The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: J is for “just so curious”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

J is for “just so curious”

If  you are a trans person, and if anyone in your life knows that you are trans, this one is pretty much impossible to avoid. Cis people find trans people endlessly fascinating. So much so that they keep on writing stories about what they imagine trans people are like, and then giving each other awards for them.

And look, ok, I admit it; curiosity is a pretty normal human thing – we all most likely wonder what it would be like to different from how we are, in so many ways. And when ways of being that we haven’t thought about before are brought to our attention, we wonder about those too.

So, I don’t think cis people’s curiosity about trans people is wrong, for the record. I mostly think it’s just something y’all prioritize really badly.

You curiosity it valid. But it does not now, nor will it ever, trump trans people’s right to privacy. It isn’t rude for us to get annoyed when you ask us intrusive questions; it isn’t rude for us to decide not to satisfy your curiosity. We don’t owe you information.

You don’t have the right to have your curiosities satisfied, about our genitals (what they looked like in the past, look like now, or may look like in the future), about the sex we may or may not be having, or anything else.

The thing that actually bothers me about cis curiosity, though, is this: it so very often comes with the implication that our personhood in other people’s eyes, that the validity of our very genders, depends on how well or how comprehensibly we can answer those questions.

Cis people, know this: the satisfaction of your ‘curiosities’ about trans people cannot and will not ever be an acceptable prerequisite for your support and acknowledgement of trans personhood, and of trans identities. If and when you stop seeing trans people as strange experiments, when you forge real relationships with us on the basis of our personhood, when you have built trust with us, when you have demonstrated that your questions are not simple prurient, but actually coming from a desire to better understand trans struggles, only then should you even begin to consider that you might be worth the time and energy of answering your questions.

And even then, you are never entitled to any individual person’s time or labour. Ok? ok.


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The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: I is for ‘identity politics’

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

I is for “identity politics”

Like last week’s post, this one isn’t just a thing that cis people use against trans people – it’s a pretty common thing used by the privileged against members of any marginalized group whenever we try to speak about our experiences. We’re accused of engaging in ‘identity politics’, which is apparently a bad thing? It’s not always called ‘identity politics’ either, although the term has gained a lot of traction since marginalized groups of all stripes are being scapegoated as the reason Trump was elected in the US.

Cis people and those privileged along other axes are making accusations of ‘identity politics’ whenever they accuse someone of playing the ‘trans card’ (or the ‘race card’, the ‘woman card’, or whatever it happens to be on that day), as if pointing out that we are marginalized is the real problem here. Since this has been such a hot topic recently, I’m actually not going to write my own full take-down of this one – I’m just going to give y’all some suggested reading on the topic. Links are not specifically focused on identity politics as a trans issue, but they are relevant nonetheless:

Thank God for Identity Politics | Ijeoma Oluo, The Establishment

Don’t Stop Arguing, Complaining, and Fighting for ‘Identity Politics’ | Tasneem Raja, NPR

‘Don’t play identity politics!’ The primal scream of the straight white male | Hadley Freeman

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The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: H is for “how do you have sex?”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

H is for “how do you have sex?”

This question? It’s not even just relevant to trans people – it’s a common question  directed at LGBQ+ folks as well. The clearest answer in most cases (unless you’re planning on having sex with the person asking it, I guess?) is ‘um, none of your darn business.’ It is kind of amazing how simply being trans can open a person up to the kinds of invasive questions that they would never dream of asking in any other context. Suddenly we’re not people; we’re research subjects, or more often merely objects of fleeting curiosity.

But, even setting that aside, this question? It just depresses me, on so many levels. I do want to acknowledge upfront that for some trans people (as for some cis people) the answer is always simply going to be “I don’t have sex.” Because not everyone wants to , and not everyone has sex even if they do want to. But again, even setting that aside, I don’t understand how this is even confusing to people.

Because you know how I have sex with other people? [This is not going not be explicit, it’s ok!]

Me and the people I have sex with, we touch each other in whatever ways feel good to us. Or we try to, though it doesn’t always work out that way, I guess. But really, that’s it. And I really hope that’s how most people do it.

Just, like, if you seriously can’t think of ways that people with, I guess, different genital combinations than the ones you’re used to in your own sex life might be able to touch each pleasurably? You are seriously lacking in imagination, at best.

