Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
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!