Imagine being unable to describe yourself, unable to give voice to your thoughts, your sense of being. Imagine being told your body is wrong, that you are a freak for simply describing your reality. Though it may sound as if I’m describing the cruel world transpeople face, I am not. This is the reality women now enjoy. This is the tyranny of ‘cis.’ I’ve thought a great deal about this label of late. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I abhor its use. As a transwoman, I find it unnecessary to further distinguish others from myself. “Woman” works just fine. I am a transwoman, they are women. Besides, most women do not wish to label themselves ‘cis.’ Who am I to insist they should? Recently, I have taken to re-reading Simone De Beauvoir’s feminist classic ‘The Second Sex’. On this particular read through, the following passage leapt out at me:
No subject posits itself spontaneously and at once as the inessential from the outset; it is not the Other who, defining itself as Other, defines the One; the Other is posited as Other by the One positing itself as One.
Suddenly the insidiousness of the cis label became readily apparent. I felt it must be so obvious, to everyone, and maybe it is. I am always willing to confess my own ignorance and blinkered thinking. So forgive the naivety and potential obliviousness. Sometimes you hear a song a thousand times before truly hearing it for the first time.
In ‘The Second Sex’, De Beauvoir talks at length about the oppositional nature of minority classes. For example, blacks possess an alterity to whites. Homosexual people possess an alterity to heterosexual people, etc. As such they can be said to be “Others” in relation to the Normative or ruling class. Another word for the ruling class would be the “One.” In the quote above De Beauvoir posits that no person, no group considers itself the unnecessary, secondary, or inessential. They do not define themselves as the Other. It is only the ruling class who can name the oppressed class Other. They do this when they proclaim themselves “normal.” When they are the default, everything oppositional to them is othered.
So what about trans people who insist upon the use of ‘cis’ for non-trans people? It’s a special case, fascinating in the attempted inversion of oppression. Transwomen frame themselves as the default. Though they wrap themselves in the mantle of victimization and oppression, they rely on their male privilege to push a narrative which flips the normative. Alterity would suggest that trans and cis are simply oppositional descriptive terms. As a minority, transwomen should lack the power to push a cis label onto anyone. Remember, only the One, the default, can name the Other. Transwomen are not used to being the other. They are uncomfortable being the minority. Male privilege and entitlement has taught them the world is their’s for the taking. ‘Cis’ is a way of claiming the default. As males, they retain the power of naming. Not only will they define what a woman is, but they police who is allowed to call themselves woman. Transwomen have flipped the narrative. The Other is defining the One in hopes of becoming the One.
Perhaps things are still unclear. De Beauvoir is writing from a different time, with different societal norms. At no point does De Beauvoir mention transgenderism or transsexuality. Such things simply didn’t exist. She speaks of men and women. She speaks of power and oppression. What we have today is no different, though the shadings may be different. To observe the power dynamics, it is important we look at how ‘cis’ is used today.
Transgerdist advocates will claim this internet meme is nothing more than a post-punk metaphoric neologism for the destruction of gender. I could get behind that, but it isn’t. The transgenderist movement does not wish to abolish gender, they strive to enshrine it. The transwomen who adopt this worldview, who wrap themselves in this flag of “trans pride” view themselves as our evolutionary betters. They are are the new mutants, the X-Men. They are the next stage in human development. They hold the non-trans world, 99% of the population, in contempt. They believe themselves central to all concerns. Their specialness must be acknowledged, except when it shouldn’t be, or is inconvenient. (Non-Binary has its privileges.) They proclaim that the suffering they endure, the hate and abuse heaped upon them, often through language alone, is far greater than any other people face. The threat of actual physical violence, predominately experienced by trans women of color, and almost universally by women is almost irrelevant, except as an endless source of mana to appropriate..
Twitter is hardly ground zero for the misogynistic movement that is ‘cissexim’ but it’s a good source of examples. This is but the tip of the iceberg. The Orwellian use of ‘cis’ would be astonishing, if it were new, but naming women is an age old trick. Transgenderists are simply following the tricks of their fathers. Following transgenderist logic, Transwomen are women. Female people are “ciswomen.” Therefore, the only “women” who have the right to call themselves women are transwomen. Through these language games transwomen further the othering of women. They define womanhood, just as men have done for centuries before them. It is not the place of transwomen, or men, to define what woman is.
Transpeople and their allies need to stop using the term ‘cis.’ As transpeople are we so delicate, are we so fragile that we cannot handle truth? Must we behave like MRAs and other misogynists who seek to silence women? Of course we don’t. We’re strong. It takes strength to transition and challenge gender norms, but we are not challenging anything if our “radical actions” maintain, and reinforce, the patriarchy. Adopting language that silences women, denies them their biological reality, and contributes to their othering is the action of men. We could be in the vanguard challenging gender, gender roles, and what it means to be men. Instead we cower, fearful of language, of hurt feelings, of the truths and the awkwardness which is central to our condition.
I will never refer to any non-trans person as ‘cis.’ I will not demand anyone refer to themselves as “cis.” “Cis” is not an identity. It is not the opposite of trans. It is an Orwellian silencing tactic. It is male entitlement wrapped in a frock. If someone refers to you as ‘cis,’ if someone insists you label yourself as such, think about what they are asking. Think about how they are trying to define you. You do not have to bear a label, because transwomen are uncomfortable with themselves. You do not have to wear an identity someone else has handed you.
Dearest allies, by using ‘cis’ you are not helping the trans community, you’re enabling it. You are not being a good ally, a feminist, or a radical. We are not simply women and men We are transwomen, and transmen. We are male and female. We are strong enough to embrace this, help us to do so. Be honest about what we are, speak the truth. We’ll all be better off for it.