences and realities of the people who are sharing such things, only to be repeatedly dismissed, derailed and invalidated.

That, and the article in the FPP was really interesting and great. But perhaps way too much for us to be able to have that conversation yet. Again, that's SAD. Because as a community, I think we're generally ahead of the pack. But here? This topic? We utterly fail, again and again.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:41 AM on January 23, 2012 [27 favorites]


mlis: gman and blatcher, when do you guys sleep? You are like the first responders of meta, no matter the hour, in with one of the first few comments.

"Sleep"? That's the second time in this thread that someone has used a term I've never heard of before. Anyway, as to how I'm often in here pretty quickly, I have alarms set up on my phone, my laptop, my facsimile machine, and I've trained my dog to notify me of new MeTa threads.
posted by gman at 4:46 AM on January 23, 2012 [19 favorites]


When someone threatens to derail a thread about something that you hold dear, one strategy you might try is to mefi mail that person directly, not to yell at or shut up anyone, but to discuss the subject one to one at a personal (and perhaps basic) level more suitable to mefi mail than to a general (and perhaps advanced) conversation.

One to one, you can do all the edumacating you want and the other person can discuss the subject with you and learn something from you (or teach something to you). Meanwhile, the thread can carry on.

It might be a somewhat devious strategy -- you hope to keep the derailer satisfied and distracted enough to keep the derailing pronouncements out of the thread you are trying to save -- but it seems potentially productive on two levels: the thread health improves when you and the derailer aren't publicly arguing about whether grass is green, and you (presumably an expert on the topic) get a chance to do some friendly (no yelling, no denigrating, no shaming) proselytizing for your pet topic.
posted by pracowity at 4:46 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


...people have a massive problem with there being a word for "not trans" that applies to them.

That's probably true. I'm more than happy to be called "not trans", I just happen to think "cis" is just an ugly prefix in both sound and appearance. A soft 'c' paired with an 's'? Did a spelling-impaired snake make that up? And it's such an unfamiliar term. I always think it's one of those alternative pronoun things (think "his"). In fact...is it pronounced "siz" or "sis"? Wait, never mind, don't tell me. I don't want knowledge of this ugly word to spread.

I think it would be hilarious if we started using "heterogendered" and "homogendered" to mean these same things. What a mind-bender for homophobes...
posted by DU at 4:46 AM on January 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


Why do you even care about the "ugliness" of the word? Are you even aware of how you people sound?

"Yeah, I get that trans people need a word to establish that they're not abnormal compared to our normal, but seriously you guys the spelling sucks and I don't like how it sounds."

It's ridiculous.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:50 AM on January 23, 2012 [41 favorites]


Wow. You seem to have a lot of investment in these three letter choices.
posted by DU at 4:52 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Other words I hate the sound of are "mama" and "belly" but I'm still pro-motherhood and apple pie.
posted by DU at 4:54 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I hate the sound of apple and I'm pro apple pie.
posted by michaelh at 4:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do people say "cis"?

Does it rhyme with "kiss", "jizz", "sighs", "sigh", or something else ... ? Is the initial "c" pronounced as a "k" or an "s"?

I'd like to say it like "sizz" - how does that strike everyone?

Then I can refer to any (apparently) male person I meet as a "cis-or-sister".

Would that be OK with everyone?

If not I will probably just call those apparently male people I meet who object to the abovemented nomenclature a "'cis-or-sister' resister" or, when referring to them formally, "Mister 'cis-or-sister' resister".

And, in the event that a drunk, apparently male person who objects to the aforementioned nomenclature keeps pestering me to play a classic English trick-taking card game while lying in the hot sun and canoodling with me, causing us both to forget that we had a dancing date at a classical music venue, I would have to say, "desist from whist and from this tryst, Mister "cis-or-sister" resister, and kiss my blistered wrist, you're pissed - the gist is that we've missed a twist to Liszt!"

That phrase will come in quite handy, so grateful any comments.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm more than happy to be called "not trans", I just happen to think "cis" is just an ugly prefix in both sound and appearance.
Is this seriously a real issue in your life?

There are a lot of words that could be used to describe me that are not very melodious. Short, for instance. Short is kind of a harsh-sounding word. If I gave it any thought, I might even prefer "petite." But I don't give it any thought, because who the fuck cares. And the same is true of "cis." It's a descriptive term. Nobody's demanding that you name your first-born child "Cis."
posted by craichead at 4:57 AM on January 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


You seem to have a lot of investment in these three letter choices.

I wonder why that is.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:00 AM on January 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


because who the fuck cares

It is not unknown for Meefites to care about such things.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:00 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just happen to think "cis" is just an ugly prefix in both sound and appearance. A soft 'c' paired with an 's'? Did a spelling-impaired snake make that up? And it's such an unfamiliar term. I always think it's one of those alternative pronoun things (think "his"). In fact...is it pronounced "siz" or "sis"? Wait, never mind, don't tell me.

It's 'sis'. Take it up with the fucking Romans. It wasn't the scary trans-people who made this offensive-sounding prefix up.
posted by hoyland at 5:00 AM on January 23, 2012 [40 favorites]


No, it makes almost no impact in my life. I only brought it up because there was a single theory espoused above about why people object to the term and I thought that theory was very incomplete.
posted by DU at 5:01 AM on January 23, 2012


Ergh... that comment probably would have been less obnoxious without the word 'fucking' in it.
posted by hoyland at 5:02 AM on January 23, 2012


Although I had no problem with the concept of the "cis" prefix, in my lack of Latin knowledge I thought it was a random three letters someone had arbitrarily decided on. So it was interesting to learn that "cis" the opposite to the Latin "trans". Makes a lot more sense now.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:03 AM on January 23, 2012 [26 favorites]


ArmyOfKittens: "cis people had decades to come up with a better word for themselves. Christine Jorgensen's case was widely publicised in the 50s and Dana International won Eurovision in 1998; it should have been clear to anyone without their head in their anus that trans people were here to stay. Cis was coined in the 90s but only rose to prominence in the last half-decade or so. If it was so extraordinarily important for cis people to name themselves, why didn't they do it?"

Brandon Blatcher: "I'm curious, what's brilliant about it?"

I think her comment hits on a lot of the unnoticed problems in the more general "I hate the 'cis' word" arguments. It gives some perspective how much interest there has been in gender awareness and equality by the privileged, unmarked group. Which is to say, not much. It shows how these issues have been grappled-with realities for LGBTQ people for a long time. In other words, this conversation has gone on longer than you or I have perhaps been aware of. We've been protected in our little privilege bubbles. These terms perhaps sound foreign to us because they're new and we haven't had to use them. We haven't needed to use them to define (or explain or justify) ourselves, or define (or explain or justify) ourselves in relation to others. And many of us sit so high on our privilege that we STILL can't justify having a need for the terms, negating the need for their existence, despite the people who are telling them that they have need of and have used the terms for years if not decades.

As I mentioned above, there's so much dismissal going on, and the rejection of the term 'cis' is one of the biggest yet most subtle ways that it is happening. Through the negative opinions expressed in the thread about the term, the reality of trans persons experience is put aside and the topic of the thread is derailed, while the needs of the unmarked, privileged group (who this isn't even about) is put front and center. While everything else waits.

I think ArmyOfKittens' comment gets at that waiting. Waiting for everybody to join the conversation, and accepting that we might be a bit late. And trusting (and exploring) that what we've missed is in all of our best interests (including but certainly not limited to, nomenclature). Instead of this privileged defensiveness.

(Brandon, I'm not calling you out on this...I'm referring to those who have been pretty hateful and reactionary in that thread)
posted by iamkimiam at 5:08 AM on January 23, 2012 [37 favorites]


I'm not sure this MeTa thread is appropriate. I think the use of cis- in an front page post is basically a provocation, because we know from experience that the general Metafilter audience does not understand/accept the word and designation. There's obviously a process of education going on here. To then act as if people should not react, or should contain their ignorance elsewhere, is begging the question.

In other words, at this point it seems clear that we can either have a conversation about transsexuals, or a conversation about the term cisgendered, and I think even those in favor of the term recognize that. While that is the situation, I don't think it's really a "derail" when people talk about the term.
posted by OmieWise at 5:13 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


OmieWise: I'm not sure this MeTa thread is appropriate. I think the use of cis- in an front page post is basically a provocation, because we know from experience that the general Metafilter audience does not understand/accept the word and designation. There's obviously a process of education going on here. To then act as if people should not react, or should contain their ignorance elsewhere, is begging the question.

It's not often you see that many MeFites choosing to be ignorant. As pointed out above, the prefix cis- is the antonym of trans-, you would think that MeFites would be capable of looking the term up. My opinion of MeFites is not so low that I expect them to argue for the rightness of their ignorance.
posted by Kattullus at 5:18 AM on January 23, 2012 [51 favorites]


cis is pretty much perfect. When I first saw it applied to gender I actually laughed out loud. We have trans-fats and cis-fats, why shouldn't we have transgender and cisgender?

To then act as if people should not react, or should contain their ignorance elsewhere, is begging the question.

Sure, people are going to react. But what is unrealistic about having this discussion in MeTa? The cis- discussion has primacy in your mind, sure, and probably in the minds of many others, but that doesn't mean that's what the links were actually about. The cis- thing is a meta concern- about how we talk about what we're talking about- which makes MetaTalk pretty much the perfect place for it.
posted by Jpfed at 5:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


pracowity: "When someone threatens to derail a thread about something that you hold dear, one strategy you might try is to mefi mail that person directly, not to yell at or shut up anyone, but to discuss the subject one to one at a personal (and perhaps basic) level more suitable to mefi mail than to a general (and perhaps advanced) conversation."

I agree with you, to an extent. This works well with less contentious topics that people have less of a range of experience with (meaning that the discussants are all fairly equal in their shared experience and knowledge of the topic). And less personal investment in general. Derails in thread topics about technology, cars, pop culture, etc...that's all stuff that can be taken offline easily and few if none are disenfranchised or unrepresented or personally attacked without redress by it.

When the topic is identity politics-related and there is misinformation and attacking and dismissal going on, it's much harder to take it offline because there's a big gaping hole where the misinformation and undefended attack is bare and unaddressed. This can sometimes make the persons or group(s) being attacked feeling like nobody is supporting them. And other times (I think especially true for this particular case), we can't get to discussing the actual topic (the FPP link) until the floor is publicly cleared of the noise and ignorance. So that what's left is a safer, more welcoming place to continue the identity politics discussion. Sometimes it's really hard to get there.

Please feel free to disagree with me on this, but what may look like a semantics/phonetics derail in this particular case is not. For many, this isn't actually an argument about the sounds or coining of the term. It's the negative attitudes and fear and ignorance of transgender identity that is being expressed through a proxy – how people feel about the word that represents those people. Until that's dealt with, there's not much room for other talk.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:20 AM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


Honestly, I'm also a disliker of the word "cis," but it's not like I have a better suggestion, I guess. I can see its relevance and use in specific activist contexts, but less so outside of that. According to Wikipedia the word is only showing up in academic literature this decade and was coined in the 1990s, so it's not exactly on the fast track to the mainstream.
posted by Forktine at 5:20 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's 'sis'. Take it up with the fucking Romans.

"Sees", if you're truly going for Latin precision.

I'm not sure this MeTa thread is appropriate. I think the use of cis- in an front page post is basically a provocation, because we know from experience that the general Metafilter audience does not understand/accept the word and designation.

Provocation?

This is all reminding me of why I took down a blog post I wrote years ago when my brothister (I made up that word) came out as transsexual. S/he (never fully transitioned, so I use both pronouns) asked me to take it down because s/he didn't like seeing how others responded to it as "provocation".

What was it about? It was about how happy I was that my brothister was happy as a "purple person", and happiness at living in a world increasingly accepting of all colors of the spectrum. That was it.

Sigh.
posted by fraula at 5:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


As pointed out above, the prefix cis- is the antonym of trans-, you would think that MeFites would be capable of looking the term up.

This reads as a little disingenuous. This makes it seem like the issue here is limited to one of meaning, rather than to the nexus of privilege, import, use, usefulness, and politics.
posted by OmieWise at 5:22 AM on January 23, 2012


It gives some perspective how much interest there has been in gender awareness and equality by the privileged, unmarked group.

You know what, I'm going to change my mind. Well, kind of--I still don't like the look or sound of "cis".

It's the word "privileged" that did it for me. I AM privileged on this axis and on many others. Trans- people can use whatever word they want to refer to non-trans people. They have enough trouble already without having to defend word prefixes.
posted by DU at 5:23 AM on January 23, 2012 [73 favorites]


I guess I'm still astonished that otherwise reasonable people have a massive problem with there being a word for "not trans" that applies to them. It doesn't oppress them or anything

It actually sort of does. It forces me to describe myself through the lens you've decided is appropriate for viewing the world. It's like religious people asking if I'm atheist - the etymology and history of the word presume a monotheistic worldview and trying to respond with an eastern rejection of that framework or any sort of attempt to describe my own beliefs becomes like "when did you stop beating your wife?"

In the same way if I just accept this cis/trans terminology it says, these are the two binary states (or is it a spectrum?) of gender vs. biological sex organs. It tries to simplify human sexuality and identity into a simple, convenient framework. If transpeople want to use the term trans to describe their own identity, I am happy to use that word as well. I am not happy to modify my description of myself to suggest the presence of an internal gender which I don't know if I believe I have

And yes, homo/hetero is not necessarily helpful either - again, it forces us to use and therefore implicitly view the world through it's framework. Maybe we're all shades of bi. But that ship has sailed, and just tossing "cisgendered" into conversation and demanding that we all acquiesce to your way of understanding the world seems ... rude?

Or: Unlike most of us cisraced people, Michael Jackson was a transrace man who transitioned his skin color from black to white so his skin could match his race. Now let's discuss this topic using my terminology
posted by crayz at 5:29 AM on January 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

I can see its relevance and use in specific activist contexts, but less so outside of that.
I think that's a function of the fact that the general public isn't very aware of or invested in issues of justice for trans people. And that stinks and will hopefully change soon. As soon as the mainstream becomes conscious of trans issues, then cis- isn't going to be limited to "activist contexts," any more than "straight" is. And that will be a good thing.
posted by craichead at 5:30 AM on January 23, 2012


According to Wikipedia the word is only showing up in academic literature this decade and was coined in the 1990s, so it's not exactly on the fast track to the mainstream.

This falls down with the homo-/heterosexual example. It took roughly 20 years to gain any traction in German (the first use in German is 1869 and it gets traction in 1892, seemingly being used in one publication in between). English doesn't see it until 1892 and we don't get 'homo' in print until 1929, which is maybe an indication of gaining colloquial traction.

Of course, 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual', as has been mentioned a bit, have explicitly political origins, as well. They first crop up arguments against §175, which banned homosexuality in Germany.
posted by hoyland at 5:32 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Or: Unlike most of us cisraced people, Michael Jackson was a transrace man who transitioned his skin color from black to white so his skin could match his race. Now let's discuss this topic using my terminology

Annoying how facts get in the way--Jackson had vitiligo, which causes loss of skin pigmentation. Note that the same effect is noticeable in Graham Norton's hair. Logically it would be more noticeable in someone with darker skin to begin with.
posted by hoyland at 5:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Sees", if you're truly going for Latin precision.

Did Latin soften 'c' like 's' (like not-Italian), or would it have been like "ch" (like Italian)?
posted by Jpfed at 5:38 AM on January 23, 2012


OmieWise: This makes it seem like the issue here is limited to one of meaning, rather than to the nexus of privilege, import, use, usefulness, and politics.

I was only speaking to choice of words. If people genuinely don't have a problem with the prefix cis- in and of itself, then I can't understand why anyone would object to the word "cisgendered." It's the logically formed antonym to "transgendered."

crayz: In the same way if I just accept this cis/trans terminology it says, these are the two binary states (or is it a spectrum?) of gender vs. biological sex organs. It tries to simplify human sexuality and identity into a simple, convenient framework. If transpeople want to use the term trans to describe their own identity, I am happy to use that word as well. I am not happy to modify my description of myself to suggest the presence of an internal gender which I don't know if I believe I have

No one is forcing you to describe yourself as cisgendered. Unless you specify that you're transgendered, everyone will assume you aren't. That's privilege. You don't have to modify any inner or outer conception of yourself.

just tossing "cisgendered" into conversation and demanding that we all acquiesce to your way of understanding the world seems ... rude?

No. It is not rude. It's a different way of seeing the world than the one you're used to. It's basic courtesy, however, to accept that people have other points of view than your own.
posted by Kattullus at 5:38 AM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


Jpfed: Did Latin soften 'c' like 's' (like not-Italian), or would it have been like "ch" (like Italian)?

Depends on where and when. Latin is a language with a very long history. Julius Caesar would have pronounced his c's like k's, a few centuries later the c had softened. There were also regional dialects and different classes spoke it differently.
posted by Kattullus at 5:41 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]



Ergh... that comment probably would have been less obnoxious without the word 'fucking' in it.
posted by hoyland at 10:02 PM on January 23 [+] [!]



Nah. Every sentence is improved by the word "fucking". Or just "fuck" for short.
posted by taff at 5:41 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Guys, isn't it obvious that we're going to keep having this conversation until we stop letting the Classicists have a say? These people are all just really concerned that people will get incorrect assumptions about the sexual identity of people in Cisapline Gaul.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:41 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the clarification. The cis stands alone!
posted by Jpfed at 5:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think ArmyOfKittens' comment gets at that waiting. Waiting for everybody to join the conversation, and accepting that we might be a bit late. And trusting (and exploring) that what we've missed is in all of our best interests (including but certainly not limited to, nomenclature). Instead of this privileged defensiveness.

Interesting, that why I see the comment as less than brilliant. It seems to lack a understanding of how majorities and minorities interact while attempting to force the majority to do something, which is just backward to me. Of course, the majority of the populace hasn't had to defined themselves and of course they're going to resist changes to that status quo. Saying "you've had decades to come up with your own name" sounds like it's going to fall deaf ears.

It seems illegal, like saying "Hey, we've had this name for all this time, now we're going to name you, so deal with it." Of course there's going to be push back from that attitude.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


It actually sort of does. It forces me to describe myself through the lens you've decided is appropriate for viewing the world.

Actually, it was cis people who came up with that lens. It was cis people who named us, decided we were not like them, placed us in a medical context and appointed themselves guardians of our identities. From that we have reclaimed from the morass of medicalised terminology the word "trans"; we merely coined a word for "not trans".

There are other words for people who don't describe themselves as trans or cis. Genderqueer and bigender people are still working that stuff out, and you should definitely get on that conversation if it interests you. I have no horse in that race and don't identify as genderqueer or bigendered so I'm not going to stick my oar in, but I'm interested in the outcome.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:43 AM on January 23, 2012 [26 favorites]


I was only speaking to choice of words. If people genuinely don't have a problem with the prefix cis- in and of itself, then I can't understand why anyone would object to the word "cisgendered." It's the logically formed antonym to "transgendered."

Well, sure, but it seems clear that that isn't what's going on here. Understanding what the word means, and understanding why and how it's used, and why and how it should be used, are distinctly different things. The conversations, even when they're cast in the former terms, are pretty clearly about the latter.
posted by OmieWise at 5:43 AM on January 23, 2012


It actually sort of does. It forces me to describe myself through the lens you've decided is appropriate for viewing the world.

Of course Homo vs. Hetero and Cis vs. Trans are not at all inclusive of the entire spectrum of human experience (and, IMO, the people who are most likely to point this out are nearer to the oppressed end than not). But they are still useful for human discussion. That's why we developed them. There are other words that people use to describe other points on the spectrum of human experience: genderqueer, pangender, etc. I fully support anyone's right to label their experience how they choose, or to refuse a label. But that doesn't include denying my responsibility to label my own experience as a cisgender person.

I also call myself an atheist, because that is the word that other humans know. Of course I don't think it describes the entirety of my human experience, but it does describe that I am 'not religious.' Which is a true and useful descriptor in a world where the majority of people are theists.

(Also, I pronounce it the way I learned in chemistry class - soft-c, short-i, ess. 'sis')
posted by muddgirl at 5:44 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Annoying how facts get in the way--Jackson had vitiligo

OK, try this - the point is there are people who decide to alter their physical appearance in many ways large and small that don't relate to gender, who also relate those alterations back to identity issues

If you start using the term cislimbed to refer to people who want to keep the limbs they were born with, it presumes a certain framework for thinking about the topic which many people may not already accept
posted by crayz at 5:45 AM on January 23, 2012


It's kind of amazing that some find it so galling that those uppity trans folks want to change "our" language along with "their" relation to gender...

The history of identity politics is full of examples of language change that produced a backlash that, in retrospect, is pretty embarassing.

I'm off to change the free-form gender slot in my profile to something including "cis."
posted by Mngo at 5:48 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I have to say that I was introduced to the "cis" word usage here and I utterly love it. I'm cis, white and a chick so not completely, but largely, privileged. But the coolest thing in the universe is dropping it in a conversation about gender identity and having a cis person ask and really want to know what it means.

Their light-bulb moment is intoxicating to behold. I'm my own little one-man-band talking to people about it in my circle and it's really cool to help people see another perspective. CIS rocks.
posted by taff at 5:50 AM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


No offense, crayz, but it sort of sounds like you think that trans people created the gender binary by naming the conditions of complying or not complying with one's assigned place in it. And that's bizarre.
posted by craichead at 5:50 AM on January 23, 2012 [19 favorites]


Identity politics are hard to talk about when you are paid to study them all day. It is not terribly surprising that the terms should be difficult to learn and difficult to use, despite best effort.

Would it be legit to paste a boilerplate terminology guide into the [more inside] of every thread on the subject? Not a long one. This would do.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:53 AM on January 23, 2012


Ugh, cis, I hate even the mention of that word. Time was, we were just Gauls, or toga–wearing Gauls at most. But since everybody starting thinking it was fashionable to live in Narbonensis—and what's wrong with that name anyway?—and call themselves trans, we've had to put up with this cis nonsense. They're not Gauls, either on this side of the Alps or not. They're just trouser–wearing weirdos, and I want nothing to do with them. Real men don't wear trousers! I don't know what the world's coming to...
posted by Jehan at 5:53 AM on January 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


Kattullus: "No one is forcing you to describe yourself as cisgendered. Unless you specify that you're transgendered, everyone will assume you aren't. That's privilege. You don't have to modify any inner or outer conception of yourself."

Repeated for fucking emphasis, because cisfolk really need to get this through their heads. It's not "forcing you to describe yourself through the lens [they've] decided is appropriate for viewing the world", it's "making you aware that other lenses exist at all".

You don't have to think about being cis. That's privilege. Other people do. They're worth listening to.
posted by Phire at 5:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [50 favorites]


"Cis" sounds way better if you pronounce it "siz".
posted by LogicalDash at 5:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm with taff in that I was introduced to the word here, and I'm grateful to those who have taken time to explain it. It seems like a perfectly cromulant word if we're going to use 'trans' as a prefix. It's concise, simple, and useful. What are the alternatives? "Not trans"? "Normal" meaning trans-people aren't normal?

(Now I gotta go read up on 'pangender' (new to me as well) and get a better understanding of what 'genderqueer' means, per muddgirl).
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Would it be legit to paste a boilerplate terminology guide into the [more inside] of every thread on the subject? Not a long one. This would do.

That seems a good idea and more inclusive than "look up it!"

It won't help with the more close minded who will probably respond with "Did you just call me a sissy", but there you go.

Repeated for fucking emphasis, because cisfolk really need to get this through their heads.

Yep, because telling people they need to get something through their heads totally works.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:57 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, if you think that a minority group using a non-perjorative descriptor for a majority group is oppressive, well...I don't know what to tell you.
posted by Phire at 5:58 AM on January 23, 2012 [36 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: "Yep, because telling people they need to get something through their heads totally works."

You keep telling us what doesn't work. What would work for you?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:58 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


OmieWise: "I think the use of cis- in an front page post is basically a provocation, because we know from experience that the general Metafilter audience does not understand/accept the word and designation. There's obviously a process of education going on here. To then act as if people should not react, or should contain their ignorance elsewhere, is begging the question."

I'm not sure. I think it's fine to express confusion about the term -- I just looked it up on Wikipedia myself -- but at a certain point you just have to let it go and accept that this is just what it is. If seeing cis- every so often means not having to type out something more convoluted like "people whose gender aligns with their birth sex" or something (and trans-people no offense was meant by that definition if it's incorrect somehow, this is all still petty new for me too).

I mean, I remember when (and hell, it still keeps happening) people would say things like, "I'm not white; I'm closer to pink or something; pink is a color; therefore I'm a person of color too." or words of that nature which are a great way of sidestepping white privilege because how can you have white privilege if you're not white?

I'm not crazy about the sound of the word myself and I'm not at all sure that cissexist is the most sensible term for being anti-trans (I think transphobia works better). But etymologically it makes person sense to describe those-who-are-not-trans.

crayz: "It actually sort of does. It forces me to describe myself through the lens you've decided is appropriate for viewing the world. It's like religious people asking if I'm atheist - the etymology and history of the word presume a monotheistic worldview and trying to respond with an eastern rejection of that framework or any sort of attempt to describe my own beliefs becomes like "when did you stop beating your wife?""

Again, this is like white people saying, "I don't see myself as white." or the equally frustrating "I don't see color/race." Just because you don't see or recognize the existence of those divisions out there doesn't mean they don't exist. And also, it doesn't force you to describe yourself through that lens. Probably a better analgy would be on-fire or not on-fire. "Why do these on-fire people keep obsessing over being on fire, and why do they insist on putting me in the not-on-fire category?"
posted by Deathalicious at 5:58 AM on January 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


That said, I'm not 100% sure if discussion of the word 'cis' is necessarily a derail in a thread in which the word is used in the FPP. It's not like the thread detoured into a discussion of the Superbowl or the Greek debt crisis. I think iamkimiam said it well upthread.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:59 AM on January 23, 2012


When attempts to explain a minority position has been largely ignored or dismissed, I think pointing out an eloquent and insightful comment and saying "THIS. RE-READ THIS BECAUSE IT IS SMART" is one of the less aggressive things that can be done to remedy the situation.
posted by Phire at 6:00 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is wrong with the term "non trans?"
posted by The ____ of Justice at 6:02 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


ArmyOfKittens: "bigendered"

I initially read that as big-end-ered and was really confused.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:03 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


crayz: "It forces me to describe myself through the lens you've decided is appropriate for viewing the world."

It doesn't force you to do anything. There are many other ways you can choose to describe yourself. And if this term seems new or forced upon you, perhaps consider the possibility that this conversation has been going on a long time and you have not taken part in it. You may be unfamiliar with how people have been talking about it. It's not a threat to you or how you define yourself and it was never intended to be.

Out of curiosity, is it that somebody has come up with a term that you missed out on having your say in, or is it that there is something inappropriate about this particular framing? I'm seriously asking, because I'm trying to figure out if the problem is that the term was coined, or if there is something about this particular coinage/framework that you take offense to. What is it about this view of the world that isn't ok with you? Why do you not want to embrace it, let alone accept or acknowledge it? As useful to others, who might see the world in this framework? What is in the way?

"In the same way if I just accept this cis/trans terminology it says, these are the two binary states (or is it a spectrum?) of gender vs. biological sex organs."

But no, that is not what it means or does. It's not binary in that sense. It's not a spectrum either. There's a term for a misalignment between biological sex and ideological gender. This is it's logical complement.

"If transpeople want to use the term trans to describe their own identity, I am happy to use that word as well. I am not happy to modify my description of myself to suggest the presence of an internal gender which I don't know if I believe I have"

Why is it ok to have the term for the misalignment, but not a term for its complement? Also, nobody is asking you to modify your description of yourself. It's ok if you're not sure if you have an internal gender. What you seem to NOT have is an internal conflict where whatever gender you do have (perhaps none) is in conflict with the sex organs you have, the way you express yourself (voice, clothing, behaviours, etc.) and the way the world constructs and perceives gender for you.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:04 AM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


What is wrong with the term "non trans?"

Because it can be--and often is--parsed as "not abnormal/not like those people".
posted by Phire at 6:04 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I wonder if these discussions would be easier to have if new meanings were assigned to words familiar to the newbies. This wouldn't be practical for serious study of transgender issues, of course, but certain people might take it better to hear that the sex you're born with "fits" well or poorly, or that a male prefers to "live as a woman," if they do not actually need to learn new words for those purposes.

If the resulting conversation is really confusing, well, now you've demonstrated the need for funny words, at least.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:05 AM on January 23, 2012


What is wrong with the term "non trans?"

Because if you call people who are not trans 'normal' or 'not trans', then it kind of implies that trans people are not normal or unhealthy.

But I dunno, there are so many ways we can divide people up based on personal attributes. Some people are born with freckles, do we really want a new word to talk about non-freckled people?
posted by empath at 6:06 AM on January 23, 2012


OmieWise: The conversations, even when they're cast in the former terms, are pretty clearly about the latter.

Yes, but there were people in the MeFi thread and in this thread who were questioning the prefix cis- and making fun of the term. Some people are going to continue to behave dickishly no matter how simply things are explained to them, but I hold out hope that there are people whose reaction was down to not understanding how the word was formed. For me, cisgendered is a perfectly transparent term, so it never occurred to me that people would find it odd. People are weird about language and explaining the logic can make a term that seems strange crystal clear. That removes one mental block. There are many ways of acquiring knowledge, understanding the terms being used can be an important part of that.

Infinite Jest: That said, I'm not 100% sure if discussion of the word 'cis' is necessarily a derail in a thread in which the word is used in the FPP.

If a post about evolution used the word "taxonomy" and people would start discussing what that word means and whether other words would be better, that would be a derail.
posted by Kattullus at 6:07 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"What is wrong with the term "non trans?""

I think i said this in the other thread, but "non-trans" is problematic in that it's othering...it labels one thing in terms of the other, but negated. It's marked in the same sense as "woman" is the marked form of "man", "she" is the marked form of "he", "athiest" is the marked form of "theist", "abnormal" is the marked form of "normal", etc. Which is the whole thing we're trying to get away from (markedness). cis/trans is more balanced than non-trans/trans.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:08 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Some people are born with freckles, do we really want a new word to talk about non-freckled people?

If we were going to have long discussions where the distinction mattered, yeah.
posted by Jpfed at 6:09 AM on January 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


What is wrong with the term "non trans?"

"Because it can be--and often is--parsed as "not abnormal/not like those people".
posted by Phire
[+] [!]

Strange...I hear the word "non white" used all the time. But not in a derogatory sense.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 6:12 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The _ of Justice: Strange...I hear the word "non white" used all the time. But not in a derogatory sense.

It's because racists ruined all the other words.
posted by Kattullus at 6:14 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd be annoyed at being described as "non white", and I don't think I've ever seen that in formal writing. The officially accepted term within social justice communities is, I believe, "person of colour".

(I prefer East Asian, or, failing that, angry person who tweets a lot.)
posted by Phire at 6:16 AM on January 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


Petulantly refusing to let other people use a word they find useful is like insisting that "straight" really, only, means "not crooked or bent"; or that "gay" really, only, means "happy."
posted by octobersurprise at 6:17 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Probably a better analgy would be on-fire or not on-fire. "Why do these on-fire people keep obsessing over being on fire, and why do they insist on putting me in the not-on-fire category?"

OK, and I like this analogy but I think we're getting back to the real topic, which is being on-fire has a really simple solution, and I feel like the cis/trans terminology and its history strongly implies (and see the FPP) that transitioning is the simple and correct "solution" to being trans

I'm not opposed to that viewpoint but I'm not entirely sold either. I'd like to hear more first-person descriptions of the feeling of a misaligned gender identity, and research that could try to describe what's actually "going on" to cause this situation - does anyone try to transition their mental rather than physical identity? I find this all interesting because metaphysically speaking I don't buy into the mind/body distinction, and aside from the (variety of shapes of) sex organs, gender seems to have at least a couple axes (e.g. physical vs. social dominance, secondary sex characteristics, etc.)

Are all other physical transitions people decide to undergo considered to be a good idea a priori, based on the idea that any physical alteration a person would have done to themselves is a way of aligning their physical body with their mental identity?
posted by crayz at 6:18 AM on January 23, 2012


Look people, I'm not "white," "heterosexual," or "male." I'm just NORMAL. I am a NORMAL person. And I resent you NOT-NORMAL people assigning labels to me. There don't need to be any words to describe who I am because I am NORMAL. Why is that so hard to understand?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:25 AM on January 23, 2012 [81 favorites]


crayz: "I'd like to hear more first-person descriptions of the feeling of a misaligned gender identity, and research that could try to describe what's actually "going on" to cause this situation - does anyone try to transition their mental rather than physical identity?

People try to transition mentally all the time -- usually just before they come out as trans. Sometimes it takes a while. It works, if by "works" you think a miserable life with a high probability of suicide is a good outcome. Hard work, counselling, electro-shock therapy, none of them are a cure.

I wrote this on Reddit recently (which has been having a joyful little spasm in the LGBT-related subforums in the last couple of weeks) trying to encapsulate how it felt for me to have a misaligned gender identity:
When I was young, I was not. I wanted to hide my body, I wanted to hide my personality. I was not male and not a man and not a boy and not somebody I wanted people to interact with or talk to or listen to. I was not worth listening to and not worth loving. My person and my body were united: I hated my body and the position in society it granted me, and so I hated myself. I was stunted, undeveloped. Imagine the most embarrassing moment of your life: like you've done something stupid or thoughtless in front of your friends or family and you feel ashamed, panicky, almost frightened; you want to get away from everyone and just curl into a ball until this feeling goes away. Being a boy was like that, all the time, even when alone: even a glimpse in a reflective TV screen or a sideways glance at my own arm would prompt that feeling, like being trapped in a prison of hate. I was not.

Now, I am. I am a woman, a girl, a female. I am alive and I am free. I am a person worth knowing, worth loving, worth being. I love my body and the position in society it grants me, and I love myself. From I am not to I am.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:26 AM on January 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


does anyone try to transition their mental rather than physical identity?

Yeah, this was tried a lot back when psychology labeled people that were transgendered as disordered. (I don't know if gender dysphoria is in the newest DSM).
posted by Jpfed at 6:26 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


crayz: I'd like to hear more first-person descriptions of the feeling of a misaligned gender identity, and research that could try to describe what's actually "going on" to cause this situation - does anyone try to transition their mental rather than physical identity?

Why should we do your research for you? Go on Wikipedia. Google for things. The tools are out there and you can use them yourself.
posted by Kattullus at 6:27 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


The "cis" word choice debate should have been moderated into the ground and brought over here sooner if it absolutely has to happen, it was nothing but a hardcore derail in the thread.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:28 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, without the cis discussion there's nothing left of the original topic. Dead thread :(
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:30 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jpfed: "Some people are born with freckles, do we really want a new word to talk about non-freckled people?"

If the attitudes of the non-freckled people lead a countable number of freckled to suicide then maybe, yeah.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:31 AM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


Why should we do your research for you? Go on Wikipedia. Google for things

I have. The cis- term was come up by some guy on usenet, so it's not like it has a lot of research backing it up

I'd agree with all but the last sentence of Slap*Happy's comment in the FPP, and I think trying to lock everyone into these simplistic terms is shutting down an actual discussion of wtf is going on with gender identity problems, because please don't pretend to me that this is something that we've got all figured out and I just need to go read the Wiki page
posted by crayz at 6:33 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd be annoyed at being described as "non white", and I don't think I've ever seen that in formal writing. The officially accepted term within social justice communities is, I believe, "person of colour".

Interesting. When I hear non-white it is in discussions about what it's actually like to be discriminated against, as a non white. I rarely ever hear "person of color" outside of academic settings.

I think what I appreciate about the "non" nomenclature is that it seems, IMHO, to still categorize us as all human, with whatever one difference we are discussing. Whereas when people start talking about the various categories, black and white, hetero and homosexual, trans and cis, one may feel these groups have an entirely different set of traits from one another.

Which they very well may have, and is important to DISCUSSIONS but not so conducive to a feeling that we are all the same fundamentally (which is perhaps my naive bias). Anyways IMHO...
posted by The ____ of Justice at 6:34 AM on January 23, 2012


The cis- term was come up by some guy on usenet, so it's not like it has a lot of research backing it up

And the term heterosexual was coined by a German guy in a letter. What's your point? That someone made it up, so it's not...real? Or something?
posted by rtha at 6:37 AM on January 23, 2012 [20 favorites]


The cis- term was come up by some guy on usenet, so it's not like it has a lot of research backing it up

I'm not totally sure I see why it needs research backing it up though: it's simply the Latin prefix that means the opposite of trans. It makes perfect sense, IMO.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:39 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


We have trans-fats and cis-fats, why shouldn't we have transgender and cisgender?

Thank you for this explanation. Now that I understand the etymology I know longer hate the coinage quite so much. I can actually appreciate it.
posted by alms at 6:40 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm my own little one-man-band

cis boom bah
posted by Burhanistan at 6:41 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh, right, and this: I think trying to lock everyone into these simplistic terms is shutting down an actual discussion of wtf is going on with gender identity problems

Naming something isn't trying to lock anyone into a simplistic anything, and it only shuts down "actual discussion" if you let it. Also - what is your definition of "actual discussion", and why do you get to be the one defining it?

I am a ciswoman, and I'm also a lesbian, and in some contexts, I'm genderqueer. I contain multitudes. You can, too.
posted by rtha at 6:43 AM on January 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


Deathalicious- you quoted the part of my post in which I was quoting someone else. Kinda weird. The other part of my post was

If we were going to have long discussions where the distinction mattered, yeah.
posted by Jpfed at 6:43 AM on January 23, 2012


Look, the thing about both "cis" and "trans" as terms is that, yes, these are jargon, but on the whole their use is indeed limited to discussions in which that sort of jargon is justified. If you're talking about transgender issues already, you need a pithy term for people who are born with the right gender in the right body or otherwise you end up with, well, formulations like that.

Apart from that, there's little need to use either trans or cis in day to day life. You won't introduce a cow-orker as my "cisgender cow-orker Alice", nor if Alice used to be Bob as "my transgender cow-orker Alice, who used to be Bob": you'd just introduce her as Alice.

Everything else is a storm in a teacup.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:44 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


To the staunch defenders of the English language opposed to the word "cis" on aesthetic grounds,

I agree with you. It's a viscerally and sonically unpleasant syllable. We should start a club. That club will be called The Our Fucking Problem Society and we'll meet every day on this website where we'll keep our goddamn traps shut and let the people who have to deal with their genitalia not matching their mental conception of themselves speak about it in a way that doesn't make them feel like they're in a position where someone has to be not-something.

Now if we could please go back to talking about how "drainage shunt" is the aesthetic opposite of "cellar door."
posted by griphus at 6:48 AM on January 23, 2012 [35 favorites]


I think what I appreciate about the "non" nomenclature is that it seems, IMHO, to still categorize us as all human, with whatever one difference we are discussing. Whereas when people start talking about the various categories, black and white, hetero and homosexual, trans and cis, one may feel these groups have an entirely different set of traits from one another.

Actually, using non-white for people of colour just emphasises their differences from what is the norm, where the norm is white and everybody else is a special case. You don't use non-male for women, do you? Nor do many people say non-black instead, or non-asian, or...

People of colour is of course not ideal itself, what with sweeping together into one category a heck of a lot of different peoples and experiences, but in the context of e.g American society it works better/is less offensive than using non-white in the same context.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:49 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


griphus: "Now if we could please go back to talking about how "drainage shunt" is the aesthetic opposite of "cellar door.""

My god, "drainage shunt" is so horrible that when reading that sentence aloud I fucked up the word "aesthetic". I think it may permanently have damaged my tongue.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:50 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also - what is your definition of "actual discussion", and why do you get to be the one defining it?

Because as I said, the cis/trans terms wind up drawing lines around subsets of the population, but implicitly drag along with them the framework of mental vs. physical gender identity being some sort of compatible/incompatible binary or spectrum, and this entire framework seems unproven and just sort of a common sense/folk wisdom way of understanding human gender and sexuality. So, since the term is not already in common use, I object to it as an attempt to lock down discussion into what seems like a vague and unhelpful mental framework

Again, the original FPP stated, non-editorializing, that opinions recommending a delay in transition were "cissexist". If one is not allowed to have differing opinions or ask questions about any of these constructs, I guess I'll just find something else to talk about
posted by crayz at 6:55 AM on January 23, 2012


Wow. Wait. People are seriously offended by "cisgendered"?

I avoided that thread because I have slightly unpopular opinions about these topics, but I don't feel very strongly about them and see no reason to crap all over someone else's discussion by sharing them.

Not to mention that, while hardly prescriptivist, I do care a lot about the English language and get annoyed by people mangling it in unhelpful ways. I'm the kind of person who stops reading an article at the first occurrence of "hir." But "cisgendered"? That's perfect. I chuckled and got it immediately the first time I saw it. "Cis-" is the well established antonym of "trans-" and I'd far rather read a hundred uses of "cisgendered" in an article that needs the term than a hundred instances of "non-transgendered" (or worse the ambiguous/inflammatory "gender-normative" or "normal").

My mind is a little blown by the idea the using "cis-" on the front page could honestly be considered provocation. If that isn't over the top hyperbole then some people around here need to start seriously considering giving more thought to which hills they want to die on.
posted by 256 at 6:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


I don't know. I was born with severe scoliosis. Most people do not have it. Most people are the default. Am I abnormal? Yes, I deviate from the norm in that way. Is it a moral issue? No, there's nothing morally wrong with me because my spine isn't straight. Do I need a word for people who don't have scoliosis? Why?

I think the real issue is that transgenderism is morally charged. Many people consider trans folks to be aberrant and perverse. If it's truly accepted as a medical issue, there's no reason to have a word for "not-trans" such as cis. Cis and hetero people are the default, and the only reason not to admit that is if you think trans is somehow bad and the default is better.
posted by desjardins at 6:58 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Just want to repeat that the two articles about transgendered kids at the 2006 Philadelphia Trans-health Conference posted in the original thread by The White Hat are very good. Anyone's who's spent more time arguing the merits of cis- than reading those two articles is making a dumb mistake.
posted by mediareport at 6:59 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


The autism- and related-communities seem to have adopted neurotypical/neuroatypical. Honest question: why not use gender typical/gender atypical? (Please note I'm not arguing for this terminology, just curious. If I had my choice I'd be a robot. All this organic stuff is nonsense.)
posted by curious nu at 7:01 AM on January 23, 2012


Also, "Roll a D6. 1-3 means the thread proceeds without incident" is a better percentage than it used to be here, so there's that.
posted by mediareport at 7:02 AM on January 23, 2012


Interesting. When I hear non-white it is in discussions about what it's actually like to be discriminated against, as a non white. I rarely ever hear "person of color" outside of academic settings.

I think what I appreciate about the "non" nomenclature is that it seems, IMHO, to still categorize us as all human, with whatever one difference we are discussing. Whereas when people start talking about the various categories, black and white, hetero and homosexual, trans and cis, one may feel these groups have an entirely different set of traits from one another.


I mean, I wouldn't be annoyed enough to call you out on it, but I would probably frown at you and fidget and wonder how quickly I can change the topic.

I only ever use the construction of "visible minority" to describe myself, if my genetic background is somehow a point of discussion, so I agree that "person of colour" is an imperfect term at best. However, it would never occur to me to frame my identity in terms of what I am not, i.e. non-white.

The reason there's such a thing as "person-first" terminology--e.g. person of colour, person with disability--is precisely to remind us that we are all human first and foremost...and furthermore, that people have positive traits, rather than absences of traits. Calling someone non-white is, by definition, breaking them down into categories in which one group ("white") has a different trait from another ("non-white"). It's the same principle that gave us "African American", which serves to emphasize the fact that everyone with American citizenship deserves equal treatment, regardless of their racial heritage.
posted by Phire at 7:02 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The problem with cis and trans are that they're technical terms and that trans was already shoved into this usage in a pretty shoot from the hip way. Nobody tells their kids to make sure their putting their shoes on their cisfeet when they're teaching them to get dressed for themselves. At least no one I've ever met.

Imagine I came up with a new nomenclature for race such that people whose ancestors were from Europe were also Meta-Asian and Ortho-African; people whose ancestors were from Europe would also be Meta-African and Ortho-European and people whose ancestors came from Africa would be Meta European and Orhto-Asian. Would anyone expect this to resolve the problem or racism, or would it just derail the conversation? Sort of like this has.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:05 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do I need a word for people who don't have scoliosis? Why?

Well, I believe the term is 'able-bodied' (or sometimes I see 'temporarily able-bodied') although many people with scoliosis argue that they do not have a disability, depending on the severity of their disability.
posted by muddgirl at 7:05 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK I apparently can't edit my own comments properly.
posted by muddgirl at 7:06 AM on January 23, 2012


As kind of an aside, I'd like to thank ArmyOfKittens for comments that I continually find interesting & thoughtful on the subject, and that frequently seem to come in the middle of some rank bullshit. Big up, AOK.
posted by mintcake! at 7:07 AM on January 23, 2012 [40 favorites]


Cis and hetero people are the default

And hetero is excellent, efficient shorthand for that default. "Cisgendered" is exactly the same useful, efficient shorthand.
posted by mediareport at 7:07 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do I need a word for people who don't have scoliosis? Why?

It is politically important for transgender folks to be able to distinguish themselves, so they can fight for equality, just as people who are physically disabled have needed to do so in the past, to show they were not necessarily able-bodied.

We're talking about a minority group that has been shut out of political fights for equality by the very groups that have sworn to protect them. The most prominent example, the HRC, fights hard for protection of gays and lesbians, but has repeatedly thrown transgenders under the proverbial bus.
posted by zarq at 7:08 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Honest question - what is the utility of labeling people at all outside of a medical context? It's no one's business if I present as female but have male genitalia, or vice versa, or female with female, etc etc. Just like there's no reason for me to know if someone's homo or hetero unless I plan on sleeping with them. The only reason for someone to call someone cis is to identify them as not-trans, which implies there's something wrong with trans, and if there's not, why is the word needed?

zarq just made my point for me - it's still a moral issue. When trans people have equal rights and are not discriminated against, there's no longer a need for the word.
posted by desjardins at 7:11 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The cis- term was come up by some guy on usenet, so it's not like it has a lot of research backing it up

I'm not sure you understand how words work. New terms for general use are not about science or peer-reviewed research, they're about politics (interpersonal or larger-scale). Do you think researchers in the lab stop their pipetting and spectrographic analyses to brainstorm new pharmaceutical brand names?
posted by aught at 7:17 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I LOVE "cis" - and also "bis"!

No numbered list is, in my opinion, sufficiently pleasing without a point "7-bis". I also like Dis (i.e., the infernal city, a god of the underworld, etc), and xis, more than one (greek letter) xi.

I will take you all down on the scrabble board. That is a fucking PROMISE.


Do not fuck with me at Cluedo, either.




No - do NOT fuck with me at Cluedo.











I'm serious - don't even fucking think about it.















Wait a second - am I thinking of Monopoly?

















Oh yeah - sorry. I meant Monopoly.



So ... yeah. Fuck with me at Cluedo all you want.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:18 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Imagine I came up with a new nomenclature for race such that people whose ancestors were from Europe were also Meta-Asian and Ortho-African; people whose ancestors were from Europe would also be Meta-African and Ortho-European and people whose ancestors came from Africa would be Meta European and Orhto-Asian. Would anyone expect this to resolve the problem or racism, or would it just derail the conversation? Sort of like this has.

The nomenclature itself isn't expected to resolve the problem or racism. It's there to enable more efficient conversation. Within groups of people that accept the nomenclature, it performs that job. If there were an alternative among people that didn't accept the nomenclature, maybe we could use that, but there doesn't seem to be an alternative that people can accept.

I would advocate people accept the terminology because it makes sense with existing etymologies and lets us discuss transgender topics more efficiently (i.e. without having to use longer ways of saying the same thing).
posted by Jpfed at 7:20 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


desjardins: what is the utility of labeling people at all outside of a medical context?

The word is needed so we can have a discussion. There's no good way to talk about colors without the words for green, red, yellow and so on. There's no good way to talk about gender identity if we don't have words for the different kinds of gender identity.

And, of course, once we have one word, we need others. Once there is the word blue, we need words for not-blue, and the different kinds of not-blue. The utility is having agreed on terms so that we can talk about something without having to start off every discussion by finding new ways to describe what we're talking about.
posted by Kattullus at 7:20 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's there to enable more efficient conversation.

It's like greased lightning.
posted by michaelh at 7:22 AM on January 23, 2012


Honest question - what is the utility of labeling people at all outside of a medical context?

Are you going to stop using words like woman, female, [whatever race you are], [country of origin] etc. to describe yourself? Is it just that you don't want to be called [somename] that you didn't get to have a hand in choosing? Why is it that some kinds of labels are okay, and others aren't? It's okay if other people want to use terms like cis- to label themselves, yes?
posted by rtha at 7:24 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


but... there's really only three conversations to have, that I can see, that necessitate the separation between groups:

1. someone needs to transition
2. civil rights (coming out is part of this)
3. sleeping together

#1 is between the trans person and their doctor, therapist, etc.
#2 is necessary but hopefully won't always be, and I'm still struggling to see where "cis" fits into this
#3 goes something like "by the way, there's something you should know..." because if the person passes, the natural assumption (by definition) is that their genitalia matches their presentation, and if it doesn't, most people want to know that before getting nekkid. There's no need for a person to say "by the way, my junk matches my gender."

So... where does the word fit in at all? I can sit here and say I'm cis or not trans, but who here gives a shit? And if you do, why?
posted by desjardins at 7:30 AM on January 23, 2012


The only reason for someone to call someone cis is to identify them as not-trans, which implies there's something wrong with trans,

Emphasis mine. Why and how does it imply that?

posted by zarq at 7:31 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


cisItalics
posted by zarq at 7:32 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the earlier uses of "cisgender"(ed) on MeFi is a pretty good example of how the construction can be super-useful. In this 2009 thread about a UN Declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, notashroom said:
More importantly, the declaration is perfectly equal in addressing both sexual orientation and gender identity without placing limitations or definitions. This isn't just about homosexuality. It's about everyone: homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, queer, genderqueer, transsexual, transgendered, cisgendered, et alia.
using "non-trans" there would sure be clunky and weird there. "Normal" would be awful.

Just as in discussions of race, or nationality, or any other signifying characteristic, one might say, as a Canadian/Asian American/Lesbian, I feel X, while when discussing something completely unrelated nobody does that. We use those delimiting terms in specific sorts of conversations discussing the difference between our experience and that of others based on these specific identity markers. (This is not a mod comment, btw.)
posted by taz (staff) at 7:33 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


So... where does the word fit in at all? I can sit here and say I'm cis or not trans, but who here gives a shit? And if you do, why?

Isn't the same true for any other label?

If we lived in a completely just world, there would be no need for labels like 'white' or 'female' or 'heterosexual.'

But we don't. So I have a need for words to describe my experience of cisgender privilege. I never have to worry about getting my ass kicked for using the 'wrong' bathroom. I never have to worry about so-called 'trans panic.' In short, I never have to worry about 'passing' as my gender because I was assigned the correct one at birth. In other words, I'm cisgender, and it's a useful label when discussing gender issues.
posted by muddgirl at 7:34 AM on January 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


Jpfed: "Deathalicious- you quoted the part of my post in which I was quoting someone else. Kinda weird. The other part of my post was

If we were going to have long discussions where the distinction mattered, yeah.
"

Yes, that was a mistake on my part. I hit the wrong quote button when linking. That comment was from empath. I am sorry to make it seem that those were your words.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:34 AM on January 23, 2012


It implies they're abnormal, zarq.
posted by desjardins at 7:34 AM on January 23, 2012



Brandon Blatcher: "Yep, because telling people they need to get something through their heads totally works."

Army of Kittens:You keep telling us what doesn't work. What would work for you?


Hey, if you're fine with telling people what "they need to get through their heads" as an education tool, then go for it.

The heart of the issue of what to call is that of the minority renaming or naming the majority. I'm curious how this has worked out in the past. Can anyone point to situations where this has occurred?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:35 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


that thread reminded me so much of how feminism threads get derailed that there should be an equivalent to the detailing for dummies that people end up linking to except for trans issues. someone please write it. and there should also be a trans 101 doc and an faq. then, people can link to them until they are no longer needed.

can I use this thread to vent? oh I was so annoyed to are the cis terminology derail the thread. it is so rude for someone to stomp mud all over the carpet! I am a big oaf and if I can try to avoid stomping mud then you don't have to be a prodigy to be considerate.

Gawd, I didn't even post in that thread at first despite being so gripped by the topic because it is not about me and I just wanted to shut up and let other people talk. hell, I'm completely rivited with curiosity about the current state of treatment for kids but I even avoided posting about that because it is not about my curiosity and it is presumptuous to jump in and say 101 things when other people can speak for themselves and maybe later I can be all dur grog want know abc.
posted by bleary at 7:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


For everyone complaining about the ugliness of the word, use the old Caesar era pronunciation. You're now kiss-gendered! Isn't that sweet! Transgendered folks must really like you!
posted by charred husk at 7:38 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Okay, okay, I figured it out. It reminds me of Cisco and makes me want to wash myself. Now I know how transgendered people feel, always triggering credit report nightmares because of TransUnion.
posted by michaelh at 7:38 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Okay, okay, I figured it out. It reminds me of Cisco and makes me want to wash myself.

Why? Cisco makes great switches.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:40 AM on January 23, 2012


and yeah for comments above about how people have started using words like neurotypical. or the problems with calling yourself an atheist. I hate saying anything about it because it is no longer my hobby to go blah blah blah about theodicy and stuff like that. so I can definatly sympathize with other people who end up in analogous situations. grumble grumble grumble lawn
posted by bleary at 7:41 AM on January 23, 2012


Hey, if you're fine with telling people what "they need to get through their heads" as an education tool, then go for it.

Why not answer the question, Brandon? You keep telling us what doesn't work. What would work for you?
posted by mediareport at 7:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Why? Cisco makes great switches.

If this is a BDSM joke I get it, but if not they thought China's Internet censorship was a great lark and a few other things.
posted by michaelh at 7:43 AM on January 23, 2012


The heart of the issue of what to call is that of the minority renaming or naming the majority. I'm curious how this has worked out in the past. Can anyone point to situations where this has occurred?

Brandon, there's an example of this happening in New Zealand with regard to racial/ethnic identity - I'm at work at the moment but will post it in a couple of hours. Might be of interest.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:45 AM on January 23, 2012


Why not answer the question, Brandon? You keep telling us what doesn't work. What would work for you?

Done. I'm curious what has worked in similar situations in the past and whether they can be applied in this case.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:45 AM on January 23, 2012


It was a trans joke (switch, geddit?) but they do make solid networking gear, regardless of corporate politics.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:46 AM on January 23, 2012


posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:05 PM on January 23

I guess I'm still astonished that otherwise reasonable people have a massive problem with there being a word for "not trans" that applies to them.

I'm not sure I'm seeing many people with a "massive" problem about it. I think for some it's more of a linguistic irritation. It's this sense that it's annoying that we feel the need to have a word for "not that" as well as "that" for every damned stripe of human variety. It sometimes feels like unnecessary and over-anal label-strewing.

It doesn't oppress them or anything, like being trans does to me

Sure, but it can still irritate them, no?

it's just a neutral description that makes absolutely zero difference to their everyday lives.

It isn't really for you to make such an absolute call about that, now is it? Anymore than it is for "cis" folk to start making absolute calls about what affects you, and to what degree.

