9 reasons why “cis” isn’t working

So yes, I’m writing another – another – post on the word “cis”. Everybody quake in fear! But I’ve had so many useful comments, which have given me so much food for thought, that I’d like to get them all out and see what happens.

The other reason is the previous post is based on personal pain. It was, as these things are, read as competitive. I felt hurt; other people felt hurt. This is an attempt to be more dispassionate and to explain why, as far as I can see, the term “cis” isn’t working – and why we need to allow non-trans women to define themselves on their own terms:

1 Cis is not a necessary alternative to trans

Many people find it hard to see what is wrong with this statement:

anyone not trans is cis

But what if someone said this:

“anyone not Muslim is Christian”

It doesn’t make any sense, does it? The fact that being a Muslim is predicated on having a religious belief does not mean that anyone who is not a Muslim must have a different religious belief, let alone one specified by you.

You could amend the first statement to:

“anyone not trans is cis or non-binary or genderfluid or two-spirit etc.”

However, then the equivalent would be:

“anyone not Muslim is Christian or Hindu or Sikh or Jewish etc.”

There is quite clearly something missing: the space for people who do not wish to be defined by these belief systems at all. In the case of the former statement, that would be a huge number of feminists, with good reason.

I am not religious. I don’t define myself as an atheist any more than I define myself as a “not believer in fairies”. I just don’t wish to define myself in relation to religion in any way, shape or form. Does it mean I don’t believe Muslims are Muslims? Of course not. Similarly, does not identifying as cis mean I don’t believe trans people are trans? Clearly not. Nor does it mean that I am agender (I am female and I am a woman. Gender does not come into it). An absence of belief is not the erasure of someone else’s. On the other hand, the demand that someone actively endorses your worldview by declaring themselves a believer or risk being deemed a bigot and subjected to ongoing threats and abuse … well, what would you call that?

2 It’s morally unacceptable to demand that another person swears allegiance to a belief system they experience as harmful

This is what is being done when feminists who do not believe in gender as anything other than a construct are ordered to identify as cis. It is not merely unfair; it is cruel, a cruelty which is intensified when the consequences of not submitting are to be declared a hateful bigot and a TERF. There are non-trans women whose experience of gender is contained only within the harm that has been done to them and others. It’s not okay to then tell them that they just don’t “get” gender or that “real gender” is totally distinct from gender oppression and stereotyping. If they do not experience or believe that, merely being faced with such statements is traumatising. Gender has an absolutely real and valid meaning for them and to suggest that any attachment to this meaning encroaches on the space of someone more oppressed is manipulative and untrue. This is not about hierarchies of suffering, it is about the integrity of meanings to people who are traumatised in different but equally deplorable ways.

3 Individuals should have the freedom to identify with any gender – or none

This is linked to the previous two points and it is that basic: to be cisgendered has no meaning to someone who does not experience themselves as gendered in any way other than by the gaze of others. Indeed, to enforce cisgendered status on someone who feels this way is to double up the oppression; it’s asking someone to confess to an experience that they themselves do not believe in, in effect, to own up to ignorance of their own selves and submit to the higher authority of those who “know” their gender better (trans people will be familiar with how awful this feels, but so too will most AFAB women, who experience this in various ways from the moment they are born).

In a recent piece for the Guardian, Fred McConnell described gender as “one’s innate sense of self”. I don’t know what this means. This does not mean I am deficient or ignorant. It means I don’t think that’s what gender is. Hence when McConell says “cisgender […] refers to those whose sex and gender do match” I am 100% sure that I am not cis. I don’t experience this matching but nor do I experience a sense of allegiance with any other gender construct. It should not matter to anyone else that I don’t. It is not their business.

4 Trans women should not depend on non-trans women for self-definition

Why the hell should they even want to? My not-cis-ness says nothing about your trans-ness. You don’t need me as a foil to offer validation. You are your own person.

If we were to push this to its logical conclusion, we could say that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. Either gender exists as an innate sense of self or it doesn’t. Either God exists or he doesn’t. Why, exactly, would we want to push it to this degree? Will we ever get a final answer, a voice from on high? No. I don’t care if you don’t. Moreover this is not the same as me saying “you’re not the man or woman you say you are” (I think this can be particularly hard to grasp, not least due to the oppressive conditions under which trans people have to define themselves, but it’s true).

