Cisterhood is Powerful

December 12, 2012

International

I need to be honest with you, Internet.

I am completely bored by the conversation about your gender, your gender identity, your gender expression. I find the endless selfies and YouTube introductory videos disturbing and evidence of a nation in the grips of a narcissistic delusion. I am weary of the hyperbole that any trans-critical analysis kills thousands of trans women every year (because, let’s be honest, we all know who kills trans women).

Indeed, trans-critical analysis isn’t that hard, and it is pretty obvious. And writers much more interested in it than I have skillfully unpacked bizarre post-modern concepts like “cisgender.”  So, my interest has waned, significantly, and I have been putting my political attentions towards other things.

But this cisgender thing, it just sticks in my craw.  It has become so completely accepted for Women who consider themselves to be Feminist activists to say things like “Everyone has a sex AND a gender.”  It has become required for supportive allies to affirm that THEY are cisgender.

Cisgender.

What is it?

Well, it used to be, if you were not Trans, you could call yourself “not Trans.” (Just like it used to be that you could say “I am transgendered,” but try doing that now and watch how quickly you are told to DIAF).

But it’s not enough to be “not Trans”  now. To create something like a “class” out of a group of special snowflake Men and Women (i.e., the Trans people), you need something to be in opposition to, to be contrasted with, to be “against.”

Enter Cis, man. cbIf transgender means your subjective self-identification as a Woman or a Man, regardless of your actual sex, cisgender must mean your self-identification as a Woman, because you actually are a Woman. But, apparently, that’s not what cisgender means.

According to dikipedia, the entry for cisgender (which is no doubt endlessly edited by White formerly heterosexual males with careers in IT) is defined thusly:

“cisgender and cissexual gender identities are two related types of gender identity where an individual’s self-perception and presentation of their gender matches the behaviors and roles considered appropriate for one’s sex.”  

So, behavior and roles “appropriate for one’s sex.”

Hmmmm. Ummm. Hmmmmm.

So, I am Female. This means I have a Female reproductive system and am vulnerable to impregnation, like all Females, by Males (this is a class analysis. I know, believe me, I know, that some Females are infertile – that doesn’t change that they are (correctly) perceived as and included in the class of humans subject to impregnation).

What are the behaviors and roles considered appropriate for one’s sex?

This is a serious question.

What are the behaviors and roles considered appropriate for one’s sex?

If you are a Feminist (even a Liberal Feminist or a Fun Feminist), the answer to this should be “There are no behaviors and roles considered appropriate for my sex because Females can be and do anything.”

If you are not a Feminist, your answer might be “My role as a women is to be a Wife (fuckhole) and Mother (breeder).” But, more likely than not, your answer (if you are a Woman) will still be “There are no behaviors and roles considered appropriate for my sex because Females can be and do anything.”

Because that is true. There are no behaviors and roles considered “appropriate” for the Female sex because Females can be and do anything.

So who is this “cisgender” label aimed at?

Let’s go back in time in the United States to post-World War II days. Remember, during World War II, millions of Women went to work in factories and enjoyed a new measure of freedom because their husbands, brothers, sons, uncles and boyfriends were off fighting Hitler. Working in a factory was not “considered appropriate for one’s (Female) sex” at the time, but necessity required it.  Oh, and let’s not claim all those Women are Trans, I am far too irritable to indulge that poppycock.

When WWII ended, those Women were fired from the factories so that their (insert male here) could go back to work, in the factory, where he “belonged.” And Women could go back to the kitchen, in the homemaking sphere, where she “belonged.”

Does this get us closer to what cisgender actually means? Is cisgender a class of Back to the Future Housewives who want to make you a sandwich?

Let’s look at another country: Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Women and Girls are murdered for rejecting “marriage proposals.”  Those murdered Women were (most certainly) bucking the trend of the expectations placed on them by virtue of their sex. Are they “transgender”? They certainly aren’t “cisgender.” What is the proper language we would use for these brave Women seeking some measure of humanity?

And, what of the Women who comply with rigid social customs (probably, I would venture a guess, because of fear of violent repercussions if they didn’t comply). Are those Women “cisgender” for embracing the social roles and customs thrust on them by the dominant culture? Does calling them “cisgender” transform them from victims of Patriarchy into oppressors of men in dresses?

