2009-09-17 10:51 pm

Cis Appropriation and Other Speshul Snowflake Deeds

I'm sure you've all read up on the silliness from some well known trans folk on cis as a term. I'm certainly sure you're aware of the whiny privileged cis folk who bitched about it (like white people crying about being called white. What the fuck, people?). I'm sure you've seen the folk who have spoken against this cis oppression enabling idiocy (including my very angry, snarky self).

Cisgender, as detailed in the posts addressing this garbage about it being a bad or useless term, is simply a means to create discourse regarding transgendered people that doesn't other the fuck out of us. Yanno, because beforehand it was trans vs. normal. Because we know how well that goes for people, right? Right.

The whole reason why we have this word is to give us a way to describe the privilege attached to folk who aren't trans without going "normal people privilege! Not-freak privilege!"

So when people attack its existence, or insist it's weaponized, I tend to find them... well... stupid. Either that or they are fighting their darnedest to escape from any responsibility of owning their privilege (for the cis folks) or fighting their darnedest for those delicious oppressor cookies, which are apparently enough to even make Kate Bornstein, Monica Helms and Autumn Sandeen sell the fuck out to the cis folk. Also I'm fairly certain that there's head patting and free coffee for selling out. I can't be sure though because I've never sold out to the oppressors before. And I plan to never do so. (If I ever do, please firmly kick me in the ass, I will need it at such a point of awfulness)

But sometimes, well, sometimes we have a Speshul Snowflake. Someone so sparkly, so darn important, someone who (thinks they) get it so absolutely and wonderfully well, that they just can't understand why their Speshulness is not included! Enter the Speshul Snowflake land of Helen Boyd.

Apparently, if you're a partner of a trans person, you know exactly what we're going through, 100%, no take backs, nu uh totally take backs, no I called it first no take backs, fine you're a jerk. Did that sentence seem silly, to you? Well it might be because the sentiment itself is unbelievably silly.

But hey, if you don't want to go to the link, just read in this here quote box:

Telling me, & other partners whose lives are profoundly impacted by the legal rights / cultural perceptions of trans people, that we are “not trans” implies that we are also not part of the trans community. I’ve been saying for years now that we are. When trans people are killed, harassed, not hired, fired due to discrimination, denied health care, etc. etc. etc., their loved ones suffer along with them. Their families, their lovers, their kids especially. We are not just “allies.” We are vested, dammit, & a part of the trans community, so when “cisgender” comes to mean, or is used to mean, “not part of the trans community,” we are once again left out in the dark.

source

I'll tell you all what, I'm going to be an idiot and give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she doesn't understand how marginalization and privilege work. Lots of folks don't. In fact this kind of stuff tends to be mid level sociology course work, so chances are you won't have exposure to it unless you do some AP sociology classes in high school or take at the very least a basic sociology course in a community college (and actually that isn't sarcastic at all, sociology isn't required for many degrees and a lot of folk can't go to college. So really, I won't hold it against someone for not knowing, I will merely inform them) or have a background in the activist community and have dealt with the language before.

Marginalization applied to a given group is not applied to another group. Group 1 is marginalized. Group 2 is privileged. The marginalization of group 1 can have secondary effects on group 2. This is not the same as the marginalization. This is simply a ripple effect. You, as a partner, are not experiencing your partner's pain. Unless you're some kind of emotion psychic. In which case, good Aspects, hide yourself, the government is searching for people like you to create super soldiers out of!

At worst, you are experiencing the pain of seeing your partner hurt. And that sucks. Undoubtedly. You may also experience some personal backlash, say if your partner loses a job for being trans and you both have to tighten your belts. And that sucks too. But you didn't lose your job. You haven't been denied medical care for having a mixture of structures on your body. You aren't objectified by hundreds of fetish following chaser guys who care more about touching your genitals then they do about your feelings (on top of the set of het guys who fetishize all women). You won't get murdered for having a penis. You won't get beaten to within an inch of your life because you accidentally dropped your voice a little in the wrong place. You won't get exploited by manipulative people who know trans folk are vulnerable and scared and then raped and not be able to go to a single woman's shelter because you'll be turned away.