See how easy it is for this sort of thing to start becoming a deal when we start making it a thing? I suspect that's where a good portion of the aforementioned irritation might be coming from.
posted by Decani at 7:47 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've never encountered a good argument against the use of the cis- prefix to modify gender, and this thread hasn't changed that. It works very well and should really be in common parlance.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:50 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


One quick comment before I really, genuinely do have to go.

The discussion over the etymology, usage and context of "cis-" is not a derail in the sense that this was a trans topic and there are always going to be people who are unfamiliar with the term and find it less than appealing. That's totally fine.

This discussion is distracting in that it's strayed very far from the original post. I understand that conversations flow and I don't think that threads have to or "should" stick only to the FPP, but I think many people have forgotten that the original post was about people's lives being damaged by arbitrary denial of medical care. This got framed kind of as a "what do the parents of trans children DO?" issue, but the words, "Maybe you should never transition" aren't limited to unaccepting parents, and continue to be heard long after a trans person's 18th birthday. This is something that many, many therapists and physicians--the people who are supposed to help the hypothetical perfectly rational adult trans people--tell their own clients. It's even more complicated than that; the link explores some of the ways in which every step toward treatment as a trans person is like pulling harder on a psychological Chinese finger trap, and the rationalizations for negative attitudes toward transgender people are so cognitive-dissonance-inducing. I think that's a bigger issue, and a more valuable discussion to have. I don't think the link is perfect for explaining and addressing that issue to a wide audience, but it gets you thinking about these issues and starts the conversation, and the FPP was framed reasonably well. That that conversation never quite happened is kind of a shame to me.
posted by byanyothername at 7:50 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Granted, "you need to get it through your heads" is not the most empathetic construction I could have used, and I wish I could rephrase that to be more inclusive. However, I am frustrated that I am being called out for tone while my actual argument about why this issue is important is ignored. I think I am doing an alright job of being civil while trying to explain my position, and I would appreciate an actual discussion about why my tone isn't working for you, rather than simply an assertion that I'm not being helpful.
posted by Phire at 7:51 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think for some it's more of a linguistic irritation.

I'm trying not to participate over-enthusiastically in this thread because I have said most of the things I wanted to already, plus I am very aware that at the moment I desperately need a hug for unrelated reasons. But. Please take a minute to consider that the linked article in the thread that started this discussion was about whether trans people are given access to life-changing medical treatment, something many of them feel they desperately need in order to have a decent quality of life. And then consider how strange it seems that someone could think that the most important issue there was their own experience of 'linguistic irritation'.
posted by Acheman at 7:53 AM on January 23, 2012 [27 favorites]


I'm curious what has worked in similar situations in the past and whether they can be applied in this case.

That's a strange framing, Brandon. What exactly is your hesitance? I think Phire and others have put the basic argument very clearly; I haven't seen you address it directly, even as it seems what you've been focusing on everything but. Here:

Cis- does not mean you are "not trans", the same way that heterosexual does not mean you are "not homosexual", the same way that man does not mean you are "not woman", the same way that adult does not mean you are "not child". The world does not exist in black and white binaries, and we need accurate descriptions for the agents we are trying to involve in some sort of social change in order to address everyone with clarity.

Can you engage that fairly simple argument directly?
posted by mediareport at 7:53 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it an awfully useful word to have, because as a comparatively butch lesbian with a male name, people tend to assume I'm trans - and I'm really not. But it's really hard for me to say that without coming across as defensive or, at worst, anti-trans in general without a neutral definition to claim.

Most people will never encounter this problem at all. I totally see why it's a little weird to find people talking about you in terms that you've never heard before, in ways that make you consider possible variables that have never even crossed your mind. But that really doesn't change the fact that for some people - including, yes, some cissexual people - this is not only a useful set of terms but a necessary one.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [28 favorites]


Good lord. The first time I came across the cis-* construct, some years ago I might add, I thought to myself "Huh, self. I wonder what that construct is all about," and I went forth, looked it up, and educated myself as to how and why people were using it. It was Not. That. Difficult.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:05 AM on January 23, 2012 [38 favorites]


You knagfuggites really never will understand what it's like to be me and deal with my struggles.

Oh, and if you don't like being a knagfuggite, well you had just better start getting educated about our plight, because I am tired of being the lone m'bombasshole in the crowd of ignorant knagfuggites who has to do all the explaining.

What? You don't really care about this distinction? Never enters into your day-to-day experience? Well that just goes to show how much the knaggfuggites control the media and ignore my kind and our issues.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:07 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I didn't even have to look it up - cis- and trans- are common terms in science and the intention was pretty clear.

Meatbomb - as a self-identified knagfuggite, I agree with you. My knagfuggite privilege means that I don't have to ever consider what it means to be a knagfuggite, if I don't want to.
posted by muddgirl at 8:10 AM on January 23, 2012


I'm going to step away from this thread for now. Maybe I'll come back later; sorry not to address the couple of things directed at me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:11 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's a strange framing, Brandon. What exactly is your hesitance?

As a black guy, I'm finding the argument of the minority successfully renaming the majority a bit dubious.

Cis- does not mean you are "not trans", the same way that heterosexual does not mean you are "not homosexual", the same way that man does not mean you are "not woman", the same way that adult does not mean you are "not child". The world does not exist in black and white binaries, and we need accurate descriptions for the agents we are trying to involve in some sort of social change in order to address everyone with clarity.

Can you engage that fairly simple argument directly?



The world most definitely exists in black and white binaries for some, possibly most, people. Saying 'cis' is just the latin equivalent of 'trans' isn't going to fly with those people and they're probably going to get hung on what is their minds as the abnormals attempting to redefine them. This may not be logical or right, but people can be that way and it's something that has to be acknowledged as existing.

Ok, you want to do X, i.e. add greater gradations of gender to the conversation. How are you doing that? You want to rename the majority of the population. That doesn't sound like it will work. Can you point to instances where doing so has worked in the past? That isn't meant as a gotcha, but an honest question.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 AM on January 23, 2012


The heart of the issue of what to call is that of the minority renaming or naming the majority. I'm curious how this has worked out in the past. Can anyone point to situations where this has occurred?

"Straight", I think - which seems to have worked out OK.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:16 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's this sense that it's annoying that we feel the need to have a word for "not that" as well as "that" for every damned stripe of human variety. It sometimes feels like unnecessary and over-anal label-strewing.

Are you also annoyed by people who feel the need to have a word to distinguish Persian blue from Phthalo blue?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:16 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "cis" word choice debate should have been moderated into the ground and brought over here sooner

As I went to bed last night, people were still having the "I'm not sure I understand what that word means" conversation. As much as I think the cis prefix is a useful one in many situations and one that people should know about, this wasn't just someone making a post using the word cisgendered. It was a post talking about an already touchy issue, cissexism, which is a word Ive personally never seen before even though I can figure out what it means. So, touchy issue, new words, irritable userbase [including a few people who we know have strong feelings on both sides of the issue], football games, etc.

I feel like the cis prefix needs to be used with the awareness that not everyone is going to understand it [yes, still] and with the understanding that as an unusual term [much more common in some communities than in others] that yes you're going to have these dustups when you use it. I appreciate that people decide to use it anyhow, that's how language changes, that's how we get points across. But no, I don't think it's possible to both use that word, in the contexts where it is likely to show up, and not have to do some Education 101 about where it came from and what it means and why it's important. We've had these conversations enough here that we pretty much know that here, in this community, we're going to have to have more of them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:17 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


More generally, the objections to playful backformation here do seem to be pretty demented. I hope that the next time somebody describes themselves as "underwhelmed" we get the same people coming at them.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:17 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


The world most definitely exists in black and white binaries for some, possibly most, people.

I guess I don't see your point. To have a more effective discussion about trans issues we should... what, not mention the fact that many people are cisgender? Or come up with a different name (perhaps 'best-gendered' or how about 'normal-gendered') to appease bigots?

I guess I don't see any better option than just accepting the term that's already been developed. Bigots are going to bigot.
posted by muddgirl at 8:19 AM on January 23, 2012


Sorry, that should be 'normative-gendered.'
posted by muddgirl at 8:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm finding the argument of the minority successfully renaming the majority a bit dubious.

What does that even mean? No one's "renaming" anyone, Brandon. Why do you insist on framing this discussion in that weird way? There was a gap in the terminology in conversations people were already having. The new term efficiently fills that gap. Wanting to see historic evidence of successful examples of "a minority renaming the majority" before accepting the clear usefulness of the term in these contexts remains very odd to me.
posted by mediareport at 8:20 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This post (I posted it) discusses a little bit about how dominant society has used (sometimes neutral) institutional tools to label, attack, subjugate, discriminate and terrorize groups that "normal" people decided were "not-normal". And how these were not based on "studies" or "science", but irrational fears, anecdata, and institutionalized power forms to force "normal lifestyles". The same people asking for "more data", or expressing disbelief in... "transgendered people", and simultaneously opposing a term that can be used to express a (very real) 'form' of identity, not "all cis-folk are like this emirate".

Cis describes a real thing? I, like others was confused by why suddenly a valid word-choice, that has been "discussed", and "known" for a long while, and fit with existing norms of word use could cause anger, or fear, as it seemed to have... to see it referred to as "provocative", or the insinuation that it was "activist" or "hate-speech"; sorta blew my mind.

Like, yeah, if we didn't afford transgendere folks DIFFERENT sets of rights, like restricting hospital visitations, as was done until recently, and still occurs, or schools suspending students who "dressed different from their biology" (a young person who went to the same school as Constance McMillen), in that world where transgendered people weren't actively discriminated against by the dominance of States, governments, and entrenched social power.

Most liberals have learned that "gay" isn't a sickness now... just... do try to remember that even "libby-liberals" were fine with that idea (of 'gay' as a 'sickness') just a few decades back. Most people likely scoff at such ignorance and bigotry today...

How will your children see you if you hold a hostile, contra-factual position, medicalizing and pathologizing transgendered people. You will be seen as the backwards-thinking, anti-rational, hostile conservative that you are being.

I don't think that it makes sense to support "ignorance" as a good thing... if someone is hostile to a word that is valid, and fair, and not-prejudicial, a word that is logical, sensical, and just, with no overtones, historical connotations, or other baggage... Like always the weight of "ruining the fun world" falls on the minority. Like the world where transgendered people were attacked physically, because of the same "ignorance" that folks are defending.

It is shocking to be labelled for the first time. The alcoholic waking up from a binge, and wanting to change. The needle user, wanting to reduce harm with a needle exchange, the person who likes doing sex, but not pregnancy using a condom.... there are many ways that humans "slip-past" biology, and biological determinism. An outside force suddenly 'imposing' from on high a new framework, but a framework that is by no means "over-arching", or dominating, I mean, look at the resistance to a GREAT word here... imagine how this goes at Free-Republic. Now having imagined that, do you want to maybe be more understanding, and less hostile. Ok, so the sound grinds your gears... how do the labels that have been dumped on transgendered people stack up to the equalizing, non-prejudicial prefix 'cis'. Are you still 'mad'?

Listening to people before denouncing the possibility that they are conscious, aware, fellow human beings of equal importance to the world, people who understand your fears, but still don't accept your desire to medicalize, or turn someone else's identity into a "pathology" is usually a wise pathway.

Dominant culture has absolutely, massively taught us to "medicalize", to pathologize peoples identity. It was wrong when it was done to people who were gay, and it is wrong now, as it is done to people who are trans-gendered.

No one persons worldview, no matter how 'other' from some universal and homogenous 'normal', is harmful... until the institutions of power are wielded against them.

Brandon, I understand you position with regards to "African American", particularly, as was described to me by a friend who was Native American, Black, and yet had roots and cultural ties in the Caribbean... but this is not (I don't think) an equatable scenario... I also don't understand the suggestion that it is "not good" for a minority to try to speak up against domination, or other forms of a tyranny of the majority; such "ante logical", "resistance" actions are the engines of social change.

African Americans, or Black Americans were not "the majority", when Americans started to wake up to the deeply entrenched State sanctioned racism... Civil rights, women's rights, citizens rights... all are the minority resisting, even forcing change onto "majorities" (with citizen rights, it was majority people, but opposing majority wealth holders in the nobles).
posted by infinite intimation at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I hope that the next time somebody describes themselves as "underwhelmed" we get the same people coming at them.

I frequently describe myself as whelmed. It's a great word. But now I use ciswhelmed and it's even better because nobody thinks I'm whelmed over there.
posted by michaelh at 8:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


It implies they're abnormal, zarq.

It implies they're outside the norm, yes. Is that inaccurate?

Plenty of things are non-majority and labeled as such. I'm not sure why you believe the use of a term should automatically imply a negative connotation. Does 'differently-abled' imply disparagement? Does 'homosexual'?

I believe you're drawing a biased conclusion.
posted by zarq at 8:23 AM on January 23, 2012


The world most definitely exists in black and white binaries for some, possibly most, people. Saying 'cis' is just the latin equivalent of 'trans' isn't going to fly with those people and they're probably going to get hung on what is their minds as the abnormals attempting to redefine them. This may not be logical or right, but people can be that way and it's something that has to be acknowledged as existing.

Ok, you want to do X, i.e. add greater gradations of gender to the conversation. How are you doing that? You want to rename the majority of the population. That doesn't sound like it will work. Can you point to instances where doing so has worked in the past? That isn't meant as a gotcha, but an honest question.


If trans people have to wait for every cis-gendered person to get on board before they can talk clearly and coherently about their issues, they're never going to get there. Couching civil rights and minority-issues discussions in terms of 'winning-over' the majority is problematic, because it implies a subservience to the majority. It implies that minority issues aren't important enough to be talked about until they've appeased the majority into allowing them time, and that's not the way it works. That's not the way it worked for African-Americans, it's not the way it worked for feminism, it's not the way it worked for LGBT issues.
posted by kagredon at 8:24 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: Saying 'cis' is just the latin equivalent of 'trans' isn't going to fly with those people and they're probably going to get hung on what is their minds as the abnormals attempting to redefine them.

Oh, absolutely. But just because no single argument will change the mind of everyone, it does not necessarily follow that we should not try to change the minds of individuals or groups. To make a chess analogy, the perfect move would be to checkmate the opposing king, but to get there you'll have to do maneuver your pieces, capturing pawns or the odd rook, before you can checkmate the king. It's an imperfect analogy, but I think it applies here insofar as it's important to remember that societal change is a gradual, stop and start process that ultimately takes place in the minds of individual humans.
posted by Kattullus at 8:25 AM on January 23, 2012


How about if we introduce the word "transgendarme" to describe anyone who's a total stickler for nomenclature? No? Ok.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:25 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


see again the comment by Phire gets right back to the whole problem with this terminology:
If the term bothers you because you don't believe the concept of gender aligning with sex organs, then you effectively don't believe transgenderism exists, in which case I don't think we can have this discussion.
No, I am fairly sure we can all agree what the normal sorts of sex organs people are born with are, and the sorts of shapes people come in and the ways in which those shapes have cultural/biological associations to others and themelves, but I do not fully understand/accept this concept of "gender", do not understand the sort of gender a person can have, and do not think this is like, just written down in a book somewhere and beyond question in a thread about trans people undergoing surgeries and hormone therapies to align their physical appearance with their "gender"

And the "don't think we can have this discussion" about your unproven concepts is always helpful
posted by crayz at 8:29 AM on January 23, 2012


People have a problem with "cis"? Why? It's just a prefix, and a perfectly accurate one to boot.

It's like saying, How dare you call me hetero! I may be exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, but I'm not hetero! Um... Okay...? Meanwhile, there are plenty of much less pleasant words to describe those of us who aren't, and they're used all too regularly. There are also real problems.

This is not sticks and stones breaking bones; it's not even pillows and squirt guns. Not even close.

Get the fuck over it, you fucking whiny babies.

Christ.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:31 AM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


> Get the fuck over it, you fucking whiny babies. Christ.

Hearts and minds, eh?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:32 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


but I do not fully understand/accept this concept of "gender", do not understand the sort of gender a person can have

How do you account for the documented phenomenon of people reporting that they do not feel comfortable with the sex assigned to them at birth? Or that such discomfort is 'easily' relieved by passing as a different sex?
posted by muddgirl at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chromosomes are not "unproven concepts".

Crass, but, wasn't that war against the army 'really' over by halfway through shock and awe...
posted by infinite intimation at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, MetaFilter? When should I transition?

Every time I've ever asked a close friend this question, or help with dealing with this question the most common answer is "never" or complete avoidance of the issue.

Right now I'm weeks or months into heavily withdrawing and pushing people out of my life and I sincerely wish I was dead. I wish I didn't have a life to have to deal with. I hate my own body to the point that it's making me toxic waste, and I live in a brutal world that doesn't seem to care.

I wish I was dead. I can barely read this fucking thread.
posted by loquacious at 11:21 AM on January 23 [1 favorite +] [!]
I'm about to send loq a note offering a shoulder. But to be frank, I have no experience dealing with what he's going through and am not sure I'd be the best sounding board. If any of you do and can spare him some time, it would be nice if you'd consider reaching out. Thanks.
posted by zarq at 8:37 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


crayz, what in the realm of human sexuality do you consider a proven concept?
posted by griphus at 8:37 AM on January 23, 2012


desjardins: but... there's really only three conversations to have, that I can see, that necessitate the separation between groups:

1. someone needs to transition
2. civil rights (coming out is part of this)
3. sleeping together

#1 is between the trans person and their doctor, therapist, etc.


I'd love a world in which this were even remotely the scope of it, but sadly, this one isn't it. It's a conversation you end up having with pretty much everyone you know, and quite a few you don't, in my (and most other trans people I know) experience.
posted by Dysk at 8:38 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd like to hear more first-person descriptions of the feeling of a misaligned gender identity...

If that is really an interest of yours, then you're pretty much shooting yourself in the foot by leaping in with all sorts of opinions about how they're doing it wrong and insisting on terminology that makes you comfortable.

If you want to hear things, then you show up and listen. Don't go patting yourself on the back for your good intentions if you're also going to derail the conversation to make it about your needs and those of the majority.
posted by hermitosis at 8:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


And the "don't think we can have this discussion" about your unproven concepts is always helpful

I just mean that if you don't buy "gender" as a concept--and by definition, transgenderism as a concept--then a discussion of cis vs. trans isn't the right starting point for you to learn about this.

I'm having trouble parsing your meaning, but rest assured that people talking about their gender is not just "written down in a book", nor is it an unproven concept. Maybe it would be helpful for you to read some blogs written by trans-folk, because there is a lot of literature out there written by people who are actually undergoing this process right now talking about the discrepancy between their physical bodies (sex) and how they feel inside (gender). I will be happy to dig up some links when I get off work tonight.

I know it might be hard to empathize with because you clearly have always felt like your physical attributes were generally aligned with who you are. I have, too. I was born female, and I like being a woman, and while I have problems with my own body image and how society treats women, I've always felt comfortable with my body parts. This is not so for trans-folk, who deal with inner conflict on a daily basis because of they feel ill-at-ease within their own bodies--not because of puberty, but because they feel like their mind and their body just don't fit. It is documented that trans-folk are at a much higher risk of depression and suicide because of the dysphoria they deal with.

To say that you don't buy "gender" is to dismiss what other people are telling you about their experiences. Just because you don't have these same experiences does not make them any less valid.
posted by Phire at 8:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am going to drop in on random threads and publicly identify as a "cis-USian" whenever Metafilter seems too calm in the future.
posted by spitbull at 8:43 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think it would be hilarious if we started using "heterogendered" and "homogendered" to mean these same things. What a mind-bender for homophobes...

Actually, a few years back on MeCha, we decided that 'straight' was a rather dull term for heterosexuals, so we decided to go with 'otherfuckers,' as opposed to gayfolk who would be 'samefuckers.'

I like the ring of it.
posted by jonmc at 8:43 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm still waiting for the day when OmieWise writes something that I find to be (1) unreasonable; (2) wrong; (3) ill-considered; or (4) offered in anything less than the strictest good faith. Hasn't happened yet in over seven years.

What a blessing.

_____
On the topic at hand, I would think that anytime one wants to discuss identity politics, then one necessarily will be raising an issue premised on the concepts of fracturing the polity with labels and designating privileged vs. oppressed. It is human nature to not care for being pigeon-holed, and most people probably find it pejorative to be designated as privileged or oppressed. So it stands to reason that if one wants to still discuss identity politics (or, specifically in this context, an otherwise personal choice issue through the lens of identity politics), then one ought not be frustrated when part of the discussion addresses the vary labels upon which the identity politics at issue are premised.

A discussion about the timing of "transitioning" or the effects of it can be had without injecting identity politics. But when the entire post is designed to look at such an issue through the lens of identity politics, this is the kind of discussion that will occur (and, possibly, must occur because labels are the core of identity politics). So I'm in the camp of "it's inevitable" given the topic.
posted by dios at 8:44 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I find it an awfully useful word to have, because as a comparatively butch lesbian with a male name, people tend to assume I'm trans - and I'm really not. But it's really hard for me to say that without coming across as defensive or, at worst, anti-trans in general without a neutral definition to claim.

So much this, right down to the male name. Although since my given name is a non-English one, and most people I encounter don't know that's it really the boy's form of the name (originally, at least - I gather that it's pretty gender neutral these days), that doesn't carry as much weight in this English-speaking world. Still, though, it's incredibly useful in exactly the way r_n describes.
posted by rtha at 8:45 AM on January 23, 2012


[Link about a subtle issue of a not widely known community.]

[Post about a specific term that someone doesn't understand.]

[Post about frustration about lack of understanding of the term.]

[Post about frustration about the post about frustration about lack of understanding of the term.]

(Much wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

[MeTa post about "can't we avoid this in the future?"]

(Much, much more wailing and gnashing of teeth and foaming at the mouth.)

[Posts become uncomfortablely strident and polarizing from every viewpoint.]

[MeFites head to Reddit for more civilized debate]

[Original link goes basically underread and underdiscussed.]
posted by Argyle at 8:46 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You want to rename the majority of the population. That doesn't sound like it will work. Can you point to instances where doing so has worked in the past?

Chinese?
posted by ODiV at 8:49 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


but I do not fully understand/accept this concept of "gender", do not understand the sort of gender a person can have,

Really? So if you were to post an askme seeking dating advice, you would leave out the information that you are male or female, and what your orientation is? For instance?
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


we know from experience that the general Metafilter audience does not understand/accept the word and designation.

Actually, it was news to me that it was a problem for anyone. *shrug*

I'm honestly baffled why it would be; it doesn't appear to be intended as an insult, only a term that's less clumsy than "person who is the gender they were born in". We needed a term to designate that when discussing transgender issues, someone thought one up, done. Why is that causing bafflement?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I really appreciate those who have taken the time to explain the terms being used here, because I never knew before today that cis and trans were opposites, derived from Greek (someone said Latin) roots. That makes it MUCH easier for me to understand why cis was adapted, and I really didn't before. So thank you to all the helpful folks in this thread.

it's just a neutral description that makes absolutely zero difference to their everyday lives.

I don't actually agree with this, though, and that gets me to the less-than-helpful folks on both sides of this equation. I feel like AoK, who is being lauded for a "brilliant" comeback with the "cis people had decades" comeback, comes across as being damned insulting in that thread. I don't see the reaction being that strong if cis were actually just a "neutral" descriptor. It seems like it isn't enough for us to be advocates of a cause, we have to also agree to the labels you've put on us. That makes it sound like, for some, cis is a shortcut for "people who aren't like us, and therefore are against us". And that assumption is hurtful to the very advocacy the term was invented to promote.

I may not have to worry about people asking intensely personal questions like, "So, have you had sexual reassignment surgery?" I may never have to panic over which bathroom to pick. But I feel that everyone has struggles in their lives. Just because someone has not experienced discrimination or harassment for the same issue you have does not mean they haven't in other arenas, and a little understanding goes a long way.

I'm a woman, and I happen to like the word "woman". I do not like "hir" or "zie". I have no problem referring to people as "mankind," and just the word "patriarchy" makes me want to scream. But in the feminist threads, saying so will get me either patronized (you're such a part of the patriarchy that you don't realize how oppressed you are!) or lectured on how I am wrong to like the terms I like. I have been harassed, discriminated against and raped for being a woman. I do not have to buy into every feminist theory to prove my street cred as a feminist. Women are not all the same.

I would imagine that all transgendered people are also not the same.

So how about some acknowledgement that not all cisgendered people are the same. Stop tarring us all with your, "You don't know/approve of the word I call you because you just want us all to shut up and disappear" brush. Disagreement does not always equal bigotry.
posted by misha at 8:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Straight", I think - which seems to have worked out OK.

That seems to work, thanks. Curious, does anyone know how the word was initially received among, uh, those people?

What does that even mean? No one's "renaming" anyone, Brandon. Why do you insist on framing this discussion in that weird way? There was a gap in the terminology in conversations people were already having. The new term efficiently fills that gap.

What your saying is completely rational and technical true. Yet it feels like a renaming in the sense that a new term is being entered in the vocabulary, one explicitly defining the individual. *I'm* surprised that people don't see how others would not be resistant to that and not consider it renaming.

I guessing most people will have considered themselves 'regular', 'normal' or even 'straight' if asked to name how they defined themselves before. Possibly they'll through in something about God and the Devil.


Wanting to see historic evidence of successful examples of "a minority renaming the majority" before accepting the clear usefulness of the term in these contexts remains very odd to me.

I love brussel sprouts too. It's a strange world sometimes.

Since various misconceptions seem to be piling up to the point where I can't answer everyone directly,, let's try to clear things up: I'm not advocating never speaking up, staying silent, making nice or that every bigot must be addressed and answered. But if you have to repeatedly stop and explain what the word means, even on MetaFilter, that's a sign that the phrase isn't as known or as liked as many think. Hence the wondering about whether it can really take off for the general populace.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:55 AM on January 23, 2012


I guess I'm still astonished that otherwise reasonable people have a massive problem with there being a word for "not trans" that applies to them.

It bothers me, because the term is almost always used to 'other' me, and is used almost invariably and exclusively on Internet forums, and on forums where some people want to own the discussion and direct it in specific ways and in language that is acceptable only to them. Using 'cis' is artificial in the same way that a subset of right-wingers go out of their way to call gay people 'homosexuals' on comments sections on local newspapers, for example. It is used not only to 'other' gay people and make their participation unwelcome, but it is a signifier that communicates which subset of the group has decided to own the conversation and dictate its terms to the rest of us. That's bullying, and it shouldn't be acceptable, regardless of the plight of whoever is doing the bullying. I'm not 'cisgendered', I'm not a 'homosexual', I am not the oppressor or deviant that either language other's me into: I'm a gay man, and I am happy and would prefer the dignity of being called one, where discussions of sexuality, humanity and identity come up. If you need to force everyone to use terminology that is made-up for the sole purpose of setting up artificial lines in a group discussion, then maybe you need to think on why you're trying to dictate and force terms without consideration for others' feelings and thoughts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


So if you were to post an askme seeking dating advice, you would leave out the information that you are male or female

But in this terminology, gender is not the fact that I have the sex organs and general physical appearance of a male, it's that I consider myself to be male inside. But I don't consider myself to have any gender inside, and I have been and am varying degrees of masculine based on situation/context/stage of life/etc, which is a matter of everything from body language to thought process to musculature to a thousand others

This is demanding I label myself as being somehow internally mentally aligned with my outward sexual appearance based on the fact that other people feel misaligned. But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone, or that this is a helpful way to understand the issue
posted by crayz at 8:57 AM on January 23, 2012


It seems like it isn't enough for us to be advocates of a cause, we have to also agree to the labels you've put on us.

The horror!

How dare these [name white straight males made up for some other group] give us a name!!!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:01 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


When people call me "cis" I don't read paragraphs and paragraphs of nonsense into it iike "you're the oppressor"!! No one called me the oppressor. They said that my gender matches my sex and for the most part it does. There is nothing wrong with that and I'm never going to get shit for it.

There is a weird implication in some of these comments that you're getting oppressed because you're cis and that is blatantly not the case in any way that resembles reality.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:02 AM on January 23, 2012 [34 favorites]


We prefer to be Otherfucking Melanin-deprived Penised Americans, thank you.
posted by jonmc at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


That's USians, jonmc.
posted by ODiV at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


And again, the initial use that sparked this was to talk about "a new variation on an old, cissexist theme". So, first step is I have to accept this line you just drew around this group you just put me in, because the group is the inverse of the group you primarily identify yourself with. Then I get criticized for this group being so -ist about itself. Hearts and minds indeed
posted by crayz at 9:05 AM on January 23, 2012


And again, the initial use that sparked this was to talk about "a new variation on an old, cissexist theme". So, first step is I have to accept this line you just drew around this group you just put me in, because the group is the inverse of the group you primarily identify yourself with. Then I get criticized for this group being so -ist about itself. Hearts and minds indeed

If you're not -ist, you're not in that group.

What's the problem?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:08 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


It must be so wild to read MetaFilter as if every single post is a direct transmission speaking right to you.
posted by hermitosis at 9:09 AM on January 23, 2012 [23 favorites]


crayz, actually the operative part of that word is sexist, not cis. You put yourself in that group.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:09 AM on January 23, 2012


Using 'cis' is artificial in the same way that a subset of right-wingers go out of their way to call gay people 'homosexuals' on comments sections on local newspapers, for example.

In my experience (which may be different than yours) "cis" is used in pretty much the same way "straight" is used. It's artificial, but so is "gay" and "straight." However it may be used by every individual who uses it, I've never gotten the impression that there was any intent behind the word to demean, oppress, or other people. YMMV.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I don't consider myself to have any gender inside...

This sounds like it is coming from the same place as "I don't consider myself to be 'white'. What is 'white' anyway? I'm all sorts of different cultures." That is, you're so used to being treated the way one does when they fit the default that you think the variation and tolerance within it is somehow comparable to that of the variation outside of it.
posted by griphus at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


weird implication in some of these comments that you're getting oppressed because you're cis

'Cis' is an ugly term, used only to other people in discussions. On that basis alone, it should have been discarded in the waste bin, instead of being used as a blunt rhetorical weapon, as it does every single time it makes its ugly appearance.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:11 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Used ONLY to other people? What about the people who show up and identify as cis-?
posted by hermitosis at 9:12 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and if you don't like being a knagfuggite, well you had just better start getting educated about our plight, because I am tired of being the lone m'bombasshole in the crowd of ignorant knagfuggites who has to do all the explaining.

If there was such a thing, I'd be off to look up what this was all about quick as a bunny. There are a couple of reasons why this would be my reaction.
1. There are all kinds of things I learn that I learn from offhand references from someone else. Since I have only at great intervals encountered learning something that was actually worse than not knowing, a thirty second google search will either give me a tiny nugget of information that I will stick in the vaults with all the other unrelated things or it will give me a chance to learn something fascinating that will unroll a whole new wonderful thing to learn.

If, after that thirty second google search, I am aggressively indifferent to the thing, like all the times there's someone who mentions the patriots' superior team lineup strategy or why Tim Tebow is a horrible quarterback, I don't have to engage with it any further. But then the next time someone talks about the patriots or Tebow I can use my tiny nugget of information to slot into what they are thinking and roll the discussion along without a bunch of work. So that thirty second google search means that I can address people talking about it without appearing absolutely ignorant, at least so far as being able to nod intelligently while I listen.

2. If there is really a big clash between two groups of people, it is useful to know how not to tread all over their sensibilities. As a knagfuggite, it is just civil of me to know what is happening, and because (in this example) naming me with some name might clarify a conversation. It's not mystic wizardry whereby renaming me is equivalent to pasting a photo of me on a shoe and walking on my face to kill me.
It is the Internet. I figure there are two default options when confronted with something I don't know. I can either find out about it, or move on. Anything else is generally results in everyone who is familiar with the issue thinking I'm lazy and ignorant. I'm not clear on why people are so keen on owning those labels by making a song and dance about not knowing things when the solution to not knowing things is so easy to solve.
posted by winna at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, it seems backwards to me that so many gay men, in particular, seem to have a problem with "cisgendered." For me, it's a label I embrace and even find affirming. Growing up as a gay man means that you constantly endure attacks on your masculinity, because your attraction to other men means you must "really" be feminine or female below the surface and that any masculine presentation is an inauthentic act. A lot of people still conflate orientation and gender. "Cisgendered" allows me to separate the two.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


'Cis' is an ugly term, used only to other people in discussions.

Seriously?



Seriously?



If that word comes up, the conversation is probably about the most othered group that was ever othered.

Would you prefer, say, "normal"? 'Cause, as popular as that choice might be, it would actually be othering.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I'm a cis male and I have no problems with the term. Besides, if that's the only time you've been othered, you've got nothing to complain about. I'm quite aware of how "lucky" I am having been born a white, middleclass straight male in a society in which that is still supposed to be the default and best position to be in. If sometimes that means I'll have my feelings hurt by people who have to deal with a lot more shit in their lives because of how they were born, I really can't complain.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:16 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


We go to a UU church/fellowship and we were there this weekend for a workshop, part of which involved filling out a demographics survey for the organizer. The workshop content was not, in any way, related to the demographics.

I was really, really surprised by the response when people got to the Sexual Orientation list, which included, among many options, both Queer and Gay. This threw people for a loop, apparently, and resulted in a surprisingly heated discussion.
posted by odinsdream at 9:17 AM on January 23, 2012


It blows my mind that people are offended by "cisgendered." Are you also bothered by "neurotypical" and "euthyroid"? If not, what's the difference?
posted by KathrynT at 9:18 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq: "It seems like it isn't enough for us to be advocates of a cause, we have to also agree to the labels you've put on us.

The horror!

How dare these [name white straight males made up for some other group] give us a name!!!
"

That's just what I'm talking about, thanks for making my point for me. You are better at this "othering" stuff than the [name you made up for people who are just fine with their genitals] are! Way to go.

Look, some people think "woman" is just a form of "man" and thus bad. Okay. Ever seen a guy go into a Mefi thread and try using, "female" instead? That's also a form of "male", and gives off a creepy vibe! Don't do that. So, is "girl" okay? No, because that implies a very young XX person, not an adult, so it is also demeaning. Maybe the guy gets educated, comes up with something that works, and everyone is happy. Or maybe he just gives up because the terminology gets IN THE WAY of the discussion. Which is what happened to the original thread in this case.

You can call me cisgendered all day long, by the way, if you want. I'm just saying I'm not calling myself that. Sorry it bothers you so much. I'm still going to support your right to do what makes you happy.

Question: I also am wondering about something, because I really do want to be educated on all this. Some trans people choose to go through the reassignment process. Now, if a trans person has completed that transition, is that person now considered a cis person?
posted by misha at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel like the cis prefix needs to be used with the awareness that not everyone is going to understand it [yes, still] and with the understanding that as an unusual term [much more common in some communities than in others] that yes you're going to have these dustups when you use it.

When I first read this I saw "that yes you're going to have these dubsteps when you use it."

Oh, how I wish I could share with you what went on in my head at that moment.

LET'S SETTLE THIS WITH DUBSTEP.
posted by odinsdream at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


But I don't consider myself to have any gender inside,

That's great. And it's a position of no small privilege.

This is demanding I label myself as being somehow internally mentally aligned with my outward sexual appearance based on the fact that other people feel misaligned. But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone, or that this is a helpful way to understand the issue

No one is going to force you to use this term for yourself, so please drop that assertion. And this part: But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone, (emph mine) - you're going to tell people who are not you what is true for them? Seriously?
posted by rtha at 9:20 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Now, if a trans person has completed that transition, is that person now considered a cis person?

That is a really, really difficult question. And the answer is . . . it depends.

Mostly on who you're talking to and their agenda.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:21 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


zarq: Plenty of things are non-majority and labeled as such. I'm not sure why you believe the use of a term should automatically imply a negative connotation. Does 'differently-abled' imply disparagement? Does 'homosexual'?

We're talking about the name of the majority, i.e., cisgendered, not the name of the minority. Does "able-bodied" imply disparagement? In a sense, yes. We're all differently abled. I don't know a single person who doesn't have some sort of impairment, from allergies to asthma, to back pain to migraines. So to label me as disabled or differently-abled, and the majority of people as able-bodied, absolutely does "other" me and create a sense of disparagement. There is no reason for it to come up except in a medical discussion.

To label me cisgendered is not disparaging to me because of my privilege. It furthers the otherance of trans people by saying they are not like me. I understand why this is necessary now, but to pretend it's just another word, devoid of any baggage, is silly.
posted by desjardins at 9:21 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the other thread: I fully admit we have no way to know, but we do know there are tomboys and effeminate men, and just kind of nerdy types or specifically androgynous people... they may not be trans or cis, or if they are meant to be included under the umbrella of cis, they may not like the implications of the word.

I would argue that's why people use words like genderqueer. Someone I know uses the word "gender-non-conforming," which is quite a hyphenation but also gets the point across.

Ironically, I think this is actually another point in favor of using the word "cis", because it doesn't just mean "not trans". In analogy, "heterosexual" doesn't mean "not homosexual," because then bi people would be "heterosexual."
posted by en forme de poire at 9:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's just what I'm talking about, thanks for making my point for me. You are better at this "othering" stuff than the [name you made up for people who are just fine with their genitals] are! Way to go.

You are way out of line to be saying that it's worse being called "cis" by people who can't physically hurt you with the real and serious implications of othering being faced by trans people. Seriously.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


Also, outside of MeFi, I have never actually heard this term used, so it's not really all that big a deal to me.
posted by jonmc at 9:22 AM on January 23, 2012


Yeah, it seems backwards to me that so many gay men, in particular, seem to have a problem with "cisgendered."

Being a gay man doesn't make you a saint or more necessarily understanding of other people's oppression, nor should you be.; there are also quite a few people who are understandbly scared that their hard won acceptance might be endangered by other groups not yet accepted by the mainstream trying to "muscle in" on their success.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


you're going to tell people who are not you what is true for them? Seriously?

No, clearly I have nothing to contribute to this topic whatsoever; all I have is privilege. Thanks for the thoughts. Enjoy your discussion
posted by crayz at 9:23 AM on January 23, 2012


Used ONLY to other people? What about the people who show up and identify as cis-?


I'd describe myself as cisgendered, in the relatively few contexts in which it is a useful thing to do. I'm pretty chill about that. It means that I'm in a conversation about trans issues, and it's useful for some reason to identify myself as a man-born man, without having to use the phrase "man-born man", over which I would take "cis" or "cisgendered" any day of the week for a number of reasons.

But people get upset about weird things. Again, go fig.

Brandon Blatcher: Like I said, "straight" is quite a good example of a term applied by a minority which ended up being adopted by the majority it described. Originally used by gay men to describe other men who had decided to try to pursue women romantically, later adopted by gay people to mean all people attracted to the opposite sex, and finally adopted by straight people when they needed an antonym for "gay".

And, complementarily, "heterosexual", which seems natural now because old, was originally a backformed antonym for "homosexual".

Really, usage is a crap shoot, etymologically speaking - "straight" survives and thrives, "naphe" doesn't. Go fig.

You can certainly think it's unwise for people to use terms that you don't think are going to catch on, but that doesn't have a lot of bearing about whether or not they're going to catch on. This particularly applies to specialised language - as has been noted, "cisgendered" only really crops up in conversations which are already about gender. Academic or specialized language tends to be able to pretty much do its own thing. And you can tell people that if they do x they will only make people who don't like them like them less, but that just opens a conversation about what the value is in not ticking off people who already don't like you.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:23 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


also, that might not be what you're saying, misha, and I apologize if I misread you.

I really despise the "victimized by a neutral prefix" thing but I don't want to put words in your mouth either.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:24 AM on January 23, 2012


Besides, if that's the only time you've been othered, you've got nothing to complain about.

There is something equally infuriating about this kind of dismissal, as well, and it goes to the heart of why the use of 'cis' is problematic. You are dictating how I need to be identified, based on your assumptions about my life. Which is an offensive thing to do—and based on wrong assumptions, no less.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:24 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


But if you have to repeatedly stop and explain what the word means, even on MetaFilter, that's a sign that the phrase isn't as known or as liked as many think. Hence the wondering about whether it can really take off for the general populace.

But the second doesn't really follow from the first when considered in the context of the history of language change. There's not an established word in the English language that wasn't a novelty at some point, and there's plenty of words that worked just fine once they got their legs under them but still fell out of favor or into archaism. Language changes, and it does so in reaction to the world language-users live in and the things that are important to them.

cis- as a prefix in general and cisgendered as a term may or may not make their way into casual vocabulary over the next twenty years or whatever. If I had to put some money down it'd be for them become much more casually understood indeed, because the motive force behind it maps pretty directly to progressive and increasingly expansive cultural tolerance on a real-world issue rather than someone just trying to coin a cute one-off term for some product or otherwise silly branding issue.

But given the nature of language it's really easy to see the idea of "cisgender" making the transition from niche jargon to common vocabulary as reasonable and plausible. Obscurity is necessarily the starting state of any coinage. Words are born young.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:26 AM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


jessamyn: We've had these conversations enough here that we pretty much know that here, in this community, we're going to have to have more of them.

True, but it's how this community changes. In the decade or so I've been a member of the community we've changed for the better in a lot of ways in terms of boyzone, race-issues, America-centrism and whole host of other stuff. We do it by arguing about it on the Blue and the Gray. Eventually we'll move past it. Heck, we had a reasonable discussion about religion the other day, if we can do that, we can do anything :) Eventually issues related to transgenderedness will be normalized on MetaFilter and we can have the kind of reasonable discussions we have about other subjects.
posted by Kattullus at 9:26 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


misha - that's actually a really complicated question, and I don't think it's one that can be answered to your satisfaction, much less in the context of this discussion.

Some transgender people who have GRS do consider themselves to be 'no longer trans.' Others acknowledge that they will always be 'othered.'

Still others disagree with the primacy of GRS. What if someone only has surgery to correct secondary sexual characteristics (their breasts, their face) but chooses not to have GRS for personal or family reasons? What about people who can't have any kind of surgery for financial reasons?

all I have is privilege. Thanks for the thoughts. Enjoy your discussion

Wow, I have privilege and somehow I am contributing to this conversation, because I am reading people's responses thoughtfully and in good faith.

You are dictating how I need to be identified, based on your assumptions about my life. Which is an offensive thing to do—and based on wrong assumptions, no less.

Is anyone demanding that you identify as cis-gendered? If it doesn't match your experience - if it's not useful for you - then ignore it. But in a conversation about transsexual and transgender issues, it's nearly impossible NOT to talk about cissexual or cisgender people. We have to use the term. Maybe we're not using it to describe you.
posted by muddgirl at 9:26 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's why I tried to use my own life as an example.

I've had discussion in which my input was rejected because i was a white, straight middleclass male. It's not nice, but it's a minor issue in a world in which I profit from my various priviledges quite a lot in many visible and invisible ways.

Throwing a snit over that would be stupid, priviledged and once again emphasise that it doesn't matter how much shit transgendered people go through, when my feelings are hurt!!!!1!
posted by MartinWisse at 9:28 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would argue that's why people use words like genderqueer. Someone I know uses the word "gender-non-conforming," which is quite a hyphenation but also gets the point across.

Gender fluid is another good one.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:28 AM on January 23, 2012


Is anyone demanding that you identify as cis-gendered?

The whole point of this discussion is how to rationalize the labels we are applying to other people, sight unseen, so, yes, that is the unspoken demand.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:29 AM on January 23, 2012


Being a gay man doesn't make you a saint or more necessarily understanding of other people's oppression, nor should you be.; there are also quite a few people who are understandbly scared that their hard won acceptance might be endangered by other groups not yet accepted by the mainstream trying to "muscle in" on their success.

Sadly true -- gay men can be just as casually shitty about race as straight men, for instance. My point was more that based on my own experience, I would expect more gay people to be used to making this specific distinction, between 1) who you want to be with and 2) who you are yourself, since it's something other people confound all the time.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:30 AM on January 23, 2012


Naah, it was all about how useful using cis and trans as prefixes are in a discussion about gender preferences, you're the one who went how very dare you about it.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:31 AM on January 23, 2012


"Gender fluid" is not really ideal unless you don't mind evoking the thought of love juices.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:32 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The whole point of this discussion is how to rationalize the labels we are applying to other people, sight unseen, so, yes, that is the unspoken demand.

In a thread about gay issues, isn't talking about heterosexual people the same thing? I honestly cannot see the difference. Or do we, in every thread about gay or straight issues, have this exact same discussion? (Hint: We don't).

There are heterosexual people who do not believe that 'sexuality' meaning 'who you prefer to fuck' exists. Some of them think that men always want to fuck women. Others think that everyone wants to fuck everyone, but society teaches us to prefer one or the other. And yet these opinions do not negate the usefulness of "homosexual" and "heterosexual."
posted by muddgirl at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


the young rope-rider: You are way out of line to be saying that it's worse being called "cis" by people who can't physically hurt you with the real and serious implications of othering being faced by trans people. Seriously."

Then you will be glad to know I NEVER SAID THAT.

Again, if others want to call me cis, fine. I don't want to call myself that. Now it looks like those who were so quick to condemn anyone offended by the term cisgendered are OFFENDED that I choose not to be called cis. Ironic much?

But I guess you're allowed to be as irrational or belligerent as you care to be, no matter what you are.
posted by misha at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2012


Language is artificial. Lexical reference is predominantly arbitrary with respect to the relationship between the form of the sign and the form of its object. "Cis" is no more or less made up than "male" or "female."

"You just made that up" is not a defense against language change or the expansion of the lexicon.
posted by spitbull at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


And to spell it out: cis and transgender are fairly neutral terms to describe people whose (external) sexual characteristics line up with their own gender experience or not, but nobody but you yourself can decide whether or not you want to indentify as a cis or transgendered person, or something else entirely.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:34 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you are so utterly bothered by the premise of even using the terminology associated with this topic of conversation, then you have permission to disengage and not participate. Honestly, it's ridiculous to continue beanplating about the validity of this. We're going in circles.

If you consider it insulting or inconvenient to even consider the validity of cisgender as the appropriate nomenclature for people who are not transitioning, you should reexamine your priorities. Let it go. No one here is demanding that anyone conform -- we're presenting reasonable arguments as to why these terms come about and are used correctly by the people they apply to and by the members of the trans population.

Again, my original comment stands. This is not about you. Stop making this about you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:34 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


"You just made that up" is not a defense against language change or the expansion of the lexicon.

Yeah, seriously. "e-mail" was a made-up term at one point, yet everyone got on board with that real fast.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And finally, any objection to cis on the grounds of the purity of the English language ( a cribhouse whore as a friend of mine memorably described it) is on the same level as people who object to gay as a term for homosexual people because they like the older meaning of it.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, if you want to avoid ever being called "cisgendered", the easiest way to do it is to avoid talking to people about trans issues. It's specialized language.

That said, if somebody is genuinely upset about being called "cisgendered"... well, I guess they can raise that, and they can specify a term they would prefer. Like, Blazecock Pileon doesn't like the world "homosexual", but he's cool with "gay" - two terms which are largely interchangeable in terms of usage and definition in most non-specialized contexts. It doesn't seem crazy, on a case-by-case basis, for him to ask people to use whatever term he'd prefer in specialized contexts where he needs to be identified as somebody who identifies with their birth-assigned gender. "Pronoun-persistent" or "man-born-man" or whatever.

That's probably not going to lead to a universal embargo on the use of the term, however, because believing that it is always and inevitably hate speech or othering (except in the way that calling something an apple others it from the set of things that are oranges) is not a verifiable position. In fact, it's falsifiable, and has been falsified in this discussion.

That's basically the same as Misha's problem. Very few women actually object to being called women - it's a radical feminist position held by a small number of people. It's probably OK not to feel too bad about using the term in general conversation. If someone specifically asks that they not be called a woman, then it's probably a good idea to respect that in their case - whether it's because they are a radical feminist or because they do not identify as a woman.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm uncomfortable because cisgendered sounds like parseltongue.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gender fluid is another good one.

No, that sounds like something you put in your car.

"You're a quart low on gender fluid, sir, that could harm your penis."
posted by jonmc at 9:37 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I want to come out strongly in favor of "cisgendered" as appropriate terminology. It is not the slightest bit insulting, and it is to me an efficient use of language. It of course makes perfect sense to me from a science perspective, as in cis- and trans- double bonds in a hydrocarbon chain, so I am comfortable with its usage in that sense already. Plus I have a transitioning kid, so my opinion matters more than others. :D
posted by zomg at 9:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


OK, I'm going to give anti-"cis" (did I just hyphenate prefixes??) people the benefit of the doubt here. It's always a good policy to label people with the words they want to be labelled with -- it's why we say Beijing instead of Peking, Cote d'Ivoire instead of Ivory Coast, black instead of negro. It's common courtesy, it's the only reason I can imagine people being upset about it (I'm a cis-guy, and the label doesn't bother me in the least).

So if you don't like "cis", what's your alternative? It can't be "normal", because that's the problem cis is trying to solve. Come up with a word that implies "not-trans" and maybe we can have a discussion. If you don't have an alternative you're essentially arguing to be called "normal", and that's fucked up.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


the young rope-rider: You are way out of line to be saying that it's worse being called "cis" by people who can't physically hurt you with the real and serious implications of othering being faced by trans people. Seriously."

Then you will be glad to know I NEVER SAID THAT.

I know, I apologized down thread. Sorry again about that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2012


Used ONLY to other people? What about the people who show up and identify as cis-?

If you use that term in a non-ironic fashion, then you are using it as a signifier to loudly announce whose side you're taking in a now-artificially delineated group discussion. Either you are artificially putting participants into two classes, or you are joining in on that false delineation. Either way, you're part of the problem.

Blazecock Pileon doesn't like the world "homosexual", but he's cool with "gay" - two terms which are largely interchangeable in terms of usage and definition

In the context of what group you find yourself in, those terms are most certainly not interchangeable, and there is a lot more being communicated by choosing to replace every instance of the normalized term 'gay' with 'homosexual', as you will find when reading the comments section of articles about same-sex marriage, for instance, in local newspapers. That's just one instance, by the way, of how language can be used as a weapon, and not meant to be wholly illustrative of how those two words are always used. But we're discussing this within the context of Internet forums, and so it applies in that context.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So if you don't like "cis", what's your alternative?

This is a good question.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:46 AM on January 23, 2012


Come up with a word that implies "not-trans" and maybe we can have a discussion

The problem is that it shouldn't imply 'not trans.' It should imply something along the lines of 'people who do not have a problem with the sex they have been assigned with.'

whose side you're taking in a now-artificially delineated group discussion

Whose 'side' am I on?
posted by muddgirl at 9:47 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Either you are artificially putting participants into two classes, or you are joining in on that false delineation.

So do you not think there's any difference between people whose gender identities match their bodies, and people who feel mismatched? Because it's not 'artificial' or 'false' in the experiences of all the trans people I've met. To them, it was very real and very important.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:47 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


the young rope-rider: "also, that might not be what you're saying, misha, and I apologize if I misread you.

I really despise the "victimized by a neutral prefix" thing but I don't want to put words in your mouth either.
"

Hey, just saw this. We're good. I think we both got a little hot on that one.
posted by misha at 9:47 AM on January 23, 2012


I'm with no regrets, coyote -- I don't want to call people by a label they find offensive. But, pray tell, what other word is thee to use that means "not trans-" ?
posted by tyllwin at 9:48 AM on January 23, 2012


Either way, you're part of the problem.

No. I identify as cisgendered. If you don't identify as cis- or transgendered, groovy. I'm happy to make room for everyone. Me identifying as cis- does not imply I'm identifying you as such.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:48 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gender-normative is the prevailing term. It makes sense immediately to even a casual reader, it's already established and it doesn't flag my spellchecker.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:48 AM on January 23, 2012


If you use that term in a non-ironic fashion, then you are using it as a signifier to loudly announce whose side you're taking in a now-artificially delineated group discussion.

How is it necessarily taking sides? It's acknowledging a conversationally-meaningful distinction, not declaring in favor of one or the other. If someone's bringing some existing bias into the conversation, that's it's own thing, not something fundamentally problematic about just having complementary terms for concise discussion.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:49 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or, if, as Muddgirl points out, it really ought to mean the more restrictive "people who do not have a problem with the sex they have been assigned with", what other word do we have for that?
posted by tyllwin at 9:49 AM on January 23, 2012


"Gender fluid" is not really ideal unless you don't mind evoking the thought of love juices.

Check my profile.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:49 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


People have asked repeatedly for alternate terms, so I will mention that I think the term "gendertypical" works better, personally. I don't think "neurotypical" is considered hate speech, is it?

I found 39,100,000 or so results on Google for "gendertypical".
posted by marble at 9:51 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Gendertypical" seems to already mean 'your presentation (masculine/feminine) is in line with your gender/sex.' That's something completely different than whether you are cisgender. A transgender person could be gendertypical.
posted by muddgirl at 9:54 AM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


If you use that term in a non-ironic fashion, then you are using it as a signifier to loudly announce whose side you're taking in a now-artificially delineated group discussion.

This is absolutely not my experience. I am using the word because I feel like it describes me well, especially in contrast to the idea that there must be something non-genuine about my male gender identity because I also like men.

Gender-normative is the prevailing term. It makes sense immediately to even a casual reader, it's already established and it doesn't flag my spellchecker.

To me gender-normative sounds more like "you're a man who likes football." It doesn't really capture whether you think of yourself as a man or a woman: for instance, a woman might reject female gender norms but nevertheless think of herself as fundamentally female, not as male.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you use that term in a non-ironic fashion, then you are using it as a signifier to loudly announce whose side you're taking in a now-artificially delineated group discussion. Either you are artificially putting participants into two classes, or you are joining in on that false delineation. Either way, you're part of the problem.

I'm really not seeing what's artificial about having a term to distinguish people who aren't trans from people who are trans without having to keep saying "people who are trans" and "people who arent' trans." How is it artificial, in your opinion?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does gendertypical mean "conforms to societal standards of gender presentation"? Does it mean "doesn't conform strictly, but does identify as the gender assigned at birth." Or does it mean....something else? Does announcing that I am a gendertypical female tell you that I'm not in conflict with my genitalia? Does it tell you that I paint my nails and wear skirts and heels and am heterosexual?

It seems to me to be a very imprecise word.
posted by rtha at 9:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not like I need a word to help me describe the things done to me in service of the comfortable-with-their-assigned-sex norm; it's not like I need a word to articulate the politics and sociology that have sprung from the intersection of comfortable-with-their-assigned-sex people and trans people; it's not like I need a way to help myself feel part of humanity, just another piece of the human race bumping along with their rest of you and not a marked, inhuman, sterilise-that-thing-and-get-it-out-of-our-gene-pool object.

I'm part of the problem. And the problem is apparently that trans people came up with a word that was as neutral as we could make it to describe the rest of humanity, to articulate our politics, to enter the mainstream discourse and not just bump about on the sidelines, talked about but never talking.

I really shouldn't have come back to read the rest of this thread.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:58 AM on January 23, 2012 [19 favorites]


Here's the thing:

In language, cis- is simply the opposite of trans-. Trans- means across, and cis- means not across. That's all. Hence, for example, Transjordan and Cisjordan: Transjordan is across the Jordan River, and Cisjordan isn't. If you're on one side of the river, you're trans- and if you're on the other, you're cis-. It's not a judgment; it's just a description of the state of affairs.

What it boils down to is this: While you may not personally identify as cisgendered, if you are, you are, and that's that. Transjordan and Cisjordan don't presently identify that way, but geographically speaking, they still are.

