Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Cis boom … bah!

It’s been floating around in the culture for a while now, but more and more the word “cis” is being used to tag straight men. Almost always men. And, to be frank, almost always straight white men.

This is because the term has been co-opted from academia (where it had the sense of “on the same side as” – if Wikipedia has it right). Always fond of Latin derivatives, those academics. Investigators studying transsexuality used it to distinguish transsexuals from their opposite, which would be people who identify their gender with the gear they were born with. Or straight people, whose heads are “on the same side as” their genitals.

But somewhere in there “cis” got snatched from the rubber-gloved scientists by gender activists who, I have to think, enjoyed having a term to apply to straight men that feels a little pejorative, a little snarky. So “straight man” becomes “cis man,” and the straight man gets annoyed that someone just called him something he never heard of before and certainly doesn’t “identify as.” And, like I say, you don’t hear all that much about “cis women” – at least I don’t. Online and in the media, it’s usually applied to white men who need to “check their privilege.”

Hey, sis. Don’t call me cis.

Activists of all varieties use this strategy. The world gets divided into those who believe in the cause and those who don’t. And you, as ardent activist, live in something of a bubble, so all the people you talk to about the cause are into the “with us or against us” idea and love coming up with language to stigmatize the Other. Barak Obama was a “community organizer,” remember? And in the mouths of certain cis white men it sounded like he was a pedophile or a church burner. They co-opted the term and gave it negative connotations.

The same thing is happening with cis, which is why I’ll never use that term to describe myself, or any other straight dude. I can’t stop some transgender activist from describing me as a “cis white man,” but you won’t catch me in a t-shirt that says, “Cis & Proud!”

Then again, maybe you will. It’s pretty funny, now that I think of it.

Why do we do this to one another? Isn’t it better to judge individuals rather than entire classes of people? If you don’t like how that white guy mansplains, it doesn’t mean all white men are assholes.

And the kool kids out there who shoot cis around like spitballs, they might say, “Why you so uptight about gender, man? It’s you who has the hangup.”

They talk that way, the kool kids.

Listen, I get it. Transgender people haven’t liked the way the word “straight” was thought of as a synonym for “normal,” implying that trans – in our world of unpleasant dichotomies – is “abnormal.” But using cis as a synonym for “uncool” seems like tit for tat, and I ain’t down with that.

You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay – just don’t call me cis!

16 comments on “Cis boom … bah!

  1. John W. Howell
    March 16, 2018

    I like your observations, Kevin. You highlight the “with us or against us” mentality that is shared not only by activists groups but also by both sides of the political arena. Sadly, there will never be productive discourse as long as the common ground is overcast by the attitude of combativeness.

  2. S.K. Nicholls
    March 16, 2018

    Straight, as opposed to crooked? Yeah, I get it. I’m still trying to figure out how the word funner got added to the dictionary. It is interesting how words come about in any language. Take the word “gay”. Say it today and nobody’s immediate response is happy and cheerful. There’s enough “us and them”. A very long time ago I wrote “human” on a college application where it asked for race. And “often” where it asked for sex. I had to write an essay to be reviewed by admissions dean before acceptance.

  3. kingmidget
    March 16, 2018

    The only person in my life who I’ve heard use the word is a friend and former co-worker who is around 30 years old. She used it to describe herself. I had no idea what cis meant, although I had started to see it used more and more. So, I looked it up and thought … so you’re saying that you are a woman. Why can’t you just say that?

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 16, 2018

      What she was really saying is that she’s a hetero woman.

      We know someone (another gal) who’s way into these gender fluidity things, and I shudder to think what she calls herself … or worse, what she calls me! 😐

      • kingmidget
        March 16, 2018

        Fuddy duddy.

      • Timbra Newbury
        July 18, 2020

        Not Hetero, even lesbians like me are called cis as a pejorative, and we reject it wholly. It in premise assumes we all believe in the trans dogma of a gender identity and we “identify with the sex we were assigned at birth”. I don’t identify as a woman, I am a woman. And lesbians and gay men both are being chased from the community in droves and from organizations we built, because they are cow towing to this trans ideology that is regressive and homophobic. They say that same sex attraction and homosexual are both offensive, for daring to suggest sex has any part in the homosexual experience. They say it should be based on “gender identity” that “females can have penises” and that lesbians who don’t accept that are transphobic, and visa versa. It is a sad state of affairs when a wholly unscientific ideology has the amount of power this one does.

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 18, 2020

        Thanks for your thoughtful comments. The TERF Slur page was totally chilling, and it emphasizes how an academic movement can go off the rails and get co-opted by people with agendas far removed from gender alone.

        I wrote this post two years ago, but in the meantime the whole thing has become much more intense and fraught. It’s one thing to apply the scientific method (as far as it goes in psychological and sociological issues) to certain theories, but completely another to try to impose the resulting “ism” on society. Lately I’ve heard that breast feeding should be referred to as “chest feeding,” for one. “Person who menstruates”? Really?

        It’s also chilling to imagine that there could be a backlash to all of this, when people start to hear about what’s being taught to their grade school kids and gender studies are rejected violently. There’s already a spike in violence against trans people.

        It’s a volatile time, and not just in America …

  4. equipsblog
    March 17, 2018

    Just learned a new word. Thanks for improving my pop culture knowledge. What you say is true–you’re either for us or against us.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 17, 2018

      Yep. Sad to say. Maybe it’s nothing new (McCarthyism was a long time ago …) but it feels like it’s rampant now.

  5. 1WriteWay
    April 24, 2018

    It seems that humans tend to categorize. We put people in boxes. The teenage daughter of a friend recently claimed that she feels more like a boy than a girl. So immediately everyone has to label her, try to fit her into a box that they can understand. I’m thinking, “Jesus, she’s 14. Just give her support and time and she’ll figure it out.” Maybe she is transgender; maybe not. It’s just amazing (and worrying) that the minute she floats the idea, everyone wants to define her. I remember 14. I didn’t get over 14 until I was 18.
    This isn’t so much a digression as my pondering the whole idea of our gender and sexuality being anybody’s business. Why would I need to know that a coworker is a cis/straight man/woman? Unless I wanted to date him or her. Then there’s a need to know. Thank god I’m married 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 24, 2018

      There’s a strange phenomenon out there these days, with pre-sexual kids declaring their sexuality, and possibly locking themselves into something they can’t later control. And adults are going along with it in the fear of stunting their kids’ individuality or something.

      Times like this, I’m glad I don’t have kids! 😐

      • 1WriteWay
        April 25, 2018

        Yeah, pretty much every day I thank my common sense for not having children.

  6. Timbra Newbury
    July 18, 2020

    Women are called it, but mostly we are called TERFS and threatened with rape by girldick, violence, and other deeply misogynistic abuse from males who think they can claim woman status. Go to http://www.terfisaslur.com to see just a fraction of this abuse documented.
    My two fav t shirts are “don’t call me cis” and “woman:adult human female”. These trigger a lot of abuse from males who think it is womanly to threaten to shove your girldick down a woman’s throat to shut her up.

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This entry was posted on March 16, 2018 by in Et alia and tagged , , .
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