Basically, you being a partner? Doesn't fucking make you trans. It doesn't let you understand how that feels. You experience it, at best, through a proxy and a lens. And that ain't experiencing it.

Oh it gets worse. Because you see, she actually teaches about cis privilege and trans marginalization. So that benefit of the doubt I gave her? Yeah that was stupid on my part. She's trying to make an assessment and a claim built on nothing more than "I WANT A PIECE OF THE PIE TOO!" Because for some reason, apparently, a pie filled with nails, broken glass and thumbtacks that we are force fed by society looks so appealing to her.

If you read around a bit, you'll see that Helen has a very inaccurate view of how cis is used. Apparently we use it like a curse and we equate cis to being transphobic. This is categorically bullshit. You know what I use cis for? Not trans. That's it. That's what cis is. Cis is aligned together. Trans is aligned apart. So if your gender identity and sex are aligned apart then you are trans. If not than you are cis. It is not a weapon, it is a classifier, used for discourse only.

Like I said in my other post, I do not introduce hypothetical cis woman Candace as, "This is my Candace, she's a cis-woman" and no one should introduce me as, "This is RP, she's a trans woman." The word is not for common day to day use. In common day to day conversations I am a woman with no fucking qualifiers attached.. Just like any other woman, cis or trans.

To me, when a cis person criticizes the word cis it means one of two things. They either don't get the concept of privilege, othering and safe discourse (and that is normal and I work to help them figure it out in such a case) or they want to not have a word that means not trans. And that comes down to them being privileged selfish assholes who want to be seen as normal and default and have us be "those other people".

Helen comes across as a brand spanking new one though. Someone who doesn't like being told she isn't trans because omg she has a trans partner. And is maybe slightly variant in her expression. OMFG. That is some serious unique snowflake traits right there.

Now I can understand some confusion regarding cisgender vs. cissexual. Cisgender is purely gender vs. sex and cissexual is gender identity vs. sex. So Helen could very well be transgendered, if she's got some gender expression going on that isn't very mundane and is notable to get a response from cis society. Yes, if this is the case, she'll face at least some minor trans oppression. I can bet you though, that she is cissexual. That her GI and body match. That she possesses no bodily or role dysphoria related to her sexual structure or gender.

Of course if none of that applies to her, then she's cis, no matter how unique and sparkly her snowflake ice crystal edges are. And this goes for the rest of cis folk. Don't appropriate the trans realm. You only hurt us when you do that. And that makes you a shit ally.
2009-08-17 11:04 am

For the Uninformed: Privilege, Perspective and The Little Things That Jab

I also guest posted this one on Deeply Problematic. Much thanks to RMJ for letting me rant in her space. XD

I thought I was going to wait on this one till tomorrow, but then I read through one of the most clear, beautifully written posts I have ever seen on how even caring, completely loving, well intentioned men act towards women in general at Shakesville by Melissa (Please read here: "The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck"). After that, I realized that this post can't wait.

I truly suggest that if you have ever heard the word privilege and didn't understand it or was offended by it, you read that blog post. I truly suggest that if you feel that feminists or trans folk or any marginalized group are angry, oversensitive or dislike you because you are white, cisgendered or a man or whatever, you read that post.

Like all For The Uninformed posts, these words are built for an audience that does not have the experiences I do. For the cisgendered folk. For the guys out there. For people without a background in the science and theory that these rights and acceptance movements are built on. As always I will do my best to make those experiences comprehensible and explain the terms I am used to that you may not be.