All that said, note that cis- suggests here, as in where we are, and trans- suggests there, as in where they are. Who's being othered?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:02 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


How is it necessarily taking sides? It's acknowledging a conversationally-meaningful distinction

It's taking sides because cisgender is being defined as "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity," and this is not a way I would choose to define myself or think about my identity/physical self/etc. All people take actions to alter their physical appearance or cultural/social identity in many ways for many reasons. I do not find this binary cis/trans framing of a discussion of gender identity to be helpful or nuanced
posted by crayz at 10:03 AM on January 23, 2012


If you use [cis] in a non-ironic fashion, then you are using it as a signifier to loudly announce whose side you're taking in a now-artificially delineated group discussion.

But...but...insisting on a clear delineation between usages of homosexual and gay doesn't "signify loudly" in exactly the same way? Your logic is vehement but escapes me, Blazecock. And are you seriously stating that any distinction between transgendered and non-transgendered people is a "false delineation"? Sure looks like it.
posted by mediareport at 10:03 AM on January 23, 2012


We're talking about the name of the majority, i.e., cisgendered, not the name of the minority. Does "able-bodied" imply disparagement? In a sense, yes. We're all differently abled. I don't know a single person who doesn't have some sort of impairment, from allergies to asthma, to back pain to migraines. So to label me as disabled or differently-abled, and the majority of people as able-bodied, absolutely does "other" me and create a sense of disparagement. There is no reason for it to come up except in a medical discussion.

I disagree. And I reiterate that in the context of a minority group self-labeling themselves, being in a minority should not automatically be considered negative. Would you similarly argue that labels referring to ethnicities, which have been chosen by those ethnicities, such as "Asian," should only be used anthropologically and not in everyday language? Why or why not?

People self-label for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with disparagement, and everything to do with their sense of identity. That sense of identity may include a desire to be recognized in our culture/society as someone who has a quality that those in the majority do not have. Their motivations for doing so may be a quest for community, for social or political equality, or simply for identity.

To label me cisgendered is not disparaging to me because of my privilege. It furthers the otherance of trans people by saying they are not like me. I understand why this is necessary now, but to pretend it's just another word, devoid of any baggage, is silly.

I am not "pretending that the term is devoid of baggage." However, if a group chooses to describe themselves a particular way in comparison to people who are not like them, it seems to me to be a serious mark of privilege to argue that they should not do so except in circumstances defined by the majority.
posted by zarq at 10:05 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really shouldn't have come back to read the rest of this thread.

Ah, don't sweat it, ArmyOfKittens. It's just another little wave breaking on the rocks, and I think this conversation has done some good, even if a small group is vociferously objecting with little rationale. I'll admit it's very surprising that Blazecock is so vehement here. I'd love to read those internet arguments he's been in that led him to take such an absurdly rigid and unrealistic position, though.

Maybe not, actually.
posted by mediareport at 10:06 AM on January 23, 2012


Sorry. "chosen by those ethnicities" should be "chosen by members of those ethnicities." Which sounds really awkward.
posted by zarq at 10:06 AM on January 23, 2012


It's acknowledging a conversationally-meaningful distinction, not declaring in favor of one or the other.

Saying that 'cisgendered' is apolitical or 'conversational' in the way that cis and trans are used in chemistry, for example, doesn't line up with my experience. It seems pretty clear that using it consciously is making a (political) statement about identity — about how other people should identify, also — that goes beyond mere functional descriptions of genitalia and behavior, into which tribe or clan (for lack of a better term) one belongs to. In other words, more is communicated by someone jumping into a thread and saying, "Hey, everybody. I'm cisgendered!" than just the functional aspect. Beyond self, there are aspects of group identity and self-selection that are unavoidable, and in my opinion, are problematic. Not just on Metafilter, but on other forums, as well. Another forum ended up splitting off its LGBT subsite, because a moderator fomented a hyperpolitical environment that was unfriendly, even to its LGBT participants.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:06 AM on January 23, 2012


EmpressCallipygos: "Yeah, seriously. "e-mail" was a made-up term at one point, yet everyone got on board with that real fast."

Well, everyone except the Quebecois, who refuse to use any English terms (even though the French use "e-mail", the Quebeckers use "courrier électronique" or apparently "courriel" for short).
posted by Grither at 10:07 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do not find this binary cis/trans framing of a discussion of gender identity to be helpful or nuanced

Then why do you insist on participating in it?

It seems very unhelpful and unnuanced to walk into a room full of people who are sharing a particular experience (the experience of being transgender) and state, "I don't choose to think of my identity in those terms."
posted by muddgirl at 10:08 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I took organic chemistry many years ago. The first time I heard cis used with respect to gender identify, it took me a minute to get it and then (after a brief flashback to the horrors of orgo) it made perfect sense. It isn't a term I'd use except in discussions of gender identity, but I can't find my way to being offended by it and now knowing its meaning, it won't puzzle me in the future. I like words. I like etymology.

To add more chemistry words to the situation, chirality and isomerization might be interesting to think about in this context.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:10 AM on January 23, 2012


I like the comment above about euthyroid and neurotypical, because actually I DON'T agree with either of those.

I'm not euthyroid, since I have hypothyroidism. Guess I am dysthyroid. Or maybe cacothyroid! That definitely sounds cooler.

I also like to think that I am not neurotypical. I know the term is used to refer to those who are not on the autism spectrum, but to me typical implies average. I like to think I am not average (who doesn't?), so I am going to go with neurounique.

I'm also sinistral, which is the scientific name for left-handedness. But sinister has negative connotations. Although I could maybe go with "antidexter", it just doesn't sit right, because I do a lot of activities with my right hand. Maybe semidexterous would work?
posted by misha at 10:11 AM on January 23, 2012


"individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity," and this is not a way I would choose to define myself or think about my identity/physical self/etc. All people take actions to alter their physical appearance or cultural/social identity in many ways for many reasons. I do not find this binary cis/trans framing of a discussion of gender identity to be helpful or nuanced

And again, no one is demanding that you use it to describe yourself. If you want to march into a discussion about trans issues and announce that you are [some term, phrase, or sentence that means you are not transgender, and which is not the prefix "cis"], then go ahead.
posted by rtha at 10:11 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Brandon: The heart of the issue of what to call is that of the minority renaming or naming the majority. I'm curious how this has worked out in the past. Can anyone point to situations where this has occurred?

What seems like a million posts ago I said I'd respond to this. Maybe it will be of interest, although we've moved on.

So in New Zealand you've got the indigenous Maori people (about 15% of the population), and you've got the descendents of western Europeans, mainly British* (about 70%)

What to call the latter group is somewhat problematic:

1. "New Zealanders?" OK, but everyone's a New Zealander - it excludes the 30% who aren't from this group.
2. "White"? Not terribly specific.
3. "European"? Problematic because someone like me, who's 6th generation on my "European" side, really isn't a European. (Plus because our distant British cousins wouldn't describe themselves as European anyway...).

So the term that has most favour is "Pakeha". Which is a Maori word. So we have the word for the majority being one from the minority language**.

What are the consequences of this?

Well, every white New Zealander would understand what the word means, and that it is intended to apply to them. Not all of them would agree with that use - probably only a minority would. The term itself is controversial (in the sense that evolution is controversial): plenty of people have a folk belief that the term is racist (meaning "white pig") although there's no evidence for this and it's not how people actually use it.

It's not totally clear who it should apply to: some of us would say that it means "white New Zealanders who are born in New Zealand" (so my English step-father, who has no problem with the term, doesn't think it applies to him); others would say any white person in NZ, others any white person (some fuss about Shakespeare being dismissed as 'some old Pakeha writer'....).

And Statistics New Zealand had to add 'New Zealander' to their list of ethnic groups on the census form, which makes the ethnicity question pointless because New Zealander isn't an ethnicity, but it's what a lot of people want to put down....though that's a reaction against self-describing as "European", too.

That said: we have a situation where the term is in widespread use and many people are happy with this (mostly on the left/liberal side). I suspect we'll eventually reach a point where there is no dispute at all over it, but probably not in my lifetime. So with regards to this particular discussion, I suspect it may sadly take a long time for a majority of cis-people to accept cis as the preferred terrm.

*Plus Pacific Islanders, Asians and others making up another 15% or so, but for this discussion they're not central.
**Seems to me that this is even more powerful than "straight", which at least was an English word. (And maybe was intended to contrast "bender", which is or was slang for "gay", at least in the UK).
*** As an aside, the word "Maori" means "normal" in the Maori language. I'm told by someone who should know that it comes from:
English sailor: you people, who are you?
Maori: we're normal
So Maori was applied to the indigenous people, who identified themselves by the name of their iwi (tribe) - "Maori" identity only developing as a contrast to the European explorers/colonists.

(Oh god, so TL;DR, sorry).
posted by Infinite Jest at 10:12 AM on January 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


BP, if you're referring to Reddit, don't let a few people who hiss cis in the same sentence as white make you think the word is only used to attack. Did you miss the many, many trans people speaking up who say they don't agree, that they value their allies, that they don't hate all cis people?

Or to put it another way, if I'm walking arm in arm with my girlfriend and someone yells at me so I mutter "fucking straight people" under my voice, have I just turned the word straight into an insult in the mouths of everyone else who uses it? No. Thus it is with cis.

Of course cis is politicised; to be transgender is to have a political identity, there's no getting away from that, because seemingly everyone wants to shit on us. Any word we coin is going to be viewed through that lens. But it was created to be neutral in the same way that trans is neutral, and you're fucking right that people have used that word in hate.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:13 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm not euthyroid, since I have hypothyroidism. Guess I am dysthyroid. Or maybe cacothyroid! That definitely sounds cooler.

Well, it's not that you disagree with the term, it's that it doesn't apply to you. That doesn't make it an offensive term, does it?
posted by KathrynT at 10:14 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


BP: In other words, more is communicated by someone jumping into a thread and saying, "Hey, everybody. I'm cisgendered!" than just the functional aspect.

Do you have a cite? I mean, a cite where the thread isn't already about gender or trans issues, or where they aren't doing it in direct response to you saying that it is always an othering term? If not, I think that might come back to the "specialized language for specific contexts point". I generally won't expect people to know what apheresis is, but I'd hope they wouldn't get too upset about the word being used in a discussion where it is important to distinguish it from apocope.

By the same token, "cisgendered" is a specialized term with a specific application, which is useful in certain contexts. I guess you can be offended by it if you feel that is appropriate, or oppressed by the existence of the concept even when it is not directly in evidence. It is however not the case that it is a universally offensive term to people described by it, quod erat demonstrandum.

Within that, if you'd like another word to describe your experience of your gender rather than "cisgendered" or "transgendered" - either because you think that your experience of gender is not described by it or because of a particular issue with the word, I think you have every right to request that.

For that matter, if you want to argue that anyone who identifies as cisgendered in a non-ironic fashion (presumably, that is, in a manner not intended to lampoon and deprecate the term) is either the gender equivalent of a homophobe or caught in the throes of false consciousness or similar, that's... certainly something you can do. But I think the former approach might get you further.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's pretty interesting re: Pakeha, thanks Infinite Jest.

Reminds me of when someone from Toronto asked me what we're supposed to call non-aboriginal people who were born here up north. I replied "P2".

Though it looks like I'm not entirely correct because it's a little more nuanced. It is the general shorthand though.
posted by ODiV at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2012


In all seriousness, I am learning a lot from this thread. I have been looking up terms and finding out about third gender, genderqueer and agender as well as others mentioned here, and I have a much better understanding of... I want to say the sexual, or gender, spectrum. Does that work?
posted by misha at 10:21 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course cis is politicised; to be transgender is to have a political identity, there's no getting away from that

Exactly. That's the most shocking element of Blazecock's bizarre position. There's something going on where his usual smart self is self-destructing if he's actually trying to tell us he can easily separate gender politics from the terms used to discuss gender politics.

What is it about this topic that gets some people so off their rockers?
posted by mediareport at 10:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't care about a prefix like "cis-" however, in colloquial english, cis is not a common prefix, and it doesn't look like an english word. (I have the same problem with usian and zie, both look like made up words from a poorly written fantasy novel.) Looking at an online dictionary, there's only 31 words that start with cis, and the only two I'd expect anyone to know are Cisco and cistern. There's 500 words that start with trans, almost all of which I understand the meaning without looking up.

(Oh and cissexist is just not a word that can be spoken outloud without spraying your audience with spittle).
posted by aspo at 10:26 AM on January 23, 2012


A friend recently IMed me to ask if cis was a term "people really use." I kind of bit my tongue and slowly explained it to her--I think she got it. It made me realize that I have a different sort of privilege: the privilege of having read and talked with progressive, diverse populations of people who know about this stuff. Many of those people are on metafilter, and I'm really thankful for them.

(Particularly ArmyofKittens, who talked me out of some very privileged rhertoric I was using about the trans experience back in 2008 or so.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:27 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


It seems pretty clear that using it consciously is making a (political) statement about identity — about how other people should identify, also — that goes beyond mere functional descriptions of genitalia and behavior, into which tribe or clan (for lack of a better term) one belongs to. In other words, more is communicated by someone jumping into a thread and saying, "Hey, everybody. I'm cisgendered!" than just the functional aspect. Beyond self, there are aspects of group identity and self-selection that are unavoidable, and in my opinion, are problematic.

I think I see where you're coming from here, but isn't this also necessarily true for labels of sexuality like "gay" or "straight"?
posted by en forme de poire at 10:27 AM on January 23, 2012


(Oh and since people have made a parallel to homo- and hetero- prefixes, both of those have about 250 words in the dictionary, most of which have no relation to sexuality.)
posted by aspo at 10:29 AM on January 23, 2012


It is a bit misleading to state that the "cis-" formulations are purely scientific in origin and do not carry any further baggage. The term is almost exclusively use (as far as I can tell) in discussions of identity politics. In the realm of identity politics, labels exist for the purposes of carrying baggage. It is a charged lexicon that develops to focus on issues of inequality, oppression, marginalization, and competing attempts at defining social standards. Of course, if those issues did not exist then neither would the labels.

In other words, irrespective of the merits of the term "transsexual", one can certainly have a discussion about that topic without making it a political topic. It may very well be a discussion about a purely individual concern. But I have never seen the "cis-" formulation used in anything other than an identity politics-based discussion.

I have no opinion on the relative merits of the "cis-" formulations or anything else about the broader topics of identity issues. But I can say that--relative to this Metatalk post--it is rather meaningless to discuss whether the denotation of a label is neutral when the entire point of the label is to be charged and connote a subjective-value judgment because that is the point of identity politics. In the realm of identity politics, the value judgment that a label connotes is a feature of the label, not a bug.

So I'm confused why anyone would find the discussion of labels inappropriate in light of the framing of the post or why it is worthwhile to argue that a term is scientifically neutral when the point of the label is to be charged.
posted by dios at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


cortex wrote...
But given the nature of language it's really easy to see the idea of "cisgender" making the transition from niche jargon to common vocabulary as reasonable and plausible.

Three syllables? You're nuts. 'Cis' and 'Trans' maybe...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2012


I don't care about a prefix like "cis-" however, in colloquial english, cis is not a common prefix, and it doesn't look like an english word.

"Homosexual" doesn't look like an English word either, being composed entirely of non-English bits. And yet here it lives, quite comfortably and colloquially, in English.

Cis is very colloquial in some contexts and not others. In a hundred years (or less, who knows) it may be as unremarkable as "heterosexual."
posted by rtha at 10:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and everyone else: unless you're a Mandarin speaking 28-year-old Han Chinese male you should probably stop with the "normal" thing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:38 AM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


That's great. And it's a position of no small privilege.

"Privilege" is the Metafilter-acceptable way of telling people their feelings are invalid.
posted by spaltavian at 10:38 AM on January 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


I mean sure, we could refer to cis/trans people as syngendered and allogendered instead (which sounds kind of cool, actually), or heterogendered and homogendered, but even on a(n imaginary) purely linguistic and apolitical level, that would mean inventing a new term for trans people and that ship has already sailed, I think.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:39 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Privilege" is the Metafilter-acceptable way of telling people their feelings are invalid.

That's so reductive as to be absurd.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:42 AM on January 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


"Privilege" is the Metafilter-acceptable way of telling people their feelings are invalid.

It's shorthand for pointing out that your feelings, while entirely valid, are not actually universal to everyone, and if that's never occurred to you before, you might want to consider it. The fact that you (general you) have never had to think about some aspect of how you move through the world because that is the way that a majority of people live is, in fact, a privilege.
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2012 [46 favorites]


"Sees", if you're truly going for Latin precision.

Did Latin soften 'c' like 's' (like not-Italian), or would it have been like "ch" (like Italian)?


I think every one of these threads should be derailed until we return to proper Latin: Latin didn't have a soft c, so the proper pronunciation is "kiss gendered."

As an aside, this term bothered me for about a minute a long time ago, before I knew its derivation. Now I think it's great. The real grotesques are Latin-Greek hybrids like "television." Call me prejudiced if you will, but such pairings are monstrous.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, as i mentioned, there's a lot of words that start with the homo- prefix that have nothing to do with sexuality. Most of which probably predate common usage of homosexual. I do think that's part of what people find othering about cis-. It's just not a prefix people are familiar with so it looks like an invented term and it doesn't fit common english prefix rules so it looks slightly not right.
posted by aspo at 10:44 AM on January 23, 2012


The fact that you (general you) have never had to think about some aspect of how you move through the world because that is the way that a majority of people live is, in fact, a privilege.

That is usually how it is meant.

"Privilege" is the Metafilter-acceptable way of telling people their feelings are invalid.

That is frequently how it is heard.

This is a discussion about loaded words. There are many kinds.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:46 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


A friend recently IMed me to ask if cis was a term "people really use."

I think the answer to this is tricky. I mean yeah of course it's a term people really use, we're using it right now. But I think there's the larger question of whether if you use it in a random non-progressive or socially-aware group, whether they'll understand it. And this part is relevant to people as well. If I used the term cisgendered in a conversation with my neighbors around here, I'd get a blank stare. No big deal, I can explain what it means if I choose to, but if I'm trying to communicate clearly and not make a statement about language as well as talk about whatever I'm trying to talk about, I'd probably use a more awkward construction that has a more immediately understandable meaning.

There's a question of whether a word is colloquially used as well as whether it's a "real word" [of course it's a real word] and colloquial can mean different things, or rather a word that can be totally understood in a small group setting may become confusing in a larger group settings where people have differing expectations of what sort of language novelty they may be coming up against. And there are two issues: the meaning/use aspect of the words you are using [do people understand you?] and the social issues of what you feel that the normative state of the language should be [should they understand you? whose responsibility is it in the communication process to make sure understanding happens? This is, of course, a question that has troubled semanticists since time immemorial] for the group of people you're speaking with. The first assessment is less fraught than the second one.

And I don't mind taking the hit for clearer language and using words that may not immediately make sense to them because I think these sorts of things are important, but not everyone does. And while this is sort of an open question, before terms like cisgendered achieve the sort of normative status of being the standard term used in journalism and colloquial speech, it's worth understanding the contexts in which words like this appear for both yourself and others who will be reading them. It's a tough issue because it's tiring and annoying to feel like you have to "make a stand" just to use words that are normal to you, but my feeling is that that's still where we are with this one, for better or worse.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:49 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Privilege" is the Metafilter-acceptable way of telling people their feelings are invalid.

I don't think so. In such contexts, the word privilege refers to unearned advantage and conferred dominance. I have not really seen people misuse or abuse this term.
posted by polymodus at 10:51 AM on January 23, 2012


The term I'd encountered previously was "woman born woman" (actually "womyn born womyn") and it was in a context that left an exceedingly bad taste in my mouth, so while I will occasionally use that, I would rather avoid it so that I don't give anyone else flashbacks about listening to second-wave feminists delivering anti-trans rants. I'm generally pretty happy to talk to people about the topics that are important to them in the language they prefer.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


According to Wikipedia the word is only showing up in academic literature this decade and was coined in the 1990s, so it's not exactly on the fast track to the mainstream.

I'm guessing you mean in the context of transgender issues, because while wikipedia isn't clear on who came up with the nomenclature, the terms are used in stereochemistry which dates back to Pasteur in 1849.
posted by juv3nal at 10:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The real grotesques are Latin-Greek hybrids like "television." Call me prejudiced if you will, but such pairings are monstrous.

I know a Latin teacher who is (as far as I can tell) physically pained by these words.
posted by Jpfed at 10:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's shorthand for pointing out that your feelings, while entirely valid, are not actually universal to everyone

Not, that's explicitly not how it was used. The statement was in retort to this comment:

it's that I consider myself to be male inside. But I don't consider myself to have any gender inside, and I have been and am varying degrees of masculine based on situation/context/stage of life/etc, which is a matter of everything from body language to thought process to musculature to a thousand others

This is demanding I label myself as being somehow internally mentally aligned with my outward sexual appearance based on the fact that other people feel misaligned. But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone, or that this is a helpful way to understand the issue


That person was not universalizing his experience to everyone, as you are accusing them of doing it. They were making a personal statement of how they feel about their own internal life.

This is dismissed with the magic wand of privilege: you don't get it, since you're privileged, and since you're privileged, you can't speak on this subject.

It's a dismissive tactic designed to shut people up, in part by making them feel guilty.
posted by spaltavian at 10:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


spaltavian: That person was not universalizing his experience to everyone, as you are accusing them of doing it. They were making a personal statement of how they feel about their own internal life.

crayz: But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone
posted by en forme de poire at 10:58 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


But I have never seen the "cis-" formulation used in anything other than an identity politics-based discussion.

I just gave an example upthread: Cisjordan.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:58 AM on January 23, 2012


trangender and cisgender appear to be such a firing point for stereotypical anti-gender behaviour because it represents the most strenuous feelings about the nature of the Western embrace of the pursuit of happiness. critics of gender defined transsexuality tend to focus on the supposed deception of the person in question, particularly when faced with the quandary of going against the instincts of any large, political point of view. this irony of critical inflection is compounded by the need for change they acknowledge for themselves, but could not make true without the radical psychic surgery necessary to make the process complete. transsexuality is not the illusion of a deception. it is the acceptance of a need for change personified. I admit that one can feel a tremendous chagrin when confronted with radical change because in the west the ability to make a new life as a new person in the same old place is the ultimate cultural taboo.
posted by parmanparman at 10:58 AM on January 23, 2012


That person was not universalizing his experience to everyone, as you are accusing them of doing it.

I think it is. They're performing the same kind of reasoning in which "whites" don't count as "people of color".
posted by polymodus at 10:59 AM on January 23, 2012


crayz: But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone
posted by spaltavian at 10:59 AM on January 23, 2012


That person was not universalizing his experience to everyone, as you are accusing them of doing it. They were making a personal statement of how they feel about their own internal life.

Read it again. They said:

But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone, or that this is a helpful way to understand the issue

If he didn't misspeak then this is a privileged thing to say. If he did then okay, he misspoke.

He doesn't believe that alignment is wholly or constantly true for himself, and that's fine, and not a privileged thing to say. But he also believes it is not wholly or constantly true for anyone else, which is. Because what does he know about other people's experiences with gender?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:02 AM on January 23, 2012


crayz: But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone

That's a valid objection. It's the same as saying gay v.s. straight is not an absolute binary; it is more accurately a spectrum. There is no contradiction here. Hint: I wouldn't fixate on rtha's choice of the word universal.
posted by polymodus at 11:02 AM on January 23, 2012


But I have never seen the "cis-" formulation

Cisalpine Gaul was what the Romans called the part of Gaul on their side of the Alps.
posted by spaltavian at 11:03 AM on January 23, 2012


true for me or anyone

They do not accept something as true for anyone, although it is true for me. What am I, chopped liver?
posted by rtha at 11:03 AM on January 23, 2012


Just don't call me late for dinner! *wink*
posted by P.o.B. at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


>>> But I have never seen the "cis-" formulation used in anything other than an identity politics-based discussion.

I just gave an example upthread: Cisjordan.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:58 PM on January 23


I was, of course, referring to the cis-formulations relevant to the topic at hand (cisgender, cisnormatitivty, cissexist). I have never heard one of those terms in a discussion other than in a identity politics. Meaning, I have never heard it in a medical discussion, biographically, demographically, or otherwise in an objective usage. Of course I recognize the prefix "cis" has a linguistic meaning in other contexts. I thought this obvious by the point I was making in my post, but apparently it was lost.
posted by dios at 11:05 AM on January 23, 2012


Spaltavian, the point of acknowledging privilege is to accept that guilt comes with it. Guilt is part of the process of understanding one's place in life. Privilege is also a lens through which people see the world; it IS important for people with privilege to think critically about their privilege and consider listening, rather than speaking, in conversations such as these. But that does not mean that if you're an upperclass, white male you don't get a say. That's ridiculously counteroppressive and that's not the real point of social justice.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:06 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't see how "wholly or constantly" is relevant. It doesn't modify "anyone," it modifies "alignment." If he had said "some people" instead of "anyone" you might have a point.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:07 AM on January 23, 2012


I just gave an example upthread: Cisjordan.

Which most people would not understand if used in a sentence. (A similar word is cisatlantic. I had no idea what that meant until I looked it up. Almost everyone who knows english past a certain proficiency knows what transatlantic means.)
posted by aspo at 11:08 AM on January 23, 2012


I was, of course, referring to the cis-formulations relevant to the topic at hand (cisgender, cisnormatitivty, cissexist). I have never heard one of those terms in a discussion other than in a identity politics. Meaning, I have never heard it in a medical discussion, biographically, demographically, or otherwise in an objective usage. Of course I recognize the prefix "cis" has a linguistic meaning in other contexts. I thought this obvious by the point I was making in my post, but apparently it was lost.

I guess I missed your point on account of "I don't hear these identity politics words outside of identity politics" is kind of a pointless thing to say.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:09 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The term is almost exclusively use (as far as I can tell) in discussions of identity politics.

You mean the prefix "cis"? Not exclusively at all - it's primarily used in taxonomy. In particular, it's used in the term cisalpinus, which is still found in the Latin names of a number of species found in the Cisalpine region. It also occurs in geography, both mapped - most recently in the Cisjordan and Transjordan - and relative - the term "Cisatlantic" was coined in pre-revolutionary American to mean "in America", but used in Britain to mean "in Britain", in both cases suggesting or connoting the importance of the other. The specific pun being made in the "cisgender" coining was a referencing to isomerism, apparently, but it's a prefix that has been more or less popular in the language for a fair while, and has a number of current applications.

Ah - on preview, you just mean in the usage "cisgendered" and its derivations. Well, in its usage in "cisgendered", that's a term often used in gender studies rather than identity politics - which is not intended to be intrinsically polemic, although it doesn't rule it out. The other usages you list are derivations of "cisgendered". I think you might be applying your own sense of what is charged to this, though.

JPFed: I know a Latin teacher who is (as far as I can tell) physically pained by these words.

Your Latin teacher might be comforted by studying Ancient Greek, at least somewhat. The irregular verb horao - I see - has the strong aorist eidon - I saw. The epsilon at the front denotes the aorist, and -on is the first person singular ending, so you are left with the stem id. And, actually, that's missing a digamma, a letter that had fallen out of usage by the Classical period. The digamma is basically a "w" sound, so you have "wid", which, Latinized, is "vid-", "v" having the "w" sound in Latin.

So, the Latin Video - whence vision, visual, television - is really the same word as the ur-Greek wid.

At least, that's what I tell the voices. It calms them.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:09 AM on January 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


I can understand conversations about terminology like cisgender when its used in threads that have nothing to do with trans issues, but it just seems unfortunate that, in a thread specifically about a subject, we can't use 'jargon' words without expecting a long derail.

If I make a post about a bridge failure, I expect to be able to use the word 'stress' without arguing about the meaning. If someone doesn't know what engineering stress is they are expected to either look it up or accept the definition as given. The fact that we can't talk about trans issues on Metafilter and use jargon common to the trans community really is part of the problem, and not something inherent to specialized topics.
posted by muddgirl at 11:10 AM on January 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


Saying that "I do not accept that this 'alignment' is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone" may be egocentric, but it's no evidence of privilege. It's something that could be said by cis- or trans- alike.

Just as "But I do not accept that gay/straight alignment is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone." could be uttered by someone straight or by someone gay.
posted by tyllwin at 11:12 AM on January 23, 2012


I think that I understand what is meant by the term "cissexist", but when I try to break it down, I can't see any way that the term makes sense at all. Can anyone explain the formation?

Not to mention that "cissexist" can't really be pronounced without slightly reducing the quality of life of everyone within earshot.
posted by ssg at 11:15 AM on January 23, 2012


I guess I missed your point on account of "I don't hear these identity politics words outside of identity politics" is kind of a pointless thing to say.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:09 PM on January 23


It's not pointless when several people have tried to argue there is an objective, scientifically useful and neutral origin for the word cisgender. That is a pointless thing to say when the only application of the term is discussing transgender identity politics and the purpose of the word is to be politically charged and not-neutral.

In other words, if there was a use of the term cisgender outside the context of transgender identify politics, then it might be worthwhile to discuss the distinction between the denotation and connotation of the term. Until then, it is rather pointless to discuss that distinction.

I can understand conversations about terminology like cisgender when its used in threads that have nothing to do with trans issues, but it just seems unfortunate that, in a thread specifically about a subject, we can't use 'jargon' words without expecting a long derail.


Again, as noted above, one must expect such a dialogue when the topic is identity politics because identity politics are premised on labels. As noted above, there could be a personalized discussion about a transgendered person where such a discussion never occurs. But when the premises of the post is identity politics, the labels can be (and likely must be) discussed.
posted by dios at 11:19 AM on January 23, 2012


ssg: By analogy to "heterosexist".
posted by Zozo at 11:20 AM on January 23, 2012


I used to be bugged by "cisgender," and then I decided it was a handy term. (When? I'm not sure, a couple of years ago?) Today I learned the Latin roots from that thread, and now I think it's pretty cool.
posted by epersonae at 11:20 AM on January 23, 2012


spaltavian's example is actually a pretty good illustration of privilege. But the key is to focus not on the content of the writing, but on how the writing reveals privilege. Here it is again:

it's that I consider myself to be male inside. But I don't consider myself to have any gender inside, and I have been and am varying degrees of masculine…

This is demanding I label myself as being somehow internally mentally aligned with my outward sexual appearance based on the fact that other people feel misaligned. But I do not accept that this "alignment" is actually wholly or constantly true for me or anyone, or that this is a helpful way to understand the issue

The way to read this is to remember that transpeople bore and continue to bear the burden of explaining their very being. Part of that effort has been to provide a theory of what's going on, i.e. the alignment model. In contrast, for cis-people such a task is unnecessary, because as the dominant group, they never really encountered the frictions in their daily lives that would have forced such otherwise invisible questions into light. And that is privilege.
posted by polymodus at 11:21 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


The real grotesques are Latin-Greek hybrids like "television." Call me prejudiced if you will, but such pairings are monstrous.

In the 1960s, Murrey Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman where developing competing models for the structure of protons and neutrons. Gell-Mann had the quark theory, and Feynman was pushing for the parton theory.

Gell-Mann argued that quarks must be the the correct model because "parton" was a Latin-Greek bastardization and the universe would never be so uncouth as to allow such a thing in nature. He wasn't wrong.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


ssg: It's a syncope, basically, like "transphobia" - which is a shortening of "trans[people/gender] phobia", following "homophobia" - which does not mean "fear of the same", but "fear of homosexual (love/desire/feelings/affection/rights etc)". It's just chopped a piece off.

So, "cissexism" is a syncope of "cisgender sexism".
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:23 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Privilege" is the Metafilter-acceptable way of telling people their feelings are invalid.

This gets up my own personal nose, so here's my thought: There are conversations in which not every opinion is meaningful, let alone welcome. (I'm not saying that this is one of them - in fact I think it isn't, since we're specifically discussing the intersection of minority and majority identification.)

There is also a subset of people, or a set of subsets, who, due to their life experience, have consistent difficulty recognizing when their opinion is the one that isn't meaningful. "Privilege" is a concept intended to help those people specifically identify the markers of a conversation in which their opinion isn't relevant. It's tremendously useful when explained well to a receptive audience - however, most conversations lack one or the other aspect, so it often doesn't go particularly well.

Part of the reason this doesn't go well is that it's nearly always people who are used to their opinions being derided, undermined, and flat-out ignored attempting to claim conversational space for themselves. They often start out frustrated and impatient with yet another 20-something white dude telling them how it really is (to pick out the most common subset of people who get told about their privilege.) So you get the meaning - and I think it is a clear-cut meaning - of "we aren't interested in listening to you" delivered in a fairly hostile tone and you have yet another one of those conversations.

I think when it works, it's a fantastic concept and a useful way of looking at the world. But I get frustrated watching it fail to be useful on the internet because it's almost inevitably a conversation between someone who doesn't want to listen and someone who usually isn't heard.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:23 AM on January 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


The fact that you (general you)

Speaking of new words - could we please have an English equivalent of "vous?" A plural "you?" It would be so handy, clear up a lot of confusion. In fact, I nominate the French word vous to just port over and be used in English.

Anyway, I'mma come out as a cis-gendered woman. I love the cis-prefix and find it more inclusive (we're just like you, trans-people! We have a prefix too!) and not othering. I am privileged in terms of my gender/sex concordance and do not at all resent having some sort of short-form way to refer to that in relevant discussions.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:27 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure: "you all"
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:28 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


You keep telling us what doesn't work. What would work for you?

Personally I'm fine with cis-, but I think part of the issue might be that, outside of a few technical areas, the prefix is unfamiliar and strange to most people unlike trans-, which is used in many common English words.

So, then, how about "statically gendered" and "dynamically gendered?" Static and dynamic are words that people are familiar with, I think, and they seem to get the point across. Plus, of the two, "dynamically gendered" sounds hip and cool, whereas "statically gendered" sounds boring and conservative. And they both avoid the baggage that comes with "transgendered."

But really, language is so hard to intentionally influence that it's highly unlikely anything will replace cis- and trans-, for better or worse. "You're here, you're cis-, get used to it." In a decade or two no one will care.
posted by jedicus at 11:28 AM on January 23, 2012


Speaking of new words - could we please have an English equivalent of "vous?" A plural "you?"

Just use "y'all", y'all.
posted by Zozo at 11:28 AM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


but it's a prefix that has been more or less popular in the language for a fair while, and has a number of current applications.

Define popular? All the examples you gave are of fairly obscure jargon (chemistry, geography, taxonomy) and pre-revolutionary American vocabulary. I would not expect the average man on the street to be familiar with it. Cis is not like atom, atmosphere, species or yankee.

So, "cissexism" is a syncope of "cisgender sexism"?

Who are cisgender people being sexist against? Transgender people? How does that work because transgender people aren't a sex.
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:29 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of new words - could we please have an English equivalent of "vous?" A plural "you?"

I try fairly hard to use "you" and "y'all" consistently - plus I live in Texas, so I can get away with it. The one thing it doesn't help with, though, is the hypothetical "you" - "y'all" doesn't have that meaning a'tall.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2012


I find myself using collective nouns for generic-plural-you sometimes. Instead of "So when you do x, then..." I'll go with "So when folks do x, then...", or maybe explicitly qualify it as not a universal with "So when some folks do x, then...". Maybe not a perfect solution but it does at least get away from that "you but not you-as-in-you-specifically" ambiguity in a lot of cases.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I get frustrated watching it fail to be useful on the internet because it's almost inevitably a conversation between someone who doesn't want to listen and someone who usually isn't heard.

That's a fantastic summation, restless_nomad, and I think can be expanded to include other trigger words like "rape culture", "patriarchy", etc. When you become heavily involved in social equity/justice movements it's often easy to forget how esoteric some of the lingo is, and how sometimes the words that a community has developed in order to further actualize themselves better may not be understood in context outside of that community. It's something that I don't have a solution for other than 'be aware of this problem and try not to do it', but it's so frustrating to watch people talk across each other because one person feels defensive and another personf eels dismissed.
posted by Phire at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


By analogy to "heterosexist".

Well, yes, clearly, but the analogy doesn't really work. Heterosexist, while it doesn't fit with other words of the type (racist, sexist) at least follows somewhat from the word heterosexual. Whereas cissexual is not the favoured term, cisgendered is.
posted by ssg at 11:31 AM on January 23, 2012


several people have tried to argue there is an objective, scientifically useful and neutral origin for the word cisgender

I think you're misreading, dios. The cis/trans scientific usage was offered as an explanation of how the term came about. It was a simple statement: There is precedence for this odd prefix you've never seen before, which might help you accept it.

That's how it came up here. That the gender-related usage occurs almost exclusively in discussions of gender is, as Sys Rq mentioned above, not a particularly insightful observation.
posted by mediareport at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Static and dynamic are words that people are familiar with, I think

I think people who talk about IP addresses a lot are familiar with these terms as antonyms, but I think that is a less common state than one might expect - although it would probably be fine for MetaFilter.

(Also, I suspect currently-called-cisgendered people would object to the beautiful dance of their gender being called "static", because it sounds dull, and currently-called-transgendered people would object that "dynamic" made them sound like they changed their gender every time a new session began. As it were.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"fairly obscure jargon (chemistry, geography, taxonomy)"

Those three areas are pretty well inhabited. I'm not sure I'd call them obscure.

People who know the cis-trans dichotomy include EVERY SINGLE premed student the world has ever known. This includes the ones who drop out because organic chemistry was too hard. You learn cis-trans in the first couple of weeks of class.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:35 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


jedicus: So, then, how about "statically gendered" and "dynamically gendered?"

I'd say that my gender is no less static than anyone else's, it's just at odds with the one I was assigned at birth.
posted by Dysk at 11:35 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Privilege" is a concept intended to help those people specifically identify the markers of a conversation in which their opinion isn't relevant.

i.e., "shut up".

I think "cis" is a perfectly useful term. But if you're going to posit a theory of gender that says to everyone "here is how everyone's brain and body interact on this subject", you're speaking to everyone and everyone could theoretically have an opinion on it.

If the topic was "here is how subset x feels", then someone not in the group would probably not have a relevant opinion. But the topic, at least in that exchange here in MetaTalk, was not that narrow.

A plural "you?"

That wasn't a "plural you" though; it was a general you. The purpose was to potentially exclude me, not to include me with others. Typically I use "one" to do this. "One could eat a lot of hotdogs", instead of "You could eat a lot of hotdogs".
posted by spaltavian at 11:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Get the fuck over it, you fucking whiny babies."

Amen.

"Why is that causing bafflement?"

Because it's baffling to people when their privilege is exposed and when they are unaware of their privilege. It's baffling and threatening to them.

"It's shorthand for pointing out that your feelings, while entirely valid, are not actually universal to everyone, and if that's never occurred to you before, you might want to consider it. The fact that you (general you) have never had to think about some aspect of how you move through the world because that is the way that a majority of people live is, in fact, a privilege."

Yeah. I find this extended argument fascinating and depressing in equal measure because it so nicely illustrates how privilege works and how deeply threatening it is to people when their privilege is exposed, even among an ostensibly progressive community.

Trans issues are generally at the cutting edge of progressivism with regard to how many progressives have non-progressive attitudes and beliefs about them. It reminds me of sexism/feminism in the 80s. (Or, hell, even still.) It also reminds me of gay rights in the 90s. Or polyamory today. In all these cases, even progressives have/had a strong emotional investment in certain black-and-white views about human nature and many of them, and of course everyone else across the political spectrum, have never even considered or even heard about any alternative view of these issues. So an alternate view is first dismissed out-of-hand as being self-evidently absurd, then later dismissed as being some aberrant and excessively political and trendy view. Hardly anyone stops and thinks, gee, why am I so worked-up about this? Why does this upset me so much?

I see absolutely no reason to give people the benefit of the doubt in this case. There's no good reason to find cisgendered anything more than slightly awkward, certainly not upsetting or offensive. Being upset and offended at the term says something unambiguous about the person upset and offended, not about the acceptability of the term.

This notion that the mods keep bringing up—typical of an even-handedness I otherwise respect and admire—that using the term is somewhat provocative is bullshit. It's not provocative. It's appropriate; and anyone that is unfamiliar with the term can look it up or ask politely about it...but arguing about the use of the term in the thread is beyond the pale, it is absolutely not the fault of the poster for introducing it merely because it's unfamiliar to many.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [23 favorites]


...several people have tried to argue there is an objective, scientifically useful and neutral origin for the word cisgender. That is a pointless thing to say when the only application of the term is discussing transgender identity politics and the purpose of the word is to be politically charged and not-neutral.

Right. Except that's not the case at all.

Cisgender is a purely descriptive word. It means exactly what is says: "Not transgender." That's all it means. Can it be used in politically charged ways? Sure; most words can. Is that the only way -- or even the usual way -- in which it's used? Not at all.

So, "cissexism" is a syncope of "cisgender sexism"?

Who are cisgender people being sexist against? Transgender people? How does that work because transgender people aren't a sex.


It's more like heterosexist. That is, discriminatory in favour of heterosexuals; it's a phenomenon that is distinct (though rarely separate) from homophobia. Similarly, I presume cisnormative is also a word.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are three ideas that seem to be getting lost.

Gender-roles (who cooks/hunts/cleans/fights/wears kilts/paints toes/whatever culturally appropriate example), Gender-identities (the modern project has created cultural constructs titled "Men", and "Women", the "reality", or "cultural-influence" over these concepts can be debated, but 'modern' culture has said these things exist [and conservatives cling to these as final truths] so everyone who 'interacts' with modern culture must navigate their own self-identity, in the light and shadow of these two cultural constructs [also termed 'cultural gender']), and lastly; biological-gender-expression -- the underlying reality of this are X and Y chromosomes, and their specific allocation and distribution within an individual person (the clue that this isn't at all just jargon lies in the realization that there aren't just "XX", and "XY" people in the world).

That is the genotype which informs (but by no means definitively ascribes phenotype; phenotype is how the collection of cells that make people are 'expressed'; for gender, in "genitals" (big/small/shape/outer-appearance, both kinds, etc.), and secondary sexual characteristics.

Acting like this is "gender studies evil liberal Arts majors tyrannically imposing on the will of good folk" is not just bad logic, it starts with false premise.

This is science, genetics, and the biology of sex and gender are FAR from 'pseudo-science' as was accused above. There is real science backing up the (evident to some) concept of Gender as fluid, in flux, and mutable set of complex, inter-woven, multi-variant biological traits.

Biological traits must come to interact with culture at some point. To desire a return to a "simpler time", when we didn't have to "learn all these new words"... is retro-grade, anti-science, anti-rational special pleading. Just because you don't know of the science behind something doesn't mean you get to pull a bill o'reily "TIDES GO IN, TIDES GO OUT, CAN'T EXPLAIN THAT". Penis Vs. Vagina; Can't explain that.

It speaks to how little we listen to, or even allow indigenous societies to have a voice in "the modern project", Blazecock Pileon (I don't mean to single out or pile on 'you' Blazecock Pileon, but rather 'you', Us, the millions who get to direct the society wide discussion of rights and accommodation that is occurring in our shared, progressively changing world), you absolutely can feel (or argue, posit, suggest, dispute) that "cis" doesn't suffice, for you (also you have rights that let you dislike, even hate, and oppose to all ends, it's usage, and implementation into the discourse), however, you also seem to want to get to say how people speak of sexuality, and it is possibly important to note that there are others who would feel restricted, or un-represented by your insistence of preference for "gay", over an alternative such as homosexual; As Sabine Lang notes in her writing on ‘Lesbians, Men-Women, and two spirits’, excerpted from “Female desires: same-sex relations and transgender practices across cultures” By Evelyn Blackwood and Saskia Wieringa where Lang examines several cross cultural conceptions of gender variance, focusing on Indigenous People of the Americas (accessible here in full [selected quotes below])
Martin and Voorhies to my knowledge were the first to refer to the North American, male-bodied “beardaches” as a third gender and to their female-bodied counterparts as a fourth gender, implying that they constitute part of cultural constructions of gender that recognize additional genders apart from man and woman (Martin and Voorhies 1975:92ff). Such “cultural expressions of multiple genders (i.e., more than two) and the opportunity for individuals to change gender roles and identities over the course of their lifetimes” (Jacobs and Cromwell 1992:63) are termed gender variance in recent anthropological literature.

Apart from gender constructions, the roles and statuses of individuals who are neither men nor women in Native American cultures are embedded within the worldviews that emphasize and appreciate transformation and change. Due to the scope and subject of this contribution, such religious aspects cannot be discussed in detail here but have been elaborated upon elsewhere (Lang 1994, 1997b, forthcoming). Within such worldviews, an individual who changes her or his gender once or more often in the course of her or his life is not viewed as an abnormality but rather as part of the natural order of things. As Tafoya has observed, the emphasis on transformation and change in Native American cultures also includes the idea that an individual is expected to go through many changes in a lifetime (1992:257).

People who are familiar with their culture’s traditions of gender variance emphasize elements of spirituality that were crucial to the roles of women-men and men-women and still are important where such roles continue to exist. This even holds true for contemporary “two-spirited” Native Americans who for that reason may feel restricted by categories like “gay” or “lesbian.” These categories are defined in terms of sexual behavior instead of personhood, spirituality, and specific, complex identities deriving from the experience of being Native American (cf. Tafoya 1992:257), as opposed to being white or any other ethnic heritage.
To me, some people seem to be saying not that they don't "believe in" gender, but more that they "don't see gender", oddly akin to people saying they "don't see race"... and thus denying, or attempting to universally homogenize difference (this is bad to me, studies show that we thrive, and all share the profits, and boosts in efficiency that come of accepting difference, rather than managing, or stifling difference).

Both sentiments deny that there is something unique about the 'other'. Both are troubling positions, for reasons others have communicated far more economically.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:39 AM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


Invisible Backpack

Has everyone not read this already? Cause, you should. All of you.
posted by polymodus at 11:40 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, "cissexism" is a syncope of "cisgender sexism".

Which only makes sense if we accept "sexism" as a term meaning generic discrimination, which it clearly isn't.
posted by ssg at 11:42 AM on January 23, 2012


But if you're going to posit a theory of gender that says to everyone "here is how everyone's brain and body interact on this subject", you're speaking to everyone and everyone could theoretically have an opinion on it.

I don't know if I'd agree with that. If we posit that transgendered people are folks whose brains do not agree with the physical sex that they were assigned at birth, we are effectively defining cis-folk as anyone whose brain does agree with the sex that their body came with. That doesn't mean we think that cis-folk underwent some sort of experience in which they said to themselves "Hey, my body and my inner gender align themselves, hurray!", but rather that we think that cis-folk don't feel the dysphoric misalignment that transgendered people experience. No one is being asked to associate their own identity with a harmonious sex-gender alignment; we're simply trying to fill a definitional gap that arises when we talk about trans- rights.

I don't think it's a widesweeping statement about wider gender theory at all, though you may disagree.
posted by Phire at 11:44 AM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, static/dynamic aren't great, but I figured it was worth tossing something out there other than "normal" or "not trans," which seemed to be all the anti-cis forces could muster. I suppose there's also "typical/atypical" but atypical's connotation is only somewhat less negative than "abnormal."
posted by jedicus at 11:45 AM on January 23, 2012


I think I see where you're coming from here, but isn't this also necessarily true for labels of sexuality like "gay" or "straight"?

Those two terms have normalized to the point that they aren't used to foment division as much as a neologism that divides people into a false, binary identity model, and which also carries a lot of ugly political baggage that does sometimes come to the surface in discussions, such as this one. Maybe in a decade or two, "cisgender" will no longer be around, replaced with something else. Or, perhaps, it will have normalized to the point that the people who use it have learned to understand the context of its use as a means to divide and other, and they will endeavor to avoid that usage, in the same way we all have to take care about the contextual use of "gay" and "straight" as labels.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:45 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought it was "cissex - ism." Where cissexual is the opposite of transsexual, which started as a medical term for people who wanted sex reassigment surgery (hence the creation of transgender, which does not assume that everyone has the desire or financial means to get 'the surgery').

The evolution of transexual and transgender is a very interesting one, to people who are interested in so-called 'identity politics.' There are many people who use transgender both to describe what used to be called transsexual and as an umbrella for all sorts of non-typical experiences of gender.
posted by muddgirl at 11:48 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which only makes sense if we accept "sexism" as a term meaning generic discrimination, which it clearly isn't.


I'd listen to muddgirl, on reflection.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:51 AM on January 23, 2012


Cisgender is a purely descriptive word. It means exactly what is says: "Not transgender." That's all it means. Can it be used in politically charged ways? Sure; most words can. Is that the only way -- or even the usual way -- in which it's used? Not at all.

That's kind of the point I've been making. It is useless to point out "cisgender is a purely descriptive word" because "it [can] be used in politically charged ways" and "that is the only way [and] usual way it's used." It does not exist outside of identity politics discussions, and its usage as a label within identity politics discussions is intended to be "politically charged."
posted by dios at 11:52 AM on January 23, 2012


(I should add to my last post "... does not exist as far as I can tell....")
posted by dios at 11:53 AM on January 23, 2012


I'm Cis Trash too -- although you better smile when you call me that -- but I guess that goes with identifying as Cis-USian.

Just thought I'd make that clear. It's just how I was born and raised.

And on behalf of all the Cis-USian Trash folks -- the silent inferiority, by the way -- on Metafilter, I'd just like to say HAMBURGERS FOR EVERYONE!
posted by spitbull at 11:53 AM on January 23, 2012


its usage as a label within identity politics discussions is intended to be "politically charged."

I don't get it. Because it implies that the user does not see "transgendered" people as abnormal? Or what? Whence the political charge?

If that's politically charged, I'm happy (thrilled!) to be politically charged.
posted by davidjmcgee at 11:54 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Not that there's anything wrong with being Cis-USian Trash, some of my best friends are CUTs.)
posted by spitbull at 11:54 AM on January 23, 2012


dios: It does not exist outside of identity politics discussions, and its usage as a label within identity politics discussions is intended to be "politically charged."

I'd be wary of diving the intent of others - I for one use it in many situations that are not, and are not intended to be, politically charged in my day-to-day life.
posted by Dysk at 11:56 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


dios: As already mentioned, it's used in academic gender studies as well. You might think that's also politically charged or identity politics, but it doesn't have an immediately political aim. I don't really get the point that you're trying to make, though.

This point, on the other hand, is awesome.

Those two terms have normalized to the point that they aren't used to foment division as much as a neologism that divides people into a false, binary identity model, and which also carries a lot of ugly political baggage that does sometimes come to the surface in discussions, such as this one. Maybe in a decade or two, "cisgender" will no longer be around, replaced with something else. Or, perhaps, it will have normalized to the point that the people who use it have learned to understand the context of its use as a means to divide and other, and they will endeavor to avoid that usage, in the same way we all have to take care about the contextual use of "gay" and "straight" as labels.

Hang in there, transpeople! In a couple of decades, you'll understand these terms and their dangers as well as this guy!
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:57 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: There are conversations in which not every opinion is meaningful, let alone welcome.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:57 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of all the terms offered in this thread, I like "cis" best mainly because it's the shortest, but that's the writer in me, I guess.

Also, autocorrect tried to make 'cis' into 'CIA.' Conspiracy?
posted by jonmc at 11:59 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we are voting, I pick syngendered and allogendered. I don't even know which is which, but they both sound awesome.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quoting Julia Serano:
cissexism
The belief that transsexual genders are less legitimate than, and mere imitations of, cissexual genders. Cissexism is most typically enacted through one or more of the following processes: trans-fascimilation (viewing or portraying transsexuals as merely imitating, emulating or impersonating cissexual female or male genders), trans-exclusion (refusing to acknowledge and respect a transsexual’s identified gender, or denying them, access to spaces, organizations, or events designated for that gender), trans-objectification (when people reduce trans people to their body parts, the medical procedures they’ve undertaken, or get hung up on, disturbed by, or obsessed over supposed discrepancies that exist between a transsexual’s physical sex and identified gender), trans-mystification (when people use the relative infrequency or taboo nature of transsexuality to mystify, artificialize or to “other” transsexuals), and trans-interrogation (when people bring a transsexual’s identified gender into question by asking them to answer personal questions about their life story, their motives for transitioning, medical procedures they have undertaken, or when they obsess over what causes transsexuality - such questions reduce transsexuals to the status of objects of inquiry).
I usually find people using cissexism to mean, basically, the attitude that my sex, as a transsexual person, is less valid than that of a cissexual person, less real; that because I had to take pills and have surgery to achieve what other people managed on their own -- to become a reasonably normal adult woman -- I am somehow "less" than them, that I am to be allowed into their spaces on sufferance, that I am somehow motivated always by my transsexual status and my opinions, beliefs, and actions are less valid because of my history. Believe me, this sort of stuff happens commonly enough that it needed a word.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's more like heterosexist. That is, discriminatory in favour of heterosexuals; it's a phenomenon that is distinct (though rarely separate) from homophobia. Similarly, I presume cisnormative is also a word.

I think cisgenderist would be a better term for that. Because throwing sexist in their just confuses me the issue.

On preview, I see wordgirl's theory about the etymology of cissexism.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:06 PM on January 23, 2012


Oops, wordgirl should be muddgirl.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:06 PM on January 23, 2012


This notion that the mods keep bringing up ... that using the term is somewhat provocative is bullshit.

We did not say that and none of us feel that way. People are going to ask and argue about word choice and word usage in threads and generally speaking that's not something we're going to have a heavy hand in moderating. We can maybe suggest ways of handling this and give people a place to discuss this topic that isn't the thread. Saying that on MetaFilter there are a lot of people who don't understand the term is true, not provocative. Saying that the userbase here is nitpicky and irritable about word choice and phrasing is likewise, I think, a fairly value-neutral assessment.

More to the point, word choice matters to a lot of people here and is felt to be comment-worthy or remarkable to many people here. This is not, at all, to fault the poster for their word choice but to try to accurately set expectations for how the site responds to things so that people can be making the choice of which words to use for which outcomes with as much data as possible.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:07 PM on January 23, 2012


Great comment, infinite intimidation.

It reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with my aunt and uncle, both liberals, about transgender stuff. An ex of mine's ex-husband is now female and she also has long been active in Native American ceremony. (I'll leave the whole topic of white people's participation in Native rituals and stuff alone for now, because it's not really relevant and I actually get pretty worked up about it as it pisses me off.)

My family were fascinated by this and I mentioned how the man who's long been the guru, so to speak, a Sioux, has been extremely friendly to her participation as a woman and during the period when she went through therapy and surgery and all that his view was that this was completely within his tradition and, in fact, he sees her as more spiritually blessed. I tried to explain that Native cultures have the idea of third gender and that this isn't unusual cross-culturally, worldwide. They'd never heard of this and, being native New Mexicans and living here and having known many, many Natives, they were skeptical.

People are pretty amazingly ignorant about cross-cultural notions of sex and gender and orientation, even people who shouldn't be (such as those here who don't fit in our culture's traditional paradigm).

And, as you say, people are pretty ignorant of the science. But that's not really a surprise, because right now the political discourse regarding the science of sex and gender and orientation is extremely polarized and, frankly, unscientific. It's dominated by two extreme nature vs nurture positions, variously according to political affiliation and specific issue. So on orientation we have an extreme nature view on the political left, an extreme nurture view on the political right, and both sides share a dualism about it that doesn't allow any ambiguity in orientation. On sex it's the opposite, with an extreme nature view on the political right and an extreme nurture view on the political left, but where the right takes an extreme dualistic view while the left denies the dualism altogether. And then the views on gender basically parallel the views on sex. Both sides in all of these invoke science to support their view while basically disregarding all the science that doesn't support their view, undercuts it, or argues for much greater ambiguity.

