Content note: this piece discusses transphobia and suicide.
This piece is co-written with Cel West, who is an activist and feminist both online and off, and who tries to write about trans issues as little as humanly possible.
The New Statesman editorial team have decided to publish yet another word-turd whining about privilege-checking. We wouldn’t recommend reading it, but if you search “Online Wimmin Mob”, you’ll see exactly the level of contempt its author has for anyone who has had the misfortune of engaging with her online–if indeed anyone has: all of the examples she provides take place in the realm of pure rhetoric rather than linking to specific examples of what has actually been said.
The discussion of anger and frustration is one that has been had a thousand times before, so we’ll just link to Stavvers on being angry one more time. Let it be said, once again, though, that it’s a thing that happens time and time again, to feel furious at privileged people refusing to check their fucking privilege once again, and that it’s really, really fucking tiresome to see them calling the tone cops across a national, high-profile news website over and over and over and over.
A lot of cis women have a problem with the term in a way they can’t quite fathom. Well, I’ve fathomed it and I’ll tell you: because it’s a name that has, once again, been conferred upon a certain group of women without their consent. It would still matter, although infinitely not as much, if a Twitter search of “cis” demonstrated that the term is mostly used in a sisterly and affectionate manner. Nah, more like “cissexist”, “cisfascist” and, in one case to a certain Laurie Penny of this parish, “f*ck off cis girl.”
And that’s the stuff I didn’t search for, I just happened to see it on my feed one Tuesday evening.
So forgive me if I hear “cis” as an insult to the very essence of who I am and then, when I complain, feel aggrieved that I’m not entitled to experience my discomfort because my “privilege” means that my point of view doesn’t matter and my opinions don’t count.
C: It’s hardly surprising that trans-inclusive feminists get angry when people wheel out the same old transphobic tropes. Here’s one: the term cis is an insult to “the very essence” of cis women; this directly implies that trans women aren’t real women. Another is the trope that spurred my tweet of “fuck off cis girl”: a direct response to the trope that trans women are inherently far more violent and dangerous than cis women.
That particular tweet was sent to Laurie Penny from a demo as I trembled with fear, self-loathing and suicidality as she publically turned away from her trans inclusive position to uncritically accept Suzanne Moore’s assertion that, because a dozen trans people and allies might turn up outside her publically announced event with placards, that Moore was so being threatened by violence and thus in danger for her life.
Ironically, that tweet not only lost me friends, including Laurie, but the outing it required led to me not only being spotted and condemned by radical feminists as part of their customary gathering of dossiers on trans activists (a similar process to that used by the fascist site RedWatch), charmingly dubbing me “an ugly man”; at the same time I was attacked by non-feminist trans activists using oddly similar misogynist tropes as “must be mentally ill”, having “no idea what you are doing”, and as “a danger to the cause”.
Yep, it’s almost as if these unconscious tropes lead to us doing the patriarchy’s work for it.
I’m going to step back from that particular drama for a bit and let a cis woman speak for a bit about “cis”.
Z: Yeah. That cis girl doesn’t like being called cis. That cis girl doen’t like being called cis, because she never chose to have that term thrown at her, because it reminds her that she’s privileged and (incredibly mistakenly) thinks that that’s why people are pissed at her and don’t think her view is valid (actually it’s because she’s wrong).
The author has completely failed to understand the function of the word “cis”. It is not used as a stick to beat the egocentric trolletariat or other general bastards. It is word which restores linguistic balance. Before “cis” came into use, there was “trans”, and a plethora of slurs, and… nothing else. No label signified normality. There were the freaks, and there were everyone else. The word “cis” exists to amend this, however imperfectly. It was incredibly useful to me when I learned that word existed. It made it easier for me to challenge my own prejudices.
When someone is more offended by the words cissexism or cisfascism than the fact that these problems exist and make life really shitty for trans people, there is little that can be done to rehabilitate them. Yet the author, and other cis people, some of them feminists, still strongly reject having the label cis applied to them. How many of them were outraged at that Julie Burchill piece, which included a line about how much she hated being called cis?
It ultimately all comes from the same line of thinking as that which drove Burchill to write her spiteful tirade. It is cis supremacist thinking, that nagging desire to be normal in opposition to trans people.
No wonder so many people get angry, get rude. No wonder the author wants to silence this dissent by declaring that feminism is exclusive and mean if people get cross with her for spouting such utter lumpy shite. It almost seems as if she wants to be a martyr, to prove herself a victim. We should greet her with indifference, and be furious instead that this sort of cissexism is repeatedly deemed acceptable by so many.
There is nothing offensive about the word cis. It is the repeated exercise of cis privilege that should offend.
C: I’m just sad that these fights happen, rather than working together to unpick systems of domination, and using one another to see past our own limited experiences and unconscious prejudice. But we can’t do that without intersectionality, and specifically here without the word “cis”.
Without that, we end up with the arguments of trans-exclusive radical feminists against trans activists that dominate most articles that mention the word “trans”, that is, PTSD survivors on both sides yelling at one another until one cis woman states that “trans women trigger me by existing”, or that memorable quote by another “they don’t get that we wish they were all dead”.
For the sake of my remaining fragments of sanity, please let’s not go down that road.
(While writing this article, it become abruptly clear that words in the media do indeed have effects in the “big, wide world out there”: a trans woman told to “disappear quietly” by columnist Richard Littlejohn chose to do exactly that, by committing suicide)
Z: I have nothing to say to this except yes, yes and yes. I agree with you so much.
Fuck cissexism. Destroy it with big metaphorical hammers.
Postscript: Cel and Laurie later resolved the whole “cis girl” issue and are friends again 🙂