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The Unawareness of Cissexism

Yes, I know, here I am again critiquing the greater trans population for something we all have a right to be pissy about. I still think calling someone cissexist or labeling something as this is fairly useless and counterproductive. I’m not saying we are wrong to feel this way at times; it is valid and justifiable, but ultimately a pointless exercise. Here is the part where I tell everyone to shellax and just try and stop me from explaining.

Very very few cisgender people have absolutely any idea that they are cisgender to begin with. “Hey Carol, what is your opinion on this? You are cisgender.” “What, holy shit, really? … What is that?” You can put your bottom dollar on the fact that Carol never heard that term before, or even knew it was a thing. Most people have never encountered someone transgender, and being in the super vast majority, probably figure they don’t need a special designation to differentiate themselves from trans folks. After all, they are the “normal” ones. Honestly, I never even heard the term until a few months ago, and since then spent an inordinate amount of time explaining it to people who really didn’t care, but too polite to say so.

The term ‘cis’ is a problem in and of itself. Many people upon hearing it immediately think that we are the ones who should be called cisgender. “You know, cis, sissy, it makes sense, right?” Ugh. Really, I’ve heard this a few times now. Being female does not make one a sissy, and as someone willing to kill spiders by smooshing them with her bare hands, I can attest to this. Be that as it may, I assure you my face is red as I admit I thought this as well and was confused by the term for a while. Getting to the point, using a term almost no one has ever heard before and counterintuitive to boot is fairly pointless. A far greater proportion of the population knows how to say ‘fuck you’ in Klingon or Dothraki, sad to say.

Accusing someone of being cissexist is likely to earn you a blank expression. Yes, it hurts our feelings, self included, when people throw out ‘he-she’, ‘shemale’, ‘it’, and my personal favorite, ‘chicks with dicks’. It doesn’t sound nice, but the vast majority are not doing it to be offensive, they simply don’t know. I probably say things all the time that are horribly offensive to ethnic Inuit’s, but I don’t know any, nor does anyone I know. A small group of them might be huddled around a computer right now reading my blog, filled with seething rage at how blatantly nasty pants I’m being; how could she not know? But I don’t, and neither do most cisgender people.

Right now it’s a good time to be trans. Ever since Chaz Bono came out we’ve been featured in CNN articles, see Dr McGinn looking stunning on Dr Oz, specials on Primetime, and Jenny Boylan’s book flying off the shelves. It’s not going to last though. No one likes to hear this, but we are a flavor of the month and hold a momentary fascination due to the freak factor. It seems like trans-America right now, but in another few months or a year we’ll go back to being an urban legend in most people’s minds. The world at large has a very short attention span. Right now is a good time to try to educate the public, but making it stick is going to be harder. As always, we stand the best chance of reaching those immediately around us, which ends up being like 3% of the population.

So yes, we are going to hear cissexist things and it is going to upset us. We do our best to educate and get the word out, but we also need to protect our own hearts by having reasonable expectations about it as well. Most people are not out to hurt our feelings. Calmly explaining when we can is the best approach and in those cases where it is not, best just to walk away. Nothing we have to say is going to change the mind of someone determined to be mean.

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About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

13 responses »

  1. Michelle, Excuse me, but I think I need to go wash my hair or maybe rinse out a few things! (Sorry, I couldn’t help that! LOL!) Deanna

    Reply
  2. I agree. Just like kids name calling, it only escalates. The more labels we use, the more they grow. Isn’t the point of the exercise to reduce the use of labels? It reminds me (as I’m old enough to remember it) of the Cold War concept of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’. Quite appropriately it was abbreviated as MAD and it was. So is the underlying philosophy; someone offend you, offend equally or more so in return.

    Personally I prefer to avoid non constructive patterns of behavior.

    Reply
    • Oh, I so totally agree! I’ve been transitioning for just a smidge over a year now and I think I’ve got about half the terms down, including those I think I have but continue to horribly misuse. I’m not about to lapse into an Archie Bunker and Edith song about “when goils was goils and men was men” or anything, but over on PE I sometimes feel like I’m trying to decode a Soviet era missile manual or something.
      Love, Michelle

      Reply
  3. I don’t understand all of the lables, I guess we have to have labels to relate to others what or who were talking about. You said you just heard about cisgender as a sexual orientation, well me too and a boat load of other labels, so confuseing I wish we didn’t need them but we do. I don’t for the most part let other peoples lack of understanding get to me as much as I use to, Depends on how I feel but at times it dose. I think a lot of people like their terms they have made up, it entertaines them. I think in their minds it makes them cute and thats good as long as bullets aren’t flying and someone isn’t trying to hitting me. I’ll just be me and you and everone else can be who they are, thats all I want.
    Just being “Me”
    Tedie

    Reply
    • I think you’ve nailed it Tedie! Now, I do make up terms all the time, but it’s mainly out of attempt to describe something I can’t be bothered to drag out the old thesaurus to find the right word for, but at least I try to make it sound like the thing I’m describing. Then there are those you mention who are just trying to entertain themselves and confuse the rest of us for not knowing. Ugh. Got to remember to tell the ‘Northern Lights’ bus trip story sometime. Same thing back when I was a funny looking tween girl stuck being sent out into the woods with older Boy Scouts.
      Love, Michelle

      Reply
  4. You inspired me to write a reply to your article. http://transquest.blogspot.com/2012/05/response-to-unawareness-of-cissexism.html

    I read your posts frequently, and felt the need to weigh in on this one.

    Keep on writing!

    -Lyn

    Reply
  5. Once again, well said.

    I think it is important to remember that although 100% of the people we know, do know a transgender person, in the population as a whole, the 3% number you use may be generous.

    I was having coffee with a trans friend the other day and we were talking about something similar and I commented to her that we were throwing the averages completely out of whack by having two trans people sitting at the same table. Rarely will you find even one in the same building or even square mile.

    It is important, before becoming indignant when the world is ignorant about our issues, to remember that we are a minority within a minority.

    I can’t think of a better approach than the one you suggest.

    Thanks again for being a voice of reason.

    Hugs,
    Becky

    Reply
    • Yay! You are back! I was getting worried girl. 🙂 I know what you mean = last year I was seated at a table at a wedding with a trans man. Totally unlikely, but I was so, so grateful. Welcome back!
      Love, Michelle

      Reply
      • Glad to be back. Going through a bit of stuff right now. Things have settled a bit. Nice to know I was missed.

        Hugs,

        Becky

        Reply

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