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May 2011
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Ys [userpic]

Cisgender and why it's an important term.

Current Mood: impressedimpressed

I think most people react remarkably violently to anything that causes them to think. Especially if it upsets their world, even in some small way.

There are certainly other reasons to get confrontational and/or annoyed with someone. However, when what you're doing is challenging the status quo assumptions and that gets them upset? Generally that seems to be a 'hey, you're rocking my boat, stop that, I like it that way' reaction.

I went over to a friend's house where another friend was visiting. When I walked in the door my friend said," Look, a real girl." Frakk'in insulting to both guests, since I HATE being referred to in feminine terms and the other guest was wearing a wig and make-up.

Ha. I am impressed both that someone would be so dense as to refer to you as "a real girl" and that you didn't beat the crap out of him. *grin*

You might be amused by my conversation with featherynscale about the phrase "real girl"...

I disagree on the usefulness of the term, but my reasons why will take an essay or at least a long journal entry, and I have to cudgel DBD::Oracle into submission right now. I'll try to come back to the meme later.

Can you tell me quickly what you would call it, without the essay? What word would you consider appropriate for that which I name cisgender?

Well, the basic idea is to remove "normal" to prevent the idea of someone saying, "I'm normal, therefore you are weird." Unfortunately, I don't think it works, nor is an effective tactic, to remove "normal."

I agree that "normal" is a problem because it means two different things. Homosexuality is perfectly normal in the sense that it is not destructive, detrimental, bad, or counterproductive in any ways peculiar to homosexuality. They ain't nothin' wrong with 'em. So homosexuals are normal in the "lead a normal life" sense. On the other hand, homosexuals are a minority of the population and most likely will never be "normal" in the sense of being the majority position.

Or, in short, homosexuality is normal but it will likely never be the norm.

I can see wanting to remove the dangers of the first kind of "normal" (i.e. there is nothing particularly wrong or disturbed about me for having a gender image that does not match my body). But the second kind of normal - it would be futile to try to eliminate that, futile to try to pretend that the transgendered are more than a very small fraction of the populace.

The problem with 'cisgender' as a coinage is that, to me, it attempts to do both indiscriminately - it's trying to get rid of both 'normals' at the same time, and is thus combining a valid, desirable fight with a useless, unwinnable one.

I realize that probably didn't make a lot of sense. Let's try it an entirely different way:

I don't think it is worthwhile for People Who Have A Difference, no matter what that different is, to try to reinvent the playing field so their difference becomes invisible or does not matter any longer. First off, it never works, and second, of course it matters. It always matters, it is always going to matter, it is always going to be a key fact of life, it is always going to color our interactions with other people even among those of us where it isn't visible on the surface. It colors my life every day whether I like it or not. Saying "those people aren't normal, they are cisgender" has a little too much overtone to me of "I'm sticking my fingers in my ears and pretending not to hear you, la la la."

Sorry you asked?

See my response.

If you feel it's appropriate to refer to cisgendered folk as simply 'normal', do you say things like "My friend and I are different. He's black, and I'm normal."? Or "My friend and I are different. She's a lesbian, and I'm normal."?

I don't find cisgendered to be any different as a word than heterosexual, white, male, or monogamous. I don't use most of those words in daily conversation, but when they're useful, there isn't any other word that expresses the concept that I know of.

I'll also note again that I've been using the term cisgendered for literally years. I'm not sure if I'm up over a decade or not, but probably so.

Then again, I am a geek, and the word just makes sense to my brain. And, of course, I am not generally using it for the reasons columbina is describing.

'Cisgender' is a constructed word without lexicographic context for most people,

Exactly, it is a neologism, derived from the word transgender just as the word heterosexual was originally a neologism derived from the word homosexual. Just because a word is a neologism though that does not mean that it won't 'stick.' What determines its fate is whether or not its useful.

And this is a damn useful word. I say this from often teaching health care providers about transgender issues. I define the term at the beginning with some other basic terminology because it saves me time in the long run. Another word I often use is 'female-bodied' - which is 'transmen and cisgender women.' For example: "If they haven't had a hysterectomy female-bodied people need to get regular pap smears."

will remain marginal due to ambiguity of meaning (do you mean I'm not transitional transgendered right now, or that I have no intention/desire to be transgendered at all?),

Not at all. People who are transgender, but who are not yet out are still transgender, just as closeted gays are still gay. However, the term cisgender may be confusing to you due to the fact that you don't seem to fully understand the term transgender itself. I was transgender when I was in the first grade decades before I came out and transitioned. I was transgender during my transition. I am transgender now. I would still be trandgender now if I had never transitioned. Similarly, a gay man is gay when he's in grade school before he even starts thinking about having sex with a man. He's gay when he starts having sex with other men. He's also still gay even if he rejects his sexual orientation and becomes the pastor of a large anti-gay church.

Being transgender is about who you are not what you do. Being gay is about who you are not what (or who) you do. You can't 'decide to be trans sometime in the future' any more than Ted Haggard could decide he was straight. You either are or you aren't and deciding has nothing to do with it.

and does nothing rational except maybe try to provoke a debate, assuming anyone understands what you said to begin with.

How is making a shorthand term for an often repeated concept not rational? Would you then prefer that we use the term 'non-homosexual' to mean heterosexual?

And while it may spark debate it does not intentionally provoke it. However the reason it does spark debate is simply because a traditionally disempowered group (cisgender women) does NOT take well to being told that a group that is significantly more disenfranchised and marginalized group has a name for them.