Back to the United States. We don’t live in the 1950s, and the Women’s Rights Movement actually happened (thank you, feminist Women for teaching us that Women can be and do anything, even though these post-modern sex positive morons make a mockery out of how far you moved the needle for Women. Also, thank you Marlo Thomas.)

“cisgender and cissexual gender identities are two related types of gender identity where an individual’s self-perception and presentation of their gender matches the behaviors and roles considered appropriate for one’s sex.”  

This definition, again, wants to bring us back in time, back before the Women’s Right Movement. It wants us to pretend that the Women’s Rights Movement did not happened. It wants us to pretend that there really are only two choices – you are either Trans, or you are upholding stereotypes about your sex. This definition does not withstand the critical gaze of anyone willing to examine it for more than two minutes.

Are you “cisgender”?

I’m not.

But if I *was* cisgender, let’s unpack that.

Even in the United States (where we think we are free and exceptional), Women are still socialized to be Wives and Mothers.  This is the dominant culture here.  We haven’t quite achieved the vision of the Women’s Rights Movement of Equality or Liberation (depending on your feminism). If all Women and Girls are socialized to accept their roles (based on the sex) as Wives and Mothers, “cisgender” seeks to punish them for being subjected to that socialization and (seemingly) complying with it/internalizing it. The fact that some Women and Girls have internalized these coded messages of what is acceptable for Women to be does not render their identity or presentation oppressive to so-called Trans people – it makes it oppressive only to themselves (but luckily, choosey choice feminism is here to tell you that you can CHOOSE to be a wife, mother, sex worker, whatever, so don’t question it).

Cis and Trans people – whoever they are – are both victims of the same old Patriarchy, either conforming to sex stereotypes and adopting those behaviors and roles Patriarchy says are appropriate for girls (again, ignoring that the Women’s Rights Movement ever happened) or “fucking with gender” in that way that does nothing but AFFIRM the idea that there are ways of being that correspond to your anatomy.

I am not cis. Millions of Women aren’t cis.

I am not trans. Millions of Women aren’t trans.

Indeed, millions of Women don’t know what the fuck this stupid endless conversation is about, because they are too busy trying not to get beheaded or raped.

Trans people, if your identity depends on telling Women who they are, if your existence depends on invalidating the lived experience of millions of Women and Girls, if you cannot be “oppressed” unless you create an oppressor class called “cisgender” and blame them for all your problems, I might suggest that Transgender isn’t as real, meaningful, deep or significant as you think it is.

Just a suggestion!

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About Cathy Brennan

Gender Atheist.

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42 Comments on “Cisterhood is Powerful”

  1. oopster74 Says:

    Mountains and molehills.

    My 2 cents on the issue is as as simple as can be. I know you don’t like the word “gender”, but for purposes of my explanation, I’m using it to keep things simple.

    Gender refers to the brain, whether it is wired as male or female, whether you feel like you are male or female, however you personally define that. Gender cannot be changed, and if you try to, you are changing or attempting to change the personality of the person.

    Sex refers to the physical body.

    You are transgender, if your gender and your sex do not match.

    You are cisgender, if your gender and your sex do match.

    This is not about stereotyping, or enforced sex / gender roles, it is how you personally see yourself. Yes, most trans people will tell you they are trans because of x y and z reasons, normally based in sex / gender stereotyping, but that is mainly down to recognizing aspects of your own behaviour / feelings in those stereotypes.

    Cathy, your gender and sex (as far as I’m aware),are both female and match, making you cisgender. That’s neither good or bad, it just is. I don’t know about your personal life, so can’t comment on the things that you do in it, but I would hazard a guess that it’s pretty much the same as everyone else’s in the day to day stuff. You work, you come home, you look after the house the kids etc, all part of what is doing in any family, and those roles aren’t an indication of your sex / gender, they are just things that we all do.

    Seriously, stop making things more complicated than they are or need to be. There is no trans-conspiracy against anyone, we just want to get on with our lives, the same as everyone else.

    • bugbrennan Says:

      Sarah, there is no “matching” of gender with sex.

      You have worn out your welcome here. Have a nice life.

    • michelle Says:

      Sarah, there is NO ‘wiring’ of a brain for gender. Babies are not born knowing what society expects of them. It is entirely a social construct, one that has been perverted (in more ways than one) by trans* (especially the M2T).