Because, in truth, the science on all three issues is much more ambiguous. And that's no surprise because all of this reduces, scientifically, to sexual differentiation and the thing about sex differentiation, as I continually point out here on MeFi and elsewhere, is that it is biologically much, much more complex than people think it is. It occurs on almost all anatomic and systemic levels, and it doesn't occur in perfect lockstep or with perfect regularity or completeness. Sex is not merely and fully determined by chromosomes, and therefore neither is orientation or gender. It's not merely and fully determined by primary sexual anatomy. Or brain differentiation. Or culturalization. It's all of these things, and more, and all of these things are not always, or even perhaps usually, "perfectly" and equally expressed in any given individual. Almost everyone is intersexed in some sense to some degree and sexual differentiation, sexual orientation, and gender identification do not have to conventionally correspond nor fall into easily distinct categories. (I'm not saying that many or most do not, just that that mustn't necessarily be the case and while there's certainly distinct groupings, it's just not as simple and regular as most cultures like to insist that it is.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:08 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


as much as a neologism that divides people into a false, binary identity model

Again, Blazecock, you appear to be stating that any division into "transgender" and "non-transgender" is false. If I'm misinterpreting, please do let me know. To clarify, though, can I ask you to respond directly to something?

Do you agree that gender dysmorphia is a legitimate medical diagnosis? Or do you feel it's predicated on a "false, binary model" of gender identity? That'll help me understand where you're coming from, I hope.
posted by mediareport at 12:11 PM on January 23, 2012


Hang in there, transpeople! In a couple of decades, you'll understand these terms and their dangers as well as this guy!

What's ironic about running order squabble fest's comment is that this person has provided a clearcut demonstration of the language of gender politics being used to divide and other. As more people favorite it, it will go to prove my point about group identity and hatred of anyone labeled as "other".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:13 PM on January 23, 2012


"This is not, at all, to fault the poster for their word choice but to try to accurately set expectations for how the site responds to things so that people can be making the choice of which words to use for which outcomes with as much data as possible."

I know I wrote provocatively and I tried to take a bit of sting from it by qualifying that I know that you're being evenhanded and reasonable. But, even so, I just very strongly feel that the onus should not at all be put on the poster to carefully choose their language in this particular instance. It's entirely appropriate language and anything that goes wrong is the responsibility of the people who make it go wrong, not the poster.

Yes, I understand that you're approaching this from a pragmatic standpoint similar to the very practical point-of-view about AskMe posts; but still, even so. I don't disagree with the general point that as a simple matter of fact, fair or unfair, there's language that causes derails and it behooves posters to avoid it. That's true as far as it goes but in this case the sensitivity to this term is indefensible; there's no justification for people derailing threads over it. The onus should be totally and unambiguously on the commenters who make a fuss about it, not the poster.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:14 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blazecock, we can be perfectly aware of the potential othering the term can be put toward, and endeavour to not to use it in those ways, while continuing to use the word.
posted by Dysk at 12:17 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


As more people favorite it, it will go to prove my point about group identity and hatred of anyone labeled as "other".

I'm pretty lost at this point. Who's othering who now?
posted by octobersurprise at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


As more people favorite it, it will go to prove my point about group identity and hatred of anyone labeled as "other".

It's kind of you to think that it's going to get lots of favorites, BP, but I think you've overextended your swing a bit here on the Xanatos Gambit. Comically mocking a comically mockable statement isn't a sign of hatred.

Telling the transpeople that maybe in a decade or two they'll be as wise and knowledgeable as you are about the terms that they have dialogued out in order to create a meaningful identity and sense of place in the world, pretty much from whole cloth, is hilarious. It occasions hilarity. Hatred, not so much.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:23 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


hatred of anyone labeled as "other".

Wait, what?

Written tone can be hard, so I just want to clarify that I don't mean "HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT?" I actually mean the plain ol' meaning of "what are you talking about?"
posted by davidjmcgee at 12:24 PM on January 23, 2012


Do you agree that gender dysmorphia is a legitimate medical diagnosis? Or do you feel it's predicated on a "false, binary model" of gender identity?

One can accept that there are people who feel strongly enough about what their physical appearance of gender is vs. what they would like it to be that they decide to make surgical/chemical alterations to it

I don't think taking everyone else who do not have any desire to make those types of changes, and/or who might want to alter gender-associated physical characteristics in various directions but not "change sides", into a word that suggests we have some inner gendered mind-body alignment
posted by crayz at 12:26 PM on January 23, 2012


How about we go with red team and blue team? How could that get political?

Wait.
posted by spitbull at 12:28 PM on January 23, 2012


Oh and cissexist is just not a word that can be spoken outloud without spraying your audience with spittle)

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by LordSludge at 12:30 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a straight white male atheist gamer and I'd like you all to drop everything and pay attention to me so I can explain to you how the "cis-" prefix is making my life really hard
posted by a_girl_irl at 12:32 PM on January 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


Almost everyone is intersexed in some sense to some degree and sexual differentiation, sexual orientation, and gender identification do not have to conventionally correspond nor fall into easily distinct categories.

Online, maybe we could use a sex code like

sex(genes_born_with, bits_born_with, bits_now_have, bits_will_have, dress_as, identify_as, attracted_to)

such that s(mmmmmmf) would be a very typical man. Or someone getting something stuffed in their mouth. Or both.

Others characters you could use are a b for both or bi, a for ambiguous, an n for neither or none, an x for not saying, o for other, and a ? for not sure. If you need to be more specific, the attracted_to could be another entire sex code, like s(mmmmmm(ffffff(mmmmmmf))) for a very typical man who likes very typical women who like very typical men. It's the chemical formula for vanilla.

You could use it in your metafilter profile. (They said go nuts, which is like insane, right?) (Hmm. Is it OK to use "nuts" that way now?)
posted by pracowity at 12:33 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think taking everyone else who do not have any desire to make those types of changes, and/or who might want to alter gender-associated physical characteristics in various directions but not "change sides", into a word that suggests we have some inner gendered mind-body alignment

I fail to understand the problem. If your assigned sex is different enough from the sex you perceive yourself to be that you've taken action, or think you might take action one day, you're transsexual; if not, you're cissexual. No-one thinks all cissexual men go around fist-pumping all day and exclaiming to random strangers that it's great to be a dude, and no-one thinks that all cissexual people are comfortable with the gender roles generally expected of their assigned sex; they just don't experience the strong misalignment that causes them to seek transsexual treatment, that's all.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:33 PM on January 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


crayz, your last sentence seems to end suddenly, but I think I get your meaning: there are gradations of genderqueerness that don't go as far as sex reassignment surgery. If so, of course I'd agree.

But anyway, I'm more interested in Blazecock's response. He seems to be clearly denying the validity of what seems to me the current mainstream medical consensus on transgendered individuals. I'd very much like to know if that's what he feels. Blazecock?
posted by mediareport at 12:33 PM on January 23, 2012


As more people favorite it, it will go to prove my point about group identity and hatred of anyone labeled as "other".

You've been quite direct about your dislike of this term. Do you have an alternate proposal? Or would anything be just as "othering"? Are all names for general categories of people (male, female, straight, gay, etc.) as othering and offensive to you as cis?
posted by rtha at 12:36 PM on January 23, 2012


The sixth sick cissexist sheik's sixth cissexist sheep's sick.
posted by LordSludge at 12:37 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Telling the transpeople that maybe in a decade or two they'll be as wise and knowledgeable as you are about the terms that they have dialogued out in order to create a meaningful identity and sense of place in the world, pretty much from whole cloth, is hilarious.

If you think that the term "cisgendered" is "owned" by transgendered people at this stage — no matter whatever silly notion of ownership about terminology that you have in your head — that's even more hilarious. No one owns words, but grown adults can discuss their feelings and thoughts of how they get used and make decisions about whether their use is appropriate, and if so, how.

But, in any case, I was just answering someone's question in good faith, expressing my concerns about language that you, among others, seem to enjoy using to bully people. All I said was that it doesn't seem fair to make "gay" and "straight" equivalent terms in this discussion, because they have a different history. Your bullying may be ironic, but it's not my cup of tea, so enjoy those favorites.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:39 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


BP: this person has provided a clearcut demonstration of the language of gender politics being used to divide and other

Every time you say 'man' or 'woman' you're using the language of gender politics to divide and other. It's all gender politics. It's just that some is gender politics you're familiar with, and therefore apparently don't object to. If you're suggesting a radical new model of language and gender in which no divisions are drawn, you need to start somewhere a lot more fundamental than this.
posted by emmtee at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


But I have never seen the "cis-" formulation used in anything other than an identity politics-based discussion.

People use "cisgendered" on AskMe in non-"political" threads (it's where I first noticed the word). I saw the term then, and see it now, as useful and concise background information and, until this thread, I had no idea it was considered "politically charged." No more than "gay" or "transgendered" or "from Minnesota" are politically charged. Descriptors help put things into context.

I am, honestly, really confused by people who see cis- as signifying anything other than what it actually signifies. A few of the negative reactions feel, to me, like some sort of projection of something, but I can't begin to figure out what that something is. I mean, maybe I'm missing the sinister undercurrent of the cis prefix, but I really seriously doubt it. Just because a word has been used at some point by some person to cause division doesn't make the word itself divisive.

Also, trying to convince relatively small groups of like people who have historically had no voice, that the words/terms that they use are offensive to the majority (and I mean terms that most reasonable people would not have an issue with) is a weird subtle way of trying to keep that small group silent.
posted by eunoia at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nobody is claiming ownership of the terms; it's being pointed out that they have a history of use within a community, and to suggest that the whole community is entirely ignorant of facets of the word and its potential use is perhaps a little problematic.
posted by Dysk at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a straight white male atheist gamer and I'd like you all to drop everything and pay attention to me so I can explain to you how the "cis-" prefix is making my life really hard

I totally agree that people are jerks about this, and I'm on the record as thinking "cis" is a great term, but this thread was opened pretty explicitly to discuss how the "cis-" prefix affects people. Being dismissive like this hurts whatever argument you're trying to make.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 12:46 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Gender, like race, is best examined as a culturally constructed spectrum, with physiological traits attached to those understandings. A spectrum where we fixate on certain elements (like skin colour) as opposed to other elements, or features. But in reality these categories are clusters of features. Our cultures and societies inform us on the relative weighting of any of many features, and potential presentment and interaction of those features.

We love to talk male female penis vagina... But that is totally cultural, the hyper focus on those bits... I mean, we could just as appropriately define gender by 'presentation of Nucchal crest'. But we don't. Until we do.
posted by infinite intimation at 12:48 PM on January 23, 2012


I'm a straight white male atheist gamer and I'd like you all to drop everything and pay attention to me so I can explain to you how the "cis-" prefix is making my life really hard

And again. Questioning one little word sure got a lot of stereotypes thrown back in our face. We're in MeTa. Should we just leave?
posted by crayz at 12:48 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd also like to submit the theory that using 'identity politics' as a critical term is a symptom of a tragic blindness to one's own identity politics.
posted by emmtee at 12:51 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Being dismissive like this hurts whatever argument you're trying to make.

The people who talk about "cis-" being hurtful or hate speech are the same ones who get Very Upset when you point out that just because some black people use the word "nigger" it doesn't make it okay for a white person to do so.

There is no argument. It's a fake-out, a smokescreen, a way that the privileged (once again) derail a normal discussion and make it all about them. They can't say "I don't want to talk about trans issues and I don't like trans people," but they think they can get around that by whining about how "cis" and "white trash" are hate speech and why isn't there a White History Month? It's not worth engaging them in an argument for the same reason you don't write your dog a mean email when he shits all over the foyer. The dog doesn't know what the fuck is going on and he's not going to apologize anyway. You toss him outside for an hour, clean up, and go about your business.
posted by a_girl_irl at 12:53 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


into a word that suggests we have some inner gendered mind-body alignment

I think you are needlessly hung-up on this. You needn't subscribe to some simple "x in a y body" notion of transgendered behavior to want to broadly distinguish between people who are, for whatever reason, more-or-less comfortable living in their birth-genders and those who, for whatever reason, don't wish to live in their birth-gender.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:54 PM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


this thread was opened pretty explicitly to discuss how the "cis-" prefix affects people.

I don't think that's true at all.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:55 PM on January 23, 2012


We're in MeTa. Should we just leave?

Don't you get it? This is how we rectify the side effects of privilege, by emulating the very people whose behavior we despise.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:57 PM on January 23, 2012


crayz, is your problem that we don't have a mechanism worked out for what causes people to become transgender? If so, wouldn't you also have to reject the concept of sexual orientation and with it labels like "homosexual" and "heterosexual"? In both cases, you can point to statistical differences and experiential data, but in neither do we understand the molecular (genetic, hormonal, etc) basis. It seems odd to insist on having this information before we can even name the phenomenon going on. Phenotypes are usually found before genotypes.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:59 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


In some ways I hate to make things more complicated, but many people feel that there should be a space between "trans" or "cis" and man/woman/person/etc.

So: cis woman, trans man, trans people, etc. The idea is that "trans" and "cis" are adjectives describing what kind of woman/man/person the subject in question is, rather than "transwomen" or "transmen" being an entirely different category from "women" or "men." Using the space kind of others people less.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:04 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


arcticwoman: "Speaking of new words - could we please have an English equivalent of "vous?" A plural "you?""

"Yinz," obviously.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:07 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't you get it? This is how we rectify the side effects of privilege, by emulating the very people whose behavior we despise.

Christ. People are cutting you a lot of slack for what is a tired, bullshit tone argument that wouldn't fly from anyone else or about any other topic.
posted by kagredon at 1:08 PM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Y'all" is also acceptable.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:08 PM on January 23, 2012


The people who talk about "cis-" being hurtful or hate speech are the same ones who get Very Upset when you point out that just because some black people use the word "nigger" it doesn't make it okay for a white person to do so.

Well you've sure got us all figured out, I guess the jig's up!

There is no argument. It's a fake-out, a smokescreen, a way that the privileged (once again) derail a normal discussion and make it all about them.


You have no idea who I am and what level of privilege I experience in this world.

It's not worth engaging them in an argument for the same reason you don't write your dog a mean email when he shits all over the foyer. The dog doesn't know what the fuck is going on and he's not going to apologize anyway. You toss him outside for an hour, clean up, and go about your business.

Huh? So you actually aren't talking to the people debating these issues with you here? Why are you here exactly then? Oh, right, you want everybody who doesn't buy into your view of the world to shut up and go away, right?
posted by Meatbomb at 1:10 PM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't think taking everyone else who do not have any desire to make those types of changes, and/or who might want to alter gender-associated physical characteristics in various directions but not "change sides", into a word that suggests we have some inner gendered mind-body alignment

Why not? If the people who feel strongly enough about their misalignment to want to get GRS are trying to figure out how to get more civil rights for themselves so that they can, say, use bathrooms in public without being beaten to a bloody mess, isn't it useful for there to be a term for the people they are tryign to lobby, i.e. people who don't feel strongly enough about the various gradations of their genderqueerness or lack thereof to get GRS?

I guess I'm not understanding why you're so resistant to the existence of this term.
posted by Phire at 1:10 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Using the space kind of others people less.

A friend of mine walked into an office discussion about the traits of "cat people" vs. "dog people".

"What are you talking about?" he asked, indignantly.
"Cat people."
"What the hell? There's no such thing as catpeople."
"Yes, there..."
"What do you mean catpeople?"
"People who own cats."
[here, there was a pause]
"Oh. I thought you meant like ThunderCats."

A space can make all the difference.

The More You Know.
posted by davidjmcgee at 1:10 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find "y'all" pretty grating. It's not as annoying as "unthaw" or "addicting", but it's up there.

Also, as a "straight white male atheist gamer" I'd like to think that we're at least a little more progressive on average with regard to gender and sexuality than a lot of other groups, but maybe I'm just projecting.

Also, that thing those cat people do where they blurt out whatever they imagine the cat in the room to be thinking just drives me up the wall.

posted by ODiV at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2012


The people who talk about "cis-" being hurtful or hate speech are the same ones who get Very Upset when you point out that just because some black people use the word "nigger" it doesn't make it okay for a white person to do so.

There is no argument. It's a fake-out, a smokescreen, a way that the privileged (once again) derail a normal discussion and make it all about them. They can't say "I don't want to talk about trans issues and I don't like trans people," but they think they can get around that by whining about how "cis" and "white trash" are hate speech and why isn't there a White History Month? It's not worth engaging them in an argument for the same reason you don't write your dog a mean email when he shits all over the foyer. The dog doesn't know what the fuck is going on and he's not going to apologize anyway. You toss him outside for an hour, clean up, and go about your business.


Holy Hell. Well I guess that's enough Metafilter for the day.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:15 PM on January 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


Unthaw? Wait, do real people use that word to mean freeze?
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:17 PM on January 23, 2012


No. They use it to mean thaw, kinda like inflammable and flammable.
posted by ODiV at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The people who talk about "cis-" being hurtful or hate speech are the same ones who get Very Upset when you point out that just because some black people use the word "nigger" it doesn't make it okay for a white person to do so.

The people who talk about "cis-" being hurtful or hate speech are idiots. They deserve to be argued against, and lots of people are making those arguments much better than I can. I don't know why it's necessary to invoke racist strawmen here.

There is no argument. It's a fake-out, a smokescreen, a way that the privileged (once again) derail a normal discussion and make it all about them.

I agree! I made a comment in the original thread where I talked about the article, and I was bummed to come back and see the thread swamped by "cis" talk. People are stupid, and I'm glad this MeTa happened.

It's not worth engaging them in an argument for the same reason you don't write your dog a mean email when he shits all over the foyer. The dog doesn't know what the fuck is going on and he's not going to apologize anyway. You toss him outside for an hour, clean up, and go about your business.

I guess we disagree about whether we should talk to people we disagree with or make fun of them.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:20 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"In both cases, you can point to statistical differences and experiential data, but in neither do we understand the molecular (genetic, hormonal, etc) basis. It seems odd to insist on having this information before we can even name the phenomenon going on. Phenotypes are usually found before genotypes."

That's very true and it's a strong argument. But, to a large degree, I think it's beside the point.

I feel about this very similarly to how I feel about gay rights with regard to biology. I strongly dislike the biological determinist argument supporting gay rights because I think that it misses the essential point and, in doing so, ends up undercutting it. The civil rights and basic human dignity involved absolutely are not dependent upon biology, just as is the case in pretty much every similar argument that takes as an initial assumption that what is natural is what is right. That's an intellectually and morally bankrupt argument whether it's presented by the conservative cultural warriors like Leon Kass or progressive cultural warriors like, well, whomever. Biology might inform the discussion, but it should not and cannot decide matters.

It is not important to me as a progressive and as a strong supporter of LGBT rights whether or not orientation and gender identification is determined by biology. It's important to me in the sense I describe above; that is, it matters to me what is factually true in itself and with regard to how that plays out politically (specifically, as a progressive supporter of LGBT rights and as a feminist, it matters a great deal to me that the respective progressive civil rights movements do not place all their bets on biological determinism or culturalization, respectively, because ultimately with regard to building a more just society we can and should do so whichever happens to be the case). But how I think about and how strongly I support these civil rights and respect for others is absolutely not in any way dependent upon whether I think these things are biologically or culturally determined, or anything in between.

A large number of people both accept relatively distinct gender norms and believe that their assigned birth sex and culturally assigned gender does not reflect their own experience and self-understanding. That matters to me. It matters to me that we respect those peoples' experiences and right to live as they wish without bigotry and I simply don't understand how anyone, ever, thinks that how much respect we give these people and how much we're willing to listen to them and accept their experience as valid is dependent upon whether their experience can be validated by simplistic and incomplete notions of biology.

"You have no idea who I am and what level of privilege I experience in this world."

This is such a tiresome and predictable retort. And, anyway, it's not true. Just by virtue of commenting here, we have a pretty good idea of what level of privilege you experience in this world. And, beyond that, by the things you write and what you've revealed about yourself in the past.

If you act like someone whose privilege has been exposed, then it's entirely fair to assume that you're someone whose privilege has been exposed.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


Holy Hell. Well I guess that's enough Metafilter for the day.

Yeah. And to think I stupidly thought this place would be a nice relief from the worst of the chicken pox today.
posted by zarq at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


1. Minority group tries to understand their situation, including creating terms to describe their realities.
2. Minority group starts advocating for themselves, including use of terms coined to reflect their realities.
3. Majority group then starts
a) demanding that the minority educate them about how the oppression works and
b) questioning and shouting down the minority who are attempting to educate them
4. Either:
a) Minority group gets really tired and occasionally snippy, or
b) Minority group continues soldiering on, trying to advocate for themselves in the face of opposition, or
c) All three.

I try to break this cycle by educating myself as best I can about privilege I have before asking people without that privilege have to start educating me. I maintain that, although the burden effectively falls on minorities to do educating, it morally should be the responsibility of the majority.

A long way of saying: Long arguments about the legitimacy of "cis" as a word are really annoying for trans people like me, but probably, regrettably, also necessary.
posted by jiawen at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


All I said was that it doesn't seem fair to make "gay" and "straight" equivalent terms in this discussion, because they have a different history.

And at one time, they did not have this history, and many people saw - some probably still see - them as divisive and needlessly binary. You don't like cis because it doesn't have the same history as gay/straight really sounds like "I'm not used to that word and I don't like change!" and that's just kind of weird to me. Because seriously, if you're going to get all het up (ha ha ha) about cis and its terrible binary-ness and it divides people and WHATEVER, then I really want you to explain to me why man and woman and gay and straight don't go right in that same bucket. "Because they've been around longer" is a silly explanation.
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Holy Hell. Well I guess that's enough Metafilter for the day."

It's not true or fair to say that these groups are [necessarily] the same people, as that poster said; but it is fair to say that what's happening in these separate cases are the same thing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2012


Don't you get it? This is how we rectify the side effects of privilege, by emulating the very people whose behavior we despise.

No one murdered me today for being cis or even threatened me, so I'm feeling like you're full of shit right now.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:31 PM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I strongly dislike the biological determinist argument supporting gay rights because I think that it misses the essential point and, in doing so, ends up undercutting it.

I actually agree with this, but it seemed like crayz's point was that there is no "evidence" for a biologically trans state vs. a biologically cis state and I wanted to point out that the evidence is pretty analogous for sexuality.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2012


I guess I'm still astonished that otherwise reasonable people have a massive problem with there being a word for "not trans" that applies to them. It doesn't oppress them or anything

I'm happy there's a word. I just hate "cis." Despite having an extensive vocabularly in English, I don't think it's a prefix I've ever seen before, so it gives no clues as to what it means. Also, is there a single language in which SSSSS! is not a negative noise? You use it for snakes, and for when you disapprove of something or hurt yourself. And maybe if you want to make noises like a tea kettle.

If I had my druthers I'd've picked another prefix, but I don't have much power over what another group of people decide to call me. Heck, I still answer to "Hey, white girl!"
posted by small_ruminant at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Oh god, so TL;DR, sorry).
posted by Infinite Jest


No, it was a good point, worth sharing and fascinating, thanks.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:37 PM on January 23, 2012


Despite having an extensive vocabularly in English, I don't think it's a prefix I've ever seen before,

Nobody studies the classics anymore, sadly.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:38 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think cisgender is offensive and not very meaningful, and suggest these terms may be more neutral:

Stay–at–homegender
Blandgender
Stick–in–the–mudgender
Vanillagender
posted by Jehan at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Oh god, so TL;DR, sorry).
posted by Infinite Jest


Not only a great comment, but exceptionally eponysterical.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:40 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Testing my ascii graphics skilz:

Q: What is:
1.

Md
|
/ \
| |_Md
\ /

2.

Mom
|
/ \
| |
\ /
|
Mom

3.

ter
|
/ \_ter
| |
\ /



Answers:
1. a paradox
2. transparent
3. sister

Ask me about my matrix jokes....


But seriously, this is the first I've heard the entire suffix cis- referred to as political. The first time I heard it applied to gender, my little nerdy heart swelled with joy.
posted by eviemath at 1:43 PM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Transsexual difference caught on brain scan, New Scientist 26 JAN 2011

Regional gray matter variation in male-to-female transsexualism, Department of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine, 15 JUL 2009

I'm not into dualism, so this stuff is fascinating!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2012


"I actually agree with this, but it seemed like crayz's point was that there is no 'evidence' for a biologically trans state vs. a biologically cis state and I wanted to point out that the evidence is pretty analogous for sexuality."

Yeah, I understand why you responded that way. But it's very revealing, in my opinion, how much of all these debates—human behavioral sexual differentiation, sexual orientation, and gender identification—involve arguments from biology or against arguments from biology. Even in that, for example, feminists have so much invested in arguing that human behavioral sexual differentiation isn't biologically determined, it reveals just how deeply our culture assumes that the biological determinist argument is valid. But it's not valid.

It's obviously not valid because there's huge swathes of human behavior that are indisputably "natural" and biologically determined that pretty much no one, anywhere, argues must then therefore necessarily be culturally and morally acceptable.

Discussions about the biology of this stuff are fine in that it's interesting in its own right and is, of course, relevant in some sense. But wherever and whenever biology is brought in as a first principle, as a means of validating or invalidating some cultural or moral position, then there's a serious problem. It's serious from an intellectual point-of-view—that is, there's a long, long and complicated history in philosophy about naturalist argumentation and it's just dumb to present a biologically determinist argument as if it were some kind of fait accompli of deciding who's right and who's wrong. It's even more serious of a mistake politically because it always functions as a red herring, distracting almost everyone involved from the things that actually matter, from what's vital in the discussion.

Which is: rights and respect and dignity are not dependent upon biology and any argument for or against biology in that context only distracts people from this simple truth.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:46 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, is there a single language in which SSSSS! is not a negative noise? You use it for snakes, and for when you disapprove of something or hurt yourself. And maybe if you want to make noises like a tea kettle.

My sister is so successful and sassy and passionate she gives lessons in kissing to assemblies of missionaries.

Anyway (and not meant as a response to small_ruminant, just to the thread at large) I think the people who are taking issue with the 'othering and divisive' aspect of cis- are missing the fact that it isn't doing any othering or dividing an entire dictionary of gendered words you've grown up with have done a million times over. Yes, all right, if you're correct (and I'm not convinced) then this is another few grains of sand pouring into the 'othering and divisive' hopper, but it's landing on top of a pile the size of Everest.

It's a term that arose because trans people - in trying to discuss their situation, their position in the world and the rights they need and deserve - found it useful to have a hetero to their homo, a man to their woman, a neurotypical to their neurodiversity. A descriptive term for something that previously required a clumsy phrase. It's as intended to work within the extant system of language and categorisation as any of those terms, because revamping the fact that the language tends to draw categorical lines where terribly blurry and mobile boundaries exist in real life really does go beyond the scope of finding a term that makes it easier to convey, discuss and understand one's experience as trans. All you're trying to do here is leave trans people without the kind of words we use to describe every other topic-specific part of reality, because they got their equivalently 'divisive' term in after an arbitrary gate closed.

If your discomfort with the term actually comes from taking issue with those things, there are bigger battles out there, and if you win them, they might even make a difference to something. Until I see you fighting those battles, the fact you're pinning all that othering and divisiveness on a term a minority pressing for greater rights and recognition is using to clarify its position makes your motives incredibly suspicious.
posted by emmtee at 1:48 PM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon All I said was that it doesn't seem fair to make "gay" and "straight" equivalent terms in this discussion, because they have a different history.

It always fascinates me when people say "All I said" about something they've literally just said. Let's just check the replay:
Those two terms have normalized to the point that they aren't used to foment division as much as a neologism that divides people into a false, binary identity model, and which also carries a lot of ugly political baggage that does sometimes come to the surface in discussions, such as this one. Maybe in a decade or two, "cisgender" will no longer be around, replaced with something else. Or, perhaps, it will have normalized to the point that the people who use it have learned to understand the context of its use as a means to divide and other, and they will endeavor to avoid that usage, in the same way we all have to take care about the contextual use of "gay" and "straight" as labels.
Oopsie! Doesn't look like that's all you said, BP. That's no problem - people often don't really remember what they've said.

However, you are demanding that people accede to your claim that the word "cisgender" is used to foment division and is a neologism that divides people into a false, binary identity model, and carries a lot of ugly political baggage as a basic condition of you speaking to them - because you say it, and then refuse to admit that you said it. Even when you think that "all you are saying" is that it doesn't seem fair to make "gay" and "straight" equivalent terms in this discussion, because they have a different history, you need to get that in as a preamble.

It's sort of like insisting that someone cut off three of their fingers before arm-wrestling you, and then claiming when they do not that they are bullying you, and being totally sincere about it.

For serious, though, I don't exactly get how this false binary thing is working for you. Let's break down the science:

You think that being called "cisgendered" labels you an oppressor, right? That's the "false, binary identity model" you're talking about. And you want to be called a man - that's all up here, in your opening notes. Let's forget for a moment about the foamy side-dish that power has no importance here, which the young rope-rider just touched on.
I'm not 'cisgendered', I'm not a 'homosexual', I am not the oppressor or deviant that either language other's me into: I'm a gay man, and I am happy and would prefer the dignity of being called one, where discussions of sexuality, humanity and identity come up.
So, you want to be called a man, not cisgendered, which is the parallel to being called gay, not homosexual ... which I think is fine, but not mutually exclusive. If you want, you can be a transgendered man, or a cisgendered man. No problemo. Most of the time, it won't come up, though. You'll just be a man. It's so rare, in fact, that most people don't even know the term, let alone use it. The binary you think you are being forced into, which prevents you from being described a man, doesn't exist. It's odd that you think it does. If you hadn't popped in here demanding not to be called cisgendered... you would have been at little to no risk of being called cisgendered, except in the most abstract sense.

Even notwithstanding that, you haven't produced a cite so far in which "cisgendered" is being used in a way that is equivalent to the use of "homosexual" rather than "gay" by right wingers in local newspapers, which is supposed to be your objection to it:
Using 'cis' is artificial in the same way that a subset of right-wingers go out of their way to call gay people 'homosexuals' on comments sections on local newspapers, for example. It is used not only to 'other' gay people and make their participation unwelcome, but it is a signifier that communicates which subset of the group has decided to own the conversation and dictate its terms to the rest of us. That's bullying, and it shouldn't be acceptable, regardless of the plight of whoever is doing the bullying.
So, an example of that would be awesome.

Then there's:
: In other words, more is communicated by someone jumping into a thread and saying, "Hey, everybody. I'm cisgendered!" than just the functional aspect.
Again, it would be interesting to see this happen in a thread on Metafilter which was not already about gender or trans issues. I mean, what you did here was jumping into a thread and saying "Hey, everybody, I'm not cisgendered!" But the thread was already about gender or trans issues, so that's not super surprising.

It's totally possible that "cisgendered" has problems. But "I am a man!" is not, I think, one of the dealbreakers for its utility as a term.

So much for false binary the first. Now, the second false binary is between "transgendered" and "cisgendered". I think we can deduce that you are antithesising this with "gay" and "straight". You do identify as gay, and presumably that isn't a false, binary, identity model. So, there's another binary here - a metabinary - between "cisgendered/transgendered" (false) and "straight/gay" (true). So, in that case mediareport's question is probably back up - there's a difference between getting the strops when someone describes you, personally, as cisgendered (or brunette, or middle-aged, or whatever - essentially, using any term not approved beforehand) and getting the strops at the idea that a distinction between cisgendered and transgendered exists in any real way. That's where I'm not sure what you're trying to say.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:51 PM on January 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


So you get the meaning - and I think it is a clear-cut meaning - of "we aren't interested in listening to you" delivered in a fairly hostile tone and you have yet another one of those conversations.

This sentance seems to sum up the unpleasant dismissive use of this term.


But I get frustrated watching it fail to be useful on the internet because it's almost inevitably a conversation between someone who doesn't want to listen and someone who usually isn't heard.

And this seems to justify the dismissive use of it which is a shame coming from a mod.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 1:56 PM on January 23, 2012


And to think, just a few days ago I was ruefully reminiscing about Metafilter's hangups with "cis". I wasn't asking for a repeat performance, y'all.

You know what, from now on, I will reject any and all labels, because god forbid anybody have any identities. I'm no longer cis, or male, or straight, or Asian, or Chinese, or American. Now I'm a unique snowflake!
posted by kmz at 2:07 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And this seems to justify the dismissive use of it which is a shame coming from a mod.

Well, if you accept my initial assertion that not all opinions are welcome in all conversations, then there needs to be a way to communicate the boundaries. If you don't, then the concept isn't going to make any sense to you. I like privilege as a concept because, when explained properly, it's not just "shut up," but "shut up and listen and here's why."

I think the not-every-voice-every-time thing is sort of self-evident - we enforce it in AskMe every single day. Outside that, though, this is a pretty clear-cut example of what I'm talking about - in a discussion about women in a particular situation, within a particular group, this commenter decided to share his opinion about that situation as a man. It doesn't add a thing to the dialogue - it's not relevant. And it's compounded by the fact that we hear men's opinions about everything, all the time, so in a situation that's specifically about a woman and about women's reactions, it's particularly grating.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:09 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Outside that, though, this is a pretty clear-cut example of what I'm talking about

Are you speaking as a mod there or as a site user?
posted by Burhanistan at 2:12 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a mod, people's privilege isn't really a concern except in that we have certain minimum standards regarding racism, sexism, etc. The comment I linked to wasn't flagged at all and I would have been badly confused if it had been.

As a site user (and a woman, lesbian, Jew, etc) I have lots of concerns.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:16 PM on January 23, 2012


I should add to that, of course, that this dynamic is particularly visible to me because it often leads threads straight to hell, and that *is* a mod concern. But not one we can really do anything about except try to make spaces for people to educate themselves and be prepared to step in as needed to cut off particularly repetitive derails.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:20 PM on January 23, 2012


The term I'd encountered previously was "woman born woman" (actually "womyn born womyn") and it was in a context that left an exceedingly bad taste in my mouth, so while I will occasionally use that, I would rather avoid it so that I don't give anyone else flashbacks about listening to second-wave feminists delivering anti-trans rants.

Yeah, please please please don't use this phrase instead (anyone, not you specifically restless_nomad). Even if it wasn't used most prominently by hate groups, it invalidates anyone who is trans; which "cisgender" does not. It's the same deal as with not putting a space in "transwoman" and "transman;" it creates a totally separate gender category, which makes a lot of people (hi!) uncomfortable.
posted by byanyothername at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2012


Also can everyone just please post incredibly dull and uninteresting things tomorrow? I have gotten, like, nothing done today.
posted by byanyothername at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ahaaaaa......... that was very interesting about privilege, so somebody that hasnt had that experience or is not disempowered is actually replicating the power imbalance by derailing the discussion or not showing basic respect by listening. I'm away to have a wee think about that.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:36 PM on January 23, 2012


"Cis" according to the philosophers of language:

The Socratics: "Cis" is fine if it captures the true essence of cisgendered people, as the artist captures reality.

The Lockeans: "Cis" is a difficult case because it may not make sense to have a word for every "not-thing," because there is no clear idea in the mind of what that is.

The de Sassureans: "Cis" itself is arbitrary, but we want to make sure that we know what it signifies and that it stands in relation to another concept, namely "trans."

The Fregeans: "Cis" is not simply a reference to people in the world, but embodies the way in which we refer to those people, which is what makes it complicated.

The Russelians: "Cis" is a fine word, so long as cisgendered people actually exist.

The Wittgensteinians: "Cis" is just part of a game and we must simply agree on its meaning in a given context and realize that we give it meaning depending on how we use it.

The Ayerians: "Cis" might be ok, but we'd have to use it in a statement and then see if it could be verified.

The Internet: "Cis" grar grar, if grar, then grar, also grar.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:48 PM on January 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


So: cis woman, trans man, trans people, etc. The idea is that "trans" and "cis" are adjectives describing what kind of woman/man/person the subject in question is, rather than "transwomen" or "transmen" being an entirely different category from "women" or "men." Using the space kind of others people less.

It's the same deal as with not putting a space in "transwoman" and
"transman;" it creates a totally separate gender category, which makes a lot of people (hi!) uncomfortable.


Cis and trans are prefixes. English does not put spaces between prefixes and stems. If you view everyone who follows the (current) rules of English as engaging in some kind of transphobic douchbaggery, you are in for a world of unnecessary pain.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:48 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it's very revealing, in my opinion, how much of all these debates—human behavioral sexual differentiation, sexual orientation, and gender identification—involve arguments from biology or against arguments from biology.

Sure, definitely. Personally, I do these biological aspects are fascinating in their own right -- for example, a lot of intersex and trans narratives speak powerfully to there being a powerful underlying biological force behind gender identification, which is something I didn't always appreciate. But of course you commit the is-ought fallacy if you argue from biological example alone.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2012


Phire: Why not? If the people who feel strongly enough about their misalignment to want to get GRS are trying to figure out how to get more civil rights for themselves so that they can, say, use bathrooms in public without being beaten to a bloody mess, isn't it useful for there to be a term for the people they are tryign to lobby, i.e. people who don't feel strongly enough about the various gradations of their genderqueerness or lack thereof to get GRS?

Can we not reduce trans identities to mere surgery, please?
posted by Dysk at 3:06 PM on January 23, 2012


And this seems to justify the dismissive use of it which is a shame coming from a mod.

I don't even know what this means. Are mods not allowed to participate in a discussion of site culture? They're members, too. Furthermore, the dismissive use of what? How is it dismissive to say "sometimes people who have privilege don't realize they have it and can benefit from actually listening to people without privilege instead of jumping into every thread to offer their dominant and normative position"?

I actually thought the comment that restless_nomad linked to was a perfect example of this sort of behaviour. The poster clearly says - "As a straight white male, I don't understand why that woman felt threatened. I wouldn't have felt threatened." But that's not really the point. The point was that the woman in question did feel threatened, and that lots of other women were chiming in to say that they would have felt threatened. Saying "well, I am nothing like you and would not have reacted that way" is a little counterproductive when one person is speaking out about an uncomfortable experience she had in an effort to educate others, isn't it?
posted by Phire at 3:09 PM on January 23, 2012


Can we not reduce trans identities to mere surgery, please?

Absolutely. That was my bad. I was trying to frame it in a binary manner to argue for the need for the word "cis", but I can see I was overly reductionist. I apologize for being insensitive.
posted by Phire at 3:10 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cis and trans are prefixes. English does not put spaces between prefixes and stems. If you view everyone who follows the (current) rules of English as engaging in some kind of transphobic douchbaggery, you are in for a world of unnecessary pain.

Funnily enough, "cis man" is apocope, albeit radical apocope, and so works with the rules of English. "Cis gendered" would indeed be a problem by prefix logic, but you can make a reasonable case for "cis man" as being an abbreviation of "cis(gendered) man". We know that "trans" can function as an adjective, because we have trans rights and trans issues - issues and rights of or pertaining to transgendered or transsexual people.

(Although since most people can't do it's/its, I wouldn't put too much faith in deciding someone's attitudes based on syntax, certainly.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:11 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


apocope

lol - I have no idea what's this means. Did you my use of stems indicate that I knew something about linguistics. My bad, I picked that up when I looked up prefixes on wikipedia to make sure there wasn't some dialect where spaces are totally natural.

I wouldn't put too much faith in deciding someone's attitudes based on syntax, certainly.

That's all I'm saying.
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:25 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I have a discussion about gender issues with a trans person, I will defer to what that person chooses to be called. And rightly so; Someone who fits easily into the xy=penis=male or xx=vagina=female mold has no clue, as I have no clue, what it must be like to not fit in those molds in our society, not really. I should not have the right to decide for any of them what they want to be called. I take that as a given.

By the same reasoning, I do not self-identify as cisgender, and regardless of the privilege I absolutely enjoy because I have a vagina and two xx chromosomes and I'm good with that, I think it is perfectly okay for me to say, "Yeah, not real fond of that label."

So that's where I'm coming from. I don't feel threatened or defensive, or like any trans person's experiences are less valid than mine in any way. And I can see the convenience in having one word, like cisgender, as a shortcut for an entire group. But I also think that when you use shortcuts like that, it's much easier to fall into the trap of generalizing for an entire group.

Which is why I feel the need to define myself, and decide what I want to be called, if you are addressing me personally, and why I think this thread was necessary.

I also just find this discussion really interesting, because the cis- prefix IS rarely used in common parlance. I doubt those who don't regularly discuss sexual orientation issues are even aware that cisgender is a thing, that the word is expected to be immediately recognizable. I didn't know until today of the roots for the word, and I have Mefi to educate me. I'm glad the scientists and the skilled linguists did, but I think this thread proves I was not alone in my ignorance.

As far as cisgender making sense logically, that is not the end of the discussion. To me intracontinental is in opposition to transcontinental, not ciscontinental. Yet intrasexual is neither intuitive nor accepted, despite being logical. What about monosexual as opposed to transexual? Again, makes sense logically, but that doesn't make it acceptable, seeing as I just made it up.

"This notion that the mods keep bringing up—typical of an even-handedness I otherwise respect and admire—that using the term is somewhat provocative is bullshit. It's not provocative. It's appropriate..." If everyone agreed the term was appropriate, we wouldn't have this thread in the first place.

Even if the only people who disagreed were bigoted asshats, you'd be right, Ivan Fyodorovich--If anyone here was using insulting terms for trans people, trying to marginalize those that support LGBT rights, I'd be calling them out as bigots, too. But I see lots of people respectfully engaging in this thread, users that have never given me cause to think they are bigots, and I don't see any name-calling from them.

They're just saying they don't like the term "cisgender", and they are the people who are being referred to by that word. Why is it not valid for them to say so?
posted by misha at 3:26 PM on January 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


So, in that case mediareport's question is probably back up

Did it ever go away? If I'm being crazy off-base here, I hope someone will let me know, but Blazecock's language was very strong and, to me, fairly provocative:

Either you are artificially putting participants into two classes, or you are joining in on that false delineation. Either way, you're part of the problem.

He repeated it later: "a neologism that divides people into a false, binary identity model"

Again, if I'm missing something obvious someone please let me know, but to me, there's an implication in both comments that is very close to being a dismissal of the reality of a medical diagnosis of a transgendered person. Blazecock, your later response - "All I said was that it doesn't seem fair to make "gay" and "straight" equivalent terms in this discussion, because they have a different history" - doesn't clarify things at all, as running order squabble fest noted above. I've asked a fairly straightforward question to clarify what you meant, multiple times, and haven't gotten an answer (from someone who isn't usually coy about engaging on controversial issues in far more heated exchanges). I find your silence on this point odd, and can only guess that it might mean you, like many of us, might have sometimes-confused feelings about transgendered people. But I'll keep that at bay and hope this time you'll give a response of some sort to the direct question about your feelings with regard to the medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. It would be helpful in understanding your positions here.

If you don't want to answer, can we at least get a response explaining why you don't think the question is relevant?

Blazecock?
posted by mediareport at 3:31 PM on January 23, 2012


noone you know: Cis and trans are prefixes. English does not put spaces between prefixes and stems. If you view everyone who follows the (current) rules of English as engaging in some kind of transphobic douchbaggery, you are in for a world of unnecessary pain.

It's not quite that simple. Trans has become a word that can stand on its own (as shortform for transsexual, transgender, or more commonly, as a catch-all for all non-cis identities), and usually functions as an adjective when it does. In this context, it makes perfect sense to talk about trans people rather than transpeople, much as we talk of black or gay people, not blackpeople or gaypeople.
posted by Dysk at 3:33 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


nooneyouknow: "Cis and trans are prefixes. English does not put spaces between prefixes and stems. If you view everyone who follows the (current) rules of English as engaging in some kind of transphobic douchbaggery, you are in for a world of unnecessary pain."

Using the term "transwoman" (for example) sets up a category separate from "woman", which is hurtful. Please don't do it.

Also, for your reference: audio, phone, counter, anti, hetero, meta, nano, psycho and super are all prefixes that live quite happily without being directly attached to other word roots.
posted by jiawen at 3:34 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you don't like cisgendered and cissexual, what's your alternative, misha? I'm not going to use "not trans" when talking to you because I'm not going to participate in my own othering, but I'll happily use whatever word or definition you personally feel comfortable with.

/bed
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:40 PM on January 23, 2012


Hence the terms "audio phile", "anti psycho tics", "meta merism", and "super lative" ?
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:41 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


misha: As far as cisgender making sense logically, that is not the end of the discussion. To me intracontinental is in opposition to transcontinental, not ciscontinental. Yet intrasexual is neither intuitive nor accepted, despite being logical. What about monosexual as opposed to transexual? Again, makes sense logically, but that doesn't make it acceptable, seeing as I just made it up.

'Intrasex' would be the logical antonym of intersex, though. Intercontinental is the linguistic antonym of intracontinental as well, transcontinental just happens to be a synonym with no real or common linguistic antonym.
posted by Dysk at 3:41 PM on January 23, 2012


What about monosexual as opposed to transexual?

Mono means one/single, and trans means across; they're not opposites, so that isn't logical, Englishly speaking.
posted by rtha at 3:49 PM on January 23, 2012


Hence the terms "audio phile", "anti psycho tics", "meta merism", and "super lative" ?


Hence the phrases "I've lost audio", "The antis voted in numbers", "This is altogether too meta" and "I've alerted the super about the leaky faucet". Some of those are adjectival nouns, others are abbreviations - so, super is an apocope of superintendent, hetero is apocope of heterosexual, und so weiter. Although a counter is actually not counter to anything - it's a place where you count. Like a dresser.

As far as cisgender making sense logically, that is not the end of the discussion. To me intracontinental is in opposition to transcontinental, not ciscontinental. Yet intrasexual is neither intuitive nor accepted, despite being logical. What about monosexual as opposed to transexual? Again, makes sense logically, but that doesn't make it acceptable, seeing as I just made it up.


(This is language rather than gender, so I can take a crack at that)

Intracontinental within a single continent - it's the antonym of intercontinental - between two continents. Which is a bit confusing, because trans also has a sense of motion - like the trans-Siberian railroad, which goes across Siberia. Intra is within, inter is between, trans is across. But "trans" also means "the place you would have to get across the root word to get to" - like in Transalpine Gaul - whereas "cis" in this sense means "the place you remain in if you stay on the same side of the root word" - thus, Cisalpine Gaul. The different between them is whether you've crossed the Alps (from Rome) to get there.

So, "cisgender/transgender" is sort of a pun, or rather several puns. And then there's redundancy and prior use - inter-gender means between two genders (like Andy Kaufman's Inter-gender wrestling), and intersex describes someone born with sexual characteristic of both traditional genders. Again - inter is between two things, intra is within one thing, trans is across or on the far side of one thing, cis is on the near side of one thing.

Monosexual is the logical antonym to bisexual - it would mean someone who felt attraction to people of only one gender - but again, redundancy: we already have words for that. This is also why we have monotremes but not bitremes, incidentally.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:54 PM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm with misha, and must add, for the most fundamental of reasons -- it's a prefix that sounds absolutely terrible to the ear and I feel diminished hearing it and saying it. Seriously, "cis-": so close to cyst, and sissy. Sounds like an artificial construct (no matter how accurate) and not contemporary.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:55 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


My sister is so successful and sassy and passionate she gives lessons in kissing to assemblies of missionaries.

I don't care for assemblies. I only write in high-level languages.
posted by michaelh at 3:59 PM on January 23, 2012


This whole conversation has left me bemused. I mean, yes, everyone has the right to their feelings, and no, folks shouldn't be called something they find offensive, but as a cis-woman, I never thought to be offended when I was first introduced to the term by my friends. Interesting.
posted by smirkette at 4:04 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd wager that there isn't any word that would appease everyone's aesthetic sensibilities - might be worth asking yourself if aesthetics are worth kicking up a fuss over in this sort of context.
posted by Dysk at 4:06 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


To clarify, 'trans' by itself is an abbreviation of 'transexual', in the same way that 'auto' is an abbreviation for 'automobile', even though both 'auto' and 'trans' have their own definitions as prefixes.

A "Trans man" is a 'transexual man' not a 'transman'.
posted by empath at 4:09 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"...it's a prefix that sounds absolutely terrible to the ear and I feel diminished hearing it and saying it."

You feel diminished hearing it? Really? That's fucked up.

Incidentally, I, for one, absolutely do not agree that people, as groups or individuals, have carte blanche in deciding what nomenclature refers to them. It's a very good rule-of-thumb and, all else being equal, should be decisive. I follow that rule when all things are otherwise equal.

But all things are not always equal. For example, where I went to college, every day in every class we were required to address other students and instructors with a conventional honorific of the form "M(x)". For most people, and by convention, the unmarried female default is "Miss" and the married default is "Mrs". I refused to follow that convention, unfailingly using "Ms" instead. Occasionally, someone took objection to this because they dislike "Ms", in every instance because "it sounds ugly".

Well, you know, for me the evaluation was someone's aesthetic preference about their preferred form of address towards themselves versus my strong ethical judgment that my use of both "Miss" and "Mrs" would be participating in a serious social injustice. Those two considerations are not equal. They are very lopsided. My side wins.

And if this kind of judgment is valid with regard to marginalized groups, it goes doubly with regard to privileged groups. And it goes triply when a member of a privileged group insists that the conventional, privileged normative unmarked term is the one they prefer and that everyone has some ethical requirement to utilize it simply on their say-so. Screw that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:17 PM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


empath: To clarify, 'trans' by itself is an abbreviation of 'transexual', in the same way that 'auto' is an abbreviation for 'automobile', even though both 'auto' and 'trans' have their own definitions as prefixes.

This is a very good argument, but to complicate things, I see trans (when it stands alone) used to mean trans* rather than transsexual or transgender more often than not - that is to say, an inclusive term for transsexual, transgender, bigender, genderqueer, and otherwise gender-variant idenitities.
posted by Dysk at 4:18 PM on January 23, 2012


Perhaps it is like USians, in that the objecting people see it as an attempt by others to define their own (the objectors) experiences, through controlling the name.

Names have power.

This is a line of arguments that I am susceptible to, since I follow it for 'USian.' Why don't I similarly object to 'cisgendered,' I do not know.

/on preview: Ivan, were you a Johnnie?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:19 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:20 PM on January 23, 2012


I honestly don't understand how thinking about being called cis makes people feel diminished. I'm genuinely not being antagonistic, I just can't see how the term affects people at all.

I've been called all kinds of names in my life, sometimes accompanied by physical violence. But even the very worst names and the very worst incidents of violence I've had to deal with don't even exist in comparison to the kinds of things my friends who are transgendered face on a daily basis.

It seems to me that people who are transgendered are faced with extreme amounts of prejudice and violence on all sides in the US. Things are maybe a little better than they were when I was younger, but there is still an epidemic of violence against people who are transgendered, and by and large it is accepted as normal by much of the country.

So if we make a little room for people who are already facing so much hardship in their lives by giving them a way to fit our differences in gender into discussion, I don't see how that hurts anyone. It's not going to change a single thing about who we are on any side of the conversation, it just gives us a way to describe how we relate to the conversation. It's a tiny bit of welcoming and acceptance to people who are shut out in ways that make me hurt to think about by making an equivalent description of who people who are not transgendered are that relates to who people who are transgendered are. I don't know if that helps at all, but that is kind of how I think about it.

I tried to make this comment as unhurtful as possible on all sides, because this whole topic is very fraught, so please everyone forgive me if it came out wrong.
posted by winna at 4:22 PM on January 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


What is a "Johnnie", please?
posted by Burhanistan at 4:25 PM on January 23, 2012


What is a "Johnnie", please?

Cue 400 message derail on how offensive your ignorance is.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:27 PM on January 23, 2012


Burnhanistan, Previously on MeFi
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:27 PM on January 23, 2012


People who graduated from St. John's College.

They have a song they sing before they fight a croquet match!
posted by winna at 4:27 PM on January 23, 2012


Oh, ok. I'm alum of a giant heathen state uni.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:29 PM on January 23, 2012


Cis-gendered straight dude here, so everybody listen up while I drop some knowledge:




Haha. Kidding. Sorry. More seriously:

I want to thank the folks who have been participating in good faith in this thread. A thought occurred to me but since this topic is outside of my wheelhouse, I thought I would ask the toughttful folks here since I think it's on-topic:

Does tension between the GLB folks and the T folks (using really broad language here, I know) on this drive some of the more vocal opposition to use of the "cis-" prefix? I ask in good faith because I'm trying to understand such opposition. I initially found the term odd (for aesthetic reasons, I suppose), but whatever. Cis-people problems.

Anyways, is such tension a real thing?
posted by joe lisboa at 4:29 PM on January 23, 2012


*contemplates hurling self from window in shame for misspelling "thoughtful"*
posted by joe lisboa at 4:30 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I were going to read one book about trans people and the trans community, I should read...?
posted by Kwine at 4:31 PM on January 23, 2012


"This is a line of arguments that I am susceptible to, since I follow it for 'USian.' Why don't I similarly object to 'cisgendered,' I do not know."

That's interesting that you object to USian. The whole point of that is not merely that arguably everyone from North, Central, and South America should be able to identify as "Americans" if they wish, but that the US appropriation (by whomever and by whatever means) of the term reflects as much more widespread and similar cultural effect where US culture dominates discourse in every context, most especially when the context is Canadian.

That is to say, that the US is powerful and that America could rightly apply to non-USians is by itself a moderately weak and unconvincing argument. But it's emphatically not the entirety of the argument. The argument exists in the context of the fact that much of the world can't tell the difference between Canadians and USians and that includes USians. There's quite a lot of justification for Canadians to prefer USians over Americans as well as anyone else who wishes to recognize and respect this perspective.

"What is a "Johnnie", please?

Ugh. I'm sorry that this comes up. It's my fault for, I suppose, referring to St. John's obliquely in numerous conversations. But I think it was relevant in that the form of address in class is a very strong aspect of the culture there and it was interesting to me to see that the largely liberal/progressive student body followed the "Miss" convention but that, for the most part, almost no one objected to my, and others', use of "Ms". Except a few, and they were almost invariably cultural conservatives. Incidentally, I also had taken my wife's name at marriage and went by "Keith McIntyre-Ellis" when there, so I was always, many times a day, referred to as "Mr. McIntyre-Ellis", so that wasn't a mostly abstract exercise on my part. A few people mentioned that it was a bit unwieldy, and no doubt some thought it an affectation of some kind on my part, but interestingly no one ever said anything dismissive about it to my face.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:31 PM on January 23, 2012


MY VERY SPECIAL EPISODE OF BEING CISGENDER, LET ME TELL YOU IT

I am a cisgender woman who likes the word cisgender and appreciates its existence. I learned it from social justice circles but now use it often when talking about or mentally compiling my identity catalog.

Before cisgender I didn't have a way to describe my identity regarding that aspect of gender/sexuality/physicality that wasn't a vague phrase with lots of added qualifiers or couched in negative terms. I'm "non-trans" but what part of the trans am I putting myself away from? Am I farther away from trans women or trans men? I'm "gender normative" but I grew up hating dresses and dolls and cooking, so what's the gender norm that I'm part of? And baby growing-up me thinks: I feel different from those dress-wearing, doll-cuddling girls, but I don't feel separate from them. I don't want to have sex with girls either, so I'm probably not a lesbian. Even if I wanted to have sex with girls, this body would still be me. Even when I hate the way my body looks and feels (I'm fat! I'm ugly! I'm ascribing to impossible patriarchal beauty standards!), I don't feel unattached to it, and I actively like the female secondary sexual characteristic bits of it.

But there are all these Societal Things telling me, "you're associated with all these Boy Things, you are not a girlygirl, you are clearly Not Normal. So you either a lesbian who wants to have sex with girls (but I'm not!) or you hate your body and secretly want to be a boy (but I don't!), because those are the only female-flavored Not Normal categories you get." (Seriously I hate you sometimes conservative culture)

And then somebody told me about cisgender and I was like, Aha! This is what fits me! This thing about me that is not about my hobbies or my clothes or who want to sleep with. A straight cisgender woman and a gay transgender man are different, even though we may both have been born with vaginas and we both want to make out with Daniel Craig.