5 Evidence of innate difference is not evidence of innate gender difference

Or rather, it only is if you’re already someone who believes in gender as an essence rather than merely a construct. This is very straightforward but I don’t think this can be stressed enough. It is frankly absurd that radical feminists get termed flat-earthers and anti-scientific simply because they refuse to make the leap of faith that says, for instance, that evidence of different brain patterns in trans people can be linked to the concepts “male” and “female”. If other people want to make that leap, that’s up to them, but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with scientific proof. I believe Jesus existed. I also believe he was an amazing man. Is that evidence for the existence of a Christian God? No. Believing in God involves bringing together faith and evidence to form a coherent narrative. People who don’t have faith in gender won’t produce the same narrative in response to biological difference as those who do. We should be able to live with that. It’s only a problem when evidence of biological difference is used to justify gender-based oppression (which it has been, again and again). In these instances, an agnostic position on gender and biology surely seems the fairest way to proceed.

6 Beliefs are not the same as social and cultural privilege

It is self-evident that trans people suffer enormous amounts of discrimination and rejection. This does not mean that being an AFAB woman is a privilege in and of itself. In a society which continually dehumanises women it simply cannot be. Moreover, if you do not experience gender as anything innate, you do not suddenly have the choice to align yourself with the dominant gender. It’s not some liberating free-for-all. You’re just an AFAB woman dealing with a world that presents “womanhood” as something you are not.

Some trans women may think that non-trans women owe them – that our right to define womanhood on our terms is trumped by their greater suffering. Certainly, tweets such as this would suggest it:

faulty term

But such a view has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth of anyone’s experience of gender or womanhood. If you are a child who wants people to lie about their feelings so that you feel better, perhaps this is an okay solution. The rest of us would rather ask for cultural change and social acceptance for everyone. Such external acceptance would include you – but when it comes to self-acceptance, you have to do that on your own.

7 It’s important to distinguish between non-believers and extremists

Most violence against trans men and women is committed not by gender non-believers but gender extremists – AMAB men who cannot cope with the idea of anyone transgressing their strictly-bound gender rules (rules which radical feminists, who frankly don’t give a shit what you wear, how you feel or how you present yourself, wholly reject). It’s curious, then, that the feminist rejection of cis is instantly aligned with the transphobic violence of the über-cis. I think, deep down, the people who do this are conscious it is disingenuous. However, it’s easier to hit out at those whom you can claim threaten your sense of self rather than those who threaten your physical safety (just as it’s easier to rant at “militant secularists” rather than at Christian EDL members who set fire to mosques). Of course, it’s not fair. You alone are responsible for your sense of self. If someone tells you you’re shit or you’re not the person you say you are, they are wrong. If, on the other hand, someone else’s sense of self seems to contradict yours, this is not an act of aggression. It’s just people being people.

8 Gender as a construct is deeply harmful to AFAB women

This shouldn’t need reiterating, but it is. Rape, VAW, FGM, exploitation, inequality, femicide. Hence feminism. And yes, you can say “but that’s not real gender”. It might not be to you but it is to me. So let’s just leave it there.

9 No one ever gets final confirmation that they are A Real Woman

Because this isn’t a female version of Pinocchio. No blue fairy will come along and wave her magic wand. This is real life.

This was one trans woman’s response to my previous post (or rather, it’s the least offensive of her many responses):

on a plate

I’ll allow you a moment to laugh bitterly at the absurdity of it. If this person had actually read any of the previous things I’d written about the term cis (rather than cried “TERF” and “bigot” in response to the very idea that I’d had an opinion) she’d know that due to ill-health I didn’t experience puberty until I was in my twenties. I considered myself a woman before then, just as I considered myself a woman after having a miscarriage and will consider myself a woman when I go through the menopause and should I ever have a hysterectomy. Ovulation does not a woman make.

This is not to deny the political importance of defining “woman” in reproductive terms. I know a lot of people struggle to get their heads round this. But you just said … Well, yes, no one said this was easy! The oppression of women as a class is inseparable from patriarchal attempts to control reproduction. You can rebrand it by saying “pregnant people” all you like but a refusal to put misogyny in context betrays the perceived breeders/vessels/gestators (whatever we now call them if the right to use “woman” is withdrawn). They will remain a sub-class only one which has now been denied the dignity of a cultural and class heritage.

