I am a trans person who is newer to the term cis. I don’t use the term and I don’t really like it, because I find the term confusing (what the hell does it mean? I did study and understand the Latin roots blah blah, which to me only adds to the confusion) and insulting (I know it’s about trans people not feeling othered, but do we have to call our friends who don’t identify as trans “cis” which sounds like they are cysts?) I do want to support my younger radical trans friends in developing new language that takes the burden of otherness off of our shoulders, but then again I feel othered often within activist communities, with their strict language and code rules that are supposed to be challenging mainstream hierarchies but end up creating hierarchies within its PC activist scenes (yes, activism does act and react just like all those “shallow” rocker and hipster scenes, the same popularity contests ensue because I haven’t picked up on the new PC term of the moment.) Personally I find “cis” ageist and classist, if we are gonna keep going down these roads of political critique, ageist because most older trans folks don’t know the term, and classist because the whole analysis and linguistics around it smacks of college privilege.
I actually read Enola D’s apology for Slingshot running Robert Eggplant’s article before I read his critique of the term cis, and I have to say the righteous PC shame feel of that apology made me feel more offended and isolated than his article (although I realize she was venting for many people), which I rushed out to read. I have critiques of Eggplant’s writing too, his defensiveness about being labeled cis and white comes off as silly when one puts into context how trans people and people of color are almost always having to be labeled, while non trans and white people have been considered the norm and thus haven’t had to feel how gross it can be to be labeled as “other”. Labeling has a way of feeling negative, boxed in, even when it is meant to be clinical or empowering. So the shoe is being put on the other foot, but the problem is that we aren’t transcending the bullshit, we are just shoving it around. Ok we all have shit on our shoes, maybe that is a good starting place. I don’t think Eggplant should get to decide what language is acceptable within activist or trans communities, but that he is daring to share his feelings and thoughts should be appreciated even if you disagree. We all need to be talking about this shit.
In the late nineties and early two thousands other trans friends and I used the term Tranny, which is out of favor and considered offensive now in many circles, but to us we were re-defining the term; we were showing our pride and fearlessness to be ourselves, that to be different and unique was a plus. We also used the term “Genny” to describe non trans folks, which was playfully jabbing. Genny meaning both genetic and generic gendered. I don’t use those terms anymore, because like the current terms of trans and cis, the problem of either/or continues. To me one of the most beautiful aspects of the trans experience, for trans and non trans folks alike, is that it shows that life isn’t just either/or. My non trans friends don’t claim to fully understand my experience, but they don’t want to be a cyst, they’d probably be fine with being a sis, but if we are gonna really have to study Latin to understand this debate, then I’d say cis is even worse, because no one is a rock forever embedded on the far or near side of some arbitrary line. In the late nineties there were debates within the trans community between those who identified as transsexual and transgendered. At the time, after a couple years of hormones and electrolyis, and legally changing my gender, I identified as transsexual, and understood my transsexual friends critique of transgender as being too broad, anyone who wore clothes usually assigned the opposite gender suddenly could claim transgendered when us who were changing ourselves completely in a path that is long and painful were suddenly out-dated. But as time went on and I discovered I was a transgendered transsexual, becoming re-empowered with my gender-queer self, I came to feel that this desperation to claim a term, to decide who is trans and who isn’t, is repeating the same either/or bullshit that oppresses so many trans folks of all types. As a trans person coming from punk rock I’ve found it easier than some trans people to live as my own gender version, although that doesn’t slow homophobic or transphobic attacks, or change the fact that I still have to constantly remind people that I prefer the she pronoun, but I had a subculture when many don’t. Really there is no one trans experience, there are unlimited trans experiences: some trans folks are empowered by calling themselves trans, who fall all over and beyond the gender spectrum, while others don’t want that label, who identity as a man or woman and so rightly expect to be respected as such.
This debate reminds me of another debate raging around the use of the word “queer”, and who should or shouldn’t identity as queer, queer as an inclusive or exclusive term. As one who has been massively shaped by queer culture in many forms, yet doesn’t identify with LGBT as an institution, being part of the thrown-on tail end B and T of that lineage, I’m tired of L and G people deciding who should or should not be queer, as if they are the “pure” queers, and us others just don’t count as much. These days trans-ness is a lot more visible, and accepted, than in the nineties when I was coming out, when radical feminism often still thought of transwomen as co-opting women’s bodies, and transmen as traitors to womanhood. We’ve moved beyond that reactionary and simplistic outlook just like we are now more supportive, at least in activist political speak, of people of color and sex workers. Of course, the reality isn’t so clean cut, the same shit goes on and on, and those who are labeled as other, be it trans, of color, queer, or sex worker, still get the brunt. So I can see the reasoning of cis as a term, and white privilege is something all white people should learn to de-construct, but what I’d say is missing from more recent political analysis is class. Of course everyone thinks they’re poor since we’re all from the 99 percent, but class is more than how much money you currently make. Class is culture, and who can argue that the Bay Area has been getting richer and richer, and side effects of this are that the punk scenes and activists scenes also are getting richer, but none of these college kids want to think of themselves that way, so they own poorness as they marginalize poor people all around them. I find Eggplant’s piece, problematic as it comes across as coming from working and poor cultural perspectives, old school saying-it-like-it-is style, and I’d say we need more of that, and less confusing college speak that only those ‘in the know’ understand. This piece is written with love and respect for Slingshot, Enola, Eggplant, Kermit, and all those trying to be trans allies, let’s keep talking!