There are few things more likely to lose a political argument than blatant hypocrisy, and that is a trap into which the trans community has fallen. A community that is so keen to define what others are allowed to call its members should not hypocritically impose a name on others.
As I sit down to finish this article, I find that my original plans are thrown up in the air by an amazing stroke of luck. Just as I was wondering if I was going to be the lone wolf in the trans community rejecting the term cis, I logged into Twitter and discovered what is probably the biggest shot in the foot for trans activism since someone thought the cotton ceiling was a good theme for a conference. This shot is the angry trans activist cohort who are using the hash tag #f**kcispeople. The asterisks are mine, if you click on them you will be taken to the offending and offensive tweets.
Already, prominent trans activists have denounced the Twitter trend, including the media personality, Paris Lees. She is also a lead facilitator for All About Trans, a project to educate non-trans media professionals about trans people. In that context you can understand that she rejects the negativity and isolationism of today’s Twitter madness. Many other trans people also reject this offensive tweeting against non-trans people, but that is not clear from the tweets. So many of them are taken up with defending the appalling hash tag rather than saying much about the problems trans people face. In the midst of that defence, the enemy is always non-trans people, there is no acknowledgement of the deep frustration among trans people at this abuse towards friends, family, and lovers, who just happen not to be trans.
Tragic as this shot in the foot is, it acts as a powerful argument in favour of dropping the use of cis altogether. When you give someone a name, it is easier to abuse them, whereas “you ridiculous non-trans person” just sounds ridiculous. It is why tranny is viewed by many in the trans community as wholly offensive, even though it was widely used within the trans community until recently. It is viewed as offensive as it is the go-to name for street abusers. “Look, it is a non-gender conforming dresser” does not have quite the same appeal to thugs. Equally, if cis had never displaced non-trans in recent years, it would have been harder to launch today’s hate fest.
Non-trans simply makes clear that you are contrasting those with a trans identity with those who do not. Once you give this group a name, it is easier to hate, because cis rolls off the tongue, and tongues unleashed are apt to spout hatred. I grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, I was born in the year they started and my last year living in Northern Ireland witnessed the first IRA cease-fire in the peace process that finally brought The Troubles to an end. As a child and youth, I knew the abusive terms for Catholics and the hatred that spewed from the mouths of my fellow Protestants when they used these terms. The hatred would not have rolled off their tongues in the same way if referring to non-Protestants or even to Catholics. I never bought into that hatred, protected in part by my wish for diversity to be acceptable, in case it was ever discovered that I was trans. Instead, I got involved in the peace movement and my whole life since I have been a natural peace-maker, even if not always a successful one. So I have been tweeting under the hash tag #loveallpeople and my first such tweet was “Hating those who hate you produces 30 years of hate, wisdom courtesy of Northern Ireland, but unfortunately not copyrighted.”
This hate has been enabled by the term cis and it was in anger that the term took off among UK trans activists. This anger was fuelled by Julia Serano’s The Whipping Girl (2007). It made great play of cis, exploring neologisms such as cisgenderism and cissexism, as well as transmisogyny and transfeminism. Cis was a natural enough term for Serano to adopt, as she was an academic in biological sciences, where cis and trans are used as opposites. The Whipping Girl, however, is not an academic text, but by her own admission, a series of personal reflections. The anger derives from Serrano’s loss of popularity as a spoken word artist on the Berkeley queer circuit, once she switched from being a genderqueer man to a transsexual woman. This anger at rejection is also found in her repeated references to the stand-off between the feminist Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and Camp Trans. The connection between the promotion of cis terminology and The Whipping Girl is unfortunate, as it acted as a catalyst for the creation of new generation of activists in the UK, who were less concerned with negotiating with parliament and more into protests and social media campaigns, inspired by Serano’s rage.
That interplay of the promotion of the term cis and an aggressive angry activism has seen its fulfilment in the Twitter hate fest today. We should now drop the term cis, whatever activists argue about its meaning or purpose, as any term other than non-trans is an invitation to more hate and less debate.
© Mercia McMahon 2013
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