The upshot of this, of course, is that people have to share (I know, what a pain!). Pregnant trans men have to put up with being intermittently co-opted by Class Woman for the sake of political argument, and pregnant women have to accept (as, to be fair, I think most do) that their reproductive status is not a trump card in the Game of Womanhood.

There will never, ever, be a point in anyone’s life when they are handed a Certificate of Full Womanhood. Because that would be meaningless. We make of our womanhood what we can. It’s not a thing you can touch or measure in a test tube. It’s the messy context of a human life. Of course, not everyone thinks this, at least not yet. That’s why I’d argue that a push for greater acceptance of “messy, human, fuzzy around the edges womanhood” could strike a real blow against transphobia (in a way that demanding non-trans women identify as cis – and hence reinforcing the sense that womanhood truly is an absolute – never, ever can).


49 thoughts on “9 reasons why “cis” isn’t working

  1. ” It’s morally unacceptable to demand that another person swears allegiance to a belief system they experience as harmful.”
    It is is not just “harmful” it’s a brutal, self-debasing form of mind-control that’s a betrayal of truth and personhood.

    1. It’s gaslighting. It is a well documented form of psychological abuse. It’s dehumanizing to be forced to believe lies and take actions which are not in your own best interests.

  2. Very well detailed essay. As an overt atheist, I’ve long used the religious analogy, as gender is fundamentally a belief system, I call myself a-gender or gender atheist. As a young girl, I was a tomboy, now at mid-life, I’m still a tomboy, though I’ve through the decades found some peace in some degree of stereotypical feminine things… but mostly, I find gender stereotypes deeply insulting, and I find people who perform gender stereotypes, no matter their sex (Female or Male) or “identify” (every time I read “self-identify” I think of self diagnosis and self-healing of non-sickness through various non medical snake oils) to not be compatible with my value system. I have no macho male friends, and no het-monogamy-feminine-performing-female friends. I also no longer answer “gender” on forms. I scratch it out and say sex=female. I have no interest whatsoever in people’s religious outlooks on life. I am comfortable with the word atheist or atheistic, because I have always felt in opposition to the 95% of civilisation who are sick with faith. To me this idea of “faith” is the source of all female woes. But in order to move forward, feminists need to populate the atheist community at large. A lot of male atheists say they don’t believe in gods… but they’re still propagating the value system they learned from faith… FAIL.
    I miss Madalyn Murray O’Hare.

  3. I remember the giddy days when I was convinced that all binary systems were nothing but language games, or power play and the decentred, non-binary feminist subject could skip happily in this new world of multiplicity and endless diversity, filled with something the po-mo French theorists called ‘jouissance’. So sophisticated. So New Labour. So compatible with neo-liberalism, the flux of the market, and the restless, rootless zero hours worker/consumer. Capitalism loves the non-binary. It loves the focus on the self, on identity, on transformation of the individual separated from real theories of oppression. It loves the cancelling out of authenticity via the irony of language games. Who needs a cause when the cause has become so slippery that you can’t latch on to it, you have no words to talk about material oppression, poverty, class? What is happening if all we are left with are fragments and there is no space to think beyond them to a bigger idea, to assert the importance of feminist solidarity, the solidarity of human beings in the face of one of the most destructive, brutalising Governments in living memory?

    1. Wonderful comment Susanna. It’s particulary cunning when everything proves that binary thinking is (have been?) deeply engrained in all (male?) cultures, and Françoise Héritier showed that it all came back to the male/female binary.

    2. I appreciate your linking identity politics to its comfortable place in consumer capitalism. I had begun to wonder if radical feminists (I don’t know if you would use this word to describe yourself) had become one- or two-issue feminists (gender-critical, anti-porn) rather than engaging in serious radical analysis of patriarchal, hierarchical, exploitative society.

      1. I don’t think I would use that term to describe myself (not out of antipathy, I just don’t think I know enough about it). I do feel, slowly, criticism of identity politics and its link to neoliberalism and neoconservatism is becoming more mainstream (Alison Phipps’ Politics of the Body, Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman, Beatrix Campbell’s The End of Equality). Also think there is more good criticism of “choice feminism” – which is such a joke without any analysis of capitalism and class privilege. But god, it is so slow, and it is so easy to be taken in by the choice message without realising that if you focus on identity alone, you aren’t creating the conditions that give people choice. I know I’ve spent so much time making that mistake.