Imagine, if you will, that you are denied things for something inherent to you. Something not only not really changeable but something you don't want to change. It isn't just big things, like housing or jobs or access to certain rights. It's little things too. Respect for your needs, not hearing words used for or related to you used as insults, and like in Melissa's post, not having the very unhelpful "those people are so and so, but not you, you're different" when you know that the so and so claim is bullshit. But responding as such will just get you slid back into the group thought to be so and so.

There are, literally, thousands and thousands of small little attacks, jabs and pokes built into our very language against women, trans folk, gay people, black folk, hispanic folk, the Rroma and countless other groups that do not possess a majority and do not possess power. Imagine if every time you spoke to people who cared for you, family, friends, even lovers, these subtle jabs showed up. Not on purpose. Not maliciously. They are just there. A joke about a stereotype that hits you hard because that stereotype has been used as reason to beat you up. A half joking/half serious claim about "those people" when those loved ones forget that you are one of "those people".

For me (on the trans side of it), it's the people making the jokes about those "ugly trannies" and then saying, "oh but not you." Yes me. That's been used against me before. It's the guys who knew me before transition and still call me "bro" and then when I complain they say, "bro is a gender neutral term, I use it for girls too" when actually, they've never once used it for girls. It's the people asking really personal questions, questions they would never ask anyone else, about my genitals, about how I have sex. It's the people who speculate on things like that when I'm around, forgetting that hey, maybe I don't like to hear about that kind of thing.

For me (on the woman side of it), it's the people using the word "rape" as a word for crushing someone in a video game or getting trounced on a test. "Man, that test totally raped me". As a person who was fed drinks by someone I trusted and then sexually assaulted by them, hearing something like that is intensely painful. But the moment I bring it up I get the arguments, the perspective lacking arguments about how it's just a word and he didn't mean it that way. It's the guys that joke about how all girls are so shallow or so pissy and then wonder why I get irritated. It's the guys that stare at my tits, eyes glazed over, listening to not a word I'm saying. Yeah, I'm attracted to girls too. I don't do that. I have self control.

These things add up. One or two of them alone? I could see how that wouldn't be a problem. And from your perspective, there's only been one joke, one stare, one problematic stereotype exploiting comment. Nothing to worry about right? Except that it isn't one comment. It isn't one joke. It is one out of thousands a day, embedded in regular language, seen as completely normal. Why is it normal for rape jokes to be funny? Why is it normal for stereotypes to be slung around about women? Or trans folk?

That's where perspective comes in. See, a lot of people get huffy with me (or other folks who say, wtf? to this kind of behavior) because they're only aware of their one comment. They don't put up with this constant stream, this wearing away of patience, defense and sanity. The erosion of self esteem, safety, and control that is created by this is awful. And you don't experience it. So you don't have perspective. You don't know why we get upset because you aren't exposed to what is upsetting us. But what really upsets me (and many others I can see) is the fact that you just don't trust us (the people you love, care about, claim to trust, want to help and/or are close with) to comprehend our own experiences and know what we need. Because you don't listen. You don't hear. You don't believe that we are hurt for a valid reason. Or at the very least, you assume your hurt is exactly the same, of the same intensity. But, it isn't. If you aren't being subjected to thousands of things in language alone every day eroding your sense of safety and control over your life, attacking your self esteem, from people you trust, then you aren't hurting the same as us. And you don't have the perspective to say that we're wrong. And when you dismiss our complaints, or requests to not make a certain joke, or call me "bro", it shows your lack of trust, your dismissal. And that's even worse.

There's a concept used to describe being in a position in which one is not exposed to or is protected from things like this. It is based on the English word describing the possession of an advantage not afforded to others. Privilege. This concept describes this complete lack of constant attack, an acceptance of one's form, structure, an actions as fine, as default, as unchallenged. It can be a component of bigotry, but it is not bigotry in and of itself. Privilege is a sparing from this constant challenging of one's existence and place in society, a sparing of the challenging of one's validity. One may have privilege in one area but lack it in another. Unfortunately this doesn't mean that a person will be able to see past their privilege in the former area just because they comprehend it in the latter. Because privilege is invisible and it is a component of a self propagating system.

