Many of us in Brisbane are exhausted, still reeling from Mayang Prasetyo’s monstrous death and subsequent slander by the media, and heightened emotions surrounding the organisation of her vigil. It is unsurprising that there is a significant amount of dialogue using the term “cisgendered”.
Today a friend asked,
“This is probably going to open a big can of worms but when did “Cis” become an insult?”
What resulted was a Facebook storm of ideas, jokes, and a lot of anger. Jade, a person I have immense repeat for, wrote this thoughtful reply, and I asked if I could post it here as I want to preserve it so that it will remain here for reference, as part of an ongoing dialogue and a touchstone in my own exploration into community, identify, shame, and the body. I have edited together a reply over several posts, but have messed with it as little as possible as this is Jade’s voice. Over to you Jade:
Okay, I’m going to try and explain this a bit. Entirely from my own perspective. Please take the time to read this if you’re wondering the same thing. This is very generalised and coming from the experience of a trans masculine person who has never faced oppression as a trans woman and cannot speak on their behalf […]
People aren’t equal. In a social way, in an economical way, in a safety way, in a life-style way. There is a constant hierarchy where certain people, because of the circumstances of their birth- are given a level on which they sit either above or below other people. It’s intersectional (which means it incorporates lots of different groups facing different issues) which makes it all the more complicated.
The basics of this is being aware of your own level granted by birth and by lifestyle and being aware of those who are on a level that is positioned lower than you are.
The best example I’ve seen is to relate it to playing video games. If we are talking trans experiences (because I’m trans so can relate to it) without including sexuality or race or finances-
Being born cisgender (your gender identity matches your unchanged birth certificate) is playing the game on the easiest level. You get to use the toilet without fear, and everyone uses the right pronoun automatically, you don’t need to get your identity validated by a psych and you don’t have to pay lots of money to get documentation changed, you don’t get killed for being cisgender (and lots of other things).
Being born a trans man gives you a harder setting to play the game with.
Being born a trans woman, is pretty much the most difficult setting in terms of discrimination and abuse and that’s using binary trans identities
Being born gender queer/fluid/non-binary has a lot of other difficulties within the trans community as well as everywhere else (erasure of identity etc). Which makes it a really hard level of the game to play as well.
As a cisgender person- playing the game of life on easy mode in terms of gender identity. If you then say or do things that hurt trans people as a community (not individuals) then you’re participating in oppression. e.g. If you have a trans friend who doesn’t mind you using their old name- but you do that to any other trans person who hasn’t given you permission. You’re contributing to the oppression of trans people. You might be the nicest person in the world- but if you say something that contributes to oppression, then you’re still hurting people- no matter how good you’ve been in the past.
Cis is not an insult, it’s an identity.
If a child gets bitten by a dog/s, sometimes they will develop a distrust of dogs.
If a trans person gets abused by cis people then they might develop a distrust of cis people.
If you are a cis person and you hurt a trans person- generally it’s /because/ you’re cis that you didn’t know that it hurts or you didn’t need to know. The same way that a lawyer might not know about plumbing, and vice versa. You haven’t experienced it, so you don’t know how it feels. Therefore, when a trans person tells you ‘stop.’ ‘That hurts’ ‘Don’t say that’. If you continue to do so it’s like a lawyer trying to fix the sink, even though the plumber is telling them they’re not doing it right.
Eventually, the sink is going to break because the lawyer wasn’t listening.
Trans people know more about the trans experience than a cis person does. Full stop. Always.
That isn’t an insult, or a jibe at peoples intelligence. It’s about experience.
So when a trans person calls you cis, in a way that hurts you- it’s because you have hurt them /because/ you are cis.
It is never “You hurt me, therefore you are cis.” It is “You are cis, which is why you’ve hurt me.”
What can we do about it though?
– Listen to trans people when they talk about trans issues
– If a trans person tells you to stop, you’re doing something wrong.
– Show respect for trans people and more often than not you’ll be respected in return.
– Don’t force trans people to educate you*
– Show you support trans people by giving them the space to speak freely
Trans peoples lives are under the microscope of the media all the time. Look at all the interviews of trans people on TV. They ask about surgery, hormones, their past name and genitals and experiences. It is very, very, intimate.
Imagine having to tell people every day what your genitals looked like in order for them to accept you as a real person.
That’s a trans experience.
If you want to know about trans people, try and google some of the questions you have. It won’t be the best education, but it’s a start. Contact some of the advocacy groups (Many Genders One Voice and ATSAQ in Brisbane. There are heaps in other states too), see if they have resources on your questions. Even QUAC has resources on trans info.
If you’re still confused, then check out Tumblr. There are hundreds of thousands of trans people on there who are writing out answers to the same questions every single day who enjoy it!
Finally, if you are lucky enough to have a trans friend who is happy to educate you, ask them politely and be respectful if they choose to say no. Demanding trans people to educate you is disrespectful, as that is not their job. Unless the trans person is a trans educator by profession or choice- then you’re invading their intimate lives. Not on purpose- you’re just curious- but you’re still asking people personal questions that are invasive and often hurtful.
So please be careful and look after your trans friends. If they’re calling you names. You’ve said something hurtful and offensive.
You’re playing the game on cis mode. Suddenly you encounter someone playing on trans mode. You need to beat each other in order to get to the next level. Problem is, you have 5 weapons and they only have 1 because they’re on trans mode. So you hit them with your magic fire balls, and they hit you with their sword of might. But because you have better stats (because you’re on cis mode) the trans person KO’s and you leave with -3 points from full health.
That is the difference. Because when you say something to hurt a trans person. It is /extremely/ damaging. Because of their experiences as being trans. If they insult you, it hurts, yeah- but it doesn’t KO you the same way. You can leave the situation feeling hurt, but they can leave it feeling suicidal.
I was just talking about cis and trans. Intersectionality means that there is so much more out there to consider. (race, sexuality, socio-economic standing, job, disability etc).