  4. Anyone who describes puberty as being ‘handed womanhood on a plate” has never gone thru female puberty. That plate varies from catapult, weeping pit of despair, showers of hormones, bleeding thru one’s pants in middle school (oh, the humiliation of menses in middle school), and much anger we end up turning into self-harm.
    That’s a plate. Transwomen have plates of their own and I would never disparage how hideous puberty was for them as well. but it is a different plate. We might still serve ourselves from the serving dish of women’s experience, but we have different portions and we eat from different plates. Honor the plate you have, rather than mis-name my plate.

    1. I think this really captures part of the problem – the failure to accept that there is no hierarchy of lived experience. Everyone’s is valid and the argument that those who reject “cis” have no authority on how their experience relates to that of a trans woman makes no sense. We don’t know how we each feel, but we do know if something does not describe us.

    2. I think what that person means by ‘having womanhood handed to you on a plate’ is simply that other people will agree with you that you’re a woman. Trans activists think that is a privilege. I read a ‘cis privilege checklist’ once and the privileges were 90% just having people agree with you that you are the sex you claim you are. The privilege of having your beliefs about yourself be based on reality, and having the ability to use the English language broadly in the way described by dictionaries, basically.

      One of the problems with trans activists and non-trans people discussing these things together is that trans activists come to the discussion with the belief that everyone has a ‘gender identity’ that is very special and important to them, which they must ‘express’ and which they can’t function without other people’s validation of. I think they often believe this goes without saying. Therefore, they think it’s self-evident why ‘misgendering’ is a terrible thing, and why not being ‘misgendered’ is some kind of privilege. I think this basic premise of trans activism, the idea that all people have a ‘gender identity’ that needs expression and validation, needs to be discussed and challenged more rather than taken as an obvious fact. Maybe all trans people experience life that way, but lots of people don’t. People who don’t see gender validation as a top priority aren’t automatically less correct and more bigoted than trans activists.

      1. I think you’re right. And I think it pinpoints why cis is more of a problem for non-trans women than for non-trans men – because being read as a woman can mean being read as less than human and even if you are “granted” the word woman, it doesn’t describe you.

  5. You said: “Most violence against trans men and women is committed not by gender non-believers but gender extremists – AMAB men who cannot cope with the idea of anyone transgressing their strictly-bound gender rules (rules which radical feminists, who frankly don’t give a shit what you wear, how you feel or how you present yourself, wholly reject).” I’m afraid you have unwittingly endorsed some propaganda here. Most violence against trans men and women is interpersonal, not political, and a significant percentage can be ascribed to the risks of engaging in sex work, not to transphobia. It should go without saying that all violence is abhorrent. But it is a myth that it is a risk born equally by all who are transgender. The late transitioning middle-aged white ex-military computer programmers who are among the loudest of transactivists are never among those honored by the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Their white male privilege continues to protect them even while they bray about their victimization.

    1. Not all trans people are sex workers, sure some are because sheer need to survive in a world where work for us is nigh on impossible to find. However just because we have a percentage of sex workers in our community does not give you a valid reason to dismiss the fact transphobic violence happens regularly. I’ve been assaulted 30 times in 29 years alive, I’m still here and still going but have never engaged in sex work.

  6. I will also add another consequence of the word “cis.” The notion that non-trans people are by definition on-board with their gender role has caused many a gender-nonconforming teen to decide they must be special gender queer or trans snowflakes. It’s a dangerous ideology.

    1. One area that I find horrifying is the increasing medicalization of gender dysphoria in pre-pubertal children in the US who are encouraged to take hormone blockers. A high percentage of children who are uncomfortable with ‘assigned’ gender later identify as gay if allowed to simply work things through and have a supportive environment in which to do so. It’s no accident that one of the countries with the highest level of medical intervention for trans gender realignment surgery also is deeply homophobic: that country is Iran.