Those are who not prejudiced or bigoted still defend their privilege because a lack of perspective that is so immense that those who respond to marginalization seem unreasonable, even hateful and bigoted towards them. When Melissa above says she doesn't trust men, many men would think to themselves, "but that's so bigoted! There are lots of trustworthy men!" and that would arise from their privilege of not having to be subjected to the awfulness that she is every day by people who profess to love her and care for her.

If the people you love constantly attacked who you were, without even realizing they were hurting you and were surprised or disbelieving when you said they were hurting you, would you be surprised if you stopped trusting them? And if all of those people were of a particular group, would you be surprised if you took a cautious wary tact with them from now on?

When I say that I'm wary of cisgendered guys, it may seem bigoted to a guy, but that guy lacks the perspective of hearing all sorts of awful jokes targeted directly at his group. Or of having his very existence challenged by the very language used in day to day talk. "Oh yeah, she's a trans woman. Oh I know, she looks so normal too! You'd never have guessed!"

What if that was this instead, "Oh yeah, he's white. Oh I know, he acts so normal too! You'd never have guessed!" And what if that was every day? Among thousands of other little comments that cut you from your friends. Said by people you cared for, valued the opinions of? Even a supposedly innocuous sentence like that paints me as a freak, an aberration, something to joke and express surprise over.

Another component of the self propagation of privilege is the fact that it is built into culture. You see it on television. You see it in the news. Children are taught it, if not by parents then by peers. Even the people who have kept themselves as separate as possible from the troublesome views espoused within a bigoted power system are still swimming in a sea of cultural connotations and impressions. They still use the language, with the bigoted words built in, and still operate under certain assumptions without realizing it. We all do. This is why ALL apparent white people are privileged. Why ALL apparent cisgendered people are privileged. Because these social elements are ubiquitous. They are everywhere in mass quantities. So if you are perceived as white by society, you are spared every inch of the things people of other races are exposed to by society and are denied that perspective. I have this problem too. I'm white. There are little references, jokes and things I say and do that are a part of that privilege. I guess the difference here is when that instinct comes up in my head to go, "oh come on" to a person of color who tells me to check my privilege, I push that reflex aside and go, "okay, gimme a sec to look over this and try to comprehend where I'm losing perspective"

One of the best ways to get a firm handle on privilege as a concept is to talk to someone who has shifted from privileged to unprivileged in a given area. It won't necessarily help you see past your specific privilege but it will make it easier overall to attempt to assess and comprehend privilege when you speak to the marginalized people who lack the privilege you have.

I am mtf trans (obviously from the blog title XD). I was born male bodied and I transitioned to female bodied. Unlike a lot of trans folk (who viewed things through the lens of their identities as a different gender and therefore wouldn't have had problems with how they were treated for the same reasons as others would) my identity hasn't really played a huge role in the lens I apply my own experiences. This was mostly because I came to the realization about why I hated the male structure I had very late in the game (I actually assumed it was normal to hate having a penis XD) So I consider myself formerly a guy who figured out that he needed a female body (due to dysphoria) and therefore was better off as a girl (identity and sociologically wise) for practicality sake. This is atypical, so don't expect all trans folk to have the perspective I do on gender.

Which means I experienced male privilege as male privilege (instead of being transformed into transphobia by the lens of identity) and I experienced the loss of male privilege (as I myself transformed from hormones and whatnot.)

It was a shock, I will tell you. As a person perceived as a guy by society, I was not constantly challenged, stereotyped, joked about and pushed down. There were some small things. Depictions of guys in tv were sometimes irritating. Occasionally there were jokes about the dumb guy stereotype. And there were constraints on self expression for guys that were a bit irritating. But even if I violated those rules, I usually could tell opposition to piss off or criticize my criticizers right back and everyone thought that was an utterly natural thing for me to fight the silly claims from people, even if they didn't agree.