/THE MORE YOU KNOW
posted by nicebookrack at 4:34 PM on January 23, 2012 [29 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "Well, you know, for me the evaluation was someone's aesthetic preference about their preferred form of address towards themselves versus my strong ethical judgment that my use of both "Miss" and "Mrs" would be participating in a serious social injustice. Those two considerations are not equal. They are very lopsided. My side wins."

Agree to disagree on this, on the same principle. All people are not the same, all women are not the same, and your insistence on calling each woman by the sobriquet that YOU thought was right for her does not trump HER preference for what she wants to be called.

If a woman chooses to take her husband's last name when she gets married, do you still call her by her maiden name? Because I think that's obnoxious. I'd respect her wishes.

Each of those women knew the preferred form of address at your school, and each one was perfectly able to challenge it for herself. She didn't need you deciding for her.
posted by misha at 4:35 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


misha, what term would you prefer us to use in the event that it should become relevant?
posted by Dysk at 4:38 PM on January 23, 2012


I call everyone 'love' and 'sunshine' regardless. It is a nice place to be.
posted by Jofus at 4:42 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


In this context, it makes perfect sense to talk about trans people rather than transpeople, much as we talk of black or gay people, not blackpeople or gaypeople.

Also, for your reference: audio, phone, counter, anti, hetero, meta, nano, psycho and super are all prefixes that live quite happily without being directly attached to other word roots.


I am not saying that trans can't be used as a stand alone noun or adjective or that people are wrong to put a space between trans and women or men or people.

What am I am saying is that, right now (outside of certain progressive circles) the primary use of trans is as a prefix. And people using a prefix as a prefix is understandable and not some attempt to slight transgender people.

Also, is this a "settled"* issue among transgender people or just your own personal preference? In my own idle googling of "trans men", "transmen", "transwomen" and "trans women" the amount was about half and half and lot of sites by and/or for transgender people used "transmen" and "transwomen".

Also, I disagree with the comparison of black and gay to trans. Black and gay have long histories as stand alone adjectives before they became associated their current demographic groups. Trans does not. But I probably shouldn't be talking about this as everything I know about etymology and linguistics, I learned from tv.

*By settled, I mean, e.g., most descendants of African slaves in America don't want to be referred to as colored but it's still up in the air about African-American vs black.
posted by nooneyouknow at 4:44 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The argument exists in the context of the fact that much of the world can't tell the difference between Canadians and USians and that includes USians.

I have never heard of this, outside of the occasional American backpacker who will put a maple leaf patch on or claim to be from Vancouver while traveling in Europe. Even then, that deception relies in the knowledge and appreciation of the difference between Canada and the US. I will think more.

also, weirdly, I'm totally comfortable with estadounidense, maybe because it's in Spanish and I learned it at a young age.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:47 PM on January 23, 2012


Very little is settled in that sense in the trans* community. A lot of the language and discussions are fairly recent (or on fairly recently become widespread) compared to those of most other minority groups.
posted by Dysk at 4:47 PM on January 23, 2012


"Anyways, is such tension a real thing?"

Unfortunately, yes. Just as there is tension between trans and feminists (well, male-to-female, anyway). Some in the feminist community feel that it's an appropriation of an identity the trans don't have a right to and some in the LGB communities that it's, well, more complicated but generally muddying the waters and in its own way a re-assertion of heterosexual normativism. And, also, there's a similar division between the LG and B communities, too.

Almost all people are inherently conservative, in my opinion. That is, it's just a matter of how far and how often outside the mainstream of conservatism they draw the line, not that very many people habitually and rigorously question convention. Rather, they question convention either when they have a vested interest in doing so, or have a peer group or model that opens the door to the possibility of doing so. Otherwise, convention rules.

So, as I wrote earlier, trans issues are really at the cultural edge of progressivism and, because of this, it's extremely easy to find lots and lots of progressives who have views that are the same, or almost indistinguishable from the mainstream conventionalism on them. This includes nominal LGBT activists. For many, the "T" and sometimes the "B", are grudging.

I guess I may be saying something that is obvious to many and manifestly untrue to others. But it's taken me a large portion of my life to understand this because I've been continually surprised at the anti-progressivism I find among fellow progressives over the years on various issues. Almost everyone, and including myself, has a great number of views that they feel are just self-evident in exactly the same was as, for example, most people previously did about race and it's extremely difficult to get them to take a step back and question them. Right now, trans issues are among those. There are others and, unsurprisingly, they are often the things that are most contentious on MeFi, although we're collectively generally progressive.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:52 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I were going to read one book about trans people and the trans community, I should read...?

I personally would recommend starting with Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, but she's quite clear that she's coming from the perspective of a trans woman, and I have yet to see an accessible book that tries to capture the experience of a broad spectrum of trans identified people. I would love to know if one is out there, though.

Does tension between the GLB folks and the T folks (using really broad language here, I know) on this drive some of the more vocal opposition to use of the "cis-" prefix?

I'm doubtful on that point, but I don't really know. I do think it's a pity that the language used (and behavior demonstrated) by some ostensibly GLBT organizations seems to enforce the idea that GLBT are distinct groups, ignoring the fact that trans people are also gay, lesbian and bisexual. So yes, I do think there is tension there, but whether that's wrapped up in the debate over "cis" is questionable, I think.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:55 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's quite a lot of justification for Canadians to prefer USians over Americans as well as anyone else who wishes to recognize and respect this perspective.

I don't know if you're Canadian, but I and all my canuck friends would laugh in someone's face if they asked us if we'd rather Americans be called USians.

The USians is a stupid idea because it's a solved problem. No one in the Americas gets legitimately confused when someone is referred to as American. We all know it refers to someone from the States. American, Canadian, Cuban, Brazilian. We've got it all sorted out and everyone is being called what they want to be called.

The reason "cis" is different is that us cis folk don't have a word for ourselves when we refer to our gender orientation. If we had such a word (other than "normal" or "not trans") and trans folks decided to start calling us cis arbitrarily, then maybe I could understand peoples' points. But cis is filling a gap that exists in the English language, and in my opinion it fills that gap plenty well.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:57 PM on January 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


Thank you, Ivan and EvaDestruction.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:06 PM on January 23, 2012


The whole point of that is not merely that arguably everyone from North, Central, and South America should be able to identify as "Americans" if they wish, but that the US appropriation (by whomever and by whatever means) of the term reflects as much more widespread and similar cultural effect where US culture dominates discourse in every context, most especially when the context is Canadian.

Enh. The use of the term also implies that the other cultures of the Americas are weak enough to need defending in such a manner. In addition to all of its other problem, it carries a whiff of noblesse oblige.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:07 PM on January 23, 2012


"Agree to disagree on this, on the same principle. All people are not the same, all women are not the same, and your insistence on calling each woman by the sobriquet that YOU thought was right for her does not trump HER preference for what she wants to be called."

So, if you were to meet a black man who preferred to be called "boy" by you, does that trump YOUR preference? Or is it only when you feel that someone else (a man) doesn't respect whatever preference you or someone else has (as women) that this principle of personal preference is decisive?

I know I made that loaded and provocative, but I'd really like you to think about this. There is a (understandable and somewhat justifiable) knee-jerk response that says that a man deciding upon the proper address of a particular woman disregarding her personal preference is obviously and inherently wrong. But I sincerely doubt that anyone who really thought about it and its implications would argue that an individual's personal preference for form of address is necessarily decisive above and beyond other social justice considerations, even when—especially when—it concerns a socially marginalized group who has historically had their lesser status marked by such nomenclature.

Now, that's not to say that I'm claiming there is no valid opposition to my reasoning. The obvious valid opposition is to argue that I'm overestimating the social injustice of addressing a woman as "Miss" or "Mrs" and underestimating how much her individual preference should count.

But, interestingly—and, in my opinion, revealingly—it's in every single instance of my debating this that the opposition has taken the form of "in principle the individual's preference is prior".

And, you know, to me that's an example of how people are generally pretty unreflective about the positions they take and the beliefs they hold. In a great many cases, from a progressive's perspective, it's best and right to call people what they prefer to be called. So many progressives promote that to a general principle...especially when it confirms their own prejudices. But very few of those same people would acquiesce to any arbitrary personal preference of such nomenclature so it clearly is not an issue settled as a matter of simple principle, no matter how much someone might want to be able to wave the argument away on that basis.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:11 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right now, trans issues are among those. There are others and, unsurprisingly, they are often the things that are most contentious on MeFi, although we're collectively generally progressive.

If we want to start talking about "more progressive than thou", I would say I find the trans community's attitude conservative and unhelpful, because I'd like to talk about a human right to self-alteration and self-destiny in general (and I think this could be related back to other progressive causes of body-related rights - the drug war, abortion, etc), and work out the nuance of when and how that's appropriate for people depending on their age and the type of alteration they wish to undergo, among myriad other factors. And who should pay for it, should people maintain a previous label/status post-transition, depending on the extent of the transition, etc etc.

And trans people just seem to want to reinforce hoary ideas about
man: Tarzan
woman: Jane

and sometimes Jane wants to be Tarzan, and all anyone is allowed to say is Jane should do that "whenever she decides". There were people in the FPP saying they or friends started transitioning and then decided to stop for various reasons. I watched the documentary Southern Comfort which also has people in various stages of transition and with various degrees of satisfaction with their current outcome, various perspectives on what their gender meant to them, etc.

So, it seems like a small faction of the trans community has decided they have found the magic answer for what gender and sex and everything all is, and this is the terminology we'll use to talk about it, terminology which happens to embed our worldview. And if you question or refuse to immediately accept this terminology/worldview, you're just privileged and have nothing of value to add to the conversation. That is closed minded faith-based thinking. That's not progressive
posted by crayz at 5:15 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, "cis-" is fine. There was no single, clear word for cisgendered before "cisgendered" became a thing. The etymology checks out, unlike "television." It's no less mellifluous than any other piece of jargon.

I'm genuinely weirded out that this is such an issue for some people. I'm trying, and failing, to think of any word without offensive baggage or sociopolitical weight which raises such hackles.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:15 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


To me intracontinental is in opposition to transcontinental, not ciscontinental. Yet intrasexual is neither intuitive nor accepted, despite being logical.

Won't fly.

Intra- is the opposite of inter-; intersex is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:17 PM on January 23, 2012


I'm curious, too, whether every Mefite who is now, or ever was, in a situation where their physical gender did not match their gender identity prefers to be called transgendered?

Anyone care to weigh in?

I know it is the preferred term, but Blazecock Pileon (sorry to single you out) likes being identified as a gay man rather than "homosexual", so I wondered if everyone on the other side of the cisgender issue even agrees on terminology.

Dysk, I am an XY person who identifies as female and uses the pronouns she and her to describe myself. If you were talking to me, and you needed to refer to me, I would think "you" or my name would be fine. if you were referring to anyone who was not trans, in general? I don't know that those of us who haven't been oppressed because of our gender identity feel the need to be addressed in terms of gender at all.

But this thread has made it clear that many feel there is a very real need for a word like cisgender. So I went back to the original link from the FPP. And I was surprised, because "cis normative" is being used a lot in that link, which seems as ungainly as "gender normative" to me.

This one sentence fragment: "not every child is cisgender, and not every child has a cissexual body" is problematic, I agree.

So I would just shut up and say, okay, yeah, you need a name for people like me, right?

Except that linked article is not talking about people like me. Because apparently the "cis people" described in this article--which, according to the author is all cis people: "a cisnormative audience," and "cis people individually"-- are against trans people being allowed to transition, at any age.

And I'm not. The assumption is that I'm prejudiced simply on the basis of my biology. But I am not supposed to be offended by that, right?

Even when it sure looks like the word you could replace "cisgender" with in that linked material is "bigot."
posted by misha at 5:19 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Except that linked article is not talking about people like me. Because apparently the "cis people" described in this article--which, according to the author is all cis people: "a cisnormative audience," and "cis people individually"-- are against trans people being allowed to transition, at any age.

And I'm not. The assumption is that I'm prejudiced simply on the basis of my biology. But I am not supposed to be offended by that, right?

Even when it sure looks like the word you could replace "cisgender" with in that linked material is "bigot."


The problem, it would appear, is that you don't understand what cisnormative means. It is not synonymous with cisgender. It means the assumption that everyone is cisgendered. In short: Bigoted.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:23 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to pick up on something from earlier: Mediareport, basically I think you're right - the idea of cisgender/transgender as a false distinction it was never exactly not "back up". But I back-burnered it while trying to work out the "I am not cisgendered, I am a man" megillah, which was sufficiently out there that I thought it might still have been operating by the time we got down to the false binary that causes hatred. But, on reflection, I concluded that it's a pair of parallel alleged false, binary identity models - "cisgendered/man" and "cisgendered/transgendered". The first is about what to call Blazecock P., and the second is about neologisms which divide, hatred and so on - that is, what to call everyone.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:23 PM on January 23, 2012


misha: Dysk, I am an XY person who identifies as female and uses the pronouns she and her to describe myself. If you were talking to me, and you needed to refer to me, I would think "you" or my name would be fine. if you were referring to anyone who was not trans, in general? I don't know that those of us who haven't been oppressed because of our gender identity feel the need to be addressed in terms of gender at all.

In the hypothetical situation where it would be relevant to mention to someone that you weren't trans, without having to use that clumsy and somewhat loaded phrase.

Also, I agree with you that the term is being applied derisively and offensively at times in the article in the FPP that spawned all this - I don't think this is a characteristic of the word itself, however.

crayz: And trans people just seem to want to reinforce hoary ideas about
man: Tarzan
woman: Jane

and sometimes Jane wants to be Tarzan, and all anyone is allowed to say is Jane should do that "whenever she decides". There were people in the FPP saying they or friends started transitioning and then decided to stop for various reasons. I watched the documentary Southern Comfort which also has people in various stages of transition and with various degrees of satisfaction with their current outcome, various perspectives on what their gender meant to them, etc.


The fact that terminology like 'cis' exists does not indicate that trans people view the cis population as some homogeneous bloc - much like trans people are not the homogeneous bloc you're describing. There is a lot of variance and many different attitudes in the trans* community - we have nothing in common, other than being trans*. You get conservatives and lefties, anarchists, communists, capitalists, and everything in between. I don't think it's a stretch to recognise that having a term like cisgender doesn't necessarily entail this sort of absolutist thinking.
posted by Dysk at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dysk, I am an XY person who identifies as female and uses the pronouns she and her to describe myself.

Was this a typo?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:29 PM on January 23, 2012


(I assumed it was - if it wasn't, then obviously you we wouldn't expect you to want to be called cisgendered, and I'm really failing to understand your personal objection here...)
posted by Dysk at 5:31 PM on January 23, 2012


Even when it sure looks like the word you could replace "cisgender" with in that linked material is "bigot."

The thing is, any word can be used that way. I've read racist articles where the author only says "blacks" and "African Americans", but manages to coat those words in condescension and bigotry.

If you think the author is being offensive to you, then it's not because of the specific word they use -- it's because of the connotations that they attach to that word. Any word other than "cisgender" would presumably carry the same effect.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:33 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even if you think the trans-/cis- device is just a bad model for how these things work, the word "cisgendered" is still a valid word with a valid meaning. Even if we were to say, purely for sake of argument, that that model was substantially wrong, you would still use those terms when discussing that point of view, just as you would still talk about phlogiston if you were debunking phlogiston theory.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:33 PM on January 23, 2012


Even when it sure looks like the word you could replace "cisgender" with in that linked material is "bigot."

In fact, this is a pretty compelling argument that the problem is in the material surrounding the word, not the word itself.
posted by Dysk at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I find it amusing that this thread about "transideological friendships" has many people immediately questioning the left/right, liberal/conservative framing - but there's no one going "hey, how dare you question these common terms used to describe and frame political thought in America, this is an unacceptable derail!"

But I guess trans-* science and terminology is far more advanced and static than political science?
posted by crayz at 5:37 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


crayz, Be the change you want to see?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:41 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


crayz, that's not really a good analogy - it's not a matter of identity in quite the same way. More analogous would be a discussion about race, for example, or sexuality - if someone started shouting about how awful 'caucasian' or 'heterosexual' are, I reckon you'd see a similar reaction.
posted by Dysk at 5:41 PM on January 23, 2012


Even if you think the trans-/cis- device is just a bad model for how these things work, the word "cisgendered" is still a valid word with a valid meaning. Even if we were to say, purely for sake of argument, that that model was substantially wrong, you would still use those terms when discussing that point of view, just as you would still talk about phlogiston if you were debunking phlogiston theory.

This. "Gay" and "straight" don't even come close to covering the whole spectrum of sexual orientation, but they're still useful terms. It's still important to keep in mind that (1) there is a lot of variance in between (and even terms like "bisexual" on the gay/straight spectrum or "genderqueer" on the cis/trans spectrum and the more general "queer" still don't provide full coverage, though they add a little more shading), and that (2) two people may identify as the same term while constructing their own orientation and identity in vastly different ways, but the terms still have utility.
posted by kagredon at 5:43 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


They have a song they sing before they fight a croquet match!

And they consistently take my favorite spots in Annapolis bars to read, rather than drink.
posted by spaltavian at 5:44 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm trying, and failing, to think of any word without offensive baggage or sociopolitical weight which raises such hackles.

"Dubstep."

*sad trombone*
posted by joe lisboa at 5:44 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon (sorry to single you out) likes being identified as a gay man rather than "homosexual"

To be clear, I wouldn't mind it so much, except that "homosexual" frequently gets used in specific contexts, where it is not only a convenient drop-in for "faggot" or some other epithet that the speaker wouldn't otherwise use, but also is a signifier that allows like-minded people to share their similar denigration or dismissal.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:45 PM on January 23, 2012


"I would say I find the trans community's attitude conservative and unhelpful, because I'd like to talk about a human right to self-alteration and self-destiny in general (and I think this could be related back to other progressive causes of body-related rights - the drug war, abortion, etc), and work out the nuance of when and how that's appropriate for people depending on their age and the type of alteration they wish to undergo, among myriad other factors."

I find this curious because I see the maximal progressive position (which I happen to hold) on body mods to be in favor of individual autonomy being primary about body mods, including for children, and therefore I don't see at all how the trans point-of-view conflicts with this. That is, you may assert, validly, that the maximal progressive position on gender is entirely demolishing all its dualism but as far as I an see the issues surrounding body mods are related but orthogonal to this position.

And while I think that it's a valid position (that it's maximally progressive that gender dualism is a harmful cultural artifact and should be abolished), I nevertheless think it's mistaken.

I think it's mistaken because there's a relevant cultural history and intellectual scholarship that has made a transition from one-size-fits-all with regard to identity and social justice issues to one that both asserts that one-size-fits-all is empirically false and that individual autonomy counts more than purity of abstracted social ideals. You might point out that this applies to my "Miss" and "Mrs" nomenclature position, and you'd be right to do so. However, I'm no more arguing that fidelity to some pure position on social justice trumps individual autonomy than I am arguing that individual autonomy trumps all other social justice concerns. I argued that I made a calculus that resulted in a lopsided result that made my choice clear, not that no calculation was necessary.

Similarly, I agree that dualistic gender norms are, on their own terms, socially and personally damaging, in general, and should be moderated. But I also think that eliminating them is a deeply misguided aim that is based upon a vast oversimplification of human nature coupled with an underestimation of individual and group rights to live with dignity and full civil rights, even when those group and individual identities don't conform to a social justice ideal. It is a calculation, a weighing.

For example, I feel this way about sex-positivism. I think in the past I've mentioned that I've publicly and privately disagreed with Susie Bright, who I otherwise deeply admire and almost completely agree with, on the particular issue of asexuality as a defensible personal lifestyle choice. I strongly agree with the general principle that our culture is sex negative, that it loads sexuality and particularly female sexuality with notions of guilt and shame and body-self-loathing, and that, in general, sex-negative ideas and laws should be opposed. However, I don't believe that every single individual instance of asexuality is necessarily the result of a cultural atmosphere of sex-negativity—even though I do agree that it often is.

That is to say, I see this as exactly equivalent to the stuff those middle-aged and elderly among us went through during second-gen feminism where the first gen hostility to women who adopt conventional female gender roles, and particularly marriage and being stay-at-home mothers, gave way to an ascendant position that while it's certainly true that a lot of such women will be choosing this because of harmful regressive cultural pressures and attitudes, not all of them will be and that an absolutely rock-bottom principle of feminism is ensuring that women are empowered to decide as individuals what kind of people they want to be and what kinds of lives they want to live.

I think that many people, particularly women, who choose asexual lives (or who choose to live anorgasmic lives) are doing so because of sex-negative influence. But I certainly don't think that necessarily all are doing so for those reasons and, importantly, I think that a core principle of sex-positivism is, or should be, that people as individuals should be able to choose who they are, sexually, and how they want to live their sexual lives without cultural norms forcing them into an identity and lifestyle they are uncomfortable with. That includes being sexual or being orgasmic.

I'd like to see more people feeling much more comfortable with more fluid and ambiguous gender roles in our culture. I think that would be better than not. But I'm not willing to assert that this trumps all other considerations, and I'm especially not willing to say that it trumps the considerations of trans people who have been just as villifed and oppressed as gays and lesbians. It's also why, again, I'm open to the argument that I'm overestimating the social injustice of "Miss" and "Mrs" and underestimating the importance of personal dignity for an individual who prefers them. To sacrifice that individual dignity on some alter of inflexible and simplistic principle is itself an ancient and common form of social injustice.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:52 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


nooneyouknow: "What am I am saying is that, right now (outside of certain progressive circles) the primary use of trans is as a prefix. And people using a prefix as a prefix is understandable and not some attempt to slight transgender people."

Sure. Language changes, and (much as we would like to) we trans folks can't expect cis people to get hep to our lingo right away. Most trans people I know don't take that use ("transwoman", etc.) as a slight, the first couple times it's done. When we inform cis people of the problems and they then continue to use that phrasing in spite of being informed to the contrary, though, that's when things get tense.

"Also, is this a 'settled'* issue among transgender people or just your own personal preference? In my own idle googling of 'trans men', 'transmen', 'transwomen' and 'trans women' the amount was about half and half and lot of sites by and/or for transgender people used 'transmen' and 'transwomen'."

I think I could count the number of "settled" issues among trans folk on the fingers of one foot. Doesn't indicate cis folks get to use terms however they want without protest from trans folks, though. And a lot of trans folks agree with the preference to have a space in there.

"Also, I disagree with the comparison of black and gay to trans. Black and gay have long histories as stand alone adjectives before they became associated with their current demographic groups. Trans does not. But I probably shouldn't be talking about this as everything I know about etymology and linguistics, I learned from tv."

As I said, language changes. Hopefully the TV shows covered that! :)
posted by jiawen at 5:53 PM on January 23, 2012


"Also, I disagree with the comparison of black and gay to trans. Black and gay have long histories as stand alone adjectives before they became associated with their current demographic groups. Trans does not.

Not yet.
posted by Dysk at 6:00 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know that those of us who haven't been oppressed because of our gender identity feel the need to be addressed in terms of gender at all.

You don't feel the need because you haven't been oppressed. Other people have been oppressed and that's why they see the need to have a term like "cis". You don't see the need because you are lucky enough not to have that need, fine, but there's no reason to be offended because other people have it worse than you and therefore approach things like gender differently.

I mean, do you want everyone to every single time it comes up say "cis women, except misha"? That seems like a really heavy burden.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:03 PM on January 23, 2012


crayz: "And trans people just seem to want to reinforce hoary ideas about
man: Tarzan
woman: Jane

and sometimes Jane wants to be Tarzan, and all anyone is allowed to say is Jane should do that 'whenever she decides'. There were people in the FPP saying they or friends started transitioning and then decided to stop for various reasons. I watched the documentary Southern Comfort which also has people in various stages of transition and with various degrees of satisfaction with their current outcome, various perspectives on what their gender meant to them, etc."

First: It sounds like you're bringing up the old argument that trans people just reinforce gender stereotypes. Is that true?

Second: There are indeed some interesting issues to be discussed surrounding when, or even if, transition is right for someone. However, as a trans person, I've heard this discussion sound very different depending on whether it's trans people or cis people doing the discussing. When it's trans people doing the discussing, a lot of important, serious nuances often do get talked about: what the person's gender identity/subconscious sex is, how the person has thought about it, how their finances and social support are, how to supplement those if need be, etc.

When cis people discuss it, the topics tend to have a nastier streak: how the person could possibly be certain, why the person can't just be gay/lesbian, how trans people can be a burden on the health system, how irreversible the various processes are, etc. As other have said, the undercurrent tends to be "let's deny this person's trans identity as much as possible, and even beyond that". As the MeTa thread mentioned, the subtext becomes "maybe you should never transition".

When cis people are well educated and not transphobic, the discussions can be much better. Unfortunately, the nature of cis privilege being what it is, the discussions are not better nearly often enough.
posted by jiawen at 6:09 PM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


> "Cis" sounds way better if you pronounce it "siz".

Don't sell the steak, sell the cissle.
posted by jfuller at 6:10 PM on January 23, 2012


on the grounds of the purity of the English language ( a cribhouse whore as a friend of mine memorably described it)

Man, poor James Nicoll just can't ever get the attribution he deserves for that quote.
posted by asterix at 6:18 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


his friend happens to be James Nicoll
posted by found missing at 6:21 PM on January 23, 2012


Yep, I meant XX! Feel free to have a good chuckle over that; I'm shaking my head myself at how I just inadvertently muddied the waters even more with that typo.

Plus, I really didn't know what "cis normative" meant, even though I thought I did. So I learned some more tonight, and that's a good thing.

And Dysk; no regrets, coyote: I take your point that just because that article makes cisgender sound negative doesn't mean the word is a bad one all-around.

If someone were not introduced to the term cisgender until today (fortunately I was), and saw that FPP, don't you think it might seem the term itself had some baggage attached, though? I think that's the disconnect here. I came in the thread because I felt there was a pile-on against the people who either didn't know the term, or felt it had negative connotations, or both. But that article was the impetus for their reaction.

I do know it's hard to have to explain yourself over and over. And sometimes you want shortcuts. I'm clinically depressed, and have been suicidal in the past. In every thread about mental illness, I try to address those that aren't clinically depressed (at this moment in time) in a way that says only that about them, and nothing more.

I would love a shortcut, a one-word term that means "not clinically depressed," but I don't have one. It would be a mistake for me to call those people normal, or average, or even happy, because not everyone who is undiagnosed with depression IS happy, or normal, or feels like they are happy or normal.

I still don't like the sound of cisgendered. I also don't have a better, pithy one-word solution. I'm sorry if that inconveniences people and they have to use clunkier language with me. But I promise I'll try not to pigeonhole you, either.

Ivan Fyodorovich, I think people should be called what they want to be called. Would I be uncomfortable if a black man preferred me to call him "boy"? Hell, yes. Would I insist on calling him Sir or Mr. or whatever instead? How could I justify that, knowing he did not want me to?

I think, to be really honest, that I would feel like a deer in headlights in that situation. I hope that I could explain to him why I felt so uncomfortable with "boy", and he could explain to me why he preferred it, and we could work it out between us. In the absence of context, that's the best I can do with your hypothetical. I'm sorry I don't have a better answer.

And I really don't want to keep bogarting the thread, because I'm sure everyone is thoroughly tired of hearing my opinions by this point!
posted by misha at 6:25 PM on January 23, 2012


I'm curious, too, whether every Mefite who is now, or ever was, in a situation where their physical gender did not match their gender identity prefers to be called transgendered?

Anyone care to weigh in?


in a memail earlier i said, 'i consider myself genderqueer but mostly expressing as cis-female' - what i mean by that is that i'm not externally living as any other gender expression besides female, which matches my sex - i wear skirts and cute shoes and i have DD breasts that i encase in cute bras. in high school a boyfriend complimented my birthing hips. i have the privilege of being externally female. but - much like i consider myself pansexual and not bisexual, my gender isn't static. i've had gender changing dreams for as long as i remember.

the first time i bought a strap on, something just locked into place - and i didn't buy it for sex, i bought it...i guess i bought it to help replace something that sometimes feels like it's missing. i went through some periods of cross dressing and expressing myself as male online. i thought about transitioning. i wondered if that's the path i was on. but, it just wasn't that clear for me. yes, i feel like my skin doesn't fit and like i'm missing some parts and have too many of others. but my opinion on what parts i miss and what's too much changes all the time.

so, getting back to your question - i don't take the term transgendered myself because i feel like i possess too much privilege to take on that term. sometimes i feel like i express to externally as a female to even claim genderqueer, even though internally i think it's incredibly descriptive. i understand that other people view trans as a huge umbrella and that my expression would fit under that - i totally respect that and i don't mind that definition. but, sometimes i feel like being cis female married to cis male, that i'm belittling the real trauma and othering some people who are less fluid have to live with. sometimes i wish i were more static so i didn't have to use so many words to describe my identity. if i had to pin it down, i'd say i'm a pansexual, genderqueer LGBT ally, with an extra emphasis on the T because i think they get pushed under the bus.
posted by nadawi at 6:27 PM on January 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


I guess I really do just see the label as a pure descriptor that does effectively mean 'not trans*' (but without the implications of that phrase) and nothing more. Certainly, that is how I, and the people I talk with when the word crops up, use it.
posted by Dysk at 6:29 PM on January 23, 2012


Is there a word that means "not a MeFite"? 'Cause tell the truth, this thread and the one that spawned it make me aspire strongly to be that. Looking at all the usual offensive, dismissive, gutting crap be tacitly sanctioned by the mods in fucking 2012 is not something I'm comfortable associating with anymore.
posted by tigrrrlily at 7:36 PM on January 23, 2012


jiawen & Dysk - Thanks for the discussion.

Not yet.
Touché.

And to be clear, I wasn't planning on being all "Random Trans Person 53 uses it so I can too! Suck it, losers! Mwahahahaha!!!" I was just curious about how it was viewed in the transgender community.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:37 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if 13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women: Part One and 13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women: Part Two should be in a fpp.
posted by bleary at 7:55 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe not this week?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:56 PM on January 23, 2012


Don't sell the steak, sell the cissle.

One important takeaway from this thread is that the steak muft cissle.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:58 PM on January 23, 2012


jessamyn: "Maybe not this week"

maybe not and I definitely don't feel up to the challenge. She's got good articles though.
posted by bleary at 8:12 PM on January 23, 2012


The big thing I don't get about people who don't get trans issues in posts on the blue and also the mods:

Yes, MeFi is a general interest site. But in many, many FPPs about even controversial topics (except for dubstep and ponies), you don't get this level of comments stopping discussion to idly proclaim ignorance. Like, Israel posts with commenters going "So, what's this thing with Palestine again? Where is this exactly? Why doesn't everyone just move to a bigger country? How long has this been going on again?" Or like how I don't know anything about French cooking, but I'll probably not wander into debate about foie gras ethics going "French food, I dunno! What's coq au vin, anyway? I've never actually cared enough to look it up. Expend the energy to enlighten me anyway,
Internet!" Crap like that will get you righteously rolled for hitting up an Israel thread ignorant of Palestine, or you'll get a wiki link for coq recipes and then be ignored for the poor fat geese. Or try hitting a US gay history thread with "What is this 'Stonewall' of which you speak?", see how that goes over.

But with trans threads it's like people go "I have no idea how these trans stories got into my Internet, or why! and Wikipedia took the rest of the internet down so I have nowhere else to turn! I need facts to back the very strong opinions I already have! Nobody move til I get the last 40 years of trans politics summarized!" And the mod response is like "You make valid points, but we can't punish people for being ignorant, so just expect that these obscure topics will be controversial and repetitive! Now back to our regular schedule of SLYTs about My Little Locavore Ponies playing dubstep based on physics jokes!" (Which would actually be awesome, but still.)
posted by nicebookrack at 8:32 PM on January 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


it's just a neutral description...

No it isn't. Descriptions are rarely neutral. Throwing around terms like "cis-sexist" is not neutral.

... that makes absolutely zero difference to their everyday lives.

If it makes no difference to them, why does it make a difference to you?
posted by John Cohen at 8:38 PM on January 23, 2012


And the mod response is like "You make valid points, but we can't punish people for being ignorant, so just expect that these obscure topics will be controversial and repetitive!

I seriously don't know what people are expecting from modland on this stuff. That we make some sort of fundamental ban on people being confused about stuff they're unfamiliar with? That there be in fact some kind of punishment?

None of us think it's great that there's derails about jargon or basic 101 stuff. I think we all pretty much agree it's annoying. And to the extent that we see early deraily stuff happening in a way that we can try and rectify it with a note or a quick deletion or something, we'll try to do that. But totally preventing side chatter about the context or basics of some aspect of a topic is not doable, it's absolutely not practically consistently achievable without getting seriously draconian about how moderation or basic permission-to-converse here functions.

And contra the implication that that's unique to trans discussions, there's annoying behavior that manifests indeed in all sorts of topics, from all sorts of points of entry. There's something like ten thousand active users on this site, and most of them aren't familiar with the details of most things, and part of what that means is that for better or for worse just about any discussion has the potential to have someone wandering in being confused about the basics. It can be frustrating, it can be obnoxious, and to some extent careful framing can mitigate the likelihood of it happening in the first place and a prompt heads up to the mods and some luck can stem the tide of it if it does start happening, but this is basically life in a large heterogeneous community where we don't enforce prerequisites to enter a thread.

In short, our response is very much not what you're saying it is. We are stuck being, yes, pragmatic about how to manage what actually happens here rather than what we'd like to happen in our platonic ideal of metafilter discussion, but it's very much not a throw-our-hands up "there's nothing to be done, deal with it" thing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:43 PM on January 23, 2012


And the mod response is like "You make valid points, but we can't punish people for being ignorant, so just expect that these obscure topics will be controversial and repetitive! Now back to our regular schedule of SLYTs about My Little Locavore Ponies playing dubstep based on physics jokes!"

My basic statement was that I think that using terms that people don't understand especially in threads about hot button issues will mean that there will be a certain amount of "what does that mean?" happening. So if the MeTa question is "Do we have to have this conversation again or can mods keep it down by axing comments" we reply "Well we're not going to just axe ignorant comments if people aren't being assholes" The fact that people don't do the explain-and-ignore route that often works pretty well is often a function of how much people care about these topics [unlike, say, french cooking] but it also makes them difficult for people to manage at many levels.

If we think people are flat out trolling, we'll axe it. If we think people are making a good faith effort to figure something out [even if they're being snarky or weird about it] then yeah, we're not going to axe it just because it's annoying. Other more specialized sites [TV without Pity is a good non-controversial example] can have a long list of "things that are not okay here" that are catered towards the people who self-select to be on the site and one of the downsides to being a generalist site where sort of everyone talks about everything is that this sort of thing happens.

You definitely get this same level of response in I/P threads [before we started being more pro-active about deleting the more over-the-top ones] and feminism threads and rape threads. And I wish it were different in some ways. But to actively make it different from a mod perspective involves turning this site into a site that is more heavily and closely moderated and that's not really the way things go here. So, yeah, it's not that we can't punish people for being ignorant, it's that most of the time we don't. Most of the time that works out okay, sometimes it doesn't.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:43 PM on January 23, 2012


I think the level of engagement from trans supporters in these threads through the years has been amazing - honest, generally patient, educational - and it's happened over and over again. That the patience wears thin when the ignorance is presented in particularly obnoxious and aggressive form shouldn't be a surprise, but the efforts of MeFi trans supporters has done a lot to move the threads in a good direction over time. It's better than it used to be, but nowhere near where it should be.

*shrug* I'm not sure what the mods can do about that. Maybe a slightly quicker and more forceful rerouting of standard derails to MeTa in the future? Would that be such a dramatic shift in mod style? Seems just a question of degree. I don't have any complaints about how the thread was handled (though I do hope tigrrrlily comes back at some point), just thinking it wouldn't be a bad thing if this discussion resulted in the more common derails in trans threads being shifted here more quickly.
posted by mediareport at 9:24 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Descriptions are rarely neutral. Throwing around terms like "cis-sexist" is not neutral.

Sure it is. It's a word that means something specific and real, just like banana or sweater-vest. A banana is a banana. A sweater-vest is a sweater-vest. A cis-sexist is a cis-sexist. You may not be any of these things, but they exist, and the fact that there are words for them is not bad.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:28 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would say I find the trans community's attitude conservative and unhelpful, because I'd like to talk about a human right to self-alteration and self-destiny in general (and I think this could be related back to other progressive causes of body-related rights - the drug war, abortion, etc), and work out the nuance of when and how that's appropriate for people depending on their age and the type of alteration they wish to undergo, among myriad other factors.

Okay, totally confused about what on earth you mean about "the trans community's attitude" being conservative or how it conflicts with anything you just said.

And trans people just seem to want to reinforce hoary ideas about
man: Tarzan
woman: Jane

and sometimes Jane wants to be Tarzan, and all anyone is allowed to say is Jane should do that "whenever she decides".


And then here it seems like you're just stereotyping and overgeneralizing about how all/most trans people think about gender (problematic even if it's based on actual experiences with a few trans people, and more so if it's just making assumptions about how you think they think.) Or is there some more generous interpretation of this that I missed?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:47 PM on January 23, 2012


This is such a tiresome and predictable retort. And, anyway, it's not true. Just by virtue of commenting here, we have a pretty good idea of what level of privilege you experience in this world. And, beyond that, by the things you write and what you've revealed about yourself in the past.

If you act like someone whose privilege has been exposed, then it's entirely fair to assume that you're someone whose privilege has been exposed.


And I'll bet you can imagine that this is a really tiring move as well, Ivan. If only my eyes were open to the truth, eh? If only I could see the sin within me that is so obvious to you! Your model of social privilege is Marxist in character - it explains everything and is irrefutable. Anything I say just adds further confirmation of what is already so clear about me and my position as an unreflective privileged straight white man.

I'd try to clarify my position but at this point it really would be farts in the wind - I have not yet been led into the light, so whatever I say is just further evidence of ignorance. Really, what's the point?

I had nothing to do with the original blue thread, and the only reason I commented here is that I have a stake in the wider issues of site culture. But I am going to give this topic a pass from now on, along with feminist/women's issues, rape, race, and anything else I have not yet been "properly educated" in from the perspective of North American progressives. I much prefer it when we are all talking about good and fun stuff, and aren't having to struggle with one another.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:58 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


"What is this 'Stonewall' of which you speak?" - I'm bisexual, I have been on MeFi since 2001, and I had to Google that. You simply cannot expect everyone to know the fundamentals of every issue.

Plus, not every MeFi member will read these current trans threads, but perhaps they will read the next one. Additionally, new members join every day. This is why MeFi constantly retreads the same tired ground.
posted by Ardiril at 9:58 PM on January 23, 2012


John Cohen: "... that makes absolutely zero difference to their everyday lives.

If it makes no difference to them, why does it make a difference to you?
"

Are you seriously asking, in a day and age in which otherwise progressive countries require trans people to be sterilised and ban us from storing eggs or sperm, why it makes a difference to us to have a word for cis people?

And cis is intended to be just as neutral as trans. That it isn't always used in a neutral, sterile fashion is not the fault of transsexual people: for the most part, we're not shitting on ourselves, and I'm not going to blame other trans people for being slightly frustrated.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:07 PM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Actually, now that I think about it, I have no idea where Palestine is other than somewhere in or near Israel.
posted by Ardiril at 10:09 PM on January 23, 2012


Metafilter: "The perspective of North American progressives" 101
posted by Ardiril at 10:17 PM on January 23, 2012


"'What is this 'Stonewall' of which you speak?' - I'm bisexual, I have been on MeFi since 2001, and I had to Google that. You simply cannot expect everyone to know the fundamentals of every issue."

That's interesting to me, actually, because pretty much everyone who isn't directly or indirectly involved in LGBT rights is unaware of the Stonewall Riots even though it's the single most important grass-roots gay rights event and marks (in many respects) the beginning of the gay civil rights movement in North America and, less directly, most everywhere. There is no single event more important.

I have one of the most authoritative histories of the Stonewall Riots and it's a little disconcerting that it's written as if it were of interest only to gays and lesbians. But, to be fair, I pretty much feel like I'm among the very few straight people who've read that book. I certainly don't know any other straight people who have.

With that in mind, it's kind of amazing and heartening that gay rights as a movement has come so far, so fast, even when so little of its history is known to the straight community. It very likely is the case, as is often argued, that it's exceptional because anyone and everyone could, and almost certainly do, know someone who is gay. Although, sadly, why the hell this isn't true with regard to women's rights is something that pisses me off on almost a daily basis.

But, well, while maybe we can't expect everyone to know what Stonewall is, that isn't an argument against the claim that people should know what Stonewall is. Most especially people who consider themselves progressives.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:27 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jews have a word for non-Jews. It's considered in poor taste to use it. Just a thought.
posted by falameufilho at 10:37 PM on January 23, 2012


[T]he claim that people should know what Stonewall is...

... does not delineate how people should come by that knowledge. Thus, Metafilter and its ilk serve that purpose. The fundamentals recur, the same arguments for and against get rehashed, and those who accept the conclusions move on to other sites that cater to the informed.

This reminds me of the MeFi member who was so frustrated that the community had not seemed to learn any of the lessons from Slutwalk.
posted by Ardiril at 10:38 PM on January 23, 2012


"What is this 'Stonewall' of which you speak?" - I'm bisexual, I have been on MeFi since 2001, and I had to Google that.

This makes me kinda sad. But not as sad as it would if this were a US gay history thread and you said "I can't be bothered to Google that, what's Stonewall?

You simply cannot expect everyone to know the fundamentals of every issue.

It is unreasonable to expect everyone to know the fundamentals of every issue. Is it reasonable that the fundamentals of every issue raised on Metafilter should be available to learn only through Metafilter, and that these fundamentals should be reiterated every time that issue is raised again on Metafilter? (For the people unaware of or unwilling to use previous post and subject tags to find discussion.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:43 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jews have a word for non-Jews. It's considered in poor taste to use it. Just a thought.

"Goyisch schmuck!" would read as rude to me, for sure. Or "this shiksa, you throw away three years of medical school for her, this is the son I raised?" Poor taste, definitely.

"No, no, they're goyim" has all sorts of neutral practical uses. Someone could snarl it if they had a negative opinion behind it or just a shitty attitude or something but that'd be circumstance, not the word itself, and that goes for just about anything. See also "gentile". Or are you talking about some other specific word-that-Jews-use-for-non-Jews-that-is-nasty?
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:57 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think that if you have the slightest interest in 'queer issues' or gay rights, not knowing what Stonewall is is well-nigh inexcusable.
posted by empath at 11:10 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


(at least if you're American)
posted by empath at 11:10 PM on January 23, 2012


Goy, of course. It's basically never used in the presence of non-jews. A here I think lies the secret of the word in question in this thread. Like goy, it's always used in a kinda bitchy way, which jews appreciate, but the goyim may not.
posted by falameufilho at 11:14 PM on January 23, 2012


You haven't discovered jack shit.
posted by fleacircus at 11:16 PM on January 23, 2012


I'm cis-goy and proud!
posted by Burhanistan at 11:20 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not Jewish, and I'm curious if falameufilho is (of the Iberian Jewish exodus during the Spanish Inquisition?) (relevant to his claims about what is and is not in poor taste and why he might be asserting this), but goy and shiksa are not really very comparable. Goy is Hebrew and not traditionally pejorative; shiksa is Yiddish and traditionally is pejorative and both match my own personal experience of their usages.

And, in any case, as a goy myself, I am not the least offended when referred to as such. Even when it's intended as pejorative. Why? Because that's the great thing about privilege. It's not as if there's any institutional and widely diversified and endemic cultural bigotry against me as a non-Jew that this term is representative of. It just doesn't have much sting.

Of course, this raises the question as to why some other privileged folk find similar epithets applied to them so enormously troubling. But, well, I suggest it's not unlike how a certain kind of person who's never experienced severe pain stubs their toe and collapses into helpless agony that demands the attention of everyone nearby while another person who's also never experienced severe pain stubs their toe and recognizes that it's neither the end of the world nor the center of everyone else's. It's not merely being privileged, it's being utterly and perhaps willfully unself-aware about that privilege. Oh, also, it's probably often crocodile tears.

On preview:

"Like goy, it's always used in a kinda bitchy way, which jews appreciate, but the goyim may not."

I don't think that's true of either word. It might be true of goy in a more contemporary multicultural context where its use among jews is very intentionally self-aware; but I don't think that has historically been the case nor is it the case in present times outside of the particular jewish multicultural self-aware context. And I'm certain it's not true of cisgendered. The assertion that it is, is an unfair imputation.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:23 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


a certain kind of person who's never experienced severe pain stubs their toe and collapses into helpless agony that demands the attention of everyone nearby

But enough about professional soccer players.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:26 PM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "Of course, this raises the question as to why some other privileged folk find similar epithets applied to them so enormously troubling. "

It's not "enormously troubling". I don't think there's a single goy that'd be truly offended to be called a goy. Same with cisgendered. And even with offensive words - I don't think there's a single white person that would really lose sleep over being called a cracker. Those on the other side of the "privilege" are of course entitled of all the theatrics. That's fine - it's the nature of the game.

But the way "cisgendered" is thrown around by trans people? I couldn't help but not think of how Jews restrain themselves in using the word goy. You're correct in saying that goy is not offensive. I never said it is - it's just in poor taste to use it in the presence of the goyim.

If nothing else, it's a matter of manners and conviviality.
posted by falameufilho at 11:34 PM on January 23, 2012


But the way "cisgendered" is thrown around by trans people?

I don't really see it being "thrown around", and it's been made pretty clear throughout the thread that it's intended as a neutral term. Then agai, saying Those on the other side of the "privilege" are of course entitled of all the theatrics kind of makes me think you're interpreting things to fit a certain narrative of your own.
posted by kagredon at 11:38 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


But the way "cisgendered" is thrown around by trans people?

Could you point to some examples of transgender people "throwing around" cisgender or cisgendered as an insult? Because I'm googling around, and I see some blogs from transgender/transgender ally people about how cisgender isn't an insult, and I see some blogs about people not liking the term cisgender, but I can't find one where a transgender person uses the term pejoratively about non-transgender people. Could you help me out?
posted by Errant at 12:28 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Outliers aside -- the trans community has its "kill all cis people" people the same way feminists have "kill all men" people; extremists who couldn't be less representative of the community's thoughts if they lived on the moon, and most definitely outnumbered by "kill all trannies" on the cis side -- the closest to pejorative usage I generally find is in the following scenarios:

1. after someone has expressed the thought in response to a problem, well why don't you just do [x], unaware that [x] is extraordinarily difficult and/or time-consuming for trans people, said trans person in frustration may exclaim, "Clueless fucking cis people!" Corollaries perhaps being why don't you just get married or why on earth would you worry about hospital visitation rights for a gay person.

2. after being on the receiving end of abuse or violence from a cis person.

Both instances I hope would be interpreted as frustration or anger towards a specific cis person and not blanket condemnation or hatred of all cis people. That the person is cis is perhaps a reason why they don't understand, but their cissexual nature is not a reason to hate or lash out at them without cause.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:56 AM on January 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


Guys, please. It's not insulting. I've never seen it used as an insult. I said it several times already. It's a neutral term. The context that it's used is problematic, because it is never followed by praise, it is invariably followed criticism or accusations of privilege.* Which may be fair, I wont go into that merit.

So is it offensive? Not really. It's more on the category of annoying. I honestly think non-trans is a more neutral term, bound to cause less estrangement. And to see "non-trans" as a term that denigrates trans people is IMHO kind of a stretch. But I won't be the judge of what's offensive to others (a cue trans people should perhaps take?)

Overall it is a shitload of ado about not much really. Whatever the term trans people use to refer to cisgendered people, it's bound to be a niche term for a pure matter of statistics - I dont think this is bound to be the new "straight". But even so, it's been proven controversial enough that if outreach is something the trans community cares about, they probably should think about using something else. Or, like the word "goy", try to confine it to usage amongst your peers.

*"Cisgendered people are awesome" should have made the list of the "shit nobody says" video.
posted by falameufilho at 1:30 AM on January 24, 2012


I honestly think non-trans is a more neutral term, bound to cause less estrangement.

I disagree. I think we want labels that are affirmative, that say what we are instead of what we're not. If "cisgender" is a neutral term, which I agree that it is, we can then make it a positive term, just like "transgender" is, or should be, a positive label.

But even so, it's been proven controversial enough that if outreach is something the trans community cares about, they probably should think about using something else.

The majority frequently uses terms like "outreach" and "hearts and minds" to tell minorities how they should think and what they can and can't say, and that if they don't accede to this instruction it is a clear indication of the minority's lack of goodwill or concern for the feelings of the majority. I'm just saying, this is a really old argument and it's not persuasive.

"Cisgendered people are awesome" should have made the list of the "shit nobody says" video.

It's not exactly "cisgendered people are awesome" so much as "cisgendered people who do these things are awesome", but here you go.
posted by Errant at 1:58 AM on January 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


falameufilho: "And to see "non-trans" as a term that denigrates trans people is IMHO kind of a stretch. But I won't be the judge of what's offensive to others (a cue trans people should perhaps take?)"

You can't have it both ways. Either cis people are deciding for trans people that they can or cannot be called cis, and thus are judging how trans people should respond to their othering, or trans people are applying a label to cis people as a response to their othering and the onus is on cis people to accept.

I'm resisting the urge to go off on one at the idea that trans people, who are constantly parodied and mocked in the media with no voice of our own*, should take that cue.

* I made an FPP recently about My Transsexual Summer, a ground-breaking UK docu-reality show that ran for three episodes in 2011. It was ground-breaking because it featured the voices of transsexual people describing their own experiences and just talking with each other in a way that's commonplace in real life but almost entirely absent on film. The series was also criticised for heavily editing the people involved to make them conform more closely to the generally accepted trans narratives, for completely misrepresenting the identities of several of the participants, and for some downright horrible VO work straight out of the worst 1990s "look at the pathetic tranny" documentaries. Pretty much all the participants went on the record about what went wrong with it. And yet, despite all that, it was a huge leap forward in accurate representations of our lives; that's how little voice we have, that when cis people speak for us and twist our words in circles it's a huge victory.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:31 AM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


The context that it's used is problematic, because it is never followed by praise, it is invariably followed criticism or accusations of privilege.

Why should it be followed by praise? No one says "right handed people are awesome" because it would be a weird generalization to make in the best of times, and in the context of righty/lefty issues, it's even less likely to come up. "Righties are lucky." "Righties don't even want to hear about it." "Righties are oblivious." Those are more likely, and totally fair. (And to say it somehow reflects on the word 'righties' would be to meander into stupidland.)

Do you feel estranged by lefty pride?

It's more on the category of annoying. I honestly think non-trans is a more neutral term, bound to cause less estrangement.

"Non-apple" doesn't indicate an orange in a world that includes pineapples. I thought we'd gone through this already.

I think cisgendered is neutral and descriptive. The arguments to the contrary in this thread have been pretty weak. People who are bothered by the word, I submit, are more bothered by the idea. That's not estrangement; that's awareness.

But I won't be the judge of what's offensive to others (a cue trans people should perhaps take?)

I'd stick more to the not being a judge of things if I were you.
posted by fleacircus at 3:16 AM on January 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm gobsmacked that some people consider the use of cis- as denigrating, particularly considering the logic behind it. Once again, Metafilter has taught me something (the whole trans/cis prefix thing and its origins) which is a good thing, because I'll bet I'm not the only one. It's a description. People are always calling for words to describe things that exist that haven't be labelled succinctly enough (in English, anyway). On preview, I agree with fleacircus - neutral and descriptive.

I can imagine how annoying it would be to have to keep on repeating this stuff, though.
posted by h00py at 3:24 AM on January 24, 2012


To echo what a few people have said: when first introduced to the cis- prefix I felt relieved when I learned in recent years that there was a neutral way I could refer to myself in conversations regarding issues of gender. Personally, the lack of a term made me acutely aware of the privilege I had as a cisgendered person, with no neutral means of describing myself. Before I learned the term, I stumbled over ways to describe my experiences of gender without feeling as if I was being extraordinarily ciscentric (without even having a word for that) in my language.
posted by pammeke at 3:52 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still really surprised and disheartened that the sentiment of "but YOU said it, so it's YOUR job to educate me!" is so... pushy here. Even good faith efforts can either be laziness or pure curiosity about ~*~mysterious trans people~*~ that really, honestly, is nobody's business.

People being confused about stuff they're unfamiliar with? My boyfriend gets plenty of that from doctors and specialists. Why would anyone want to willingly stick it out for 500+ comments just for someone to reply that "your reply isn't good enough! I still dislike this word!" And yet there's still the feeling that it's OK to have this debate over and over again so people can reiterate over and over again that they don't like the word? That's not being informed, that's just being willingly belligerent.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:32 AM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't even know what this means. Are mods not allowed to participate in a discussion of site culture?

I just meant that its a shame for a mod to recognise people acting in a dismissive manner which they themselves describe as hostile but to place the blame for group A's hostility onto the people they are being hostile towards.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 4:32 AM on January 24, 2012


I reckon a lot of the kerfuffle about the term stems from its particular use in the article linked in the FPP which spawned this meta - it wasn't great. Its use there was at least borderline offensive, and if that's the only (or first) context in which people have seen the word, it's entirely possible they might get the wrong impression. However, that impression is wrong. Someone can use 'white people' for example in a context where you could substitute in 'utter shits' without it seeming out of place, and it would be an offensive piece - but it would be all the things surrounding 'white people' that are offensive, not the term 'white people' itself. I see this as a distinctly similar situation.

As a trans person, I would personally have gone for something far less confrontational and het up if I were sharing with a mixed, predominantly cis audience. It sucks, but there's no reason to preload the opposing snark-guns with tone argument, which is effectively what this entire discussion has been - the word was used in an aggressive tone, and was hence taken to be itself aggressive. It's not.
posted by Dysk at 5:13 AM on January 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


And yet there's still the feeling that it's OK to have this debate over and over again so people can reiterate over and over again that they don't like the word? That's not being informed, that's just being willingly belligerent.

People are funny that way and it takes two to tango. No one has to answer the demands of definition or comments about disliking the prefix.

ArmyofKittens:You've asked several times that if 'cis' isn't liked then what would be preferred. Having looked around and read a bit, I see your point: Those who have been talking about this for a while have already developed terms and language to describe the people and phenomena in clinical, not subjective terms.

Still, I don't like the term 'cis'. I'd probably just go with 'mutant' at this point, if only 'cause it sounds more interesting.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:22 AM on January 24, 2012


You understand we'll require evidence of your third arm or magic power for that to fly.

Do you have a cool costume?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:32 AM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


As I went to bed last night, people were still having the "I'm not sure I understand what that word means" conversation. As much as I think the cis prefix is a useful one in many situations and one that people should know about, this wasn't just someone making a post using the word cisgendered. It was a post talking about an already touchy issue, cissexism, which is a word Ive personally never seen before even though I can figure out what it means. So, touchy issue, new words, irritable userbase [including a few people who we know have strong feelings on both sides of the issue], football games, etc.

I feel like the cis prefix needs to be used with the awareness that not everyone is going to understand it [yes, still] and with the understanding that as an unusual term [much more common in some communities than in others] that yes you're going to have these dustups when you use it. I appreciate that people decide to use it anyhow, that's how language changes, that's how we get points across. But no, I don't think it's possible to both use that word, in the contexts where it is likely to show up, and not have to do some Education 101 about where it came from and what it means and why it's important. We've had these conversations enough here that we pretty much know that here, in this community, we're going to have to have more of them.