      And if trans* truly wanted ‘to get on with’ their lives, they would quit making asinine threats towards those of us that understand that biology matters. And the fuckwits like Jay Ladin would quit trying to censor the words of his ex-wife as she described the very real consequences her husband’s CHOICE had on the family. We could go on and on with examples of trans who want to do everything to try and force their shit down the collective throats of the real world.

      • bugbrennan Says:

        Thanks Michelle. I have (finally) banned Sarah, as it is apparent that he doesn’t actually read anything women write. Hopefully he will read this and ponder it. I am not holding my breath.

    • justbunny Says:

      oopster74 says “Gender refers to the brain, whether it is wired as male or female, whether you feel like you are male or female, however you personally define that.”

      Nope. Not even close. Gender has nothing to do with “wiring” and is not subject to a personal definition.

      Gender is a social construct that delineates appropriate and acceptable appearance and behaviors for people based on their sex. Since gendered expectations and limitations vary widely across cultures and through history, it’s obvious gender is not fixed or “wired”, though you will surely notice that women as a class are routinely and systematically oppressed by gender.

      oopster74 also says “… most trans people will tell you they are trans because of x y and z reasons, normally based in sex / gender stereotyping, but that is mainly down to recognizing aspects of your own behaviour / feelings in those stereotypes.”

      Let’s get to the essence of that sentence: most trans people will tell you they are trans because of sex / gender stereotyping.

      Yes! You’ve got it! Excellent! (and sex stereotyping IS gender.) You are saying that most trans people will tell you they are trans because they don’t fit into our society’s limiting roles and expectations for men and women.

      I agree that is why most (or at least a whole lot of) people will tell you they are trans.

    • Francois Tremblay Says:

      “Gender refers to the brain, whether it is wired as male or female,”

      There is no such thing as brains wired as male or female. Evolution does not work that way. Go read some science.

      • bugbrennan Says:

        How do we get people off this knee-jerk conversation ending statement “Gender refers to my brain.” It is seriously disturbing. Babies aren’t sexed at birth based on their brains. So even if there are Female brains (which, of course, there are not, unless you mean a brain in a Female), it really doesn’t matter.

      • Francois Tremblay Says:

        It’s pure ignorance. We need to get them to read some actual science.

    • Miss Andrist Says:

      So, I don’t understand how it’s worse when M2T get treated exactly like FAAB women always have been treated, our whole lives, with no opt-in / out clause.

      I also don’t understand how the mechanism of infringing on the rights of FAAB using vulnerability built into FAAB biology is a privilege. It would have to benefit FAAB in some way, right? And probably wouldn’t involve denial of basic humanity, such as putting things in our bodies we don’t want there, or leaving them there for 10 months, etc.

      “cis” is erasure of FAAB – correcting the oppression of our existence.

  2. mary moses Says:

    brilliant piece! once again, u r on point!

  3. Becky Green Says:

    It is exhausting as hell to go around and around the gender cul-de-sac. The layers of denial and self-deception are too deep for reason to penetrate.

  4. bugbrennan Says:

    Can someone please do a parody song called Enter Cis, Man to this tune: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD-E-LDc384

  5. FeistyAmazon Says:

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE BUGBRENNAN! I copied the link onto my blog, DykesforDykes, may I copy the entire article(all credit to you of course). Other than the other link I have http://liberationcollective.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/a-feminist-critique-of-cisgender/
    yours is even clearer, fiercer and better, and I of course agree with you 100% on this one!
    -In Sisterhood,
    -FeistyAmazon

  6. phonaesthetica Says:

    “Indeed, millions of Women don’t know what the fuck this stupid endless conversation is about, because they are too busy trying not to get beheaded or raped.”

    I doesn’t want to be a parrot, but YES.

