My daughter is transgender. That means she is not the gender that was assigned to her at birth. I’m cis, which means I have the same gender as I was assigned at birth.
The term “cis” permits me to differentiate my personal experiences from those of my daughter. It makes it easier to grasp and discuss who she and I are. It enhances communication, which is critical while attempting to understand your daughter.
Elon Musk, the founder of Twitter, disagrees. He tweeted last night, “The words ‘cis’ or ‘cisgender’ are considered slurs on this platform.”
“Cis” isn’t treated as a slur on any other social networking platform for the simple reason that it isn’t. Musk’s move to restrict the term is not intended to minimize hate speech or harassment, which he has consistently demonstrated he is unconcerned about; rather, it is intended to target trans individuals and make it impossible for them or others to discuss their experiences or the persecution they suffer.
Cis, once again, simply indicates that you are the gender assigned to you at birth. I’m cis, as well as straight, male, and white. The alternative to using the word “cis” is to refer to cis persons as “normal” or “not trans.” Terms like “heterosexual” or “white” allow us to discuss differences without suggesting that certain people are abnormal and strange, while others are just the norm.
True, there are fewer trans persons than cis people. But it doesn’t make them any less valid, or that they’re some kind of anomaly that needs to be labeled and classified as abnormal. Human beings are unique. Some people are left-handed, while others are right-handed. Some are tall, while others are short. Some are trans, while others are cis.
Because “cis” is a slur, it is not problematic. It appears to be contentious precisely because it is a neutral term that does not favor one type of human experience over another. JK Rowling stated on Twitter today, “‘Cis’ is ideological language, signifying belief in the unfalsifiable concept of gender identity.”
In other words, Rowling does not consider “cis” to be harmful since it is hate speech. She believes it is harmful because it admits that people can be transgender and that trans persons exist. Her reasoning is identical to someone arguing that the term “heterosexual” is wicked since lesbian and homosexual identities aren’t real and shouldn’t be embraced.
Transphobes, like Musk, loathe the term “cis” because it offers trans people a clear language to discuss the discrimination they suffer. Just as it is beneficial for Black people to be able to say, “White people discriminate against Black people,” it is beneficial for trans people to be able to say, “Cis people discriminate against trans people.” It’s significantly more difficult to urge people who are targeting you to cease if you can’t identify them.
Musk issued his injunction in response to a therapist, James Esses, who tweeted, “I reject the word ‘cis’ and don’t wish to be called it.” This is comparable to a billionaire saying, “I reject the term “billionaire” and do not wish to be addressed as such.”
Billionaire Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz did object to being referred to as a billionaire; he felt he shouldn’t be associated with the “moniker” billionaire because he worked hard and “earned” his money. He argued in front of the Senate that the term “billionaire” was misleading and detrimental since it (accurately) defines him as a member of a class with power and privilege, when he sees himself as a regular, hardworking American.
Schulz was of course derided for declaring he wasn’t a billionaire despite the fact that he is. Similarly, Esses faced backlash for declaring that he was not trans. Esses identifies as the gender assigned to him at birth, but refuses to acknowledge that as such, he has significant advantages over trans persons. One of those advantages is that he may approach other cis anti-trans warriors, such as Elon Musk, and ask him to suppress trans individuals on his behalf.
Trans individuals are currently subjected to frightening discrimination and violence from cis people. Anti-trans legislation has flooded red states, preventing trans people from using public restrooms, denying them medical care, preventing them from participating in sports, forcing teachers to out trans children to transphobic parents, criminalizing parents who support trans children, and more.
Nonetheless, Elon Musk believes that the true threat is language that acknowledges the existence of trans individuals. To Elon Musk, saying, “Hey, my trans daughter is normal and awesome, and she should have the same right to exist and flourish as cis people” is hazardous.
Musk wants to eliminate the word “cis” in the expectation that he will also erase my daughter. But, despite the terrible efforts of cis bigots like Elon Musk, “cis” and trans people are here to stay.