Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's Okay To Be Called "Cisgender." I Promise.

The climate around LGBT politics is vastly different than it was decades ago. Mainstream gay activists feel they have a lot to celebrate; a cavalcade of judicial decisions have swept the country, imploding conservative efforts to defeat marriage equality. One by one, states in the US have begun caving to progressive sentiment, leading many to declare victory for LGBT Americans everywhere. 

There's just one problem, of course. These victories are not necessarily for all LGBTs. Rather, they are more for the LGBs-- at a time when queer sexual identities are becoming more mainstream and acceptable, trans* gender identities are caught in conflict with gay entitlement. Not only do trans* people still face oppression and violence at the hands of society at large, it's becoming increasingly obvious that they face microaggression and dismissal from their own supposed comrades: gay Americans.

Recently, this has been thrown into sharp relief by conflicts between transgender activists and notable drag queens over the word "tranny." Sparked by the use of transmisogynistic language on RuPaul's Drag Race, debates among LGBT activists and advocates as to whether cisgender individuals have the right to claim the term as their own have been raging, in a discussion that has perfectly illustrated what happens when one privileged group refuses to accept the stories and testimonies of a disadvantaged minority.

I'm not going to rehash that. Others have done it more eloquently than I could have. I did, however, want to address a particularly confusing sentiment shared by gay men defending the use of transphobic language: 

"Don't you DARE call me cisgender."

In online debates, I've heard this a dozen times. Finally, and unsurprisingly, this culminated in a trainwreck of a tantrum thrown by a writer for HuffPo's Gay Voices, J. Nelson Aviance, titled "I Am Not Cisgendered" (sic). It's a real headache to read, so let me give you a synopsis: people criticizing people who are not trans* and insisting that said non-trans* people check their privilege is a form of oppression, and calling someone "cisgender" is a slur. Evidently, life is very hard for white gay men who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth; getting called out by all these mean trans* people is very taxing! Parker Molloy has a play-by-play of his screwy and alienating logic on her site.

"Waaaaaaaaaah, pointing out my privilege is oppression! Waaaaah!"

Parker said a lot and I am not going to repeat her words; but I am going to express incredulity over this sick form of reverse oppression Olympics. Claiming some sort of victimization because people refer to you with a privileged term is insane. Sadly, unsurprising.

Let's think about this critically: there are people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. There are those that don't. The ones that don't, we have a host of terms for. Trans. Genderqueer. Genderfluid. Agender. Neutrois. The ones that do? Yes, there is a word that is used for that, and it is cisgender. Why does that exist? Because using the phrase "not-trans*" is cumbersome and sounds silly. 

It's not a slur. Why? Because it's what people who are not trans are. Hell, I don't identify with the gender I was assigned at birth; I am genderqueer. However, I am perceived as cisgender most of the time. While this is incorrect, it means that I benefit from the privilege that cisgender people have. As someone who wants to support trans* people, I accept that privilege and understand my place in their oppression.

However, this sentiment is not because these people really believe that the term "cisgender" is an insult or slur. Oh no, even they know in their cruel, hard little hearts that they are being ridiculous. The thing is, every time someone tells them "You are cisgender! Please check your privilege," they actually know that they are being told that frankly, they don't need to be commenting on transgender issues. Because they are wrong. And they need to stop.

Who is surprised that people with privilege will get in a huff when told that they can't dominate narratives of the oppression they actively enact on others? I'm sure not.

So I'm going to say this: being called "cisgender" is not a slur, not ever. However, I believe in calling people what they like to be called. Would you prefer, J Nelson Aviance, that I call you "not-trans*?" I will. Gladly.

I will do it like this: "You are not-trans*. You need to check your privilege. And you need to stop opening your damn yap about trans* issues. Because you are wrong."

Glad we cleared the air.

No comments:

Post a Comment