      1. I think adults should be able to have whatever surgery or treatment they need to make their lives okay for them. I don’t know what decisions we’d make in a context without extreme gender conditioning (I’m pretty sure my own regarding my body would be different, but I am not sure how).
        I have no idea what I’d do if one of my kids wanted puberty blockers. I can’t bear the thought of them being desperately unhappy but I know that at that age I didn’t have the tools to make clear decisions about what was right for my body. I just don’t know how you could possibly know what you are rejecting or accepting if you cannot know another person’s life (which again is why cis bothers me – this assumption that cis womanhood is knowable to others in a way that trans womanhood isn’t).

    2. I do find myself looking at AFAB people who identify as non-binary or queer and thinking “what do you think I am, then? What is it about the experience of being someone like me that you reject?” It’s up to them, of course, but it feels like, rather than addressing the crappy construct that is “woman,” they’ve decided to jump ship. Which again is up to them, but to leave the rest of womankind with the label “cis” is akin to saying “that crappy construct? That’s you, that is”. When it isn’t any of us. And how could another person possibly know that the cis womanhood she sees in another exists at all? Why should she believe in it when the experience is not hers and belongs to another?

      1. THIS. I was utterly appalled when a young acquaintance of mine who had previously told me she thought she might be lesbian declared that she “does not identify as a woman” and therefore she is not female but “gender queer.” She couldn’t even figure out why I found this enraging.

        1. Quite. Like recognising misogyny. Like living without arbitrary gender distinctions. Like being brave and honest enough to challenge gender rather than seek to reify it for personal benefit. All of these things challenge conservative thinking and make people retreat into a parallel universe where they think they’re being rebellious when they’re not.

      2. I get really tired of people with zero understanding of what being trans actually means conflating roles with the core of who a person is. Trans is a medical condition and needs to be treated as such it does NOT need the glorified hazing that is the RLE nor should a specialist deny treatment based on nothing but the stereotypical roles. Sadly both happen then you get every other idiot on the face of the planet doing exactly the same thing. The pressure to conform to roles is immense but a lot of us resist as best we can. YES I transitioned, yes I had surgery, but that has about as much to do with roles as a politician has with honesty. As for Cis it is a word that will sadly continue to be used until people quit using normal as the alternative. Being trans is not abnormal and that shaming needs to end.

  7. I’ve been following this series on the language of “cis” gender/sexual and have found lots to ponder; thank you for sharing.

    I have two brief, personal reflections to add to this conversation as a feminist woman assigned female at birth who has always felt comfortable under the umbrella of the female/feminine end of the gender binary that our modern Western culture generally subscribes to. Have I chaffed against social expectations of girls and women? Yes; there’s a reason I identify as feminist in my political views. But in terms of embodiment, sex, sexuality, and gender, I have always felt comfortable with the assignment “female.” It approximates how I understand my Self. It is a social template I can work with.

    So my first observation, from this perspective, is that “cis” is a useful term for me, to help me describe that sense of approximate identity and social situatedness. It sounds like it doesn’t work as well for many of the people in this thread, but for me it does — and I don’t like the notion that it’s a term being forced upon “us” (approximately comfortable) people by “them” (people who experience gender dysphoria). I was introduced to the term by trans* friends and activists, but have come to appreciate having language to speak about this one type of gender phenomenon: how our inner sense of sex/gender relates to the world’s perception of our sex/gender. It is useful short-hand…and like all short-hand fails to carry all nuance within a single prefix.

    I don’t want to lose “cis” as an option, even if we develop other vocabulary to use in addition to it. Because it helps describe an aspect of myself.

    My second observation is that it is troubling to me that trans women are being dragged into this conversation as enforcers of gender expectations (e.g. through the very development of “cis” as a term) and as people whose needs for language to describe the world as they experience it somehow matters less than non-trans peoples’ linguistic needs. When I listen to trans* people I hear them consistently articulating something different about their experience of gender than the experience which I have had in my own body and in interactions with my culture. And I honor their determination that this experience needs a specialized vocabulary — including language to describe people who do NOT experience the world as trans* individuals. Of course our experience as non-trans individuals is going to be hugely varied. In the same way that straight peoples’ experience of their sexual orientation is varied, or the experience of national identity among a group of citizens from a specific country is varied. But those individual experiences don’t invalidate the fact that we’re treated as a class by society in certain ways. I might call myself a bisexual femme and my friend might call herself a butch dyke and our third friend might call hirself a queer. But the majority culture understands all of us to be “gay” … or at most “lesbian.”