How a minority,
Reaching majority,
Seizing authority,
Hates a minority!
---Leonard Robbins


(no subject) - (Anonymous)   Expand  

Not sorry, but you still didn't answer the question I asked. You expressed your concern about it rather than answering my question. *grin*

(For context, I have used "cisgendered" for literally years now. I use it the same way I use the terms "heterosexual" and "monogamous" and "white" and "male", to describe people accurately when necessary.)

Eh, I see your point as a pure coinage - there is no good concise term that says the same thing as 'cisgender.' You have to use "non-gender-dysphoric person" or similar phrases, all of which are ugly or have a huge amount of logistical wiggle room (i.e. personally, you are clearly transgendered but my case is less clear), or both.

But I'm not sure I could personally use the term without dragging in the sort of baggage that my concern was expressed about in my previous post, nor do I think that most people could hear the term being used without assuming there was some politics wrapped up in it.

i've seen it happen...

"I think most people react remarkably violently to anything that causes them to think. Especially if it upsets their world, even in some small way."

first of all, both my husband and i are trans- i am as fully-transitioned FTM as i can be without what they call 'bottom' surgery. he is stuck somewhere in the middle- he dresses femme, not high femme, although he could if he wanted to, and he stopped hormones for spiritual, not religious, reasons a while ago.
we were at a party a few months ago, and into a room full of gothique youngsters and one apparently gender-normative male. i said, just loud enough for him to hear, "i was born female". the room went dead quiet as he looked at me with eyes as big as saucers. them the head exploded almost audibly, as he countered with "you're trying to force your politics on me!" in the most put upon voice i'd ever heard from an ostensibly adult male. forgive me, but i enjoyed doing that.
i saw him a few weeks later, at the same house, different party (they have a lot of parties at this house), and he looked like hell. i don't really think i had anything to do with that, but he did avoid us that time.

There's no way I'm gonna plow through all those previous comments, so I might be repeating things somebody else already said. I think it would be useful to have a term for the non-transgendered, but "cisgendered" sounds too awkward, simultaneously making one think of sissies and cysts. There's nothing obvious about it, it makes you think it's some other variety of being transgendered, rather than, you know, not. Maybe something more like "normgendered" would be appropriate, "norm" as in the norm, not as in "normal".

I'm not big on gender terms, generally. I go by transgendered, M2F, shemale, transvestite, drag queen, etc., and don't worry about it. They're all close enough for me, and the language of it all is the least of my worries. I respect that other people want to me more specific, though... like a transsexual is obviously not just a transvestite.

Short version: cisgendered has been documented as being around since 1994, I first heard the term before that, and "cis" is the complementary prefix to "trans", particularly in organic chem. Thus the construction of the word.

To me, cisgendered is no less obvious than transgendered...which is to say, most people are likely to need explanations of both words.

Well, everybody knows transgendered by now, and if they don't, they know transvestite so transgendered isn't hard to figure out. "Trans" makes people think of transformation. Trans + gender. It's a natural connection in their minds. But cis is just... well, like I said, it makes you think of cysts, and if you say it aloud, it sounds like sissies. Even if the term does have some logic and history to it, it just simply doesn't sound good. I think a new term for non-trannies is called for, but I don't think that's it. Maybe Vanillagender! That sounds like a band name.

I can't read all the comments right now, but this makes me think I need to rework that entry I privated and salvage the relevant parts because this is a good deal of what I was going on about.

"Normal" is a destructive concept simply because "normal" people don't have to do as much work in some areas. It's easy for them, in whatever area is relevant, and it's just socially accepted that "normal" people have it as their due that "abnormal" people have to do more work.

Only, there's no such thing as normal. There is privileged and not-privileged, and those who are privileged are that way by the very virtue of not having to think about it. White people, which I fit, don't have to think about white privilege to benefit from it. Males, which I also fit, don't have to think about male privilege to benefit from it. Anyone who complains about some minority group getting 'special privileges' (and I have been guilty as charged in the past), are completely missing the point, and if a word is all it takes to get their attention, I'm all for it.


I am not aware of any terms for “people who do not have disabilities” that imply that their bodies are simply types alongside many others.

Perhaps not for physical disabilities, but for neurological/mental/psychiatric disabilites, there -is- such a word; neurotypical. It's used by autistics most often so carries a secondary definition of non-autistic, but there's no inherent negative or positive to it, in spite of the 'typical' part which is pretty much a nod to statistical acceptance that neurology does seem to have some preferences.

While I do have some gender-related unusualness, I don't think my body is the wrong gender, and I'll never know what that's like, so I'll accept the term cisgender, in all humility, as someone who, until now, wasn't doing that little bit of extra work that doesn't actually cost me anything except some privilege I could very easily do without.

Is there a reason not to use "nontransgendered" or if you're Orwellian "untransgenderful" or if you're into brevity "!transgender?" Those terms seem more likely to be understood by people who aren't extensively versed in the transgender literature. Or is "cisgender" intended to be a "none of the above" option for transgender, intersex, androgyny, and others?

Some Northwest American Indian peoples solve this problem by making "straight man," "gay woman," "MTF transsexual," etc. multiple values of the same variable. We could then use non-loaded terms like "type seven" to refer to a classification of people. Maybe we should use a bitmask: if (a.gender | BORN_MALE && a.gender | LIVING_FEMALE && b.attractedTo | LIVING_FEMALE && b.attractedTo | BORN_MALE) { suggestMatch(a, b) } ...

Same reason you wouldn't use "nonhomosexual" to talk about heterosexuals.