Post sociological and HRT transition. What was an occasional flow of jokes, jabs and attacks became a torrent. I was bombarded. Television was filled with all sorts of stereotypes, attacks, mockeries of women. Pressure to conform was harsher and more persistent (instead of just guys calling me a fag for having long hair and wearing toe socks it was now everyone calling me a weird dyke or telling me that I need to femme out more for wearing guys cargos and t-shirts with a faux military jacket). And my attempts to dispute that pressure, my responses at all really (even the nice ones) were now regarded as me being a bitch, a harpy, a "feminazi" or being unreasonable. Whereas before, people disagreed and discussed with me, now, they simply dismiss it completely.

I was shown, completely (and perhaps embarrassingly) how little perspective I had on what society does to women. And that is why I understand how insidious privilege is. It is silent, it is crafty, it sneaks up on you, latches on and makes it impossible to even question it without seeming nuts. And there's the problem. We aren't nuts.

This shit is real.
2009-08-13 11:29 am

The word "cisgendered" makes privileged folk cry, apparently.

Welcome to clusterfuck city. In order to give you folks a little bit of background here, there was a bit of an incident involving Pam's House Blend and a wonderful concept known as privilege enabling (or as I like to call it "oppression collaboration". More poetic that way.)

There was some fine commentary on how asinine it is to let people dodge their privilege and continue othering trans folk on QT and a really brilliant analogy for the kind of nasty power cis people (I refuse to stop using that term. Outright. Refuse.) have over trans folk at Femmessay (which I commented on in thanks)

I won't go too deep into the details (that's what the links to the wonderful blogs are for, with the exception of Pam's little coffee shop of privilege) but the basics are as follows:

A gay cis male decided that the word cis is offensive to cis folk and compared it to several common trans slurs. And then discourse on the topic (and by "discourse" I mean any attempts by trans folk and allies to address this pretty clearly privileged bullshit) was silenced. Gotta love enablers, right? Nothing makes it easier to stomp on the heads of trans folk than someone discouraging the critique of privileged behavior and encouraging the use of othering and cissexist separation of terminology like trans vs. normal.

I may have expressed some things on this blog that folks have found privileged, but I've never once silenced the discourse on it. I address those comments because privilege is a serious goddamn problem. So if you're in the position of being accused of using it or speaking from a privileged perspective, it is always a good idea to keep that discourse open in case you are actually privileged and didn't realize it.

I'll do a relatively mild analysis of cis as a word here and why that is epic and privileged bullshit on the commenter's part to act that way. I may follow up with a slightly less enraged "For The Uninformed" post after this one rehashing the description of cisgender as a term and discussing privilege in general (I'll throw in some other important descriptors too). They're closely intertwined because cisgender is a word used to articulate the differences (including privilege) between those who are or are not trans without othering the fuck out of us trans folk.

Oh look, just that sentence alone summarizes it doesn't it? You see, a marginalized group and their allies have to be able to create discourse on not just their marginalization but the privilege of the majority/empowered group(s) that either oppress them or benefit from the oppression of them (usually both).

One of the key important cardinal needs of that discourse is to avoid phrasing, word structure and tone that is in and of itself a component of that marginalization or the privilege of the oppressing/majority/empowered group(s). I know, I'm getting verbose and science-y.

To make it basic: if the words we use to talk about our problems, our oppression and another's (i.e. cis folk) privilege are oppressing to us then we are just defeating our own efforts. Language has an effect on things. It's why slurs actually do have power and marginalizing language can actually train marginalized people to submit to their oppression.

The single most best example (and most relevant to the term cis) is the othering of trans people. Before cisgender came into play as a term the way that trans folk and cis folk were referred to was as such:

Transwoman
Woman
Transman
Man
(nonbinaries weren't really mentioned back then and they still get screwed now. Oppression is like a layer cake made of fail.)