    It’s important to have both nuanced language that can capture the specificity of our particular experience AND more expansive, umbrella terms that illuminate how power and privilege are consolidated by certain types of people at the expense of other types of people.

    Perhaps some people wield “cis” as a weapon. Well, some people have wielded “queer” or “straight” or “Christian” or “athiest” as a weapon and that doesn’t make them invaluable terms.

    1. “My second observation is that it is troubling to me that trans women are being dragged into this conversation as enforcers of gender expectations (e.g. through the very development of “cis” as a term) and as people whose needs for language to describe the world as they experience it somehow matters less than non-trans peoples’ linguistic needs. When I listen to trans* people I hear them consistently articulating something different about their experience of gender than the experience which I have had in my own body and in interactions with my culture.”
      But no one is questioning the right of trans people to describe their experience. The point that we *are* talking about different experiences is key; I don’t seek to describe trans experience of gender so I am owed the same respect in return. Your suggestion that trans people’s needs matter less is troubling to me since current language does *not* provide any woman with the means to articulate her humanity. Whether or not you think some people have a harder time than others is immaterial since if we all have the same aims – the honest articulation of our humanity – we should not be prepared to force anyone to accept words that harm then.
      Further, to enforce gender expectations is not to be responsible for them. We are all complicit since how else could we get by in such a highly gendered society? But to insist that one group of people have no right to question how they are defined is simply cruel. If you are not hurt by cis this may suggest you have the element of comfort that is presumed and which other non-trans women lack. If so, you should listen to them rather than presume ill-will and ignorance on their part.
      What is wrong with simply saying “non-trans people experience structural and social advantages that trans people don’t”? I think everyone would agree with that and it focuses on realities that everyone can address rather than drift into making assumptions about the subjectivity of others.
      One more point: I find it weird that you present your having spoken to trans people as evidence – as though I haven’t and need enlightening into their different ways and perspectives. To me this has objectifying Orientalist overtones which don’t in fact show much respect for trans people as human beings at all.

      1. Thank you for a long and thoughtful response.

        I am sorry that my wording left you with the impression I was assuming your observations were not informed by trans* voices. Obviously some of your posts draw directly upon trans* perspectives. My references to personal experience were only that: context for my own non-trans thoughts on matters which others are more direct authorities on. It was my seeking to cite the experts who informed my thinking, not some coded insult. I’m not sure where objectification comes in here, though if you still think I am doing so, I’m open to further conversation.

        I am listening (by way of reading this series of posts) and trying to clarify my understanding of the resistance to a term and concept I have felt both fairly neutral and useful in the past decade or so. I understand that I don’t intuitively get why the word upsets some non-trans folk: hence my comment sharing why I do find it useful (even as a cis person) in some circumstances.

        I’m not sure I understand this part of your response:

        “Your suggestion that trans people’s needs matter less is troubling to me since current language does *not* provide any woman with the means to articulate her humanity.”

        Perhaps my phrasing was poor, since my point which you quoted was that trans* peoples’needs should NOT matter less, and seeking to end the use of a term that the trans* community has taken up as useful troubles me. I’m not yet persuaded (though I am open to revising my thinking) that “cis” as an umbrella term to describe those who do not identify as trans* is harmful at a population level. I completely support individuals articulating there own preferences re: identity labels and expecting others to respect those preferences when made aware of them. But at some point do we not need imperfect short-hand to speak of social groupings and how society treats those seen as part of this group or that differently? That is the level at which I find “cis” useful. It is less personally meaningful that demographically useful.

      1. No, it’s a definition of how a person relates to an assigned gender. And it’s one that doesn’t work if that’s not how that person relates to it.
        I think if it did just mean “not suffering from body dysmorphia” it would be a useful definition in some contexts, albeit not in the context of “cis privilege” since to have a privilege is more than “having something someone else wants, regardless of whether you want it yourself”. The structural discrimination against trans people does not come from the often-fraught relationships non-trans women have with their own bodies.

        1. “I think if it did just mean “not suffering from body dysmorphia” it would be a useful definition in some contexts…”

          Er, perhaps we are miscommunicating due to different views on the definition? That’s more or less how I understand the term’s origins & meaning.

      2. Man, woman : that’s gender

        “The fact of not choosing to transition genders” is not gender.”

