Language: cis, trans, pronouns
Arguments around which pronouns to use and over the exceptionally silly word ‘cis’ have the rare quality of being both insufferably boring and monumentally significant – symbolically at least – in that they serve to illustrate the extent to which trans ideology is succeeding at a superficial level. I understand they’ve passed some crazy new law in Canada about all this but I haven’t investigated it properly.
We may find absurd news stories about a “woman” raping men in which the alleged rapist is called “she” – even in a country where the legal definition of rape refers to penetration by a penis. This does not, of course, mean that most people seriously believe that the alleged rapist is a woman.
This page is for stuff about those words.
I was at a meeting in Cambridge recently that Linda Bellos spoke at. I tweeted something she said (see right) and it obviously resonated with a few people. Others are surprised. “It’s not as if it’s a slur,” they said. “It just means ‘not trans!”
The words for those who aren’t trans are “men” and “women”, “boys” and “girls”, “children”, etc. While I can understand how trans folk might wish to use these terms with a qualifier, it doesn’t mean that we should be expected to use them ourselves. And I won’t do so because to classify men or women as ‘cisgender’ as an alternative to ‘transgender’ supports an ideology of gender that I don’t buy into and it is as unethical to try to get me to go along with it as it is to force people to take part in the practices of a religion they don’t adhere to.
Other people have expressed objections that I am sympathetic to.
Please help me out. I need a concise word for the members of the class of people who are oppressed all over the world on the basis of biological sex. If gender activists insist that “female, women, and girls” refer only to people who have an internal sense of femaleness, can you at least give me a word I can use for the group of people I fight for: the ones being oppressed on the basis of their female sex, not their gender identity?
Do you know about these people? They are aborted for having vulvas, smothered in infancy because they don’t have penises, sold as rape and breeding slaves, given forced cesareans, get pregnant from being raped then are told by male politicians they should view rape pregnancies as gifts from god. They go to jail for suspicious miscarriage. They lack constitutional personhood in the USA because the ERA was never ratified. People hold public debates about whether or not they “should be allowed” to birth at home or end pregnancies. For millenia they have been treated as church and state controlled breeding stock. Those are the people I fight for, the people vulnerable to sex-based oppression. Can I have a concise name for this group of people so I can better fight for them?
Source no longer available
Twitter thread by @adogcalledbambi 10.12.18
“I think the analysis of TERF & cis as slurs is rly interesting because like other slurs, what do they achieve? they reduce the lived experience of a marginalized group & their personal pride in their experience into a label that devalues it.”
A feminist critique of “cisgender” Elizabeth Hungerford
“Feminism does not believe that asking whether an individual identifies with the particular social characteristics and expectations assigned to them at birth is a politically useful way of analyzing or understanding gender. Eliminating gender assignments, by allowing individuals to choose one of two pre-existing gender molds, while continuing to celebrate the existence and naturalism of “gender” itself, is not a progressive social goal that will advance women’s liberation. Feminism claims that gender is a much more complicated (and sinister) social phenomenon than this popular cis/trans binary has any hope of capturing.”
“Cis” Gender Critical Kid blog
“I asked my friends what they think cisgender means. None of them answered accurately, so I told them the definition. Then I asked them if they’ve been 100% happy with the gender expectations of their biological sex. All of them, both men and women, said no. So by definition, every single person I know is some version of transgender. I believe it’s called non-binary or something?”
Neither cis nor TERF Robert Jensen
“I’m not cisgender and I’m not transgender. I am not gender fluid, non-binary, or multi-gender. I self-identify as an adult biological XY male who rejects patriarchal gender norms and works from a radical feminist perspective to eliminate patriarchy, primarily through a critique of patriarchal norms in contemporary pornography.”
The Fallacy of Cis-Privilege FactCheckMe blog
…”heres the problem with “i have something you want” = “i have privilege”. if i had a candy bar, and you wanted it, i would not have “candy-bar privilege”. if i had a nice dog and you wanted a nice dog like mine, i would not have “dog privilege.” you cant just say that any old goddamn thing i have that you want is a privilege. privilege means that there is *power* there, and girls and women dont possess any kind of gender-based power. exactly the opposite.”
What Does Being “Cis” Mean For A Woman? Caroline Criado-Perez
“I saw women being told that their female bodies were a mark of their cis privilege. This gave me pause too. Really? This female body? This body that causes me such unbearable pain every month and that bleeds and leaks and which I have been told since I hit puberty is shameful and disgusting, although also dangerously sexual? This body that cannot just be, a body without which I cannot walk down the street, but is nevertheless interpreted by men as a class, headlined by the Daily Mail, as permanently on a sexy flaunting parade. This body that from the age of twelve was seen as the property of boys who would grab whatever bit of soft flesh they could get their hands on, that was followed by older men down the street, that was grabbed in clubs, that was threatened, that, ultimately, was violated, more than once? This body? A privilege?”
