That Slight Discomfort You May Feel
If, as I’ve often read and as I believe, marginalized people don’t have an obligation to bring everyone up to speed on their issues, how will allies learn? Well, what I’ve found is that, though marginalized folks don’t have any obligation to play teacher to the rest of the population, given a comfortable forum and a modicum of respect, so many people are willing to talk about their experiences outside the mainstream that it’s often not hard (if one knows where to look) to learn a good deal, and to be a better ally.
I’m cissexual. I’ve known at least for a few years what that term means (I have a habit of pronouncing it “ciz,” which my spouse tirelessly reminds me is incorrect), though I certainly mess up on trans issues a lot and have a lot to learn. It surprised me a while ago when some folks started expressing discomfort with the application of the “cis -” prefix to their lives. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would take it as a prejorative. But some folks did, and do. (I’m not going to link to some awful shitshow comment thread.)
To me, it seems perfectly sensible to have some value-neutral way of saying “people whose history is not trans and who don’t have the experience of assignment-at-birth not reflecting who they are”. Anyone who doesn’t see it that way probably ought to go read Asher Bauer’s 101 post on this topic at Carnal Nation. Among other things, Asher explains:
Look at it this way: if there are cis people and trans people, then we can talk about people who are trans, and people who aren’t, as two distinct but equal categories, making no judgments about either of them. But without the word “cis,” then we’re left with just trans people and…what? “Regular” people? “Normal” people? “Biological” males and females? “Women born women” and “men born men?” Worse yet, “real” men and women? In short, there’s just no way to talk about the differences between trans people and cis people, without using the term “cis,” that isn’t mired in cissupremacy.
Asher had something to say about the folks that he has these conversations with:
Most of the people with whom I have the cis conversation are well-intentioned, or say they are, and sure as heck don’t think of themselves as cissupremacists. But you don’t have to actively hate trans people, or consciously believe that cis people are superior, to hold attitudes that treat trans people as inferior. And you don’t have to realize that you have those attitudes in order to express them through language.
For my part, though I’m not hearing the definition of cissexual for the first time or hearing about trans issues for the first time, this was a paragraph that bore rereading. That’s still me: well-intentioned, sometimes clueless and with a bunch of (hopefully steadily decreasing) unexamined prejudices rattling around in my head. That slight discomfort I sometimes feel is the sensation produced by checking my shit and trying to do better.