There are about 500 different things that can derail a discussion of transgender issues into Education 101. It's kind of bullshit to just allow any discussion of the topic to be derailed into that. The thread had a topic, it was about transgender kids, not word choice.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:05 AM on January 24, 2012


You understand we'll require evidence of your third arm or magic power for that to fly.

We'll also need Brandon to come up with a new term to describe all us non-mutants.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:05 AM on January 24, 2012


Immutants?
posted by davidjmcgee at 6:07 AM on January 24, 2012


Oh, but U-Men just doesn't sound like other English words...
posted by emmtee at 6:15 AM on January 24, 2012


In genetics, the terms are mutant and wildtype.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:18 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goy, of course. It's basically never used in the presence of non-jews.

Yes it is.

"Goy" is a neutral word in both modern Hebrew, where it has evolved to mean "a person who is a non-Jew" (or a gentile) and in Yiddish, where it carries a similar meaning and no other word exists to describe non-Jews.

The word is used in various contexts in both languages. The idea that its use always derogatory is inaccurate.

Like goy, it's always used in a kinda bitchy way, which jews appreciate, but the goyim may not.

Despite routines by Jackie Mason and Lenny Bruce, this isn't true. The word "goy" has a neutral connotation, unless context dictates otherwise.
posted by zarq at 6:51 AM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Jews have a word for non-Jews. It's considered in poor taste to use it. Just a thought.
posted by falameufilho at 10:37 PM on January 23


Sure, but there's also "gentile", which is fairly neutral; probably the "heterosexual" to the other option "breeder". I've only ever seen cis-gendered or cis-sexual used in ways that place it in the same category as gentile or heterosexual, personally.
posted by eviemath at 7:01 AM on January 24, 2012


Despite routines by Jackie Mason and Lenny Bruce, this isn't true.

Looking back at this sentence, it actually sounds pretty obnoxious. I wasn't intending to be snarky, but if it came across that way because of this, I apologize. Bruce does a routine on goyish vs. jewish, and Mason is... well... Mason.
posted by zarq at 7:01 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


In genetics, the terms are mutant and wildtype.

I'm totally pitching a new X-Men franchise called Wildtype that features a group of non-mutant kids who get sent to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters because their clueless parents think it is just a really exclusive private school. Through a clerical error they get assigned to their own "super" team and have to go up against the traditional X-Villains. They succeed basically by bluffing and because the bad guys repeatedly overestimate them. The roster:
posted by Rock Steady at 7:14 AM on January 24, 2012 [33 favorites]


In their most famous story arc, Emily becomes extremely upset about getting a C on a written test and uses a black crayon to heavily deface her favorite cartoon cat poster. Fans will come to refer to it as "The Dark Felix Saga".
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:18 AM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


mutant and wildtype

The wildtypes need a Duran Duran based theme song.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:20 AM on January 24, 2012


"What is this 'Stonewall' of which you speak?" - I'm bisexual, I have been on MeFi since 2001, and I had to Google that. You simply cannot expect everyone to know the fundamentals of every issue.

And all those rainbows? What's up with that?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:41 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The context that it's used is problematic, because it is never followed by praise, it is invariably followed criticism or accusations of privilege.

Since the doors have been opened to anecdote and personal experience: no, it isn't. I have hear the term "cisgender" used in entirely neutral contexts. Practically clinical.

I honestly think non-trans is a more neutral term, bound to cause less estrangement. And to see "non-trans" as a term that denigrates trans people is IMHO kind of a stretch.

This ignores the entire history of "non-" being used to position a groups outside the norm, such as "non-white," and "non-Christian," which lump diverse populations together into "not us." This is a history that I would guess the creators and proponents of "cisgender" are not only aware of, but actively working against, in proposing a clinical term that positively describes someone whose sex and gender align.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:43 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm very late to the party, but I've been trying really hard to read this thread before commenting, and work, life, and other things have kept me from getting to the end until just now, at roughly 12:30 in the morning. I can't possibly respond to everything I'd like to, but a couple things, and I'll go away again:

I'm not a fan of cis-gendered, and honestly, though I've seen it popping up more recently, I'd thought it was an acronym replacing trans (change in sex, or something), which had confused the hell out of me, honestly. That it's been explained fully is something I'm pretty grateful for, but like I said, I'm not crazy about it, and not because I fear it, not because I don't understand it, but just because I'm not crazy about being labelled. I've had enough of being labelled by people to last me a lifetime, and having new ones (that, of course, carry privilege burdens with them, as has been pointed out all thread) afixed to me is something I'm just not crazy about. I get it, it's not a negative word, it's not even about what I call myself. It's what I would be called, by other people. It's what I'd be labelled. I don't particularly want to be labelled. In this sense, it seems odd that the 'call me what I'd like to be called/don't call me something I'd prefer not to be called' doesn't work both ways.

I don't like to pre-empt arguments because it tends to invite more than would have come naturally, but I feel my ideas will be dismissed as coming from a position of privilege. I've read the article, I've worked to understand my place in the privilege chain. That said, some comments in this thread and others, attacking people on perceived privilege rather than what they've actually tried to contribute are beyond bad faith, and shut down any possible conversation that doesn't end with massive apologies for existing. Upthread, someone was crowing about how the proper stance of a privileged person was guilt. How far does this have to go? In which discussions will everyone feel welcome without having to point out how downtrodden they are so as to be entitled to their opinions?

I feel, just for having written this (poorly, and apologies, there's just so much running through my mind about this), that I'll be dismissed simply for what's in my profile, that I'll be told that I just don't understand, and that I can't because of who I am, which, honestly, is incredibly belittling, and, as I said, in really poor faith.

As for goyim, as I heard it used among the women chatting after services at my congregation, or among my peers at USY, goyim was never even close to a neutral term, and yes, I definitely try to avoid its use full stop. It might indeed mean non-Jew, but its usage, among the Jews I grew up surrounded by, was pretty vile.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:47 AM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


zarq: ""Goy" is a neutral word in both modern Hebrew, where it has evolved to mean "a person who is a non-Jew" (or a gentile) and in Yiddish, where it carries a similar meaning and no other word exists to describe non-Jews. "

There's shaygetz (the masculine for shiksa), but this is definitely non-neutral.

What I was trying to say is that, in my experience, even though the word "goy" is neutral, it is not used around non-jews. It's impolite. Not farting at the dinner table impolite, more like chewing gum with your mouth open impolite.

My original point was that it's a matter of manners and conviviality to try to look for words that make what you're trying to say more palatable to the receiver. If you think that "cisgendered" accomplishes that, than just look at this thread. And bear in mind it got this reaction in Metafilter of all places.
posted by falameufilho at 7:52 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


EvaDestruction: "This ignores the entire history of "non-" being used to position a groups outside the norm, such as "non-white," and "non-Christian," which lump diverse populations together into "not us." "

Continuing the analogy with Jews, I don't remember ever seeing a Jewish person complaining about the widespread usage of "non-Jew", which is the accepted term for gentile (which is not really used). So what you're saying doesn't really apply universally.
posted by falameufilho at 7:59 AM on January 24, 2012


Perhaps not, but it applies in this case and many others. Why split hairs?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:03 AM on January 24, 2012


What I was trying to say is that, in my experience, even though the word "goy" is neutral, it is not used around non-jews. It's impolite.

Which is not my experience. More so your earlier suggestion that it is "always used in a kinda bitchy way". It's possible you know unusually bitchy Jews or that I know exceptionally chill ones, but on the strength of the general understanding from what I can see of the literature that goy is indeed neutral by default, I'm inclined to think this is more of an experiential thing specific to you, especially since it seems like there's the exact same disconnect here about cisgender: you insist it's in poor taste or inherently gauche to use while other people are saying, no, really, it's not.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:07 AM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


You can't honestly be asking "why split hairs". At this point, it's an internet version of the "stop hitting yourself" game.
posted by falameufilho at 8:10 AM on January 24, 2012


You can't honestly be asking "why split hairs". At this point, it's an internet version of the "stop hitting yourself" game.

And ... cut! That tells me everything I need to know about what you're doing here.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:12 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can. Assertion: non-trans positions trans outside the norm. Rebuttal: it doesn't with Jews. Rebuttal of rebuttal: eh?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:13 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I was trying to say is that, in my experience, even though the word "goy" is neutral, it is not used around non-jews. It's impolite.

That's what I'm disagreeing with. I know a handful of people who use the term freely around non-Jews, both in Yiddish and Hebrew, because if it's not being used disparagingly, it's a perfectly fine word. Not impolite.

I'm perfectly fine agreeing to disagree with you about this if you like. I'd rather not derail what has been a fascinating, enlightening (and frustrating!) discussion.
posted by zarq at 8:19 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


zarq: "what has been a fascinating, enlightening (and frustrating!) discussion."

Bite marks! On every keyboard in the house!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:21 AM on January 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


So, what I'm getting so far is that goy isn't seen as offensive, or in poor taste, or impolite, by members of MetaFilter whom I know to be Jewish and who live in the United States. It's possible that this is a cultural thing or a geographical thing. Or maybe it's something that is specific either to falameufilho and ghidorah's social circle or perception.

That notwithstanding:

I don't think there's a single goy that'd be truly offended to be called a goy. Same with cisgendered.

Actually, there's at least one called-cisgendered person in this thread who is clearly offended by it (or rather by the possibility that he might at some point be called cisgendered) - here and following - although the reasoning as to why is a bit opaque, but it can be compared metaphorically with homophobia. Then there's a chunk of less intense protest, like:
I don't particularly want to be labelled. In this sense, it seems odd that the 'call me what I'd like to be called/don't call me something I'd prefer not to be called' doesn't work both ways.
Then you've got joeclark, in the MeFi thread, who suggests that the term is considered hate speech. So, yeah. It seems like (a) the level of offence contained in goy is highly questionable (b) it's not very useful for this reason and because the postulate - no goy would be truly offended by being called a goy does not map to no cisgendered person would be truly offended by being called cisgendered. That's a demonstrably falsifiable statement.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:22 AM on January 24, 2012


"and because" = "because of".
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:22 AM on January 24, 2012


It's what I would be called, by other people. It's what I'd be labelled. I don't particularly want to be labelled.

I get where you're coming from here but I don't think this is a realistic goal. People label others all the time -- as short, as tall, as a painter, as an engineer, as gay, as straight, etc. It is unavoidable: we need words to talk about other people, even knowing that they are not all the same. We can talk about job prospects for carpenters without the disclaimer that all carpenters are not alike and that they are all unique individuals. I think we should expect people to use factual descriptors that are as neutral as possible, but insisting that nobody ever describe anyone else using a short label is sort of baffling to me.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:27 AM on January 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


Cortex and zarq, we're going to have to agree to disagree on that one. Of course it's used in a jokey and innofensive manner as well, specially when jews and non-jews are close. I've seen it used it like that with friends, but it's a special circumstance. It's fodder for busting chops and such, and used like that specially because it's kinda edgy (very mildly edgy). But outside of that context it's never positive. "We used to have a country home there but sold it, the place was too goyish" is something a rabbi once told me when talking about places to spend the holidays. It's not as bad as the n-word, not even close. There's no comparison. It's just not positive.
posted by falameufilho at 8:33 AM on January 24, 2012


There's no comparison. It's just not positive.

And this has what to do with "cis," exactly?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:37 AM on January 24, 2012


Go back and read my other posts. I won't repeat myself, especially to you. Which is my cue to bow out of this thread.
posted by falameufilho at 8:41 AM on January 24, 2012


Yeah, everyone who "doesn't like to be labeled" needs to think really hard about that, because it's so SO obviously not about all labels, but rather just this specific one. Last time someone asked you to put your gender on an application, did you squirm? Or did you circle the M or F and go on about your day? That label seemed to fit just fine, didn't it? Similarly, you seem hugely comfortable talking about how others are trans. Yep, that's fine. Those people are OK to label, sure. But now there's a new word explaining what it means to circle the M or the F without hesitation, a neutral way of highlighting how easy you've had it without even knowing, and there's PANIC IN THE STREETS! Suddenly, you don't like labels at all. Ever.

I'm not buying it for a second. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to point to the specific reason why this word spawned this reaction, because we don't have a thread here very time someone uses a label.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 8:42 AM on January 24, 2012 [31 favorites]


What I was trying to say is that, in my experience, even though the word "goy" is neutral, it is not used around non-jews. It's impolite.

This has not been my experience at all.

But outside of that context it's never positive.

Again, not at all my experience. Whose anecdata wins?
posted by rtha at 8:44 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bite marks! On every keyboard in the house!

Kittens will do that! :D

I know others have mentioned this, but I want to chime in publicly, too. You've been unfailingly polite, eloquent and graceful in this and many other threads on trans topics, despite some pretty provocative (and sometimes downright rude) comments. I may not have always said so, but you've taught me quite a bit about cultural and media biases regarding transgender issues through your comments here, and I see from what people in this thread have said that I'm not alone.

I wish I had even half your patience, and want to thank you for consistently taking the high road.

Even if those keyboards had to suffer! ;)

Sincerely, we're all the better for your contributions here. Thanks.

posted by zarq at 8:48 AM on January 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


And no bite marks on any of the mice?
posted by sciencegeek at 8:49 AM on January 24, 2012


I'm not buying it for a second. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to point to the specific reason why this word spawned this reaction, because we don't have a thread here very time someone uses a label.

To be fair, the USian thread generated 224 comments and I would argue the issue remains unsettled to this day.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:55 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I won't repeat myself

I didn't expect you to, really. Obviously, insults and specious comparisons are more your kind of slap-fight.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:55 AM on January 24, 2012


Ah yes, USians, another notoriously overlooked group desperate for a voice.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 8:59 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, many thanks to you, ArmyOfKittens. and your username always makes me happy
posted by nicebookrack at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2012


I don't remember ever seeing a Jewish person complaining about the widespread usage of "non-Jew"

Why should they? It situates "Jewish" as the norm, as the inside of a community with everyone else outside. It's a useful identifier for instantly creating a sense of community, but less so for reaching people outside of that community. (So, to answer my own question, there's a context in which a Jewish person might object to the use of "non-Jew" -- if they're trying to achieve broader community engagement, they might consider it unhelpful.)

Using a positive/neutral descriptor like "cisgendered" (no matter what one may think of the word aesthetically, it is positive in the sense that it tries to describe something as it exists, rather than as "not [x]") is, among other things, an attempt to avoid this dynamic, which I appreciate.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2012


Thank you, zarq! And thanks to everyone who's mefimail'd and twitter'd at me in the last day. I'm bowled over by the nice :)
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:26 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You totally deserve it. Your patience amazes me. Thank you.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:32 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ghidorah: I get it, it's not a negative word, it's not even about what I call myself. It's what I would be called, by other people. It's what I'd be labelled. I don't particularly want to be labelled. In this sense, it seems odd that the 'call me what I'd like to be called/don't call me something I'd prefer not to be called' doesn't work both ways.

It does work both ways. Trans people don't get to avoid labels either - but I'd like to be able to choose which particular labels I get in various categories. I'd rather 'trans' than 'tranny' for example. This doesn't mean I think it's relevant for people to mention most of the time, I'd rather not be introduced as a trans person generally. Labels of any type can be used needlessly to discriminate. Nobody really likes being labelled where it isn't appropriate or relevant. You don't get to not be called anything - you get to choose what exactly you're called.

Given this, is there an alternative you would prefer to 'cisgender'?
posted by Dysk at 9:40 AM on January 24, 2012


nooneyouknow, you're welcome!

When cis people object in general to the label "cis", part of me wants to say, "Cool, if you understand the utility of the word but object anyway, I'll accept whatever label you'd prefer". And when some specific cis person objects, I'll actually ask them. If I were talking to misha, for example, I'd ask what label she prefers and then stick to that.

However, as Help, I can't stop talking! pointed out, it's nigh-impossible to get informed consent from every single cis person about what they'd rather be called if not cis. There's only one of me and there are a lot of cis people out there. And it's not just about convenience, either; when cis people object to being called cis, there's often this undercurrent of wanting to make sure trans people know our place and don't get uppity. Forcing minorities to get approval from majorities for the language they use is a dangerous business.

But how, then, is trans people labeling cis people any different from cis people labeling trans people without asking us first? I think it comes down to power differentials. When a minority labels the majority with a neutral, highly-useful word, I really think that, for the most part, the majority should just accept it. "Able-bodied" doesn't roll off the tongue as well as some other words might, but that's what differently-abled people have (for the most part) decided is the term that works, so I accept it. "Sighted" always confuses me a bit, but that's what blind folks have settled on (again, for the most part), so I accept it. "White" strikes me as inaccurate (I'm kind of light greenish-pink if anything), but it's a pretty neutral term and it's very useful, so I accept it. It's all part of being aware of my privilege, in the ways that I have privilege, for me. I wish cis people could accept the utility and neutrality of the term "cis" in the same way.
posted by jiawen at 10:26 AM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


People who point out that they don't want to be called "cis" because that term carries "privilege" undertones are kind of missing the point, I think, or misunderstanding how privilege works or something, because I mean if your gender and your physical sex align and everyone sees you as a gender with which you agree, you have that privilege whether you are using the term "cis" for it or not, just like if society views you as white you're going to benefit from white privilege even if you exclusively refer to yourself as a Caucasian or a German-Italian-Assyrian-American or some other term that isn't "white".

And having privilege isn't automatically bad and it doesn't make you evil and you are not doing anything wrong by having it, it is something society confers upon you! The most anyone will realistically ask of you is that you be AWARE that you have it, and think about what effect your privilege has had on you when you are talking to people who haven't had it! It's not an insult!
posted by titus n. owl at 11:25 AM on January 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


octobersurprise:

I didn't expect you to, really. Obviously, insults and specious comparisons are more your kind of slap-fight.

The passage you linked to does not support what you're trying to say there, at all.
posted by jayder at 1:34 PM on January 24, 2012


I don't care to argue over my characterization of some yahoo who believes this entire discussion is "an internet version of the "stop hitting yourself" game," so I'll just say: Yes it does.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:44 PM on January 24, 2012


With regard to "cis," for me the problem is that it's clunky, terrible sounding, and has the aura of being coined by a crank on some USENET newsgroup, which, incidentally, it was. It also, for some reason, is being pushed by people who condescendingly regard any resistance to the term as representing a lack of enlightenment and education, which is not really a good way to gain acceptance of a new term. You don't persuade people to adopt a term with a sniffy, "Well where were you when we were deciding on it? You should have spoken up! And by the way, you poor uneducated one, there are far more interesting trans issues to be discussing than this." You don't persuade people to adopt new nomenclature with condescension.

And all the reasons that Blazecock Pileon mentioned.

With regard to the "there are far more interesting issues than this" -- many people in this thread had never HEARD of "cis-" before. So if you're going to bandy about a term that presumes to denominate a huge majority of the human population, be ready for people to come in with "What? 'Cis'? You mean me?"

So -- throwing out this term that many folks have never heard before, yet insisting that discussion stay on your "more interesting" topic, is just not realistic.
posted by jayder at 1:46 PM on January 24, 2012


So -- throwing out this term that many folks have never heard before, yet insisting that discussion stay on your "more interesting" topic, is just not realistic.

Well, what are you supposed to do then? Either you use the term in discussing these types of issues so more people can hear of it (and, presumably, learn about it), or you don't use the term to avoid the "controversy" and no one ever hears it.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:50 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Well, what are you supposed to do then?

I would think what you would do is only employ the word when it makes sense in its specific context. There's really not much reason to use it casually to describe people, unless you're talking about issues that transgendered people are facing within their society.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:05 PM on January 24, 2012


for me the problem is that it's clunky, terrible sounding, and has the aura of being coined by a crank on some USENET newsgroup

People keep saying this, as if "cis," were just too ugly to use. But so many of the neologisms in the contemporary English language coined by industry or business or government are even uglier and that doesn't keep most people from using them when they are useful. I think if people think that "cis" isn't a useful term, then they should make that case. But the argument that the word shouldn't be used at all because it's just too ugly is a bunch of bs.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:06 PM on January 24, 2012


I would think what you would do is only employ the word when it makes sense in its specific context.

Like...a thread about transitioning? Like the one in the OP?

That feels like it might be a specific context where it would make sense, right? And yet, here we are.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:11 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


> That feels like it might be a specific context where it would make sense, right? And yet, here we are

Exactly, I wasn't bemoaning its use anywhere. It's not like there's any expectation for anyone to have to self-identify as cisgendered, which is where I think some of the confusion and rancor comes from here.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:14 PM on January 24, 2012


If only we could get all the people who dislike the way "cis" sounds to instead spend their energies stopping the use of "grow" as a causative verb for things other than plants... or "leverage" and "utilize" when "use" would work perfectly well...

Well, a girl can dream.
posted by jiawen at 2:19 PM on January 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Utilize for use particularly chaps my hide because it not only sounds awful, but it makes it less likely that people will understand the difference between "use" and "utilize" when it matters.

Did I say "when"? Possibly "if".
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:31 PM on January 24, 2012


Yeah, I kind of can't believe people are honestly using "I do not find this word aesthetically pleasing" as their main argument against a useful term
posted by titus n. owl at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Utilize" can be useful when discussing network storage devices, or really anything that deals in capacities or volumes. I used it just last week properly!
posted by Burhanistan at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2012


Can we add "incentivize" to the list?
posted by rtha at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Unless you're talking about Jem, I don't ever want to hear the word "synergy" ever again.
posted by Errant at 2:34 PM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I kind of can't believe people are honestly using "I do not find this word aesthetically pleasing" as their main argument against a useful term


They certainly aren't utilizing it AMIRITE?
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2012


That is truly, truly, truly, outrageous, Errant.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:38 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Given this, is there an alternative you would prefer to 'cisgender'?

Sadly, no. And honestly, I'd much rather have fewer labels than I currently do, which is obviously pretty impossible. I mean, I'd like to say that I try to avoid using labels, but we all do, all the time, and I can see where the term is useful. I don't have another term ready to go, because outside of threads here that involve the issue, and comment by mefites, I don't directly know of anyone who is transgendered (which itself is a label, and yes, it's useful to the discussion, which is part of your point). While for someone who is trans, it's quite clearly a defining issue in their life. It is obviously not the only thing (random example, I consider all of you Mefites first, people with the patience of saints second, and in threads where you self-identify as trans, I remember you mentioning it before, but it's not ever going to be the first thing I think of), but it is a significant part of your lives.

I can understand a person choosing a label for themselves so as to have a way to be defined by their struggle. All I'm saying is that by using cisgendered, you are defining me by your life, and I don't feel comfortable with that. I know, and I've seen all the comments trumpeting how feelings of discomfort are signs of privilege, which is basically a tag which doesn't come off. Once I'm labelled privileged, my thoughts on the matter are (for some), unnecessary or hurtful to the topic at hand, and I just want to bow out, feeling entirely unwelcome in the thread, and decidedly less welcome on the site itself. I'm not a fan of shaming people, or of being ashamed. I can do that to myself well enough thank you.

last bit on the goy thing. when I mentioned USY, I was talking about the Central Region, which covered Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and possibly parts of Pennsylvania. It's not a small sample size. Neither is Chicago, where I've heard it used disparagingly used, too, though not as much. Maybe it has to do more with being a very distinct minority, where you are distinctly othered, as a way to try to other non-Jews. Either way, I was raised not to use the word, and have always tried to define Judaism and Jews by their actions, rather than the non/different actions of people who aren't Jewish.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:04 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regarding labels, and speaking generally rather than about anything particular people in this thread have said, I keep thinking of something Beverly Daniel Tatum observed in "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?" And Other Conversations About Race:
Another source of the discomfort and anger that Whites often experience [when first considering the concept of "White Privilege"] stems from the frustration of being seen as a group member, rather than as an individual. People of color learn early in life that they are seen by others as members of a group. For Whites, thinking of oneself only as an individual is a legacy of White privilege. . . .[so] they are sometimes troubled, even angered, to learn that simply because of their group status they are viewed with suspicion by many people of color. 'I'm an individual, view me as an individual!'
It's possible this kind of thing might be one contributing factor to the resistance some people feel about having others encompass them in a "cis" designation. Again, I say this thinking about the general tenor of past and present conversations online and IRL. Not about anybody here. Especially considering that I'm sure some objectors here are plenty familiar with being treated as a group member first and an individual later.

But that quote occurred to me when I started to wonder, "Hmm, I don't recall reacting negatively the first few times I encountered it. Why not?" For one thing, I first became aware of it when a trans friend used it, so didn't have a chance to be pre-loaded with negativity for me. I'm sure that helped. And probably because I'm a Canadian person of colour and being treated as a marked group member first and foremost (and, with some people, forever) became old hat in kindergarten. Moving through life, its stupid inconsequentialities as well as it big events, as a marked group member first, was thrust upon me. Usually unconsciously, by members of Canadian society who largely moved through their lives along multiple axes (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc) unmarked and treated first as individuals. I marvelled at the yawning gulf in perspectives that typically resulted from their usually unmarked vs my usually marked lifetime experiences.*

So encountering the "cis" descriptor made transparent, for me, one more axis...one that I wasn't even aware I had moved along, for my entire life, with relative ease compared to my trans friend. I found "cis" unfamiliar to pronounce and not particularly appealing aesthetically, but I appreciate having it available as shorthand to describe myself and to distinguish from trans folk during conversations where such distinctions are helpful.

*Luckily, IME, bridges can be built from a shitload of listening and sincere "Hmm is it possible I've got a blind spot?" self-reflection from the parties who don't mind engaging this way.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:13 PM on January 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


On not preview: Ghidorah, I apologize if my comment contributes to your feeling ashamed and unwelcome in this thread.

I wonder if moving away from "privilege" terminology and towards "un/marked" terminology might address some of the rancor that "privilege" seems to trigger. Un/marked strikes me as more neutrally descriptive.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:16 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The wildtypes need a Duran Duran based theme song.

Pretty sure the song is based on exactly such a portrayal.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:23 PM on January 24, 2012


Un/marked strikes me as more neutrally descriptive.

Maybe, although then we might run into the same problem we have here - explaining a lot what un/marked means (and to whom, and in what contexts, and anecdata, and derails into discussions about privilege anyway, etc.). It's not a term that's used in the circles I run in, although I'm familiar with it from reading.

One thing I do wish is that people would remember that everyone has some kind of privilege. Being privileged doesn't make you special; everyone's got some somewhere.
posted by rtha at 3:26 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have no problem with the prefix as such but whenever you are calling anyone by a name which you know they are not likely to have heard before, but you're still not explaining why you are using it, I don't see how you could expect people to not wonder if you're being hostile. The circumstance for any sort of out-of-the-blue labeling I'm most familiar with is when people are bullying other people.

But the coolest thing in the universe is dropping it in a conversation about gender identity and having a cis person ask and really want to know what it means.

Their light-bulb moment is intoxicating to behold. I'm my own little one-man-band talking to people about it in my circle and it's really cool to help people see another perspective. CIS rocks.


I'm not a fan of this approach. Why not just say it up front? Not everyone wants to be a target of educational games.
posted by Anything at 3:35 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: People are funny that way and it takes two to tango. No one has to answer the demands of definition or comments about disliking the prefix.

(sorry if I misunderstand here and there, I'm so bad at communication sometimes.) I think what I was grasping at was IS there common ground can be found on mefi regarding the term or is it just something that can't happen.

(and mutants are a-okay with me)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:37 PM on January 24, 2012


One thing I do wish is that people would remember that everyone has some kind of privilege. Being privileged doesn't make you special; everyone's got some somewhere.

God yes. I may be bisexual and transsexual, but I'm loaded with privilege: I'm white, middle-class, British, reasonably educated, and while I'm not completely able-bodied I'm just a bit bendy. Privilege is a fact of my life just as it is for almost everyone; as are the labels used to describe both my privileges and oppressions.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:38 PM on January 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

"It's a tiny bit of welcoming and acceptance to people who are shut out in ways that make me hurt to think about by making an equivalent description of who people who are not transgendered are that relates to who people who are transgendered are."
I would like to express my sincere respect for DU up here, who didn't like the look or sound of the word, but realised it was about much more than himself, and gave a little way, in recognition that others' needs are sometimes bigger than his own. No talk of guilt, or shame, or provocation, or privilege. Just, caring about other people:
Trans- people can use whatever word they want to refer to non-trans people. They have enough trouble already without having to defend word prefixes.
That's all it took.
posted by catchingsignals at 3:44 PM on January 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm pretty dang involved in the queer community as an ally these days, what with the family and my community at large and activist roles and other stuffs, and I have to say, I have never heard of this word before. I like it though, pretty cool. About time!
posted by lazaruslong at 3:49 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


All I'm saying is that by using cisgendered, you are defining me by your life, and I don't feel comfortable with that.

I guess I think of it not as being defined by someone else's life, but being positioned in relationship to someone else's life, or actually I prefer the term "experience" here. That is to say, I think of terms like "cisgender" as performing a kind of relative positioning which is determined entirely by its context to other relatively-positioned things. "cisgender" without "transgender" doesn't mean anything, and vice versa. So rather than casting me in a mold, I see the term as locating me somewhere inside a fairly mutable space, as well as reminding me that I am indeed in that space with others whether I've had occasion to consider it or not.

Once I'm labelled privileged, my thoughts on the matter are (for some), unnecessary or hurtful to the topic at hand

Well, no, this isn't true, although I can certainly understand why you would feel this way. Privilege is the presence of ease or absence of obstacle in a social context. "Unearned advantage" is another way of putting it. It's easy to recoil from that idea, because we're sort of conditioned to think that anything you didn't work for is suspect. But it's not, not really. There's that old line about "being born on third base and thinking you hit a triple", which is basically talking about unexamined privilege. But the part that's wrong about that isn't the "born on third base" part, because what the hell, no one controls the historicality of their existence. (Here is where I out myself as a fan of Heidegger.) The part that matters is engaging that historicality in an authentic way, but the circumstances themselves are not scorn- or praiseworthy, they just are.

There's often this idea that "privilege" means "white/straight/male/cis/etc. guilt", and it doesn't. Guilt and shame are entirely counterproductive, and if you think about it, there's no real reason why people without privilege would want there to be more guilt and shame in the world; they've had plenty of their own to be getting on with. What's necessary is to understand how we start positioned and subsquently position ourselves in the world, and how that is relative to others' locations.

Because privilege exists in its default mode as unexamined, people with it in a given context do have to do a bit of legwork to demonstrate that they are engaging with their privilege in an active way. That doesn't mean that you have to buy into every critical social theory or even really any of them, nor does it mean that disagreeing with those theories indicates a lack of enlightenment on your part. These aren't solved problems, and we need more voices, not less. But because the history of inequality is a history of conscious or unconscious negation of lower status from higher, people with higher status do have to demonstrate their good faith in certain ways. Compared to the advantages gained from that status, it's really not asking very much.

So when people are talking about privilege or identity labels, what they're trying to do is figure out where people are starting from in the conversation. That's all that's really happening. Sure, some people use the idea of privilege as a bludgeon, and that sucks. But some people do a lot of big and small shitty things. If it were ok to give up on the conversation because someone was shitty to you, majorities and minorities would never talk, ever. That's not really optimal.

People get hurt on all sides of inequality, because that's the purpose of an unequal social structure, to disincline and punish attempts at communication. Getting hurt sucks, and it's also unavoidable. What happens next is the important bit. So, no, your thoughts aren't unnecessary, and they're not necessarily hurtful. But they do come from a specific location -- you -- and they have relatively more or less force and weight contextually depending on where the focus of the conversation currently is relative to you. The good news is, your location is also mutable, if you feel like moving around. If not, that's ok too, but then sometimes the conversation moves away from your sphere of influence. It's going to come back around soon, though; it always does.
posted by Errant at 3:54 PM on January 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


by using cisgendered, you are defining me by your life

May I ask you a couple of questions?

1. How far does this logic go to you? Is calling the group of people who are straight "heterosexual" defining them by the life of gay people?* If not, could you explain why these two are different?

2. Sometimes it is, in fact, necessary and useful to differentiate between transgendered people and people who are not transgendered. What do you believe to be the appropriate way to do this?

Words for groups are often defined by other people's lives - just it's usually that the definitions come from the lives assumed to be The Norm. I'm a trans person instead of just a person person because I'm a weirdo who wasn't born with a body that matches my gender and so a special term has to be used that makes a point of how I am different from The Norm. A complementary term for the people who AREN'T in this same definition isn't me trying to go YOU GUYS ARE WEIRDOS WHOSE BODIES AND MINDS DON'T INTERACT THE SAME AS MINE SO I NEED TO USE A WORD TO JUDGE YOU BY MY OWN STANDARDS!, it's an attempt at making it so The Norm becomes less... normative? So there's awareness that one isn't NORMAL and the other one WEIRD AND WRONG ("normal" as a statistical term, yes, definitely, transgendered people are a minority and so NOT being transgendered is, in fact, literally normal - but the word "normal" is loaded, if you're not normal you're ABNORMAL and that is definitely not a neutral term); they're just DIFFERENT and BOTH LEGIT.

And sure, I CHOSE to say "I'm a trans person," but I didn't choose to BE a trans person. If the word wasn't there, the experience still would be, and it would be a lot harder to talk about.

* I remember this argument happening a lot when I was younger, including people arguing that there's no "need" for a word for straight because it's normal, which see above. It seems like "straight" and "heterosexual" have become accepted terms over time, though, and maybe the same will happen with "cis."

Sorry about my emphasis caps. It's a habit of writing like I'm comic books
posted by titus n. owl at 4:10 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


So if we labeled people in conversations regarding mental illness as "nondepressives", "nonschizotypal", etc. that would be OK? I don't think the autistic/neurotypical stuff is useful either

I'm not quite sure why people can't see who it could be a good thing for people to be able to choose a label as a way of positively defining themselves as being or belong to something, as identifying with an idea and with others who also choose to share that label - e.g. a person who wishes to change their physical sex to match an internal feeling of identity, choosing to call themselves "trans" - while also being a negative thing to then decide that everyone who does not choose to take on your label is now in a group called not-you. It artificially creates a division that didn't previously exist between you and a new other, and it assigns everyone else a label they didn't choose or necessarily want

If you want to come up with new words to describe new ways in which people aren't like you, fine. But count me out
posted by crayz at 4:11 PM on January 24, 2012


Errant, thanks for that. Honestly, I've been following privilege, and the discussion of it pretty closely. Last night, I went back and re-read the essay that was linked, probably for the third or fourth time, and it hit me that, in a lot of ways, I've got a pretty unique* viewpoint on privilege, having been born white and male in the States, then living abroad. It was interesting going down the list of experiences that are there to make people understand how privileged they are not to have encountered them, and I can honestly, say I've had to deal, and will continue to have to deal with most of those for the rest of my foreseeable life (refused housing based on skin color? check. been told I'm a credit to my race? check. been viewed negatively by coworkers for actions of other members of my race? check. carefully thought about any actions I might take because of how they'd be seen as representative of my race? yup, and it just goes on, and on). That said, I'm also aware that privilege is what got me to Japan, and that if I weren't white, I'd have found it much, much harder to have gotten the jobs I've had, or made friendships here. I do understand that, and I'm not unfamiliar with the concept, but then I see something like this

the point of acknowledging privilege is to accept that guilt comes with it. Guilt is part of the process of understanding one's place in life.

and I just want to leave the conversation. I've got, as I said, more than enough guilt, more than enough shame to work through without being told that it's only natural I should feel guilty for being who I am.

*(unless you count Flapjax, Armage, Woodblock, and a whole bunch of other Mefites living in countries different from where they were born)
posted by Ghidorah at 4:13 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honest, ignorant question (and this was addressed obliquely upthread, but with multiple contradictory answers): are the terms cis/trans meant to be two ends of a spectrum, like sexuality? Or is it a binary state that basically translates as trans/not trans? I was under the impression that it's more of a spectrum, but I have yet to hear an intermediate term that correlates to "bisexual," and the cis/trans thing, both practically and linguistically, tends to be treated more as a binary than a spectrum, which I think is part of what gets peoples' backs up about it.

That's certainly the core of my kneejerk discomfort with being labeled cis just because I'm not trans: I'm not cis, which I take as meaning OK with my biological sex, for a lot of reasons that I don't feel like going into here, but I am also not trans, and the idea of being another sex feels just as wrong - so I feel like the cis/trans terminology slots me into a category that feels dishonest and inaccurate (though I totally understand the need for such terminology). Is there a middle ground terminology for people who feel ... well, in the middle somehow? Like, either having elements of both male and female, like nadawi described earlier, or deeply uncomfortable with all gender expression, both masculine and feminine (like not just awkward-tomboy-uncomfortable, but self-loathing, skin-crawling uncomfortable when forced to express one way or another)?

I really don't mean to sound like a special snowflake, and I only bring it up since we're at the bottom of the thread because I know that this tiny concern doesn't even begin to approach the violence & social justice issues that trans people face - but since we're already pretty deep in the weeds talking about the terminology, I really, really want there to be such a term so that I can call myself that. Androgynous, maybe? But that term has a lot of different connotations already. Is there a better term, and is it generally recognized as being a point on the cis/trans spectrum?
posted by dialetheia at 4:20 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes it is, in fact, necessary and useful to differentiate between transgendered people and people who are not transgendered

In fact though, the FPP and article both used the cis- prefix primarily to disparage the group of people to which it referred - it served as a way to label, other, and then criticize a group of people - people who are not-you. It is in fact not necessary for me to come up with words for people who are not-nerds, not-buddhists, not-had-serious-health-problems, not-politically-interested, not-had-a-life-changing-psychedelic-experience, not-leftists, or other interests or identities I might have. In fact, many of those identities are not as clear-cut as they might sound, and deciding which people to label as not-me, assuming they themselves didn't choose or want that label, seems incredibly productive and other-ing
posted by crayz at 4:21 PM on January 24, 2012


dialetheia, that's usually called genderqueer, although not everyone chooses to use that word and it doesn't fit the [science term]gender thing. Bigendered also gets used sometimes.
posted by titus n. owl at 4:23 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not familiar with "un/marked," and worse, it's ungoogleable. What does it mean? In which circles is it used?
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:25 PM on January 24, 2012


dialetheia, in addition to titus n. owl's answer above, I also like emmtee's answer here, though have definitely heard genderqueer used more often.
posted by catchingsignals at 4:30 PM on January 24, 2012


titus n. owl, to answer your questions directly

1. I'm horribly, horribly naive. I would like very much to be known by what I do, what I say, and how I behave. I'd very much like to live in a world where sexual preference isn't so goddamn important, or where labels aren't so commonplace. I'd love a world where I can say, that's Bob, and that's Steve, who are you? Bob is someone who, because of personal interactions I've had with him, is someone I enjoy hanging out with. Steve? He's been an ass, and I prefer not to hang around with him. You? You're someone I haven't met yet, and I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt until I can get to know you, and hopefully you'll be someone I can enjoy being around. I know this is impossible, childish, and, of course, naive. But to go a little further, as has been pointed out, hetero and gay are two points on a pretty big spectrum, containing many degrees, whereas trans/cis (as it seems in this thread) are binary opposites, just as trans/not-trans. So, well, no.

2. I've already answers this. I don't know. I wish I did, but I really have no answer for this, just an ill-at-ease feeling towards the word being used.

And the all-caps thing? My eyes immediately darted down to those parts, which, if read independantly, without regard to the rest of your very polite, interesting post, could be misconstrued as almost the exact opposite of what you wanted to say. It took me a second to go back and reread what you actually wanted to say. Just a 'so you know' thing.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:31 PM on January 24, 2012


dialetheia - i spoke a little to this in my comment - basically, i consider myself genderqueer. some people consider that under the big umbrella of Trans and some see it more as a spectrum. cis is to gender as straight is to sexuality. in much the same way that there's differing (and largely personal) opinions about what fits under the umbrella of queer for sexuality, there's the same vastness of opinion about what genderqueer is and where it fits.
posted by nadawi at 4:31 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Last night, I went back and re-read the essay that was linked, probably for the third or fourth time, and it hit me that, in a lot of ways, I've got a pretty unique* viewpoint on privilege, having been born white and male in the States, then living abroad.

Absolutely. This is part of the mutability and fickleness of privilege that I was talking about. It's not "white people are privileged", it's "white people in a society that skews power unequally towards white people in general have privilege in that society". Being white in Japan is not generally advantageous. Neither is being Korean, but being Korean in South Korea is advantageous relatively. Being a Muslim in the US is frequently disadvantageous; being Muslim in Saudi Arabia is tremendously advantageous; being a man in both is the same. That's what I mean when I'm talking about context and relative positioning. They're the same words, but they mean different things and are loaded with different intrinsic power based on the structure in which they're applied.

I do understand that, and I'm not unfamiliar with the concept, but then I see something like this

the point of acknowledging privilege is to accept that guilt comes with it. Guilt is part of the process of understanding one's place in life.

and I just want to leave the conversation.


That is, of course, your right, and I wish you well whereever you go. Obviously I disagree with that interpretation of what privilege is, as I've said. I think the disagreements are important, and I think that we do better generally to engage incorrect views than to disengage. But I've certainly had moments when I had to walk away too, so I'm in no position to hold it against you.

It is in fact not necessary for me to come up with words for people who are not-nerds, not-buddhists, not-had-serious-health-problems, not-politically-interested, not-had-a-life-changing-psychedelic-experience, not-leftists, or other interests or identities I might have.

Jocks, materialists, insured, apolitical, squares, moderate or right-leaning. No, you don't have to come up with those words, we already took care of it for you.

I'm not familiar with "un/marked," and worse, it's ungoogleable.

It's easier to google "unmarked category", which is what un/marked is talking about. The idea is that there is an unspoken norm, the unmarked category, and things are assumed to be of that category unless explicitly otherwise or things are defined by their variation from that category. People rarely have to declare that they are straight, but they almost always have to declare that they're gay; straight is an unmarked category, and gay is a marked category. On bathroom doors, the "man" symbol is a generic humanoid form, and the "woman" symbol is that form with a stylized skirt or long hair; "woman" is a marked category. It's a way of discussing the social tendency towards orienting around artificial norms without giving credence to those norms as inherently correct or obvious.
posted by Errant at 4:33 PM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, so you'd actually use it by talking about things being in marked and unmarked categories. The concept makes sense, and the terminology makes a lot more sense than what I had been imagining. For a bit there I thought you would actually use a phrase "un/marked," including the "/" stuck in the word itself, and that would have given me a headache.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:43 PM on January 24, 2012


crayz: "If you want to come up with new words to describe new ways in which people aren't like you, fine. But count me out"

Please understand that what you're saying -- or at least what I think you're saying -- is tantamount to asking minorities to not talk about their own issues. If, for example, we trans people can't discuss the ways in which we relate with cis people (because, in that scenario, words like "cis" are verboten), then a majority of the really important conversations are off-limits to us. As I said before, if it means that we have to ask all the cis people for their assent before we can start talking -- well, that's practically the same as saying we just can't have the conversation.

If you're saying people should never define themselves as distinct from others -- hmm, in an ideal world, that could be very nice, I agree. If, on the other hand, you're saying trans identities are a recent invention, I couldn't disagree more.

If you mean that you personally would just rather be called "non-trans", I'll certainly do that.
posted by jiawen at 4:57 PM on January 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


It is in fact not necessary for me to come up with words for people who are not-nerds, not-buddhists, not-had-serious-health-problems, not-politically-interested, not-had-a-life-changing-psychedelic-experience, not-leftists, or other interests or identities I might have.

Jocks, materialists, insured, apolitical, squares, moderate or right-leaning. No, you don't have to come up with those words, we already took care of it for you.


I'm pretty sure that if you started trying to use 'materialists' for all people who aren't buddhists, there would be at at least as much pushback as there is for cis. Ditto 'square' for never having a psychedelic experience. 'Insured' is orthogonal to having had serious health problems - my family lives in a socialist health care paradise and I've still had relatives die of cancer and diabetes. So overall, I think your examples are a pretty perfect demonstration of the difficulty in coming up with a group identification that those both in and out of the group would accept.
posted by jacalata at 5:00 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ghidorah: I can understand a person choosing a label for themselves so as to have a way to be defined by their struggle. All I'm saying is that by using cisgendered, you are defining me by your life, and I don't feel comfortable with that.

But this cuts both ways as well. My 'trans' doesn't make sense in a world in which there is no 'cis'. Both are meaningful only as an absence of the other.

crayz: If you want to come up with new words to describe new ways in which people aren't like you, fine. But count me out

This isn't a 'new' way in which people are unlike one another. Trans people have existed pretty much forever. Nor is it really a new way to describe that difference - the term 'trans' does that ably on its own. It's a shorthand for relating the 'trans' to 'not trans'.

jacalata: I'm pretty sure that if you started trying to use 'materialists' for all people who aren't buddhists, there would be at at least as much pushback as there is for cis. Ditto 'square' for never having a psychedelic experience.

Neither of these terms is unloaded. 'Square' has a history as an insult, and isn't an obvious antonym of... what, psychonaut? Materialist has a seperate meaning as well, and one which often carries negative associations at that. On top of this, neither is a logical linguistic antonym of the identity they're positioned in relation to. So these are really not good analogies.
posted by Dysk at 5:12 PM on January 24, 2012


i consider cis- to be a kind way that those with aligned sex/gender can signal that they're allies of the trans community. if trans issues aren't important to you and if you don't want to be an ally, it's really very easy to pass on by topics of trans/cis dealings and in doing so, you'll likely never, ever be referred to as cis.
posted by nadawi at 5:14 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


dialetheia, I share part of your perspective but not your sense that there's a problem needing to be solved.

That is, I'm deeply uncomfortable with gender roles in general, and male gender roles in particular, and while I find some aspects of traditional female gender roles more felicitous, I find others just as offensive to my sensibilities as I do many aspects of male gender roles. And, with regard to my assigned sex and my assigned gender, I'm not entirely comfortable with either and, were I able to wave a magic wand, I'd switch to female...where I'd probably be like you, uncomfortable with traditional ideas about female sex and female gender. That is to say, I'd switch only because I (probably naively) sense that the distance from where I am and where I want to be would be shorter from that side of the fence than it is from this side.

So, yeah, lots of discomfort. But not nearly enough for me to ever have felt trans. I don't feel "wrong" in this male body at all. In a way, having my sense of self so deeply determined by my body in this sense (or, really, any other) doesn't resonate much with me, actually. I allow for the possibility that I'm merely unaware of how much my self is determined by my physicality; but then, on the other hand, there's the whole thing of this genetic illness I've lived with all my life and which marks me, both to some degree in my appearance but mostly in my experience of my embodied self, in some way associated with identity. And, with regard to that, I've always found it interesting that my sister, who also has this disease, has her identity deeply wrapped-up, perhaps in some strong sense, defined by this disease while, in contrast, I don't and have never felt anything like that. Not even now, when it disables me even more than it does her and is ever-present.

Mostly, I just don't think my identity is that deeply embodied.

Now, from my perspective, that doesn't mean that the trans/cis terminology about gender doesn't include me or should somehow be modified to include me. Indeed, the way I view it is that human experience about sex and orientation and gender is greatly varied—as I wrote before, both biologically and culturally—and so those to whom trans/cis terminology properly applies are those who have a relatively (to me, anyway) dualistic experience of sex and gender. I don't. Relatively, at least. (I'm not making any absolute or universal claims.) Whether cisgendered properly applies to me, or not, doesn't concern me much because from the perspective of those who do apply it to me, it probably does. That it personally doesn't entirely fit comfortably doesn't bother me because, also as I wrote earlier, that's an effect of privilege. Having a marked term applied to me that I'm not totally comfortable with doesn't have much effect on my life because there's not a power structure that it represents.

In a way, my response to your comment isn't that different from my response to the comment protesting the trans/cis terminology from the perspective that it reinforces a gender dualism that the commenter objects to. I find it completely valid that that particular person's experience of gender is that the supposed dualism is entirely a cultural artifact and doesn't represent his/her authentic personal experience. But I don't find it valid when that personal experience is universalized. I'm not saying that each person's experience is unique and uncharacterizable. Indeed, I tend to think that these experiences cluster into a relatively small number of groupings. But I also don't think that the number of groupings is two, or four, or even six.

That a trans/cis paradigm for universalizing about human behavior fails for my particular experience, or yours, doesn't mean that it's not a useful paradigm in the context in which it is typically used, or that it is "false" in that context. I understand the desire to anchor nomenclature in something closer to "truth" and what's universal, but the issues involved here are in that regard deeply ambiguous while, in contrast, the social justice issues involved are not nearly so ambiguous. Given that, for me what is most preferred is a nomenclature that is functional for productive discourse which is utilized to increase social justice. Given the experience and status of trans people in our culture, I think this nomenclature suits that purpose well.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:16 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, don't be a sissy, embrace the cis!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:16 PM on January 24, 2012


No, in the theory they're binary considerations: things are unmarked and privileged, or marked and divergent, and nothing is both. The easiest version to get my head around is "white" vs. "nonwhite". We don't use the latter much anymore, of course, but that example illustrates how the marked category is defined in its distinction from the unmarked "norm" of whiteness.

"White" itself is in some respects the clearest unmarked category to discuss, as in certain racial theories it means "the absence of color" vs. "colored people". Racial purity laws like the "one drop" rule rarely define what white is, instead defining the many ways that it isn't.

So overall, I think your examples are a pretty perfect demonstration of the difficulty in coming up with a group identification that those both in and out of the group would accept.

Well, I'd hoped it was fairly obvious I was being flippant, but I suppose it wasn't. More seriously, there are relatively few places in which being Buddhist or non-Buddhist is a social and political issue of institutional discrimination, and a major difference between Buddhism and transgenderism is that one is selected and one isn't. Being healthy vs. being ill is such a sociopolitical issue and is also largely not self-selected, and so there's a lot of discussion over what the best terms to use for these various conditions are and a category of attached discrimination in ableism which gets a lot of conversation space. The other "examples", if we want to give this aside the credence I was avoiding, are for the most part both selected states and not matters of massive social inequality, so there's not a lot of need to differentiate between one state and another in a non-niche setting. The more that there is a need to differentiate between the two, the more that there are words for all sides that are commonly understood, if not accepted; I notice you didn't say anything about "apolitical" or "right-leaning".

Very few people are being denied jobs or having their heads bashed in for being nerds. So, yeah, I'm not terribly inclined to treat all social spectra with the same seriousness or need for clarity of terminology, and I am fairly suspicious of attempts to equate gender identity with whether or not someone has done acid.
posted by Errant at 5:19 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


(It should perhaps be noted that saying someone is transgendered or cisgendered says nothing about their views on gender roles. Personally, I view 'cisgendered' as basically refering to a person that doesn't identify as trans - that is to say, it doesn't explicitly rule out gender issues of some form, or a complete acceptance of traditional views on sex and gender.)

Yes, don't be a sissy, embrace the cis!

...and 'tranny' and 'trans' are really similar too, yet one's offensive and one's not. Subtleties of language :)
posted by Dysk at 5:23 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re dialetheia's question, perhaps we could return to the organic chemistry nomenclature and use "para-"?
posted by eviemath at 5:27 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It artificially creates a division that didn't previously exist between you and a new other, and it assigns everyone else a label they didn't choose or necessarily want

Are you saying no divisions exist if we refrain from naming them?

and deciding which people to label as not-me, assuming they themselves didn't choose or want that label, seems incredibly productive and other-ing

It's also the way the world works. Do you really not ever name or label people (e.g., man, woman, little boy, suit, hipster, etc.)?
posted by rtha at 5:28 PM on January 24, 2012


eviemath: Re dialetheia's question, perhaps we could return to the organic chemistry nomenclature and use "para-"?

'Trans' means across, and 'cis' means on the same side of - sensible and logical opposites, and sensible and relevant in terms of their meaning - across gender, on the same side of gender. Paragender would mean against gender. That doesn't seem right...
posted by Dysk at 5:31 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It should perhaps be noted that saying someone is transgendered or cisgendered says nothing about their views on gender roles.

Absolutely. I am firmly cisgendered, and I just as firmly reject the binary and reductionist nature of gender roles. Boys who like Tinkerbell aren't feminine or gay or trans, they're just boys who like Tinkerbell.

OK, they might be feminine or gay or trans. But not because they like Tinkerbell. Just because some boys are feminine, or gay, or trans.
posted by KathrynT at 5:33 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think the autistic/neurotypical stuff is useful either

I have a really hard time believing that autistic people don't have anything in common, or that neurotypical people are not different from autistic people in any ways that people might like to talk about.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:37 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


See my ascii graphics jokes Dysk: in organic chemistry nomenclature, when you have two things bonded to a benzene ring/ring of six carbon atoms, you use trans if they are across from each other, cis if they are next to each other, and para if there is one carbon atom separating them.
posted by eviemath at 5:38 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry - in my defence, those diagrams still make no sense to me whatever, even having been told what they are. Guess I can forget about a career in chemistry!
posted by Dysk at 5:42 PM on January 24, 2012


My text drawing skills are terrible, not your fault!
posted by eviemath at 5:45 PM on January 24, 2012


eviemath, that's fantastic! I love it. Paragender works great for me. It's much less confusing than genderqueer, since sexuality is on a different axis - and besides, I am a huge nerd who loves the whole o-chem theme.
posted by dialetheia at 5:51 PM on January 24, 2012


crayz:It artificially creates a division that didn't previously exist between you and a new other, and it assigns everyone else a label they didn't choose or necessarily want

rtha:Are you saying no divisions exist if we refrain from naming them?

yeah, that's how I read that too. It's an . . . interesting position, if that's what is meant.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:18 PM on January 24, 2012


There's a huge history of trans people that long predates the terminology we use today. A lot of the time (in western cultures in particular) they've been lumped in with gay and queer people in imprecise terminology, and have been somewhat invisible as a result. The differences exist even without the language, it's just much much more difficult to see. Having language to talk about these issues is a necessary part of pushing for recognition, and eventual equality.
posted by Dysk at 6:22 PM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Um, isn't that ortho, meta and para? Not cis, trans and para? O-chem was a long time ago, but still ...

As long as I'm here, I liked cis/trans for gender as soon as I saw the terms and I'm surprised that anybody who survived college chemistry didn't recognize what they meant right away. Concise, evenhanded, not historically or culturally loaded ... seemed ideal to me. I'm disappointed at the reaction here, particularly the idea that all labels are offensive/diminishing/bad. (How else do you talk about anything without getting bogged down in definitions?) Like a few other people here I don't feel like a completely normal stereotypical woman (OK, Ivan's a guy but you get my drift), but cisgender is close enough and I'm fine with that label.
posted by Quietgal at 6:23 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It's my opinion that the traits that make up the condition called autism mostly don't share any common cause. They're grouped together into the one diagnosis because their effects tend to be easier for people to observe when they occur together in one person. We lack the technology to find out what specific neurological traits you have, even with a full encephalogram, so we have to fake it by connecting a vague but observable category of behavior with a vague but studyable set of neurological conditions.

The autism diagnosis will most likely become obsolete after a while, as the science advances, and as what's presently called the autistic community gets better at distinguishing the various flavors of the condition. There'll be schisms. Calling myself autistic will be, if not meaningless, at least not a helpful thing to say; sort of like responding to an inquiry about my sexual orientation with "yeah, I've got one."

If cissexual is a slapdash kind of term, it's in good company. I don't know where sexology will go with it, but I expect some new system of classification will succeed eventually.