  7. FeistyAmazon Says:

    Yep, this: ” most trans people will tell you they are trans because of x y and z reasons, normally based in sex / gender stereotyping”. That’s the bottomline, and while I am NOT trans, as a Butch Dyke neither am I ‘Cis’, cuz I don’t raise children nor do I want to (cats are fine by me) nor do I have a white picket fence, wear dresses, act coquettish around men or subservient to them, or want and try to attract them. I only wear men’s clothes, as well as my jewelry, and take up my space, my stance, wear men’s boots, sandals, sneakers, and shoes, and speak and talk directly(unlike alot of feminine women), hence NOT cis, and I do a job that is not within the purview of most women(construction), when and if I get a chance to work, because I am NOT traditionally ‘female’, nor do I conform in ANY WAY to sex/gender stereotyping by my very Being, AS a Female. I expand the definition of womonhood, not contract it, as the trans movement does. Women can be and do ANYTHING they want in terms of trade, interest or hobby if given the opportunity, except impregnate another Female, unless she has a turkey baster!
    -FeistyAmazon

  8. Ophelia Says:

    This is an interesting and well-thought-out perspective. Thank you for it.

    I’m curious as to your thoughts on gender dysphoria? When a male sees his dick and feels like it should not be there at all and that there should be female reproductive organs and breasts? Or when a female looks at her body and believes that the breasts should be gone and there should be a dick? Transgender people have described it as, “it’s like your bone is dislocated and you look and see it’s horribly wrong, It doesn’t hurt but it’s horribly wrong and it needs to be fixed but everyone says it’s fine.”

    I don’t buy into the brain gender thing but the gender dysphoria makes me think. What are your thoughts on the matter, bugbrennan? Thank you!

    • bugbrennan Says:

      Gender dysphoria exists in a highly gendered culture that limits who a person can be based solely on anatomy. The pain these folks feel is real; their proposed solution, however, is untenable for women.

  9. rl Says:

    Oh my god you are either remarkably crazy, or so entrenched in your decision that you do everything you can to misunderstand what other people say.

    The definition you find sexist says “considered appropriate” because the word considered conveys a societal sexism. Trans people also think patriarchal gender roles are wrong. I can’t see how you feel the need to whinge on and on about how you feel oppressed by trans people. My god, what are you doing with your life?

    I don’t even want to know what you think genderqueers are (either don’t exist or should be sorted by genitals, I assume).

    • bugbrennan Says:

      Embracing the “opposite” gender role, and then creating an oppressor class out of women who have no idea wtf this ridiculous conversation is about, is what this column takes issue with. Trans is PART of the problem.

    • bugbrennan Says:

      As for what I am doing with my life, why are you commenting on my blog? Is that what you do with your life?

  10. lazer Says:

    REDACTED

  11. FeistyAmazon Says:

    bump. I think this is a wonderful thread!

  12. ban sidhe Says:

    I would be interested to know your opinion on when a 3 year old child tells you “mummy, I’m a girl” “when will I be a girl”, when this child appears to be biologically male and has never had a restriction to gender specific toys. Do you think that all 3 year old children have already been sorted into their gender specific and constructed roles? From reading your comments above, it would that you do.

    • bugbrennan Says:

      My daughter used to tell me she was a boy when she was 2 and 3. I said “that’s awesome.”

      She’s 5 now. She doesn’t think she’s a boy. So, no, I reject gender and gender roles and teach my kids that.

      Did it ever occur to you that the way some parents parent CREATES this idea that you cannot be a faggy boy or a butchy girl?

      Just a thought.

      • ban sidhe Says:

        What about when that child persists in wanting to be the opposite gender? Are you claiming that it is solely down to parenting styles? What if the same parent has a first child who is born biologically male and is quite happy continuing to be biologically male. Then the second child who is born biologically male claims to be really a girl.
        Are you saying that the parent is parenting the children in different ways?
        And I know there are differences in the way birth order can affect the way children experiences growing up.
        And this parent has in the past been that “butchy girl” and has no problem in accepting her children in whatever way they express themselves?

      • bugbrennan Says:

        No, I answered your specific question to me.
        And yes, I am suggesting that there are parents who parent in a way that creates gender identity. For example, Jazz’s creepy dad: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=3088298&page=1

  13. ban sidhe Says:

    Do you think that Jazz’s dad has parented in a different way with Jazz than with the older children? I have to say, having just read the article, I did not read anything which suggested that the parents were creepy

  14. ban sidhe Says:

    I’m sorry you feel this is not the place for my questions. As you will probably have guessed, I talk from personal experience and i want to understand others points of view.
    And it probably won’t be any consolation to hear this, but I have only recently come across the term cis which you have written about and it made me bristle. Your article made a good argument about why it was an inappropriate terminology

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