Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited - Part 1: Who Exactly Does “Cis” Refer To?

[note added January, 2017: This essay now appears as a chapter in my third book Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism]

For the record: this essay is intended to clarify misconceptions about, and to encourage more thoughtful usage of, cis terminology. Anyone who references this piece in their attempts to deny or eliminate use of the term "cis" (and its variants) is clearly misinterpreting or misrepresenting my views.

My first book Whipping Girl helped to popularize cis terminology—that is, language that uses the prefix “cis” to name the unmarked dominant majority (i.e., people who are not trans) in order to better articulate the ways in which trans people are marginalized in society. In 2009, I wrote a blog post called Whipping Girl FAQ on cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege that explained my reasoning in forwarding cis terminology and addressed some of the more common arguments made against such language. That blog post ended with a section discussing some of the limitations of cis terminology and the concept of cis privilege—a topic that I will revisit in this two-part series.

Over the years, I have observed that many people now use cis terminology in a manner that is somewhat different from how I attempted to use it in Whipping Girl, thus leading to potential ambiguity—I will address such matters in this first essay. In the last section of this essay, I will suggest another possible model for describing how people are differentially viewed and treated with regards to gender non-conformity, and which may (in some cases) provide a more effective framework than a cisgender/transgender dichotomy.