After the word cis came into play (and we cut the qualifier from the gendered word itself):

Trans woman
Cis woman
Trans man
Cis man
Agendered/neutrois
Androgyne
(unfortunately, as you can see, nonbinaries are still othered quite a bit. Not a lot of great solutions have been come up with there)

Notice the difference? The above (old school version) made trans folk out to be an abnormality, an adjusted man or an adjusted woman. Cis folk were assumed to be the natural state because the phrase applied to them was the overall phrase for man or woman (if anyone has more knowledge of nonbinary terminology back then and now, please comment. This description is incomplete without nonbinaries). By applying the word cis to cisgendered people's descriptors when discussing a comparison of trans and cis folk (and just applying the actual gender word itself to the people it applies to, whether cis or trans) we succeeded in reducing the othering effect of the terminology we use for discourse on trans oppression and cis privilege. It also, as you can see, offered up a term that can be used to describe that privilege that cis folk have. I mean fuck, what did we even call it before then? "Normal privilege"? "Non-Trans privilege"? That's terrible for discourse and othering as hell.

So the phrase has a defined, specific purpose that is only relevant in certain contexts (much like trans ought to be). I'm not going to walk around and call cis folk, cis woman or cis man when I introduce them to people. "This is Candice, she's a cis woman." Just like no one should introduce me like "This is R.P., she's a trans woman." Although in Candice's case, she won't get beaten, killed, raped, denied jobs or etc etc etc for being revealed as a cis woman. But quite honestly there's no reason to apply the word in a day to day basis. Only for trans related discourse.

So now we know why it's around. What if someone finds it offensive? What if it makes a "privileged person cry" as I so cheekily put into my title? Well, let me put this as nicely as I can:

Get the fuck over it.

As described by the very nice lady at Femmessay, there is a huge worlds' of difference between having your feelings hurt by a phrase that doesn't sound nice or seems unfun being applied to you and being subjected to a level of oppression that defies description. Many of us aren't even fucking allowed to piss in a bathroom that is safe for us. Yeah, I'm sure privileged tears are so awful in comparison to that.

It's like us white folk saying it's offensive to be called privileged. Oh boo fucking hoo, folks. Or calling affirmative action "reverse racist" (the most godawfully stupid phrase in the universe, by the way). Here's a more prickly barb for the commenter himself: It's like straight people saying that the word straight is offensive, because "omg I'm normal, not straight". Yeah. I went there. Because its the same exact thing.

There are straight folk who have done that. Who have said, to my face and others faces, that the word straight is offensive and why is it necessary for gay people to apply a word to them? Well because its awfully hard to have a discourse about gay rights and straight privilege if the word gay is compared to the word "normal, assumed, expected, standard state of affairs". Welcome to being othered. Your hypocrisy, commenter on Pam's house blend, has been noted.

So there's the comparison. The fact is, the only thing, the exact only thing the word cisgendered can do applied to a cisgendered person is make some hurt feelings. Just like the word straight applied to a straight person. Guess what the word trans can do? Some helluva worse things than cis can do, that's for sure. Not only can it hurt our feelings, it can act as a reminder of past oppression or be accompanied by beatings, rape, murder, denial of service, denial of use of bathrooms, denial of medical care, denial of children, denial of bodily domain and self autonomy, denial of a home and loss of family, friends and loved ones.

And you know what? If cis is removed from discourse and we just use the word trans, the othering will make it all worse. So wow, folks, I'm really choked up about how hurt you are with the word cisgendered and all, but really, you're just going to have to get the fuck over it.

Be a little more mindful of your privilege, offended cis folk. As for Pam and Co.? I used to go to that site pretty often (I wasn't a member yet) but I will gladly avoid your privileged bullshit (and privilege enabling) site from now on. For the transfolks working there, I hope the pat on the head and the hair ruffling from the oppressors was worth alienating the rest of us.

Must have been a damn good hair ruffle.