If being called cissexual (or transsexual, actually) is problematic somehow, that's to be expected as well. Categories tend to have these sorts of problems. It's hard philosophy to deal with all the edge-cases and work out just what contexts you want this classification scheme to be used in. Using a different term might solve some of these difficulties but it will probably create others as well. Genuinely fixing the problem will require advances in thought and culture. Getting a better word out of the deal would be a nice collateral benefit.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:25 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Absolutely. I am firmly cisgendered, and I just as firmly reject the binary and reductionist nature of gender roles. Boys who like Tinkerbell aren't feminine or gay or trans, they're just boys who like Tinkerbell."

Yeah, I agree with this and I'm pretty sure I understand it. I think what's happening in this particular digression is a combination of a confusing terminology with what is a deeply ambiguous group of issues. Note that the terms we're discussing have a gender root, not sex, and that implies something about a gender paradigm.

...which, of course, is not necessarily correct. ("Correct" not as in "true", but as in whether that implication is correct in the context in which these terms are used.)

From my perspective, trans issues involve both sex and gender and then, in addition, cultural gender roles. This creates a deep complexity that means that trying to force the nomenclature, as well as any paradigm for understanding trans issues, into something simple and universal necessarily means disempowering a lot of individual someones. And by "someones" I don't primarily mean the cisgendered.

I think, if I understand dialetheia correctly, where's she's coming from is that her own identity doesn't match well with conventional notions of either sex or gender and yet, even though that's the case, trans issues and the implied paradigm, as she understands them, don't resonate that much with her, either. That may be inferring far too much. So, well, I guess I really mean "me". (On preview, it seems like her issues were exclusively with gender and therefore with what she perhaps mistakenly thought was implied about gender roles by the trans/cis paradigm?)

I absolutely wouldn't agree that whatever issues I have are exclusively about traditional gender roles. They're mostly about gender roles, but not exclusively. Still, at the same time, I don't and have never felt trans, either. Because, again, isn't what all this is about something that happens in that intersection of conventional notions of sex and of gender and traditional gender roles? And it seems to me that trans implies a particular kind of a sense of misalignment that is distinct from other varieties and degrees of misalignment.

First and foremost, because my identity is very loosely embodied in general, that almost by itself moves me out of the territory where trans is likely to be my experience. Secondly, while my experience of self is very sex-inflected, my experience has been that my experience of sexual dimorphism has been contingent and not essential. Which is to say that my experience of self has been very sexual, but not where my sex is essential to my identity. Thirdly, my experience of gender and of conventional gender roles, and how my self-identity has been mediated by society, have been somewhat problematic and unsatisfying, but not in a way that could, if you'll excuse this choice of words, be translated somehow into a more harmonious experience by altering my social identity in some categorical way.

All of these things in combination, I think, move me firmly out of trans territory while still allowing that some of my experiences are in some sense still trans-like. For example, my strong (but, again, likely naive and ignorant) sense that were I sexually female, then the territory in which I could explore social gender identity would more likely encompass the region where I'd be more comfortable.

But my own experience is not terribly relevant or important because it has been, for me, an issue of abiding mild discomfort as opposed to strong discomfort and social oppression.

Put a different way, attempting to abstract and universalize the nomenclature, and implicitly an ideology, is not helpful for exactly the same reasons that it's not helpful with regard to racism and sexism. That is, if you've abstracted one of these to the point that you've become concerned about something you're calling sexism against men or racism against people of color, then you've abstracted beyond the bounds of utility and, in many respects, meaning. Forcing the cisgendered nomenclature to conform to the cisgendered's personal and social identity is to divorce the term from the context in which it is useful.

Worse, it undermines the whole project because the need for the nomenclature and for the elucidation of these points-of-view arose from within the context and to serve the interests of women, persons-of-color, and trans communities, respectively. Whether the term cisgendered is offensive to the cisgendered and whether the term cisgendered correctly applies to the cisgendered from the cisgendered's perspective are both irrelevant.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:28 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Boys who like Tinkerbell aren't feminine or gay or trans, they're just boys who like Tinkerbell.

Oh God, I fucking loved Tinkerbell. Tink? Don't die Tink! Please don't die! Clap you fuckers, clap!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:15 PM on January 24, 2012


Um, isn't that ortho, meta and para? Not cis, trans and para? O-chem was a long time ago, but still ...

Hmm, that could explain why I couldn't remember the last pun and had to make one up..... It's been a long time since organic chemistry for me as well. I'm sure there was a cis and trans somewhere in organic chemistry nomenclature though?
posted by eviemath at 7:21 PM on January 24, 2012


*shakes head at self in embarrassment*
posted by eviemath at 7:23 PM on January 24, 2012


I'm sure there was a cis and trans somewhere in organic chemistry nomenclature though?

Cis/Trans Isomerism
posted by Dysk at 7:28 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


> *shakes head at self in embarrassment*

Hey, don't feel bad - now we have an opportunity to make puns about being metasexual on MetaFilter.

posted by Quietgal at 8:22 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a way of discussing the social tendency towards orienting around artificial norms without giving credence to those norms as inherently correct or obvious.

These norms are not all artificial/social constructs. It is not inherently discriminatory to say that being the same mental gender and physical sex is normal, and to be transgender is exceptional - the vast bulk of people are not transgender, this is what the words "normal" and "exceptional" or "special" mean. It is a matter of statistics.

Railing against the labels seems like a fool's game, because if society doesn't accept you, they'll use whatever label you want to be derisive and mean. Look at the evolution of spaz/retard/special. You keep changing what they are called, and the school bullies keep changing the insults.

What's important is how we treat people who are special or different, right?
posted by Meatbomb at 8:56 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


'Abnormal' does not purely mean the same as 'exceptional' - the connotations are pretty much diametrically opposite. 'Normal' implies the opposite is abnormal, and is thus somewhat problematic. Language is a strange and subtle thing.
posted by Dysk at 9:05 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


If nothing else, I think it's kind of presumptuous for the majority to jump into an ongoing conversation and insist that the vocabulary be revised for their comfort.

Cis/Trans makes perfect sense, and it's useful for these kinds of discussions. I appreciate this thread though, I've learned a lot.
posted by Space Kitty at 9:55 PM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I feel about the same way when someone calls me cisgendered as when someone calls me a girl. I usually grumble to myself, or if I'm feeling particularly righteous, I'll say, "Do I look like a girl?"

The truth of the matter is that girl<>woman is a continuum just as cis<>trans is a continuum. An 80 year old woman may see a 20 year old female as a girl. A trans person may see a masculine presenting male as cisgendered. And maybe that's OK. But it's important to note that there are people in the middle of that continuum for whom either distinction is inappropriate. We can't ignore those people, but we don't yet seem to have a better descriptor, as far as I know, other than gender queer.

This whole conversation is like naming all of your spices either "chili" and "cinnamon" only to realize that it is much, much more complicated than that. And mustard is very offended by being labeled as chili, just as cardamom really wants to be differentiated from cinnamon. Cinnamon and chili both strongly agree that there is really no big difference, but the rest of the spices know that they're wrong! AAAHHH! Cinnamon and chili, you oppressors!

OK that analogy is NUTTY. It's past my bedtime.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:15 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yah, I don't really agree with either your point or your analogy...but it is nevertheless pleasantly NUTTY and it made me laugh.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:17 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


rosq quoting BP: > In other words, more is communicated by someone jumping into a thread and saying, "Hey, everybody. I'm cisgendered!" than just the functional aspect.

Again, it would be interesting to see this happen in a thread on Metafilter which was not already about gender or trans issues.


I think I can guess what BP might have been referring to here. Sometimes, in threads that aren't necessarily gender-related but that pretty much always involve the p-word, people like to run a kind of privilege self-criticism before commenting.

"Hey, as a middle-class, ablebodied, straight, cisgendered, &c ad naus.," they'll say, and then they'll go on to make their points. Occasionally it's downright paraliptical: "As a middle-class ablebodied straight cisgendered tall male guy (or whatever), I have the humility to butt out of this discussion and you should too."

(I probably should have dropped the comma after "hey" -- anyone else notice how that jessamynesque commalessness has been catching on around here this last year or so?)

I wonder if BP's thinking about that kind of priv-checking. I confess I've always found it annoying. But I digress.

More to the point, I think that if you're willing to accept the word "transgendered" then its prefixed opposite is downright implicit. It took me about one Augenblick to make sense of it when I first saw it. I'm not particularly interested in describing myself that way, but it's easy to imagine plenty of contexts -- neutral ones, outside of the realm of identity politics -- in which the term is useful. I don't think it necessarily implies a strict dichotomy, either; the pair of terms define an axis.

ci: I wonder if moving away from "privilege" terminology and towards "un/marked" terminology might address some of the rancor that "privilege" seems to trigger.

Yes, yes, it would, here and in lots of other places too. It would be great.
posted by tangerine at 11:54 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Me: Un/marked strikes me as more neutrally descriptive.

rtha: Maybe, although then we might run into the same problem we have here - explaining a lot what un/marked means (and to whom, and in what contexts, and anecdata, and derails into discussions about privilege anyway, etc.).

Sure, explanations and tiresome reiterations of explanations would be necessary, as with any unfamiliar term. But "privilege" is hamstrung by the fact that it's conventionally used in phrases like "so-and-so lived a life of privilege" ie wealthy family, expensive education, grew up wanting for nothing...an easy life according to all the usual measurements. Naturally, many people's hackles go up in their early encounters with it. I don't find it difficult to imagine that that resentment might never really go away, given that the "privilege = easy life" connotation exists concurrently and is unlikely to change.

"Marked" and "unmarked" OTOH benefit by being completely connotation-less. (Thanks, Errant, for the excellent explanations.) They may acquire some emotional charge if they start getting used in pejorative ways, I suppose, but at least they don't start out carrying any potential emotional charge.

Sticherbeast, "un/marked" is a kind of academic-ese that I often fall into because it's faster to type "un" "/" "marked" than "unmarked and marked." Sorry. It's a silly reason really, saving about 5 seconds.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:10 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


two lights above the sea: "OK that analogy is NUTTY. It's past my bedtime. "

In my head I am rewriting your analogy to use pistachios, cashews, and almonds. I am most definitely a cashew.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:11 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


But "privilege" is hamstrung by the fact that it's conventionally used in phrases like "so-and-so lived a life of privilege" ie wealthy family, expensive education, grew up wanting for nothing...an easy life according to all the usual measurements.

The thing is, I do think privilege means "easy life", for some value of ease. The problem, I think, is that people hear a word or phrase that means ease in a certain context and think it means they've never had anything other than ease. If that's the definition of privilege, then of course one would have a problem with it, because no one has ever had anything less than a life full of difficulty. But that's not the definition of privilege; privilege is a social lubrication along a certain axis. I have the privilege of being male in a patriarchy, straight in a homophobic society, cisgender in a transphobic society, wealthy in a classist society. I do not have the privilege of being white in a white-supremacist society. But let's say I had the last along with all the other privileges I named. My life would still be difficult and fraught with complication, by any standard. It's just that there are certain obstacles I would bypass without effort. It wouldn't mean there were no obstacles, or that I would necessarily have fewer than the next person of whatever identity. I just wouldn't have certain socially-endemic ones, obstacles that appear to us to be unfair because of their discriminate and arbitrary appliance.

The goal of social justice is not to level the playing field against others, although there are times when that might seem nice. The goal of social justice is to afford everyone the arbitrary social lubrications some already enjoy, or alternately to remove the arbitrary social hindrances some must endure. Social justice does not make anyone's life devoid of problems; it just attempts to remove artificially inculcated problems. If social justice met all of its goals tomorrow, everyone's life would still be horribly unfair in all kinds of ways. It just wouldn't be unfair in a few specific ways that we have learned how to identify and target for reduction.
posted by Errant at 2:39 AM on January 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


But that's not the definition of privilege

It may not be the way you're using privilege, but it's certainly part of the colloquial definition of privilege. I think what you're saying is that you like the fact that the "easy life" connotation exists, because it reminds people that they have it easy with respect to certain aspects of their lives. But I do think it's one reason that people tend to object with "but what about class?": because the most common connotation of colloquial "privilege" is wealth.
posted by palliser at 6:38 AM on January 25, 2012


Why are we trying to make people with privilege more comfortable? I'm honestly asking. If I talk to a straight man and tell him that he's had the privilege of not being called faggot for the majority of his life, it should never ever my job to make him comfortable with that fact. If he is uncomfortable with a world in which I am faggot and he is not: GREAT. If he takes it and makes it all about his personal guilt, then shucks, he's an asshole, isn't he? Because it's not about him at all, is it? It's about a world that offers him privilege arbitrarily. It's no more his fault than it is mine, unless he's a Republican presidential candidate or something. But taking the time to make him feel 100% comfortable with his "unmarked" status? No thank you. This faggot has better things to do with his time.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 6:44 AM on January 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


palliser: "But I do think it's one reason that people tend to object with "but what about class?": because the most common connotation of colloquial "privilege" is wealth."

That's kind of a gift of a lead-in, though: "Absolutely! One kind of privilege is class privilege: because of the family they were born into, because of their wealth, many of the everyday concerns and difficulties you have they never even have to think about! They don't have to worry about getting ill and having to pay exorbitant hospital fees, they don't have to worry about the car breaking down and making those payments, and it's easier for them to get well-paying jobs because their family knows the right people. They have class privilege and you don't. Now, about straight privilege..."
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:05 AM on January 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Because it's not about him at all, is it?

Then why are you telling him? Privileged or not, you can't reasonably expect people to not have an opinion on you declaring something about them. And that's the whole problem of the privilege magic wand: you get to simultaneously define that person and revoke their standing to discuss that definition. Any thing short of immediate and total acceptance of this is proof of greater privilege.

I get that given the discrimination certrain groups face, being vulnerable rhetorical tactic is not that big a deal, but in that case, it's not that important to use that rhetorical tactic, nor for someone to object to it.
posted by spaltavian at 7:18 AM on January 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not saying that people with privilege can't join discussions. I welcome them. I'm saying that the discussion should not be about their comfort, because I'm not overly concerned with keeping people comfortable. Comfort is a useless goal. Things don't change when everyone is comfortable. I firmly believe that the best things happen when people step outside their comfort zones. Get off the merry-go-round; get on a roller coaster. Hell, jump out of a plane! If I say that you have privilege, I'm not going to lay out a trail of breadcrumbs and lead you step by step through the process. It's hugely presumptuous to make that my responsibility. "I'm a cis person and I don't like this 'cis' word and no I don't have a better alternative and why is it important anyway DO ALL THE WORK FOR ME! Also, I'm uncomfortable and that's your problem, too." That's the tone I see all too often when people of privilege engage in discussions of the underprivileged. They don't know they're doing it, and when they are told they're doing it, we get the "why are you silencing me?" tactic. It's as infuriating as it is predictable. I refuse to apologize for calling out bad behavior. I'm not telling people to shut up, I'm telling people to find something different to say.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 7:31 AM on January 25, 2012 [29 favorites]


↑ Clap for that, please.
posted by hermitosis at 8:49 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


> DO ALL THE WORK FOR ME!

Realistically, that's what has to happen anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:01 AM on January 25, 2012


Realistically, that's what has to happen anyway.

It is if you make it that way. Throwing up your hands and saying "I can't help" makes it so. Opening your arms and saying "What can I do?" is preferable.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 9:03 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I get that given the discrimination certrain groups face, being vulnerable rhetorical tactic is not that big a deal, but in that case, it's not that important to use that rhetorical tactic

I don't think this follows. It almost anti-follows, in fact. It akoluthes?
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:40 AM on January 25, 2012


But I do think it's one reason that people tend to object with "but what about class?": because the most common connotation of colloquial "privilege" is wealth.

No, the reason people respond with "what about class" is that almost no one believes they're on the oppressive side of classism, because there's always someone richer or with more overt social status. So if it's all about class, then they can't be oppressors because they're the oppressed. If it's all about class, they can't be racist or sexist or transphobic, because those inequalities are illusory distractions from the "real" problem. People respond with "what about class" because it's an easy way of dodging responsibility for the shitty thing they just did. Don't get me wrong, classism is a real problem. It's just not the only problem, but the "what about class" people want it to be, because then they're on the side of the angels or something.
posted by Errant at 9:44 AM on January 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is an odd discussion and an odd and in some ways ironic controversy. The "pro-cisgender" side's argument largely centers around the idea of "normal vs abnormal," with the contention that if the word cisgender were to become widely adopted this would erode the association of "abnormality" with being transgender. But I can see no inherent connection between the acceptance or nonacceptance of the word "cisgender" and attitudes towards the normality or otherwise of transgender people. As many have pointed out there is a pretty strong correlation between cisgender/transgender and heterosexual/homosexual. The emergence of the term "heterosexual" hardly ushered in a golden era of widespread acceptance and "normalization" of homosexuality. Quite the opposite: it was a product of the very medicalization of homosexuality that defined it as an "abnormal" deviation.

It's easy to imagine an alternative world in which "cisgendered" and "transgendered" were terms that emerged from precisely the same nexus of psychosexual pathologization as "homo/heterosexual." And it's easy to imagine that in such a world we'd be having angry discussions on Metafilter featuring transgendered people railing against the inherently oppressive nature of the terms. After all, what is the most common association we have with the "trans/cis" pairing? Transalpine and cisalpine, surely. Doesn't that aggressively "normalize" the "cisgender" side of the coin? Hell, there's a fricking great mountain range between the two conditions! It's also easy to imagine that in that world Newt Gingrich would get up on his hind legs and bellow contentedly about how marriage was an institution for normal heterosexual, cisgendered people.

My point is not to argue against the adoption of cisgender as a term. It seems to me to be perfectly useful word and I'm entirely happy to identify as "cisgendered" if anyone asks. My point is to suggest that the deep angst and ire directed in this thread against people who object to the word is somewhat misplaced--I would go so far as to say that it's really to an extent an act of bad faith. The point of a word like "cisgender" is to be novel. There's nothing inherently good or bad in the word itself. It's only politically "progressive" function is to trip people up, to make them stop and think "hey, wait a minute, just how am I conceptually mapping gender/transgender categories?" It is an act of consciousness raising. In that way it's exactly cognate to the steady evolution of socially "acceptable" labels for race (Colored People, Negro, Black, African American, Person of Color etc.). Nobody can argue with a straight face that there is something inherently "oppressive" about "colored people" and something inherently "progressive" about "people of color"--the two terms are synonymous. But if you use one you're clearly a racist asshole and if you use the other you clearly attended college in the last two/three decades and "mean well." The "value" of these these terms is their novelty--as soon as they become widely accepted they simply absorb all the prejudices and preconceptions that clung to whatever the previous term was. Eventually, no doubt, the same thing will happen to the term "cisgender."

So rather than railing against those who say "holy crap, what's this novel word? I don't know what it means, but I sure as hell don't like it!" you should be grateful for their existence. As soon as the word ceases to get that reaction, it will also be well on the way to becoming completely ineffective.
posted by yoink at 10:51 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


yoink: The "pro-cisgender" side's argument largely centers around the idea of "normal vs abnormal," with the contention that if the word cisgender were to become widely adopted this would erode the association of "abnormality" with being transgender

It's not so much that, as having terminology available that we as trans people can use that don't leave a foul taste in our mouths (referring to cis people as 'normal people', implicitly making us 'abnormal'). It's having terminology available to cis people to have these discussions with us, without a foul taste in the mouths of allies. And yes, to some extent, it's about having terminology available so that people can be educated in ways that don't subtly imply abnormality right from the first few sentences of Trans 101. Do I expect this to change attitudes in and of itself? I do not. But can be a very useful tool in the push to that end.
posted by Dysk at 10:57 AM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's easy to imagine an alternative world in which "cisgendered" and "transgendered" were terms that emerged from precisely the same nexus of psychosexual pathologization as "homo/heterosexual."

Oh and this? They actually did! Well, sort of. 'Transgender' as a term did, and 'cisgender' is the logical linguistic antonym.

(And the organic chemistry trans/cis isomerism is probably at least as common a connotation as cis/transalpine gaul)
posted by Dysk at 10:59 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not so much that, as having terminology available that we as trans people can use that don't leave a foul taste in our mouths

Right. Which is why the people descended from African slaves in the US claimed the word "Negro"--until that left a foul taste in their mouths and they claimed the term "Colored people"--until that left a foul taste in their mouths and they claimed the term "Black" etc. etc. etc. This is precisely my point. The term itself is nothing. It's just a word. While it's a new word it doesn't trail with it a whole host of historical associations and therefore doesn't "leave a foul taste in your mouths." Let it get widely adopted, though, and all those associations will steadily accrue to it. When you hear preachers talking about the need to protect the cisgendered people of America, then the term will start leaving a foul taste...

Oh and this? They actually did! Well, sort of. 'Transgender' as a term did, and 'cisgender' is the logical linguistic antonym.

Yes, that's why it's "easy to imagine"--but, in fact, it happened not to turn out that way. Which is why the term has the novelty value that it has.

(And the organic chemistry trans/cis isomerism is probably at least as common a connotation as cis/transalpine gaul)

I'm guessing that technical terminology from organic chemistry is less widely distributed than fairly superficial knowledge about the history of the Roman empire.
posted by yoink at 11:13 AM on January 25, 2012


"It's only politically 'progressive' function is to trip people up, to make them stop and think 'hey, wait a minute, just how am I conceptually mapping gender/transgender categories?' It is an act of consciousness raising."

To see this and other, similar examples of nomenclature as nothing more than attempts at consciousness raising, particularly the consciousness of those for whom an unmarked term applies, is a very narrow and misguided understanding of all this. It's particularly problematic, though par for the course, in that it's all about the privileged group.

In a related case, people tend to focus on the diversionary and/or concern trolling aspects of the "tone argument" when criticizing it, both of which put an emphasis on at least a minimal amount of presumed bad-faith. But a more general problem with the tone argument is that even when it's entirely in good-faith, the perspective of the argument assumes that It's All About Them. "If your goal is to get me to understand that you've been treated badly, you need to do so in a way that makes me more comfortable, rather than less". But why is the automatic presumption that the most important thing involved is getting the privileged group to listen?

Sure, that's important. Ultimately, to really transform society in these ways requires a certain amount of broad-based support. But long, long before that's the case, the affected group learns to empower themselves. They learn to find ways to discuss and understand the issues involved that make their own activism possible.

Cisgendered is a useful term in a great many ways beyond the consciousness-raising of the cisgendered or, for that matter, the consciousness-raising of the transgendered. To see all neologisms or deliberately altered usages that are driven by identity politics as essentially nothing more than exercises in "consciousness raising" is to vastly misunderstand what's actually happening and to unwittingly buy into a prejudicial anti-PCist view of all such language.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:14 AM on January 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't imagine how "cisgendered" has any klutzier etymology than "television," is any less mellifluous than "cacophony," is any more offensive than "transgendered," or is any more of a label applied to a unwitting group than nearly any other label that has ever existed, unless you were there when Adam was naming the animals. Even if you think the trans-/cis- divide is phony, at least now there are words to describe those categories within that greater system, and you can argue against those categories all you like, using those those. What is the use of the word "cisgender" actually taking away from you?
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:18 AM on January 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Let it get widely adopted, though, and all those associations will steadily accrue to it.

So should there just never be a term to refer to the group that cis refers to? Because eventually, no matter what the term is or how it's used, it will acquire negative connotations?
posted by rtha at 11:19 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Note that 'negro' may have become 'colored people' and so on, but 'white' is still 'white' - 'cisgender' is analogous to the latter, not the former)
posted by Dysk at 11:22 AM on January 25, 2012


to unwittingly buy into a prejudicial anti-PCist view of all such language

Actually no, it's to quite wittingly embrace a pro-PCist view of such language. As I say, I have nothing whatsoever against the term and am happy to use it. Just as I'm happy to switch to "people of color" or "African American" or whatever other term gets branded as the "right" one. I think consciousness-raising is a Good Thing and that forcing people to become conscious of how they're using terms and what the implicit assumptions behind those terms are is a Good Thing. I'm just pointing out that it's a temporary thing and that the argument frequently advanced in this thread that there is something inherently progressive, destablizing, anti-normative or whatever about "cisgendered" is wrong.

So should there just never be a term to refer to the group that cis refers to?

Again, you've mistaken my argument for an argument against the term. I'm not against it. I'm happy for it to exist and I'm happy to use it. But if actually becomes a widely adopted word--like heterosexual, for example--it will be precisely as "liberatory" as the term "heterosexual." I.e., not at all. It will simply come to mean "normally gendered" just as "heterosexual" means--for most people--"having a normal sexual orientation."

(Note that 'negro' may have become 'colored people' and so on, but 'white' is still 'white' - 'cisgender' is analogous to the latter, not the former)

True--and note that the existence of the term "white" has not prevented people who are "non-white" from being marginalized and being regarded as "non-normal."
posted by yoink at 11:49 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink: True--and note that the existence of the term "white" has not prevented people who are "non-white" from being marginalized and being regarded as "non-normal."

It has not, yet is has remained. As has heterosexual as a term, devoid of liberation as it may or may not be. I see no reason why cisgender should cease to be useful as a descriptor if and when it too loses whatever liberation it apparently currently provides...

(And while heterosexual is indeed seen as normal, using the term still does not implicitly say that homosexuals are abnormal - the person in question may think that or not, but the language itself does not imply it. This is what I think cisgender does for this conversation, not that it's some magic fairy dust that'll change hearts and minds.)
posted by Dysk at 12:02 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It has not, yet is has remained.

Right. You'll notice that my argument doesn't say that "cisgender," if it becomes widespread, will cease to be used--quite the opposite: I'm saying that you'll be hearing it from the Rick Santorums and the Fred Phelps's of the future. My argument is that advocating for the use of the term will cease to be something that seems either important or helpful to transgender people.

Gay people once embraced the use of the term "homosexual" because as a scientific neologism it didn't carry the pejorative freight of existing terms such as "sodomite." Now most gays eschew the term because it carries precisely the stigma of a "diagnosis."

It will always be the marginalized group that worries about the terminology. It's precisely one of the privileges that the 'privileged' enjoy that they get to co-opt terminology and make it "normal" and hence "normative." It used to be a huge political issue to force people to use the term "gay." Now you really only run across those "gay means light of heart, dammit!" people in old folks' homes. The local gay-basher is perfectly happy to call his victim "gay" and to say how much he hates the stupid gay clothes he's wearing. That's not to say the fight to get the word adopted wasn't worth it--gays occupy a radically different place in society today (at least in the West) than they did when I was a child, and the consciousness-raising effect of fighting for the word gay played its part in that process. But the word itself was immaterial. It could have been any of the slang terms in the gay community that got settled on, or the fight could have been about what "straight" people should be called rather than about what "homosexual" people should be called. Now that the word is ubiquitous, it's also completely powerless. So in more recent years we've seen the rise of "queer" and in the future we'll no doubt see new terminology. It's the novelty that matters, not the word.
posted by yoink at 12:34 PM on January 25, 2012


marble:
I found 39,100,000 or so results on Google for "gendertypical".
If I put the word in quotes (to force exact matches), the number drops to "About 318 results."
posted by mbrubeck at 12:35 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


For all the rejection of 'homosexual' that may exist, there is very little pushback against 'heterosexual'. I'd posit that merely having the language would be a benefit in and of itself - the 'novelty' really isn't the point, for me at least.
posted by Dysk at 1:13 PM on January 25, 2012


It's bad to say "homosexual"? I've always used it as a neutral term. I thought calling all homosexuals "gay" would exclude lesbians. That seemed like an issue because it often appears issues affecting lesbians don't get the same attention as gay men.
posted by spaltavian at 3:53 PM on January 25, 2012


I thought calling all homosexuals "gay" would exclude lesbians.

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. It's pretty much accepted usage to use "gay" as the blanket term, but it's also used specifically to refer to gay men, depending on context. LGBT is a more inclusive term, but extra irritating when it's used to talk about gays and lesbians but not actually bisexual people or trans folk. "Queer" is what I generally use when I don't want to attempt to get specific - it seems to cover everyone who chooses to claim it.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:13 PM on January 25, 2012


I've been crazy with work recently so I can't really participate, but I do want to express to the trans and queer people in this thread and on mefi generally that if there are sides, I am on yours. I can't keep up but to the extent that these threads are like rooms in which we are all standing and speaking one by one, I am standing silently, but on your side of the room.
posted by prefpara at 7:55 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Help, I can't stop talking!: But taking the time to make him feel 100% comfortable with his "unmarked" status? No thank you. This faggot has better things to do with his time.

My apologies that I didn't make this clear: I did not at all intend for others to take my musings as directives or even suggestions. I voiced a stream of consciousness that stemmed from watching yet another privilege discussion go round and round the same well-worn tracks. For me, it's worth thinking through possible changes that might result from a word choice adjustment. Not necessarily in this thread, which is long and frustrating enough already. If anyone wants to poke holes in the ideas I put forward below, I look forward to MeMailing with you.

Errant: I do think privilege means "easy life", for some value of ease. . . . Social justice does not make anyone's life devoid of problems; it just attempts to remove artificially inculcated problems.

No argument from me. I was speculating out loud not about content, but about framing that might reduce aggravation for me as well as people I address. Again, I didn't mean to critique people's use of privilege terminology in this thread and apologize if I gave that impression.

Errant: It's a way of discussing the social tendency towards orienting around artificial norms without giving credence to those norms as inherently correct or obvious.

Yes. Further, the idea of unearned privileges is to me already implicit in the concept of unmarked vs marked categories. If someone is able to grasp the concept of marked and unmarked... it seems to me that inherent in that cognitive process, many would grok that moving through life largely unmarked encompasses all sorts of unearned social lubrications. Rights-of-passage. Unquestioned and unquestionable personhood. Being treated as an individual first. Dignity. Etc... and following from that, maybe they'd come more easily to understanding that marked people are not automatically granted such things? (Maybe I expect too much from people. Mea culpa.)

Help, I can't stop talking!: Things don't change when everyone is comfortable. I firmly believe that the best things happen when people step outside their comfort zones.

Me too. My thinking was that some people might more easily step outside their comfort zones of their own accord, if their initial encounters with ideas challenging their fundaments included less-derail-able terminology (not necessarily displacing "privilege," but maybe functioning alongside). As opposed to being pushed or dragged out, which sure, works for some people. Others, no. Some of those others are outright long-term assholes, yeah. I don't think all of them are.

Neutral terms might save me the time needed to explain "Hey but that colloquial meaning you're thinking of is not what I mean." It might reduce my own frustration and theirs by pre-empting one (unnecessary?) source of resentment. "Unnecessary" only, of course, if I'm correct that the very process of understanding "marked vs unmarked" makes a person aware of the existence of unearned advantages. Maybe I'm completely wrong.

I'm not talking about using "marked vs unmarked" to make people comfortable for their comfort's sake. I'm talking about how I have found that this general principle gives me rewarding results more often than not:

Giving people mental space to step back offers possibilities for them to look at things differently.

Often when thoughtful people step back, new challenging concepts can get a more objective hearing in their own minds which would otherwise be preoccupied with being defensive, hurt, angry, or on the offensive. Many people's negative emotions take over their brains wholesale.

Self-reflection is difficult as it is. More so when, as you say, they don't know that what they consider normal is privilege, that their ability to take it for granted is privilege. Alternative methods for breaking through the topmost layer of not-knowing, when the default method fails, is what I'm speculating about.

Online and IRL, in touchy discussions with acquaintances, my birth family, and my spouse, I get markedly better results when I 1. use neutral words and 2. respectfully acknowledge what they have said. I'm interested in creating conditions for my personal interactions that make some people's self-reflection easier, yes.* If in your mind that equates to coddling them, fine. If my approach somehow undermines yours, I'd sincerely appreciate an explanation because if I agree, I'll modify mine.

*People who are closed to the possibility they could have something to learn, OTOH, can go fuck themselves into the complacent self-congratulatory bliss that they love so much.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:05 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


when the default method fails

I wrote this badly. I mean, it seems to me that privilege terminology has practical limitations that I find increasingly frustrating, so hey, maybe there are alternatives that might not have those specific limitations. Naturally they would have their own problems too and I might decide to reject them. But I want to think about the issue more. Not rest content with what has become the default. So feel free to send me critiques.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:14 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't keep up but to the extent that these threads are like rooms in which we are all standing and speaking one by one, I am standing silently, but on your side of the room.

I cannot imagine anyone in this thread standing on the "other side"... What would their position position be - "I hate transgender people" or something like that?

People are getting het up about labels, about others telling them what they should think about their own identities, and impugning motives based on opposition to the specific politics that are being espoused as "correct" vis a vis these gender / transgender issues. That does not mean they are "against" transgender people - this is a complex and multifaceted issue here!

I really should just leave this alone now! It is obviously an intense and personal issue for those living it day to day, and I am just discussing abstract ideas on the Internet. But please, let's try to remember that everyone who is bothering to keep up with a 600 comment thread on this topic is here in good faith. Just because a person takes issue with elements of a political platform does not make them "the enemy".

In a way this is symptomatic of the failure of progressives in recent history - we get so far up our own assholes arguing minutae of terminology and creating ever more finely honed in and out groups that we are too busy to fight the real enemies.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:00 AM on January 26, 2012


Meatbomb: "In a way this is symptomatic of the failure of progressives in recent history - we get so far up our own assholes arguing minutae of terminology and creating ever more finely honed in and out groups that we are too busy to fight the real enemies."

I agree with you that no-one (or practically no-one) on Mefi hates trans people, which is actually pretty ace when you compare the place to (shudder) Reddit. I don't think this is symptomatic of the failure of progressives, though: many people I know and know of, trans and cis, are out in their communities doing support and outreach work, or lobbying governments local and national, and even getting themselves elected to local positions in order to carry on the work; for these people, cis is a settled issue. It's being discussed here because it's new to many people and disliked by others, but no energy is being diverted from activism today.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:16 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I cannot imagine anyone in this thread standing on the "other side"... What would their position position be - "I hate transgender people" or something like that?

I'd imagine not here - although obviously that happens in real life quite often, so it's not totally left-field as an idea.

On the other hand, we've had a lot of people providing some variation of "the feelings of trans people, and their ability to use language as a tool to understand and explain their relationship with the word, is less important than my feelings about being labelled, or my aesthetic feelings about how a word sounds, or my belief that a term is pejorative, or my incomprehension regarding certain prefixes". In terms of this discussion, that's probably the "other side".
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:15 AM on January 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


In terms of this discussion, that's probably the "other side".

It's interesting that putting people in a group based on a way of looking at the world which they don't share and giving them a label which they don't want, is the "side" people want to be on
posted by crayz at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2012


I can't even parse that.

Who is doing the putting, and who is the "they" that is not sharing a way of looking at the world? And who is it who doesn't want a label?
posted by rtha at 2:01 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who is doing the putting, and who is the "they" that is not sharing a way of looking at the world? And who is it who doesn't want a label?

Who is doing the putting is people whose concept of the world is "I have an internal, mental gender and external physical sex characteristics, and they are in or out of alignment"

The "they" not sharing that way of looking at the world who do not want a cis/trans label, is people who don't feel they have an internal mental gender and external physical sex characteristics as distinct entities that can be or not be in alignment. They have many varying and disagreeing perspectives on sex and gender etc, but it is not the align/not-aligned perspective. So they do not want/will not use a label which is grounded in that perspective
posted by crayz at 2:11 PM on January 26, 2012


crayz, no one is talking about you, or referring to you.

If you want to opt out of discussions about gender, that pretty much eliminates circumstances when that prefix would ever come up. If you do want to participate in conversations about gender, but you don't believe some of the basic principles that these conversations tend to be based on, then... good luck finding people like you?

In the meantime, there is absolutely no reason why anyone else should conform their discussion or arguments to the terms which make you the most comfortable. It really isn't about you. Heaving yourself into the center of a discussion just so you can explain why you refuse to participate in it is pretty much anti-social and a total waste of your time, not to mention everyone else's.
posted by hermitosis at 2:26 PM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


I can understand not using a label about oneself that one feels doesn't apply. I don't call myself a lady, for instance (except jokingly), since it doesn't map at all to how I see myself as a woman.

I do wonder at your strenuous objection to being labeled cis, in the abstract, by people who aren't referring to you personally. Do you object as strongly to being labeled in the same way (that is, in the abstract, not to your face) about other aspects of your being? Your sex, for instance, or your race/ethnicity. You said waaay upthread that

It artificially creates a division that didn't previously exist between you and a new other, and it assigns everyone else a label they didn't choose or necessarily want

I'm still curious: do you think that no division exists until it's named?

If you want to come up with new words to describe new ways in which people aren't like you, fine. But count me out


So new words are not good, but old words (man, woman, child) are okay to use as labels, even if the people being labeled (again, abstractly labeled) don't really like them, or feel they fit quite right?
posted by rtha at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


i think we can all agree the blink tag isn't the right answer.
posted by nadawi at 2:36 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Again, I didn't mean to critique people's use of privilege terminology in this thread and apologize if I gave that impression.

You certainly didn't, at least not in my opinion. My comments were in the spirit of expanding on and reacting to something you said, hence the quote, but they weren't intended to be read as arguing with or contradicting you. I too was speculating and theorizing out loud. For my part, I apologize if my comments came off as sounding like I thought I needed to lecture you or that you needed a lecture at all; my intent was to continue the conversation and not to place myself somewhere above it.
posted by Errant at 3:09 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you object as strongly to being labeled in the same way (that is, in the abstract, not to your face) about other aspects of your being?

If I conceptually disagreed, yes. If for instance we were talking about autism disorders and the FPP and article made many blanket statements about neurotypicalism and neurotypicalist themes and the how neurotypicals are just learning things that autistics have always known, and how neurotypical people have been oppressing us, and meant by neurotypical "everyone who doesn't define themselves as autistic", then yes

I think it's funny the "not personally" is used as a defense - the problem is the FPP's article is just full of stereotypes about cis people and their cis culture, treating it as a monolithic whole. I mean, read these paragraphs and insert any other group of people instead of cis: women, blacks, jews, north carolinians, omnivores, whatever, and tell me this kind of stereotyping would be acceptable:
It should be qualified somewhat: this was the biggest revelation of 2011 to a cisnormative audience and to cis people individually. For trans people who have (with gruelling patience) watched all of this cis fascination over trans children suddenly entering the cisnormative consciousness, one superlative of all superlatives emerged: this was the biggest non-story of our trans lives.

As trans people, we’ve been shrewdly aware of this knowledge for generations. ...

For trans people, perhaps the only noteworthy step forward about 2011 was knowing that cis people — who have collectively upheld this cisnormative social order in which we all find ourselves — have begun to recognize our life-long realities as plausible, if not entirely probable. It’s a small concession by cis people — not some great leap forward.
This isn't othering? If someone was saying "I was talking to my cis friend the other day and ..." no, that has nothing to do with me and I wouldn't have an objection. Talking about cis culture an what "it" is doing to you is far different
posted by crayz at 3:27 PM on January 26, 2012


I'm still curious: do you think that no division exists until it's named?

This is more a metaphysics/philosophy question, but I'd say no division exists even after it's named, but the naming does have an effect on the way we perceive and therefore act in the world
posted by crayz at 3:46 PM on January 26, 2012


I think it's funny the "not personally" is used as a defense - the problem is the FPP's article is just full of stereotypes about cis people and their cis culture, treating it as a monolithic whole. I mean, read these paragraphs and insert any other group of people instead of cis: women, blacks, jews, north carolinians, omnivores, whatever, and tell me this kind of stereotyping would be acceptable:

Two problems. First, minorities are far more familiar with the majority culture than vice versa, because they've lived in and been part of the dominant culture their whole lives, but the reverse is rarely true. Transgender people did not, upon transition, suddenly become aliens with no intimate connection to cis culture. They're as surrounded and influenced by it as you are, and they're as much a part of it as you are.

Second, I cannot tell you how common and how weak a dodge the "insert any other group" argument is. Isn't it funny how whenever people list the other groups they'd insert, somehow they're the groups who suffer oppression along other axes? I wouldn't insert "women" or "blacks" or "jews" for "cis", because that would be inverting the power orientation completely. I also wouldn't include the other groups you included, because I don't have the same sneering scorn that you do. I also wouldn't insert them because oppressions are similar but not transitive, and it's unnecessarily reductive to ignore those issues that are specifically transgender issues. Being transgender in a transphobic society is not like being a woman in a patriarchy, and vice versa; there may be commonalities of experience, but they're not interchangeable.

This isn't othering?

No, it's not. I think the latest trend in kyriarchy apologetics is to point to any differences identified or divergence of cultures and say "aha, aha, othering, othering!" Gay people talking about straight culture is not othering straight people. People of color talking about white culture is not othering white people. Me talking about transgender culture is not othering transgender people.

The paragraphs you quoted don't treat cis culture as a monolithic whole. They treat as a whole the way cis culture treats transgender people, and they lament the glacial pace of progress towards general acceptance. The paragraphs deal in generalities, certainly, but, you know, that's sort of the nature of year-end reviews and state of the nation summaries. I'm not sure why that trope bothers you in this context.
posted by Errant at 4:11 PM on January 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


I was going to say what Errant said, but he types faster. And is much more coherent.

Also you did say that "It artificially creates a division that didn't previously exist."

You weren't aware of any division until you were aware there was a name for it. Many of us already knew the name, and we knew of the division even if we didn't have a name for it. I was certainly aware that there was a power difference between men and women before I knew the word patriarchy.
posted by rtha at 4:34 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


First, minorities are far more familiar with the majority culture than vice versa, because they've lived in and been part of the dominant culture their whole lives, but the reverse is rarely true. Transgender people did not, upon transition, suddenly become aliens with no intimate connection to cis culture. They're as surrounded and influenced by it as you are, and they're as much a part of it as you are.

This is the problem though. Trans people are seeing "trans" as a defining part of their identity, and then defining cis as "not-trans". And then ascribing all sorts of beliefs and behaviors taken by not-trans people. Not-trans people are like this, not-trans people are like that. It sounds much worse if you say it that way - if you say cis, it sounds like a positive label, people who "have" some attribute

But positive labels like white, straight or transgender, people will apply to themselves, because they see that attribute in themselves as part of their identity. A great deal of people are objecting to cis as a label because that's not the way they view themselves. That's not part of their identity. Piling negative stereotypes on top of that label just makes it worse
posted by crayz at 4:36 PM on January 26, 2012


Errant: I apologize if my comments came off as sounding like I thought I needed to lecture

No need. They didn't. I was trying to head off possible misinterpretations of my words by anybody. We're good. Thanks!
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:38 PM on January 26, 2012


Or let's try Cynthia Nixon:
Regarding her late-in-life sexual orientation switch, the “Sex and the City” star said:

I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.

Writer Alex Witchel reports that “her face was red and her arms were waving” as she continued, “It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate,” Nixon said. “I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive.”
Huh. It's almost as if people generally don't like it when others define who they are based on concepts they don't agree with
posted by crayz at 4:54 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's probably no one who fits exactly and entirely into the boxes that other people put them in. That doesn't mean that categories don't have uses.

As a person of color, should I never talk about white people, because not all white people are like this? Can I never talk about what it's like to be female in a male space when not every single man would accept the label of male?

Nixon is right to call out the "born that way" argument - it's stupid (and i happen to believe that i was born this way, but I know thats not true for everyone). It doesn't mean that the category "gay" is bad or useless.
posted by rtha at 5:27 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is the problem though. Trans people are seeing "trans" as a defining part of their identity, and then defining cis as "not-trans". And then ascribing all sorts of beliefs and behaviors taken by not-trans people. Not-trans people are like this, not-trans people are like that.

Dude, what the fuck. Non-trans people are like this or like that, for a given value of this or that. There are generalizable cis attitudes towards transgender people. Does that mean that you, a putatively cisgender person, share those attitudes? No, not necessarily. But I could say that American culture has been anti-Communist since at least the end of WWII, and I would not then be saying that you, an American living after WWII, are anti-Communist, and no one would think that that was what I meant. Why do you believe that no one should ever refer to large groups by majority attitudes or opinions?

The beliefs and behaviors that are being ascribed to cis culture are not inventions of the delusional transgender mind. They are demonstrated and repeated opinions and actions that constantly attack transgender people at home, at work, that ostracize and alienate and oppress without apology and often with salacious glee.

I get it, you don't want anyone to call you, yourself, cisgender. Fine. But transgender people are going to have to call us something, because we keep hitting them. Considering the situation, I think "cisgender" shows remarkable restraint. I don't think I'd be that nice about it.

"Cisgender" does have an affirmative definition: those gender identities wherein your physical and natal sex align with gender roles both personally accepted and socially prescribed. If that doesn't describe you, great: you're not cisgender. That doesn't mean you're therefore transgender by default. We're not done discovering the vocabulary yet, and this isn't a binary spectrum. So you, yourself, don't have to be cisgender if you don't want to be. But you are assuredly part of the cisnormative culture, just like you're part of the homophobic culture, just like etc. etc. Until you make your own society untroubled by the illusory divisions you see us so hampered by, them's the breaks of living in an unequal power structure. If it makes you feel better, transgender people are part of cisnormative culture too, and I promise you they hate it even more than you do.
posted by Errant at 5:55 PM on January 26, 2012 [19 favorites]


The blink tag is ALWAYS the right answer.
posted by hermitosis at 6:11 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is the thread's Hank Aaron Comment.
posted by jonmc at 6:15 PM on January 26, 2012


positive labels like white, straight or transgender, people will apply to themselves, because they see that attribute in themselves as part of their identity. A great deal of people are objecting to cis as a label because that's not the way they view themselves. That's not part of their identity.

Well...when overt racism in the US and Canada became socially inappropriate, "white" as a self-descriptor fell out of favour. Lots of people who would check "white" on the census, in other circumstances disavow "white" as part of their day-to-day identity. Some of them may do it for well-thought-out reasons and others may do it for reasons like the ones below (which, sure, is their right, just as others have a right to use general categories to discuss various demographics):
Many of us reject racial whiteness as a personal identifier when we are ready to say that we disagree with the divisions that race perpetuates, the false categorizations that do not offer exact, accurate self-reflection. We do this believing that we are striking back against prejudice and racism. Through this argument, we hope to demonstrate that we will not be fooled into continuing a fundamentally flawed system of naming.

Deciding that we are not white allows us to . . . move on with our lives, imagining that issues of race are taken care of as far as it relates to us. Sure, there are plenty of people who identify with race and prejudiced viewpoints -- but we are no longer part of the "race problem" because we are not part of the race. Those of us taking on this approach generally are philosophically opposed to prejudice, so we do not see ourselves doing anything that would cause distress in anyone from another group.

Unfortunately, there is also a subtle implication in this approach that often goes unnoticed by white people, but it is hardly lost on a good number of people of color. The implication is this: If we reject being called white, we also reject the idea that we are connected to a broader, white culture.

. . . If we are not white, then there is absolutely no reason why we should concern ourselves with what people of color have been saying for generations about the features of white culture. If we are not white, then we have nothing to gain by investigating how our country's history of racism shapes us. If we are not white, then conversations about our unwitting participation in perceived racism in our classrooms, on our school campuses, or in communities of color are irrelevant. All of these statements become possible when we take our whiteness off the table.

. . . The problem is that whiteness is related to a lot more than fair skin and we cannot deconstruct its effects by simply walking away from race.

. . . Although we hope that the distance [from the "white" label] excuses us from being a part of the problem of race, our denials do not stop us from being treated as white. Philosophically rejecting whiteness does not stop us from escaping racial profiling. We will never have to deal with the frustration of being passed over by cab drivers due to our race. We will never be mistaken for gardeners when working in our front yards. . . .

Worse, in our lack of investigation, we cannot recognize that benefits come with our whiteness. We remain blind to the myriad ways that our whiteness opens doors for us. . . .
-Shelly Tochluk, Witnessing Whiteness
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:18 PM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


I quite disagree.
posted by joeclark at 6:42 PM on January 26, 2012


No one is surprised by that, joe.
posted by rtha at 6:51 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


If for instance we were talking about autism disorders and the FPP and article made many blanket statements about neurotypicalism and neurotypicalist themes and the how neurotypicals are just learning things that autistics have always known, and how neurotypical people have been oppressing us, and meant by neurotypical "everyone who doesn't define themselves as autistic"

Setting aside whether the content of the argument is good/bad/agreeable/disagreeable: the fact that a person using the word "cisgender" is saying things you don't like or agree with about cisgender culture does not say anything about the word cisgender. You could find somebody making the opposite argument about how cisgender people in general understand trans issues, and it would not change the meaning of the word "cisgender" one whit. Because there is no other, less discriminatory or baggage-packed term that the writer chose it over. It is the only extant term. If you're OK with using "transgender" at all, even if you think it refers to people who only THINK their external and internal gender is misaligned, "cisgendered" still functions perfectly well as "other than transgendered, whatever the user understands 'transgendered' to mean." Why is using a prefix that does not imply positive or neutral value but still means the opposite of trans more offensive than using "non-trans," which makes "trans" normal, and which sounds perjorative? Why would you even want to say "non-trans" if your objection to "cis" is that there is no such thing as "trans"?

Every time somebody says "cisgender," it's in place of a long string of words that they would otherwise need to use to refer to people who do not consider themselves transgender. Would you object to the long string of words? If not, why would you object to using shorthand for it, when there is nothing about "cis" that is instrinsically more or less othering than "trans," and when there is no other word they could be using instead that would be associated with hatred or friendliness or scorn or anything?

And "neurotypical" is an example of a word that carries baggage "cisgender" does not: "typical" can be an insult to people who don't care for being called "typical" and an insult to people who understand "typical" to mean "normal" and don't care to define what they're not as "normal."

And if your argument is that the not-cisgendered-but-what-we-mean-when-we-say-cisgendered has to name itself, well, people generally have to see a need before they make up a word, and being a huge majority whose members don't generally seem to harbor a great many positive feelings for the transgendered community on those rare occasions when they remember that it exists, it seems that if they have arrived at any consensus (and isn't it fair to impose a time limit? Should the temporarily-called-cisgender community agree on a different one that doesn't imply that it alone is the normal or good one, there's no reason "cisgender" can't be replaced later, as terms of identification so often are) it is something along the lines of "normal." Which is not going to work, no. Intrinsically prejudiced, unlike "cisgender." Not specific enough. It means too many things. Liable to make a lot of the-people-we're-referring-to-when-we-say-cisgendered much more indignant than "cisgender" does.
posted by Adventurer at 8:05 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Cisgendered would be a Useful, accurate, appropriate conception... Even in earth 2, where transgendered people did not exist.

But such people do exist here and now (in fact, many have been extremely helpful, openly sharing incredibly personal things, despite knowing that a lot of people around the world are just completely closed to acknowledging their rights, polite, compassionate, understanding (that other people have had different experience, and so don't necessarily comprehend these issues, which, no doubt, are complex, as all human things tend towards, helpful and accommodating of a stubborn refusal to acknowledge their very existence (what do you mean mental state), and like others I want to thank everyone who is sharing in discussion, because learning about other people is not oppressive, in fact it enriches me, and benefits everyone. Even people who meatbomb labeled 'opponents', though I cringe at your unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of people when unwillingness to acknowledge said people who wider society already points out, and singles out, our laws, and politics and culture 'acknowledge' the 'transgendered' conception, sadly in a hostile manner, and creates a space for active discrimination.

Cisgendered on the other hand, is not a slur, it actually is not used as a label (if you mean they, in the post on the blue were broad in the attack, generalizing, angry, even hostile, or whatever that hurts people's feelings... Fine, but that is your issue with the person who wrote or said whatever raised your hackles. Not the word, nor 'trasngendered people' in general.

It is what it is in a vacuum. Cisgendered people exist. Outside of what you think is in the mind of a transgendered person somewhere...
We have tried to tell you this. You continue to insist that you are not Cisgendered... You are something else... Fine, great, spectacular. That has no bearing on why you keep telling us that you don't identify that way.

No one 'called you' Cisgendered (if someone did.. Yeah, not correct probably, not appropriate, i'm thinking, since no one is lookin up your kilt, or is in your head, so someone labeling you that way would be reading into the things you have said.

Nothing you are saying changes the appropriateness, nor reality of Cisgendered.

They referred to a conception that exists...

You seem to be confused at usage.

Cisgendered can be 'self-applied', or it can be used to discuss the 'collective' group of. People who are Cisgendered... Or I can use it to say, hey, friend, we are talking about this topic, do you identify as Cisgendered? No? Great.

Hows the weather. But waging battle with people who are transgendered, ostensibly over a word that is appropriate both linguistically, and from a social justice standpoint...


But saying Cisgender exists is not like, "Barack Obama is Cisgendered".


Right, that would be an inappropriate thing to assert... As I have
A) never lifted the presidents kilt...

And
B) I have never heard him address this.

How does this word that will never be imposed on you mental state actually even come close to impacting you?

It impacts Cisgendered people. Not you. Or maybe you. I don't know you, so how could I say either way what your psychology is telling you. How your experiences are shaping you.

Until the day when everyone is a nudist, and everyone is comfortable with the gradation of their nuchal crest presentment... Or lack thereof. No one knows for sure what is in someone else's pants, nor mind.

Your insistence, crayz, that it is transgendered people who are imposing a tyranny upon you, is mistaken. And, as rights afforded to all others are routinely denied to people (even pretending for a moment that your assertion bears any validity, that transgendered people don't 'exist', people who YOU, our culture, label transgendered get discriminated against.

The question of 'knowing' transgender is moot, as our political, and civil institutions are used to single out, target, and discriminate against 'certain' people. If that violence done by anti-trans politics isn't that laconically lamented (boogieman, apparently) "identity politics", and overreaching abuse of civil institutions to forward an agenda... I don't know what is.

So, really the discussion of 'from whence transgendered people's identities are formed... Is not logical, because people who are not transgendered (cis, for short), are attack people with violence, and the law, and other political institutions every day in our world.

Right? Harm, I don't care about 'offence'... I mean, like some people said.. They were offended at the very existence of the word Cisgendered... Is it harming them? No? Who cares that someone is a linguistic prescriptivist... Not me. That is anyones free right, but linguistic drift, and growth of the pool of ideas and ways of thinking harms no one.

Harm, and harm reduction are what exist (it is a subtle distinction, one which does take into account 'offence'... But that is not the prime motivating factor. It is a bad motivation, as, obviously, the Kkk can take offence that they don't have tax free exemptions like religions... Right, anyone can 'take offence', to anything. Offending someone is a social problem... The person who is offended will not like that, and social friction will occur.

But social, interpersonal problems are different kettles of corn from social justice problems.

This is something that people who say things like, no, this battle is not important, come fight my battle, which is a "real" battle, against "the real enemies" misunderstand.

It is not the sound of the words, it is the impact they have on the shared world we live in, and the people we share it with.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:08 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I will embrace the day when I can see everybody's junk and read their minds.
(but only I can)
(please let it be tomorrow)

posted by iamkimiam at 12:57 AM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you're OK with using "transgender" at all, even if you think it refers to people who only THINK their external and internal gender is misaligned

I messed this up mostly through unfamiliarity-based clumsiness and just a little out of haste: for "their external and internal gender is misaligned," please sub "the gender their bodies indicate them to be does not or originally did not match the gender they know themselves to be." I know own-comment-corrections are kind of silly and boring but it seems important to say it right in here.
posted by Adventurer at 2:46 AM on January 27, 2012


crayz: he problem is the FPP's article is just full of stereotypes about cis people and their cis culture, treating it as a monolithic whole.

I agree. But this is a problem with the article in the FPP and its author, not the word 'cis'. You can make stupid blanket statements about 'white people' or 'men', too, that doesn't make those words offensive either.