What to call people who ‘transition’? For a long time, I respected the oft-expressed wish that they should be called ‘trans women’ and ‘trans men’, being careful to put a space between the two words. I can’t remember where I first read the reasoning for the requirement to put the space in but I’ve found someone quoting the same argument here.
I noticed you often use ‘transwoman’ as one word as opposed to trans woman. Hate to be nit-picky but it’s cissexist “Trans” should be used as an adjective to describe “woman.” When the two are linked together, it becomes a noun all its own, distinctly separating it from other groups of women, acting as a qualifier instead of a mere description. Conjoining the words together denotes that the two ideas can’t be separated, that being trans is somehow fundamentally different from any other characteristic a woman can have, like (using your examples) being gay or black.
At no time did I think of ‘trans’ as a “mere description” like black or gay! In fact I didn’t give it a lot of thought and I certainly didn’t realise that there are some people who seriously think that trans women are actually women! To me, prefacing ‘woman’ with trans was a statement that these are adult human males who wish they were women and whether the words were conjoined or not made no difference.
After reaching Peak Trans, I joined gender critical groups on facebook, where terms like ‘trans identified male’ (TIM) and ‘male to trans’ (MtT) are used instead and this is when I realised how bitter the struggle over language is and that there is no way to please everyone. Not all MtTs call themselves trans women or even transwomen and this is one reason why I’ve mostly avoided using it on this site. If I ever do have occasion to use it (and, unlike some feminists, I’m prepared to do so in some circumstances) I am persuaded by the argument posted below to use ‘transwoman’ and ‘transman’. I am happy to refer to those trans folk who share this view as “transwomen” and use their preferred pronoun as a courtesy. As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, if all MtTs were content to call themselves transwomen and respect the fact that they are not the same as those of us us born female, I would probably never have reached peak trans. I will never afford that same courtesy to those who try to silence or promote and celebrate violence against gender-critical feminists.
I’ve only found one external link on the term ‘trans woman’ so far:
Why ‘trans woman’ is a very bad word Babe in Botland
And how one member of the trans cult sees it.
As trans ideology dictates that to “misgender” someone is violent, it follows that many trans people appear to be obsessed with pronouns (as are those who say they are “non-binary” and who’ve even invented some new ones specially for themselves – this article includes a list). However, one thing I have learned since becoming interested in transgender issues is that there isn’t a consensus view of pronouns amongst trans people as, indeed, there isn’t a consensus view of nouns or of gender amongst trans people. Some say they’re not bothered about them, some say they don’t matter but you should be consistent. Rya Jones, for example, advises against using the preferred pronouns of only those trans people you respect if you’re not going to use them for every trans person. I love Rya but can’t go along with her advice on this one. (See what I did there?)
I was surprised at how angry some gender-critical campaigners get if, when referring to an individual trans person, you use the pronoun that reflects their gender identity instead of their biological sex. I was told by one such person that giving into this particular trans demand was contributing to women’s oppression, though she couldn’t tell me how, exactly, and I was reminded of the equally hyperbolic claim that “misgendering” trans people contributes to violence.
My current position is, as shown in the tweet above, that I am prepared to use “courtesy pronouns” for those who merit courtesy but I won’t have my language policed.
Updated: 23.03.18 to add that as time goes on and I see more and more pressure to submit to this ideologically-motivated demand, the less courteous I feel. And here’s a story from The Times, which may be behind a pay wall but the gist of it is that “transgender etiquette” now being promoted in some universities encourages people to add their choice of pronouns to other personal details after that email signatures”. People already do this on Twitter. Out of deference to the custom, I just say that I’m pro nouns.
It seems that not many people write articles just on pronouns but here’s one I found interesting:
“In liberal spaces, I prefer getting he’d to getting they’d—at least those who assume I am a boy rarely pause to consider where to put me. Honestly, it’s that pause that cuts the deepest, when I can see people size me up and decide I don’t fit into their incredibly antiquated definition of what a woman should look like.”
Thanks to her reputation, I’ve never bothered to read Camille Paglia but I enjoyed this video of her saying those who tell us how we should use pronouns can “go take a hike”.
My sentiments exactly.
Let’s end on some well-deserved ridicule.
Last updated: 11.12.18