        I agree with others longer descriptions of the meaning of the comment

        1. Have you heard of intersex?
          Another question would be why do you think individuals are divided by gender at all? What’s been the purpose and who has it benefited? If you see no fundamental benefit in this, it’s unclear why there should be any benefit in further dividing people by gender (unless it’s to maintain certain power structures while pretending to challenge them).

  8. Very thoughtful! As opposed to my basic reaction which is “stick your CIS up your butt” 🙂 Also note that those of us who are sympathetic with those with transgender feelings also can become extremely anti-trans after seeing “real women” being trashed by the extremist transactivists. “Women” with pensises don’t belong in the womens bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. Period.

  9. oops, I saw this question “Are you saying non-trans women don’t experience gender?” to which my answer was “I doubt graceaware is saying that because…” but the question is gone so my comment is orphan!

  10. Thank you for articulating why ‘cis’ is a politically nonsensical and harmful framework for understanding women’s relationship to gender.

    I would like to remark on your use of the term ‘assigned female at birth’ (AFAB), however.

    ‘Assigned female/male at birth’ is a term trans activists appropriated from the intersex community, in order to further their belief that biological sex is socially constructed.

    Used as it was originally intended, it refers to the coercive assignation of an intersex child to a given sex category, which is often accompanied by invasive surgical procedures on the child’s genitalia to ensure they conform as closely as possible to their assigned sex.

    It makes no sense to refer to people who are unambiguously male or female as ‘assigned male/female at birth’, as if their sex were a matter of random or coercive assignation, rather than a material fact. ‘Female’ and ‘male’ work just fine in this case.

    1. I guess what I’m trying to get across is that all females are assigned a gender that doesn’t match them at birth – “female” as the harmful construct that feminists have been fighting against for decades. I resent the belief that biologically female women are the lucky recipients of a gender that “matches” their innate selves or subconscious sex or anything else one might wish to call it. It’s not true and what they have been assigned positions them as lesser human beings. Maybe better that AFAB would be DIAB – designated inferior at birth?

      1. Yes, I see what you mean with needing a language to express this. I don’t think AFAB is accurate though, because female is just the fact of what we are – it is the constructs that have grown up around it under a male supremacist system that are harmful, not the fact that we are female. Not to mention it is an appropriation of a term that was intended to articulate the specific experience of intersex people.

        In a thoughtful essay, blogger Nedra Johnson recently suggested using for female and male respectively:

        SSCAB – Subjugated Sex Class Assigned at Birth


        DSCAB – Dominating Sex Class Assigned at Birth


        I like the clarity this brings to the issue, although I think these terms might be too unwieldy to catch on.

        Designated inferior at birth/Designated superior at birth might work better.

  11. Thanks I personally dislike the term cis as I feel it is another label to box me into somebody else’s reality without considering mine

  12. I am trans positive, but I am not in the slightest interested in calling myself cisgendered. Who exactly is pushing for this term to be widely accepted. If being trans is OK then why is it unacceptable to say ‘born female woman’? Does that term REALLY offend trans women?

    How would men respond if trans men pushed as hard? I haven’t looked, but I think I can pretty confidently that most men are not under ANY pressure to call themselves cis.

  13. Hi, I’m a trans woman, and I was hoping to put in my two cents. Personally, I think there’s a lot of confusion over semantics here, both in the article and in the comments, so I want to make one thing perfectly clear: you are who you say you are, you are how you identify, you and you alone can decide this. I am directing this statement at the author of the article and anyone reading this comment. One of the hardest parts of being trans is having people deny your identity, and I would never dream of trying to define someone else. Does it happen? Yes, and I find it to be an egregious error on the part of any trans person who does it. All I can say is that there are jerks in every social group, and for what it’s worth I can apologize for them.

    As for myself, I experience extreme psychological distress simply because I have a male body. Even though gender is strictly a societal construct, that is the tool I use to understand and cope with my dysphoria. I think that might be why some trans activists can be so hypersensitive; we’re talking about a big, confusing, emotionally distressing can of worms, and some of us handle it better than others.

    I hope this is helpful:)

    PS: While I believe cisgender does work (so long as one is not mislabeled), I love the terms AFAB/AMAB, and think they make an excellent and far less confusing alternative to “cis.”

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