Can we please stop conflating this specific case with the general case?

But positive labels like white, straight or transgender, people will apply to themselves, because they see that attribute in themselves as part of their identity.

There was a lot of objection to 'heterosexual' and 'straight' when these terms were new... Also, I know an awful lot of cis people that do self-identify that way. A lot more than have any objection to the term (something I had never encountered until MeFi).

Huh. It's almost as if people generally don't like it when others define who they are based on concepts they don't agree with

And as a group, we've been medically labelled 'transsexual' or transgender because someone somewhere thought we were abnormal and sick, as a group. Are you seriously arguing that as a member of the majority rather than the minority, you should get preferential treatment?
posted by Dysk at 4:26 AM on January 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Dysk: "Are you seriously arguing that as a member of the majority rather than the minority, you should get preferential treatment?"

It's especially bizarre because people have been going out of their way constantly to say, if you don't feel that the definition of cissexual applies to you -- that is, if your internal sex identity actually does conflict with your assigned sex -- then you don't have to call yourself cis!

Meanwhile I have no choice about being called transsexual: it's on my medical notes, the government knows, and I had to come out at my previous job in order to get a letter supporting treatment. It's legally branded across my life and will never go away; no matter how finished I may feel with it, it's never finished with me. Trans isn't a label I chose; it's one that has been applied to me that I have had to accept and do my best to embrace. I can be proud of myself, despite or because of that label, but I will never escape its mark.

Whereas cis is just, well... everyone is assumed to be cissexual and cisgendered until proven otherwise. It's the default state of being as far as most people are concerned. The doctor doesn't care that you're cis, and neither does the government, or the workplace. It literally doesn't matter to them.

And if you're not comfortable with calling yourself cis because you don't feel it describes you, that's fine! It's great -- I feel one step closer to you already. But unless you actually take steps to change yourself to the point where people notice, you still benefit from the institutional assumption that you, like everyone else, are cis.

Just like I did, before transition. I benefited from being assumed to be cis before I came out, and just because I was dying inside doesn't make those benefits any less real or valid. I'd love to still be benefiting like that now, but I can't.

This has been a rant, brought to you by Not Enough Sleep.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:06 AM on January 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


ArmyOfKittens: It's especially bizarre because people have been going out of their way constantly to say, if you don't feel that the definition of cissexual applies to you -- that is, if your internal sex identity actually does conflict with your assigned sex -- then you don't have to call yourself cis!

I don't think that's the basis of most of the objection that's been raised in this thread. Rather, it seems to be a rejection of the categorisation altogether (which entails a rejection of the 'trans' label as well), of the concepts of internal and assigned sex. And that makes me both sad and angry.

This thread has induced a lot of trangst, in reminding me quite how far outside even the liberal mainstream my very identity necessarily places me...
posted by Dysk at 5:48 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, me too.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:57 AM on January 27, 2012


I love the word "trangst." Excellent.

And, to be fair, my reading of crayz is that he rejects the internal/external thing for himself, not necessarily for everyone. Which, okay. And I kind of understand that (I think) - because since my internal sense of my gender/sex matches my secondary sex characteristics, I don't really feel I have a disjunction between them. I often get read as male by random people ("Brother, can I buy a smoke off you?" and "Here's your change, sir, have a nice day"). This used to bug the ever-loving shit out of me, because it seemed to signal to me that people weren't actually paying attention - they weren't *looking* at me. But that was all tied up in how I was feeling as a retail worker at a high-end grocer, where many of the customers were oblivious or just downright rude to the workers. Now that I don't have to do that, I don't give much of a shit. I know that I don't present as traditionally female, but how I look is also how a woman looks, because I am a woman.

I do think that not feeling a division between one's internal sense of sex/gender and an external one, or even feeling that you have both an internal and external sex/gender, is a sign that one just *might* be cis. /little sarcastic

I just now did some googling for Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook, which I recall finding revelatory when it came out. I have no idea how well it's held up over the years, but in googling, I discovered that Kate's updating it and is looking for input. Maybe we should send her links to this meTa.

This rambly comment has been brought to you by early morning and not quite enough coffee yet. Please feel free to ask for clarification on anything I've been incoherent about.
posted by rtha at 6:27 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think you're great for explaining things from a practical point of view and for giving me a new and logical word. You've also given me lots of wonderful retorts to use when people are being stupidly judgemental about life choices that really don't have anything to do with them.

As painful as these conversations may be for you, I do thank you for participating in them because you've taught me a lot. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
posted by h00py at 6:31 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I swear I re-read my comment several times before I hit post. And yet, this: or even feeling that you have both an internal and external sex/gender, should be this: or even feeling that you don't have both an internal and external sex/gender.
posted by rtha at 6:39 AM on January 27, 2012


I've got no problem with using non-"normalized" terms to describe non-transgendered people, but I'm not a fan of cis- on purely aesthetic grounds. The sound of it bugs me -- sounds like cyst, cistern, hiss, sissy, mis-, etc. Unless you know chemistry, the cis- prefix just isn't common enough in English to have an associated "here" meaning that outweighs the negative soundalike connotations. Plus it scans kind of awkwardly into the rest of the word.

I think there'd be less friction if it were a more familiar and friendlier-sounding prefix like allo-, auto-, hom(e)o-, etc.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:59 PM on January 27, 2012


With the greatest respect, aesthetic is a terrible reason to object. "Heterosexual" is not an especially pleasing term, but we don't object to it anymore, because of its function. I'm probably not going to put "cisgender" in one of my poems anytime soon, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a necessary social utility.

Honestly, it's not enough that you get the benefit of social advantage, you need all your descriptors to be just so as well?
posted by Errant at 10:42 PM on January 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Also "autosexual" makes it sound like you spend a lot of time in your bunk.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:15 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would that make the opposite term 'deceptisexual'?

Actually it's a depressing thought that a lot of people would find that an appropriate description.
posted by emmtee at 2:55 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rhaomi: Unless you know chemistry, the cis- prefix just isn't common enough in English to have an associated "here" meaning that outweighs the negative soundalike connotations.

Unless you've studied the Roman Empire, in which case you'd be familiar with cis/transalpine Gaul. The points you're making, we've been over them several times in this thread already. It might behove you well to read the thread before weighing in at this stage, lengthy as it may be.
posted by Dysk at 6:15 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've got no problem with using non-"normalized" terms to describe non-transgendered people, but I'm not a fan of cis- on purely aesthetic grounds. The sound of it bugs me -- sounds like cyst, cistern, hiss, sissy, mis-

Cistine, Cistercian, whistle, mistletoe, kiss, this, mist, pistol, Christmas, christening, missile, fissile.

Honestly? If you are upset by it on purely aesthetic grounds, you are probably not upset by it on purely aesthetic grounds.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:41 AM on January 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


The sound of it bugs me -- sounds like cyst, cistern, hiss, sissy, mis-

Of course the reason "sissy" is a "negative soundalike" is that it's derived from "sister" and literally means "you're so weak and worthless that you're acting like a girl." Too bad it's impossible to find out whether people would still be saying "but it sounds like cistern" if it didn't also sound like "sissy." Much worse that we have no way of finding out how much less painful transitioning and just being trans in this culture would be if using "girl" as an insult were considered bigoted and/or nonsensical. (I mean, seems pretty crazy that it isn't, right?)
posted by Adventurer at 7:35 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to thank Mefi not only for teaching me a new word, but for a new perspective. Seems like I learn something new every day here.
posted by LordSludge at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


> With the greatest respect, aesthetic is a terrible reason to object.

Not objecting, just making an observation about why some people might not like the prefix (the prefix, not the concept).

> Unless you've studied the Roman Empire, in which case you'd be familiar with cis/transalpine Gaul. The points you're making, we've been over them several times in this thread already. It might behove you well to read the thread before weighing in at this stage, lengthy as it may be.

Well, that's not exactly a common usage, either.

And this thread's more than 700 comments long, on top of the nearly 200 in the Mefi thread. I have read through it, hence my late-to-the-party comment, but forgive me if I'm not making a totally original point here.

> Cistine, Cistercian, whistle, mistletoe, kiss, this, mist, pistol, Christmas, christening, missile, fissile.

I'm not familiar with Cistine; I know Sistine (as in the chapel), but that looks more like "sister."

Don't know Cistercian, either.

All the other ones don't really sound like cis- or the other words I mentioned earlier because they have stronger associations with other groups of words (whistle = whimsical, wheeze, etc., kiss = hard "k" sound instead of the double-sibilant, this = a preposition like "the" or "to" that doesn't have much connotation to it).

It's idiosyncratic, I know, but that's just how I think about language. And "cis-" is just an unfamiliar (to me) prefix that sounds subtly similar to a number of unpleasant or negatively-connoted words, so it's a little odd-feeling to apply it to something as personal as gender.

> Honestly? If you are upset by it on purely aesthetic grounds, you are probably not upset by it on purely aesthetic grounds.

That's kind of uncalled for.

> Of course the reason "sissy" is a "negative soundalike" is that it's derived from "sister" and literally means "you're so weak and worthless that you're acting like a girl." Too bad it's impossible to find out whether people would still be saying "but it sounds like cistern" if it didn't also sound like "sissy." Much worse that we have no way of finding out how much less painful transitioning and just being trans in this culture would be if using "girl" as an insult were considered bigoted and/or nonsensical. (I mean, seems pretty crazy that it isn't, right?)

Look, I didn't invent English. I don't like or use the word "sissy" (or "pussy," or "you [x] like a girl"), but it's a word that's acquired negative associations (however wrongly) that also sounds a lot like cis-. That's all I'm saying here.

I don't have a problem with trans people. I don't have a problem with having a term to describe non-trans people. And I don't think cis- was chosen with the negative associations I mentioned in mind, or that those associations mean anything. They don't; it's just a fluke of language. I only brought it up because 1) there's been discussion of the prefix and why it might be unfamiliar/odd, 2) I've been reading about sound symbolism recently and I'm intrigued at how it dovetails with how I think about words, and 3) I thought it might be useful to offer as a possible explanation for the distaste over cis- how the lacuna of meaning created by the unfamiliarity of the prefix to most people might be getting filled in subconsciously by similar-sounding words, most of which have a negative meaning. No criticism of the concept cis- is describing, just the three-letter phoneme itself.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:53 PM on January 28, 2012


a preposition like "the" or "to"

(Er, particle, not preposition.)
posted by Rhaomi at 12:57 PM on January 28, 2012


I guess I mean that objecting to "cis" on the grounds that it inadvertently evokes some of the feelings associated with being the target of an epithet that derives its power from the same attitudes responsible for the societal condemnation of trans people. There actually is a responsible thing to do here, if you're interested in trans and gender rights issues, which would be to make a conscious decision to refuse to give "sissy" any further power over you on account of the fact that the premise of the word is "girls are worthless and contemptible." With a strong undercurrent of "stick to your gender role."
posted by Adventurer at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2012


Sorry, left out the end of the first sentence: that should have read, "I guess I mean that objecting to 'cis' on the grounds that it inadvertently evokes some of the feelings associated with being the target of an epithet that derives its power from the same attitudes responsible for the societal condemnation of trans people is kind of perverse."
posted by Adventurer at 1:54 PM on January 28, 2012


I guess I wasn't thinking about how much damage "sissy" can do if it's something somebody was prone to say about something intrinsic about your identity at any time, rather than something used to shame you briefy on account of a specific action. If this is the case, though, what was used to hurt you is a large part of what's used to hurt them. If you tell them "I don't like this word you used to describe the normative class because it reminds me of being bullied the way we've both been bullied," you're giving the thing that hurt you more power. In order to take some away from people who are still being subjected to it even legally, who are regularly told they don't exist on account of it.
posted by Adventurer at 2:15 PM on January 28, 2012


It's idiosyncratic, I know, but that's just how I think about language. And "cis-" is just an unfamiliar (to me) prefix that sounds subtly similar to a number of unpleasant or negatively-connoted words, so it's a little odd-feeling to apply it to something as personal as gender.

...and 'trans' sounds pretty similar to 'tranny', yet we're perfectly capable of distinguishing the acceptable neutral use from the epithet.
posted by Dysk at 2:30 PM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Apples and oranges. "Trans-" is an extremely common prefix with a widely understood meaning, and "tranny" an obvious tweak of that term. If "trans-" was an obscure term used mainly in chemistry and intra-European geography that was only recently adapted for use in gender discussion, and "tranny" was an unrelated word that still carried negative meaning, then they would be a lot easier to associate.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:47 PM on January 28, 2012


If what I said about the perversity of giving in to "sissy" here sounds harsh or unsympathetic, noticing my own username has reminded me that maybe I should point out that I am not a dude who has been lucky enough to never be subjected to it, but somebody's actual sister.
posted by Adventurer at 2:55 PM on January 28, 2012


Since when is lowest common denominator the method, or metric, or rule for broadening, progressing, expanding the linguistic scope, increasing utility of a language when concepts and topics have been actively shut down to suit the needs of the few?

People have been arguing that cisgendered people is the "more common", and thus that some language prescriptivists should get to decide what can be talked about, and how...

It feels like “why wasn’t I consulted”. Acting like this is some preference on a website, when it is actually about controlling the specifics of language, and words that a targeted group may use to exist in a context, a context that they did not invent, did not "create", but rather a context that was placed upon them.

Gender is culturally affiliated; and people born into a culture with rigid gender roles and ideas who don't fit those rigid categories (which are arbitrary, as noted by my invocation of gradations of secondary sexual characteristics and features (right, not all breast on all Women are the same, not all genitals are the same in external characteristics even... as I joked earlier, Nuchal crest presentment is used (along with clusters of other features to preliminarily determine the biological sex of a skeleton, yet, for some reason, there are just "two" categories. Do you see how this is arbitrary? Just as easily, and far more accurately, we could say, ok, your Nuchal crest presents at about a 4 on the scale... so you are a "male4"... and you, you have no presentment of nuchal crest, you are "Female0", or you, you have a 2 presentment, so you are a neutral 2.

But there are hundreds more features in this cluster of "sexual" features, and to be "precise" we would spend a hundred years saying, here you grade this much, and here this...

So instead, as noted, 'we' invented shorthands. Arbitrary shorthands. Male. Female.

Those are no more real than "Taq", and "Das" gender. The only difference is that "we" arbitrarily decided those were "good enough" categories a long, long time ago.

"Why wasn't I consulted about the terms 'male and female'... right? Why not? Because it was long ago decided by our culture. We can't go back in time, only forward, we can only change what they COME to mean. But we can make those changes, and, for social justice, we must. We must progress linguistically, as we do so socially, and culturally, and scientifically, as we learn more about ourselves and the world, we need new, more granular, more specific words, we need new words, and new combo-words, new utilizations of old prefixes and redactions of old suffixes.

We need to learn to grow. Rather than applauding people who entrench and refuse to look at the experiences of other people.

OVER TIME, those shorthands became the obsession of Churches, and conservative minds; clinging to these arbitrary classes as "immutable"... fast-forward, and these same conservative minds, clinging to past-arbitrary cultural ideas, used these words to other-ize, single out, and target certain people again, using absolutely arbitrary metrics, (eunuch, Transgendered people, Sadhin, Hijra... and on), but now... those people have a method of knowing that they are not just "solitary" or "not-normal"... people have connections across nations, and across the globe and are realizing that the ARBITRARY gender labels have been used as EXCUSES to target, and discriminate against ARBITRARY groupings of people.

This doesn't mean that arbitrary categorizations are bad or wrong... what is wrong, or rather, harmful, is when those (potentially helpful, useful) Arbitrary categorizations are clung to in a way that facilitates the ignoring and further marginalizing of the voices of millions of people.


There is no "universal, and un-ending male"... right, just bodies, individuals.

Arbitrary-Male A might actually bear more features in common with Arbitrary-Femal A, than with Arbitrary-Male C.

Males and Females are not "monolithic" entities, that exist outside of human cultures. They are shorthands which just happen to be extremely well implemented, shorthands that have proliferated, and spread.

But only ignorant conservative minds (the same ones that stick fingers in their ears when we talk about Biology and Sex and Gender, or about asexual reproduction, or auto-sexual behavior in lizards, or sex-shifting in worms, or Sharks making more sharks without a second shark) believe that there exists "outside of human thinking" some universal "category" called "male", and "female".

I don't know why you feel the need to excuse the sloppy reasoning of people who are simply ignorant of the topic, the issues involved, and that their "subjective ignorance" has real life impacts on people as they try to live their actual lives (and actually, I think everyone who reacted simplistically, with a half-cocked idea of trying to control other people, by method of subjective ‘aesthetics’ (I would love to know since when is that even a “thing” in modern linguistics [I know this class-structuring tool was used in earlier eras, especially in Britain to mark class, and hierarchy of place, but in 2012])?

Many of the people who "took issue" with the term cisgender started their sentences with "admittedly I don't care about this, and just heard about it, and I am just someone on the internet, with a gut feeling"...

I am very glad that you noted that Adventurer, that undercurrent ran through almost all of the objections to the word... that some ignorant, sexist, anti-Woman (and harmful to adjustment of Men), hyper-limited definition of masculinity based "sound association" (sissy=girl=icky-weak) should trump accuracy of terminology is something that would be just laughed out in any other topic.

I'd laugh, if so many people didn't express that fear of using a word to self-identify, because it might sound like sissy.

It is an absurd position when you think about it (made ever more so absurd when it is clear that the objections only arise with this particular topic, linguistic imperialists don't crop up every-time "google" is discussed to protest that word, no one derails topics about "oxbow rivers" on the grounds that "more people" know about rivers, so no one should talk about Oxbows, and instead, refer only to Rivers.

I was never more aware of how many people are actually super linguistic-experts and Aestheticians; until someone upsets the privilege of blissful ignorance of their status in a dominant linguistic hegemony.

Suddenly people seem to assert that their subjective, linguistically inaccurate, first blush "impressions" should trump... everything else.

I wasn't aware that conceptions could only come from things that are already in "common use".
so, like someone studying taphonomy would talk about "dirt" right, not SOIL? Because "commonly" society calls the stuff in the ground "dirt", so that is the only acceptable term. Wait, no.

And climatologists, speaking of ALBEDO effect are days away from a crusade against this, because, well, not everyone know what this means before they are made aware of what it means, such an ugly, terrifying word, that sounds like Libido. INAPPROPRIATE, right? That should be called "Reflecty-Weckty", or, "the degree to which the ground-colour absorbs or reflects the heat-light-energy that is coming down from the sun, which is not trapped, or blocked by the earth atmosphere...

Right, because those multi-word sentences that are awkward, and have so many clauses are far better than Albedo.

"Subjective aesthetics says so", is not a valid rationale.

Next, do you argue, that we can't, or oughtn't distinguish between, label, or identify in their uniqueness, domestic violence, spousal abuse, and child abuse, because, hey, it's really more commonly know as "Being Hurt by someone".

And then, we ought not to distinguish, or label "verbal abuse", and "physical abuse", because hey, "society" only generalizes and calls it "abuse".

And war is always murder, because most people know that killing another person is called murder... wait.


Sorry, I do apologize that this is so long, and yet still misses a bunch of things that deserve responses; and if it offends anyone, I am sorry, I do feel that harm trumps offense, but I do not mean to dismiss concerns, or hurt, or dismiss for no reason, but I do think that there is a massive blind-spot on the ideas of sex and gender, this is a huge topic, and rife with superstitious positions, such as belief in things like "immutable categories titled gender".

Biology, sex and gender are really interesting to me, and, despite claims above to the contrary, are well studied, but the ideas are not very well disseminated. I don't think this means we should throw out all the science and rational, logical work in the social sciences and anthropology; rather, I think talking about it is vital, but to talk, we need words, and you aren't giving alternatives (or rather, alternatives that make sense, or are accurate, or un-biased). I guess I am hostile when general "I don't like this sound" feelings demand to trump, a need to have a language which covers all of us, and allows everyone an equal place at the table of discourse.
posted by infinite intimation at 3:43 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but arguing that the concept of 'male' and 'female' is an arbitrary shorthand with no intrinsic meaning is just silly. The existence of exceptions does not invalidate the entire framework. If in your opinion that makes me an ignorant conservative, then so be it.
posted by jacalata at 4:40 PM on January 28, 2012

I think everyone who reacted simplistically, with a half-cocked idea of trying to control other people, by method of subjective ‘aesthetics’

that some ignorant, sexist, anti-Woman (and harmful to adjustment of Men), hyper-limited definition of masculinity based "sound association" (sissy=girl=icky-weak) should trump accuracy of terminology is something that would be just laughed out in any other topic.

I'd laugh, if so many people didn't express that fear of using a word to self-identify, because it might sound like sissy.

I was never more aware of how many people are actually super linguistic-experts and Aestheticians; until someone upsets the privilege of blissful ignorance of their status in a dominant linguistic hegemony.

Suddenly people seem to assert that their subjective, linguistically inaccurate, first blush "impressions" should trump... everything else.
Wow... OK, just to be 100% clear, I never said (or "asserted," or "demanded") that we not use the word "cisgender," or that it was somehow wrong or bad. I'm not trying to "control" anyone, I don't think the superficial associations I described "trump" anything, and I'm certainly not fearful of the word being applied to me because it sounds like "sissy." I never said anything like that, and yeah, it *is* pretty offensive to have my narrowly-focused and heavily-qualified linguistic spitballing described as "ignorant, sexist, anti-Woman."

All I said, all I said, was that the word itself (not the idea behind it) left a bad taste in my mouth because the leading prefix, bereft of any familiar meaning, reminded me of a number of other distasteful words -- including "sissy," a word I really disapprove of but which nevertheless exists -- and that this association may explain part of the reaction to the word amongst other people. No judgment of trans people, no demand they pick a different word for my sake, and no real personal offense to the word, just a conjectural linguistic nitpick.

(And to clarify, I didn't include "sissy" in the list of "negative soundalikes" because OMG IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE CALLING ME A SISSY GIRL ICK ICK ICK, but because it's a word with negative baggage that I just plain dislike. Sort of like when somebody from down here in Alabama says I "nigger-rigged" something -- I don't dislike the term because I'm a racist who recoils at being compared to black people, but because it's a nasty phrase, period. Same thing with "sissy" -- it's a dumb sexist slur, so it's (very) mildly annoying when a word applying to myself reminds me of it.)

And no, it's not laughably unheard-of for people to talk about the roots of words and the associations they might have with them. I actually do that quite a bit. Off the top of my head:"stupider", empathic vs. empathetic, and why MeFi sounds like MeeFai (to me). Heck, even my username is a riff on the interplay between pleasing phonemes and interesting words.

Anyway, I'd appreciate it if people would stop insinuating that I'm some kind of bigot, just because I mentioned the prefix "cis-" happened to echo some not-so-positive words and that that might explain some of the initial antipathy to it.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:52 PM on January 28, 2012


Male and female have meaning... Didn't say they don't.

Not intrinsic immutable meaning though.

And I know phonemes differ. In the links you link, it is to be noted that those differences have 'signifigance' embedded, affiliations and ideology is often tied to these variations.

I noted, I think, that you were spitballing... But in a manner to defend others who did recoil due to the sissy thing.

You specifically said you were speaking "to explain their disapproval of the word".

I wish you would note that I don't "think you are a bigot".... I am glad for more positions, but also, I don't agree with the position you are defending... I don't know how you feel.. How would I?

I think arguments from "linguistic purity" are inherently conservative... I don't know your thoughts, so I have no idea about that, only what you are saying, or arguing.


Sissy is an awasome thing to be... It only is demeaning if you think it isn't an acceptable thing to be for men. That belief is a conservative belief.

Forgive me if you, specifically didn't argue that it was a bad thing to be associated with. Others were suggesting it was, and you started by saying you were explaining their fears... I wrote unclearly, it was the positions you re explaining which I thought you were incompletely explaining, not your own views, which, like I said, I can't know.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:09 PM on January 28, 2012


"I'm sorry, but arguing that the concept of 'male' and 'female' is an arbitrary shorthand with no intrinsic meaning is just silly. The existence of exceptions does not invalidate the entire framework. If in your opinion that makes me an ignorant conservative, then so be it."

Well, I think that infinite intimation is overstating the case, but it is very true that sexual differentiation isn't nearly as simple and distinct as most people believe.

It starts at the chromosomal level, of course. And the activation of various genes during the beginning of gestation starts the differentiation process, which proceeds in different ways and on different levels.

The Wikipedia article on human sexual differentiation is pretty good and has a surprisingly nice introduction/precis:
Sexual differentiation is the process of development of the differences between males and females from an undifferentiated zygote (fertilized egg). As male and female individuals develop from zygotes into fetuses, into infants, children, adolescents, and eventually into adults, sex and gender differences at many levels develop: genes, chromosomes, gonads, hormones, anatomy, and psyche.

Sex differences range from nearly absolute to simply statistical. Sex-dichotomous differences are developments which are wholly characteristic of one sex only. Examples of sex-dichotomous differences include aspects of the sex-specific genital organs such as ovaries, a uterus or a phallic urethra. In contrast, sex-dimorphic differences are matters of degree (e.g., size of phallus). Some of these (e.g., stature, behaviors) are mainly statistical, with much overlap between male and female populations.

Nevertheless, even the sex-dichotomous differences are not absolute in the human population, and there are individuals who are exceptions (e.g., males with a uterus, or females with an XY karyotype), or who exhibit biological and/or behavioral characteristics of both sexes.

Sex differences may be induced by specific genes, by hormones, by anatomy, or by social learning. Some of the differences are entirely physical (e.g., presence of a uterus) and some differences are just as obviously purely a matter of social learning and custom (e.g., relative hair length). Many differences, though, such as gender identity, appear to be influenced by both biological and social factors ("nature" and "nurture").

The early stages of human differentiation appear to be quite similar to the same biological processes in other mammals and the interaction of genes, hormones and body structures is fairly well understood. In the first weeks of life, a fetus has no anatomic or hormonal sex, and only a karyotype distinguishes male from female. Specific genes induce gonadal differences, which produce hormonal differences, which cause anatomic differences, leading to psychological and behavioral differences, some of which are innate and some induced by the social environment.

The various ways that genes, hormones, and upbringing affect different human behaviors and mental traits are difficult to test experimentally and charged with political conflict.
What I often say is that while there may be an idealized way in which this all plays out into "complete" sexual differentiation, what happens in practice is that these disparate and complex processes don't really reach that supposed ideal in a complete way and so, as the article points out, while some aspects are dichotomous, others are simply statistical.

Given that, it becomes problematic to say what is and isn't sexually "male" and "female". A lot of people think that because the genetics is fundamental, then that means that the presence of absence of a Y chromosome is determinative. But you can find, for example, cases where that Y chromosome is inactive and none of the masculine differentiation occurs, resulting in someone who's female in pretty much every way but that chromosomal difference. So that definition would be unacceptable in that case. And while you might say that's an edge case, the fact is that it's just the extreme example of how the chromosomal differentiation isn't absolute. A big portion of the sex differentiation occurs via cascades of hormones during developmental periods, including both gestation and puberty. At these periods, and others, this is sensitive to all sorts of exogenuous factors, including the introduced presence of hormones. And the dependent subsequent anatomical differentiation can be altered. It can be incomplete, or inconsistent, or whatever.

Some people want to define sex by primary sex organs. And while it's extremely rare (or, maybe never happens, I can't recall) for someone to have both complete and functional ovaries and testes, the other anatomic features are not so exclusive. Besides outright hermaphroditism in the primary sex anatomy, there's also a range of mixtures weighted in one or the other direction. This is the whole "intersex" thing which is far, far more common than people believe because it's been common for a long time to surgically alter the most evidently intersexed newborns, often without telling the parents or seeking consent, and then more generally and culturally, just a de facto determination and those affected just don't talk about it because of the stigma.

There are anatomic differences in male and female brains, they reflect other anatomic sexual differentiations. But they're no more absolute than the others. While I do believe those anatomic differences have some correspondence to cognitive and behavioral differences, those are even one more step removed and almost certainly more diffused and uncertain and, well, fragile.

Sexual orientation is almost certainly a function of this differentiation, but it's cognitive stuff like the others, and there's no reason that it must conform, and conform perfectly, to the more fundamental anatomical differentiation discussed. And the cognitive stuff is without question much more affected by nurture and cultural factors than the other things we're discussing, so absolute statements about male/female cognitive differences and heterosexual/homosexual differences are both extremely suspect.

The sum of all this is that, yes, saying that sex differentiation is a continuum doesn't mean that it's irrational to say that one direction in the continuum is indistinguishable from the other, or that any two point sufficiently distant are readily distinct in ways that seem qualitative. But there's a large cluster of things which differentiate, they differentiate separately and via different processes, and this all interacts in a way that makes any sort of simple binary a vast oversimplification of the reality. Indeed, I think that any culture's gender structure is going to be an oversimplification. But it's probably a functionally necessary oversimplification as a practical matter.

Being that there are numerous current and historical examples where cultures don't follow the most simple possible pattern that our culture follows—that male and female are absolute, universal, exhaustive, and opposing; and that orientation is only heterosexual—that's a big clue that our paradigm is even more oversimplified than it needs to be. Lots of cultures allow for more than two genders, or more ambiguity in gender, as well as more orientations.

All this is what people are trying to get at when they talk about gender being a social construction. Because it is. It's a construction built from the basics of biological fact, but it takes that fact and reduces it to something far more simple and absolute than it really is. And, in doing so, it ends up quite often being in discordance with a large number of individual people's experiences of themselves and their lives.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:23 PM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The existence of exceptions does not invalidate the entire framework.


Right, of course not. But, for starters, male, and female are English words, so, right there, not universal.

And, for sexing a skeleton, it is done on a spectrum, right, each sex linked feature is measured along a spectrum, and then the anthropologist makes an 'overall' determination, so as to fit that skeleton, that bears features along a spectrum, into a box that the social institutions have labeled male and female, or m and f.
But that last step is to please the society that demands that 'certitude'.

I guess more my point is, why does no one object to the homogenizing forces of such narrow labels, for something where there is such vast variation (from the responses, it seems that sex trait variation is not well known about, but everyone's pee pees don't look the same, right, everyone knows that [i mean like, even for cases where the 'scientist' would check an m for two individuals on that legally required little box])?

Or do you believe that the first human was a male, homo sapien?

Because those are invented words to describe a beast that differs from a preceding beast, differing in minor manners, along a variety of traits. Rather than a punctuated equilibrium. It wasn't like, nog, then he had a baby, and that baby was a human person... It was a cluster of features which eventually won out, over other, different competing features.

Punk eek is gone, but people still cling to it...

The specificity, and cultural implications of labels and labeling only comes with science, and the inquiry into drawing out 'truths' which has preoccupied the modern era.

That specificity and labeling power have been used to discriminate, and oppress groups throughout the modern era, here it is being used to expand the discussion around an issue that is far from settled, far from simple, and far from clear cut polar binaries.

The 'science' of gender is far from settled, I will admit that first, but as a whole our understanding is advancing, growing and learning, and ceasing to be stuck in the superstitious modes of the past, where we ignorantly painted pictures of binary polarity, where rather, there exists in reality a vast spectrum of interrelated traits, features, behaviors, and social roles. All of these elements then feed back on themselves, culture shapes communities, communities shape biology, and social roles... And so we adapt.

This is science catching up with the reality of millions of people through history.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:39 PM on January 28, 2012


Word (and/or phoneme) aversion is a real thing that a very large number of people experience in one form or another. It's just one of those things.

De gustibus non disputandum est.

Because it is a matter of taste. The problem is when people universalize their own very subjective matters of taste onto everyone else.

I'm willing to believe that there are some objective metrics by which we can evaluate works of art. That's a controversial opinion, but I'm not alone in holding it. But what's weird to me is that I think there's far stronger basis for doing that than there is for making normative arguments about others' usage on the basis of how words sound and yet some of those here doing the latter would likely be reluctant to do the former.

Language is a complex and mysterious thing. Of course words variously sound euphonious and others cacophonous to us as individuals. There's a huge number of interacting reasons for this, involving existing and familiar texts, our personal associations, the breadth of our experience...all sorts of things.

Because this is so varied and idiosyncratic, I have a very, very difficult time understanding why anyone would be so...arrogant...as to insert their personal opinion about this sort of thing into a discussion about nomenclature used in this context where the stakes are far higher than such a consideration and the commonality of experience much stronger.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:40 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last comment, promise, I am primarily addressing comments such as this one...

Huh. It's almost as if people generally don't like it when others define who they are based on concepts they don't agree with.

An argument that just isn't making sense to me, What, Precisely are concepts of 'gender' you Do accept?

Oh, yeah, Ivan fyodorovich, I definitely am not advancing a biological determinist perspective, I prefer Matt ridley's phrasing of 'Nature, via nurture.'

I was attempting to express how we accept simplistic labels like m/f, when, despite protestations, there is so much more behind (and outside) those long standing, but old, outdated culturally created categories, and how frustrating it can be when the science is moving forward, and people cling to outdated ideas that, sorry if you hate conservatism and this offends you, are very conservative.

This isn't to strip self identification from an m or f, it is to address that there is more to the biological science of this than such simplistic labels convey.
posted by infinite intimation at 5:47 PM on January 28, 2012


"cis" also recalls "sistine", which is practically idiomatic for "signature beauty". "cis" also recalls "system", which I have a hard time believing MeFites find aesthetically displeasing. "cis" also recalls "Sisyphus", which I assume is who the transgendered among us feel like right now.

There are no FBI hate crime statistics for transgender victims. That's because the statute that requires the FBI to collect those statistics doesn't explicitly provide for a transgender section, so they don't. The very first federal hate crimes bill to include transgender protection was signed by Obama in 2009 and does not include various discriminations reported by transgendered people every day. How people feel about the way a word sounds does not fucking matter, at all. It is only ignorance and ego that suggests otherwise. It is worse than stupid; it is aggressively domineering and self-centered. People who have this objection should stop, because it makes them sound like idiotic assholes.
posted by Errant at 5:50 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sort of like when somebody from down here in Alabama says I "nigger-rigged" something -- I don't dislike the term because I'm a racist who recoils at being compared to black people, but because it's a nasty phrase, period.

But the context here is more like: people who have historically been hurt the most by the use of "nigger" on account of their race have settled, in academic journals and general usage, on a latinate prefix that sounds like "knig" but happens to be the opposite of the one applied to them, to precede the word "racial" in a word they need to refer to people who don't have to deal with an issue specific to their identity, an issue they need people to consider value-neutral. It's not a perfect parallel by any means, "sissy" is more a symptom of It's Not OK to Deviate From What Other People Think Is True for Your Gender/One Gender Is Better Than Others than an insult that was applied exclusively to (non-FTM) trans people, but it also removes the possibility of the named people objecting out of unconsciously self-defense. Wouldn't it still be kind of off for people to turn a thread like the original one into a referendum on the word because it reminds them of a word that's only ugly because the majority group they belonged to used it -- in this case it's the sentiment that makes the word a slur, but we have to work with what we have -- to denigrate the very people who picked it? People who have so little legal power to protect themselves that there are places where they are specifically forbidden to freeze their eggs on the grounds that ____? And the thread with 800 posts is the one where people explain that they don't want to be called "cisgender" because cisgendered people didn't choose it, transgendered people don't exist in the first place, or "cis" sounds bad, like Christmas or sister. Or whatever.

It's just that the best version of this would still seem frivolous and context-blind in light of things that people have said in the other thread, the one that had to be rescued from this hulking aesthetic discussion, and it seems odd that people would object so strongly -- not you responding directly to my insinuation, but people making the aesthetic argument earlier -- and keep overlooking the good cognated and near-cognates, like "sis," if there were no personal stake in it.
posted by Adventurer at 5:56 PM on January 28, 2012


Rhaomi: That's kind of uncalled for.

Quite possibly - but take a look at the tergiversations now required to back up the claim - suddenly shifting to what words look like rather than what they sound like (despite having used words beginning with "s" yourself), inventing arbitrary distinctions (you specify "double sibilants", but some of your own examples (his, mis) do not cleave to this rule), and discounting words you personally do not know.

The "aesthetics" argument is subjective, of course: one is free to dislike "cis" as a phoneme the way one might dislike heliotrope as a color. However, trans people are generally dealing with considerably more than being subjected to a sound that also occurs in "sister", "Cistertian", "Sistine"(which is a good call - "Cistine", for reference, was the name of a legacy band grown from 7 Year Bitch, but yours is better) "sisterhood", "Cisco", "Ciscaucasian", "scissors" et hoc taediosum genus omne. With that in mind, a good response might be to suffer in silence, anathema though that concept may be in the age of the Internet. It's not idiosyncrasy, really, so much as entitlement that is the issue.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:16 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


suddenly shifting to what words look like rather than what they sound like

It's kind of both. The beginning of "sister," for instance, sounds exactly like "cis-", but the connection is weakened by it starting with an "s" instead of a "c". It's pretty subjective.

inventing arbitrary distinctions (you specify "double sibilants", but some of your own examples (his, mis) do not cleave to this rule)

The "double sibilant" was referring to words with elements starting and ending with the "s" sound, like cis, cyst, and cistern. "Kiss" rhymes with that element, but starts with a very different hard "k" sound (both visually and verbally), which dampens the association.

"Hiss" doesn't start with the "sss" sound either, but the "h" sound is more similar to it than the hard "k", and the meaning of the word sort of echoes the harsh quality of the "s" sound. (Similar words, to me: hash, hissy, hearse, Hessian, and, well, harsh).

"Mis-" also starts differently, but the way it functions similarly to "cis-" (mis-direction, mis-deed, mis-information) strengthens the connection.

and discounting words you personally do not know.

I said "cis-" bugged me because it reminded me of negative words. Somebody else suggested I was biased because there are plenty of positive or neutral ones -- cistine, cisterian, and cis-Alpine are indeed all highly similar -- but I can't really be faulted for not making a connection to words I don't know.


On review, I know this all sounds arbitrary, but I'm being completely earnest. Sometimes I think I'm mildly synaesthetic because these connections between written letters and phonemes and meanings are really there for me -- it definitely helps build a vocabulary. And while I completely agree that the challenges faced by trans people dwarf a little internalized annoyance about a prefix, this is a thread explicitly for discussion of the word. I thought it might be interesting to contribute my impression of it, both to better articulate what I was thinking and maybe help account for the feelings of those who said they didn't like the word without quite knowing why. But now I'm just regretting it.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:46 PM on January 28, 2012


It's the distant future. A combination of traditional plastic surgery, gene and stem cell therapies can significantly reverse the external physical symptoms of aging, and many people begin to get treatment to reverse. A 70 year old says
I don't feel old. Society expects 70 year old to sit in front of a TV and watch Matlock. I want to be 30 so I can go to med school and get married. I'm trans-mature, so I'm getting age reassignment surgery so my physical age will match my internal maturity.
All fine up until now. Maturity is a concept I can understand and accept at least colloquially. People can define themselves however they want

Now the trans-mature person says:
And since you're 70 and haven't had and don't want age reassignment surgery, you're cis-mature. What this means is, your external physical age and internal mental maturity are in alignment.
But maybe I feel this hazy concept of maturity just doesn't have much relevance to my life, and since it's a label describing my own internal mental state, it seems like I ought to get to decide whether it's applied to me. But instead everyone who hasn't had/doesn't want reassignment is classified as having an aligned maturity and age

If you wanted to call me cis-sexual/cis-aged (i.e. "has not had/does not want reassignment") by the way, I would have no problem with that
posted by crayz at 9:05 PM on January 28, 2012


What.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:26 PM on January 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


Of course it doesn't have relevance to your life. Of course you don't have to deal with these issues. That's what normativity is; that's what privilege is.

People love to talk about feelings and offense. But this isn't about feelings; it's about harm. Your feelings don't matter. My feelings don't matter. ArmyOfKittens' feelings don't matter. Your preferences are irrelevant. "cisgender" describes the way the world is, whether any of us like it or not. You may as well wish that we talked about the absence of phlogiston instead of the presence of oxygen.

It does not matter, at all, whether or not you are comfortable. You are not the only person here. You are not the most important person here. You don't get to decide how society describes you; no one else does. It's not about you.
posted by Errant at 10:31 PM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would better serve the purpose of enlightening discussion to refer to people whose birth sex matches their gender identification as "normal." Nobody here (that I have seen) is saying that normal = better. What is the argument against calling these people normal? That it hurts transgendered people's feelings? "Cisgendered" doesn't even mean anything, really -- "this-gendered" is a meaningless phrase.

If you really wanted to advance the discussion, "normal" rather than "cisgendered" is the way to go. Cisgendered sows confusion. It comes across as a sort of infantile "well if we're gonna be called by a weird word like transgendered, we're going to make up a weird word for normal people to even the playing field." That's why so many people in this thread are saying that using "cisgendered" feels like ideology in the guise of a neologism, or like people are trying to push their agenda by making up this silly new word.
posted by jayder at 4:31 AM on January 29, 2012


"Cisgendered" doesn't even mean anything, really -- "this-gendered" is a meaningless phrase.

That's not what it means. Perhaps if you read the thread before telling us what's in it? The prefix "cis"and its meaning is discussed at some length.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:54 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Rhaomi: All I said, all I said, was that the word itself (not the idea behind it) left a bad taste in my mouth because the leading prefix, bereft of any familiar meaning, reminded me of a number of other distasteful words -- including "sissy," a word I really disapprove of but which nevertheless exists -- and that this association may explain part of the reaction to the word amongst other people.

...and in the context of the 600+ comment discussion we've just been having (which I have to say, has not always been awfully respectful or welcoming as a trans person) where exactly were you going with this statement? What was your conclusion? Because in the absence of stating "and yet, the word is fine, I have no problem! :)" the implicit conclusion becomes "and you should all stop using it". Your point had been raised several times already in the thread - unless it's because you feel it's contributing something to the discussion (i.e. it's not an irrelevant little nitpick that doesn't matter), why are you reiterating it? It looks like exactly what you're desperately trying to claim it isn't.

crayz: If you wanted to call me cis-sexual/cis-aged (i.e. "has not had/does not want reassignment") by the way, I would have no problem with that

One of these is relevant to the real world, the other is not. So yes, I will call you cis-sexual as requested.

jayder: Nobody here (that I have seen) is saying that normal = better.

You don't need to; it's implicit in the language. Especially with regard to to trans people - whose very identity is (often controversially) medicalised - 'abnormal' means something very very negative.
posted by Dysk at 6:27 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rhaomi: I said "cis-" bugged me because it reminded me of negative words. Somebody else suggested I was biased because there are plenty of positive or neutral ones -- cistine, cisterian, and cis-Alpine are indeed all highly similar -- but I can't really be faulted for not making a connection to words I don't know.

You can be faulted for bringing it up if it's not relevant, or contributing anything to the discussion. Do you have a point with your assertion of association, or do you want us to ignore it? If it's the latter, why bother saying it at all?
posted by Dysk at 6:28 AM on January 29, 2012


Just wanted to point out some other levels of association that you may or may not be overlooking. Some will be repeats of things already discussed upthread; this isn't a comprehensive list. (This is in reference to the side discussion that Rhaomi and others are chewing on.) These are just a few of the factors that go into why we have and make the associations we do with certain words. Why we make judgements that a word sounds more or less like another word, or why we have feelings about how words sound or what they index to us.

We can take this list and weight all the factors, but we can't do that objectively, we have to do it in context. And these weightings will be different for everybody anyway. Not to mention that we're overlooking something really important.

We could probably compare 'cis' to two other words, i.e. Is 'cis' more like 'kiss' or more like 'cistern'? But even then we get really stuck. 'kiss' matches 'cis' in a LOT of ways, but it's likeness is ambiguous or problematic on a whole host of other dimensions. Same goes for 'cistern'.

You could probably attack some of these issues by adopting a 'friends' vs. 'enemies' framework for the word 'cis'. That is, come up with a list of all the possible words that could be primed by 'cis', and then of those words sort them by whether or not they are like 'cis' (a friend) or not like 'cis' (enemy) for each dimension. Then compare the 'friendliness' and frequencies of each word. But even this is problematic, because it assumes that like attracts like. Sometimes words want* to stand out. Sometimes words want to be different. Sometimes words want to be left alone in a category all their own. And they can't even make up their minds about that!

It's not simple, by any stretch. But the good news is, we have a LOT of control over this. We can choose which levels of association are important to us, we can override those levels if we want to, we can learn and change our minds. It's all up to us! The words don't have the power, we do.

Or we could sit here and make cases for and against the use of any word for years and years, cherrypicking these levels of association and arguing why the ones we've weighted heaviest are the most justified and important. But all of that would get in the way of the most important reason why we should recognise and override any of these biasing levels of association that may be negatively shaping our impression of the word 'cis'. That reason being that there are actual people behind the word. They have been trying to share, through their personal and painful experiences, what the word 'cis' and 'trans' and 'normal' actually mean to them. Not the dictionary definition of what the words mean to them, but the living experience of needing and using these terms in conversations about their lives.

As you know (and can clearly see), I loves me a linguistic exploration. I've bothered to lay this all out here because I think it's a good illustration of how ridiculously complex and futile it can be to make a case for or against a word on purely linguistic grounds. There's so much to deal with! BUT, listening to and trusting the experiences of those who actually use these words in meaningful ways? They make a MUCH better case for why we should use 'cis' and avoid the hurtful, othering terminology.

*By "words want" i really mean "we want words".
posted by iamkimiam at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


"What is the argument against calling these people normal?"

There's a little thing on the side of your browser called a "scroll button" with which you can find multiple answers to your question in this very thread. Wow!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:50 PM on January 29, 2012


...and in the context of the 600+ comment discussion we've just been having (which I have to say, has not always been awfully respectful or welcoming as a trans person) where exactly were you going with this statement?

Not every comment has to be weighty with meaning and purpose. There was a thread about transgender issues, which got derailed into a separate thread about the word "cisgender" itself. Reading through, I saw some comments that echoed my initial reactions to the word, the sound of it and the unfamiliarity of it. So I put my two cents in, just to anecdotally corroborate what people were saying and zero in on the possible source for some of the inchoate dislike of the word. Not to say, "the word is bad and you should feel bad," but, "I agree that the word can come off as a little awkward if you're not familiar with its roots, for these possible reasons." Not a rebuke or a judgment or even a request people not use it, just an observation about why people might dislike that particular word when they first encounter it.

(One more reason iamkimiam's list reminded me of: cis isn't just uncommon as a prefix, but as a suffix, too. The best example that comes to mind is précis. I've never liked that word, either -- I keep wanting to read/say it as "precise", a word I happen to like, but it ends abruptly, like a broken-off part of a word, and I always feel like I'm pronouncing it wrong. Having that same unfamiliar "cis" at the beginning of a word, especially when set off by a dash, recalls some of that confusion.)

Anyway, if you want to see how I comment when I actually am "making a case" for people to stop using a word applying to me because I think it's belittling and incorrect and I want them to cut it out, see these takes on "USian vs. American." Trust me, if I'd wanted to make the argument that cisgender actually irritated me and that people should stop using it because it's wrong, I would have been perfectly straightforward about it.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:10 PM on January 29, 2012


Well, your USian position makes it easier to see why you're not worth taking seriously. "Belittling"? Your point here is that these two examples are very dissimilar. But they're not that dissimilar at all. You disproportionately weight your idiosyncratic sensibilities, especially when they reflect your own privileged positions; and you expect people to, at the very least, take those sensibilities into consideration and, at the most, accept that they are normative.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:31 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rhaomi: Anyway, if you want to see how I comment when I actually am "making a case" for people to stop using a word applying to me because I think it's belittling and incorrect and I want them to cut it out, see these takes on "USian vs. American."

You'll have to excuse me for not going through every poster's history for points of comparison in thread as long as this. In fact, I wouldn't really expect this to be common practice at all. If you don't actually mind the word, but have some niggling irritations, it might be an idea to state that unequivocally if you don't want your comment being read as an argument against. The following does rather read like the latter to me:

"I've got no problem with using non-"normalized" terms to describe non-transgendered people, but I'm not a fan of cis- on purely aesthetic grounds."
posted by Dysk at 2:42 PM on January 29, 2012


Well, your USian position makes it easier to see why you're not worth taking seriously. "Belittling"?

It's been explicitly said by some proponents that USian is intended as a kind of silly, derisive tweak. Not everybody uses it in that spirit, but that's how I understand it originated. I don't want to rehash that debate here, but it's been discussed repeatedly here over the years.


And at the risk of rambling irrelevantly, I just realized there are a lot of colorful words I like that sound like precise: concise, incisive, decisive, spice, slice, thrice, entice, paradise. They mostly have positive meanings -- many with a connotation of focus, sharpness -- and all place strong emphasis on that "ice" sound. It'd be funny if a lot of my dislike for cis were from how it looks so similar yet neutralizes that strong, positive sound. Just mentally swapping the sounds out makes the words sound uniformly worse to my ear: conciss, incissive, decissive, spiss, sliss, thriss, entiss, paradiss. They just, well, fizzle. It's like the uncanny valley of some of my favorite words.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:49 PM on January 29, 2012


One more reason iamkimiam's list reminded me of: cis isn't just uncommon as a prefix, but as a suffix, too. The best example that comes to mind is précis.

Relatively minor point, but that isn't a suffix. "-Cis" is the stem, "pre-" is the suffix. And it's pronounced "pray-see", or thereabouts.

-"cis"doesn't exist as a suffix, because it's a prefix. If you mean the sound made by a hard "s", a short "i" and a hard "s", there are a large number of words with that ending in common or technical English usage, many of which are taken from Ancient Greek noun forms of the verb "tithemi"(I place) - thesis, synthesis, antithesis - or "genesthai" (I am born) - genesis, morphogenesis, parthenogenesis - or other Greek noun forms of verbs (analysis, catalysis, ellipsis, emphasis, diaeresis kai ta loipa).
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:52 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course, many of these words you like have the sense of "focus, sharpness" because they have a common root - the Latin word caedere - to cut. It isn't a coincidence; that "kh(z)eyd"root is Indo-European, but those are largely Latinate words. See also scissors - every Latinate language I know has something like the Latin verb scindere (part. scissus) to mean "separate with a forceful or cutting action".

This kind of reminds me of the bit in "The Phantom Menace", though, where the Princess is getting upset about the Galactic Senate discussing the invasion of her planet in committee* while her people suffer and die. It feels weird that people keep popping up with their linguistics-minor reasons why "cis" just isn't a nice sound, when the stakes (in terms of trans people being able to construct a functional critical vocabulary) are kind of higher than that.

That's probably lower on the headdeskometer than the people who are protesting in the strongest terms available at the idea of being identified as anything they don't specifically consent to be identified as beforehand**, but it still comes across as (if you'll forgive the pun) a somewhat tone-deaf response to an attempt by a group of people who are regularly subject to aggression and violence from the state on down to the street to put together a critical vocabulary with which to explain and understand their own lives.

*Which always annoyed me slightly. "I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee!" is a blindingly obvious statement - if she had stood for election on a "watch my people suffer and die" ticket, she would probably not have won, even given the corrosive stupidity of people in the Star Wars universe. Also, it's a Senate. What did she expect them to do? Princess Amidala is effectively the George W Bush of Star Wars, demanding immediate action from a body the goal of which is to avoid war through discussion and consensus-building.

** Of course, this happens all the time, so it is possible that the fact that this time trans people are trying to do it is the wedge issue, or it could just be the shock of the new. "I never want to be identified as belonging to a group without my [prior consultation and express consent" is heading towards the coddling singularity, however.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:27 PM on January 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


...but it's been discussed repeatedly here over the years."

Yes, I know. Here's what I wrote about this in a MeTa discussion specifically about USian in 2007.

USian on the net goes back quite a number of years. I know that it was common on some prominent newsgroups, including alt.usage.english and alt.folklore.urban as far back as the nineties (unfortunately, Google has borked the interface for searching for the earliest appearance in their usenet database, so I don't have links).

It wasn't then primarily used as a pejorative nor intended to annoy. Even if the coinage was made with this intent, that doesn't mean much.

I think it's become more apparent that you don't just have some word aversions, like most people, but that you're a full-blown language peever. Those suffering from this unfortunate condition project their own sensibilities about usage as normative—and in a signature characteristic, rationalize doing so with any convenient arguments, which are then utilized in reckless disregard for actual empirical basis.

Mark Liberman attempted to (with some whimsy) categorize prescriptivist peeving arguments in 2004:
However, we can identify some key elements of prescriptivist metabolism, in terms of five different motivations that may be given for strictures about usage:

1. Tradition -- how our forebears talked. Innovation is degeneration.

2. Fashion -- how an admired group talks. Deviation is alienation.

3. Rationality -- how one ought ideally to talk. Inconsistency is illogical.

4. Standards -- how we should agree to talk. Variation confuses communication.

5. Revelation -- how God taught us to talk. Alteration is transgression.

Particular cases are usually a mixture of these. Such [...] processes may cooperate or conflict depending on details -- thus an appeal to fashion may point in the same direction as an appeal to tradition, or in the opposite direction, depending on whether the prescriptivist admires the old ways or prefers the latest thing.
It's okay that you don't like how cis- sounds to you in cisgendered. As I and others have written, most of us have word aversions. It's not okay that you are attempting to universalize your particular aversion with various arguments about how the word itself, because of that prefix, is inherently, objectively unpleasant.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:33 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Incidentally, as I was commenting here just now, Born in the Wrong Body by Danielle Ate the Sandwich played on my computer (was listening to a mix I'd made a couple of months ago).

I've had a few small reservations about the song since I'd first heard it; but mostly found it an extremely poignant attempt to express her notion of what it must be like to feel like this. Curious just now, I did a bit of Googling and found a short Q&A in a trans-oriented blog asking her about the song:
I wrote the song to think about things in a way I never had before. I had never met a transgendered person, or really even thought about them, until my friend told me how she felt. I started to realize that lots of other people could be living with these horrible feeling inside of them – that they are not the right way on the outside, the way they feel they should be. So I thought about them. I say sometimes that I wrote the song as a tribute to her. She did inspire the song, but I did write the song for myself, to deal with the news and explore the subject matter and wonder what it’s like for those who live with the secret and for those who are brave enough to make the change.
Despite those few misgivings, I very much love the song and find it extremely haunting, actually. She has a real talent for evoking want and sadness with a light melodic touch that superficially seems ironic, but ultimately reinforces the melancholy.

Really, as the blogger wrote, it's pretty rare for a cisgendered person to even make an effort to empathize and comprehend, to the degree possible, the transgendered experience. All efforts to do so will arguably be flawed; but this one is in ways which I think are excusable. In my necessarily limited cisgendered opinion, of course.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:44 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


("pre-" is the prefix, obviously. Not the suffix. I think someone gets to give me a charlie horse now.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:56 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


running order squabble fest: "It feels weird that people keep popping up with their linguistics-minor reasons why 'cis' just isn't a nice sound, when the stakes (in terms of trans people being able to construct a functional critical vocabulary) are kind of higher than that."

What keeps getting me about it is this: the implicit idea that we need a popular vote on whether or not us folks in the trans minority -- a tiny minority -- get to use a term to describe the majority. It's the tyranny of the majority all over again.
posted by jiawen at 8:00 PM on January 29, 2012 [14 favorites]


Has anyone been in touch with loquacious?
posted by kagredon at 6:19 PM on February 12, 2012


Yeah, I've heard from him in the last few days, I know someone else caught up with him in Seattle as well.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:24 PM on February 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Incidentally, as I was commenting here just now, Born in the Wrong Body by Danielle Ate the Sandwich played on my computer (was listening to a mix I'd made a couple of months ago).


Ooooooh thanks for that link!!
posted by odinsdream at 2:00 PM on February 13, 2012


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