Because the thing is, genitals are somewhat important to sex, for most people, of course. But, so are so many other body parts that people possess regardless of gender or sexual orientation or whether they are trans. Most of us have hands, with fingers on them, or other appendages that can probably be used to do things.

Like, seriously? You can’t think of *any* sex acts you might participate in that the trans person in front of you is also capable of? Really?

Or are you just actually hoping for the dirty details, because you’re just that much of a creep? Which is it?

Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: G is for “grammatically incorrect”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

G is for “grammatically incorrect”

This one is mostly specifically about non-binary people, rather than trans people in general. Those of us whose pronoun is the singular they, (and possibly those of us who use neo-pronouns of various kinds) are all tired of hearing that our pronouns are ‘grammatically incorrect’. I’m tired of talking about it at all, myself but it’s all I could come up with for G, so here we go nevertheless:

I’m going to side-step the actual question of grammatical correctness here, to be honest. It’s been done, and done, and done again. And again. And again. You get the idea? The thing is, though, that it shouldn’t fucking well matter.

You hear me? It. Doesn’t. Matter.

It doesn’t matter whether a person’s pronouns have historical precedent. Of course non-binary people’s pronouns don’t have a true fucking historical precedent in English, because the culture in which English has grown and evolved has not historically made room for any genders beyond the binary. That’s the thing we’re trying to change ffs.

It doesn’t matter whether you find a person’s pronouns aesthetically pleasing. Probably there are people that find your name aesthetically displeasing, but hopefully they’re decent enough people to keep that shit to themselves (if they haven’t been, then I’m sorry you had that experience). In any case, surely you don’t think that your aesthetic preferences are other people’s problems to accommodate?

It doesn’t matter why you think someone else’s pronouns are ‘wrong’, at all, ever. If you refuse to even try to use them, you are the asshole, and you are the one in the wrong.

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The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: E is for “everyone feels that way”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

E is for “everyone feels that way”

…This is a strange one, to be honest. But it sometimes happens, particularly in more explicitly TERF-y spaces, that some cis person will try to argue that trans people aren’t really trans, we’re just misunderstanding what gender is like for everyone.

So, the thing is, I think it is definitely true that every single person alive has, at some point, had an unpleasant run-in with the norms imposed upon their gender. Not one of us can possibly get through life without being on the receiving end of gender policing, be it implicit or explicit.

All of us, in other words, have moments of discomfort with our genders. The thing that the cisgender people making this argument don’t seem to grasp is that there are different kinds of gender-related discomfort. And, the kind of gender-related discomfort that all people experience (the one that stems from being called out for failing to conform to the arbitrary standards that are applied to your gender) is distinctly different from the kind of gender-related discomforts that comes with dysphoria – these are the discomforts of being explicitly misgendered (which may happen to people both cis and trans, and is sometimes a form of gender policing), or of being judged for one’s failure to conform to the standards of a gender that you don’t identify with in the first place (this experience is far more common among trans people than cis people.)

Look, it’s not as if trans people feel that we are perfect fits for our genders (by which I mean, our actual genders, not our birth-assigned ones) any more than cis folks do. It’s just that we fit better into them than our birth-assigned ones. It’s just that our birth-assigned genders aren’t our genders.

And though the difference in how it feels as a cis person to be judged for failing to fit that birth-assigned gender with which you identify, versus how it feels to be a trans person judged for failing to fit a gender that was wrong to begin with is probably impossible to articulate – people generally only feel one or the other of these in their lives, so they can’t really be compared – I promise you it exists. All I know for sure is that the difference is what causes trans people to identify with a gender other than their birth-assigned one (or with no gender at all), while cis people don’t.

Which is to say: no, not everyone feels the way trans people feel about their birth-assigned genders. I can tell, because an awful lot of you aren’t rejecting those assignments.

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Golden opportunity, missed

Last week at work, I found myself in an extended conversation with one of my colleagues about the work she’s been doing around the fact that her non-binary sibling-in-law will be coming to her family’s xmas stuff this year, and all of the various and sundry terrible responses she has had to push back against. It was the perfect moment for me to come out!

And I didn’t.

By the time I had even processed what was happening and that this was a great moment to come out, I felt like I’d already missed the moment? And I kept floundering around; I did a lot of comparing her family’s responses to mine, but without ever specifying who the non-binary person relevant to my family was.

I’m still torn around coming out at work at all? Like, I know that most people aren’t going to manage to stop misgendering me anyway, and I also know that it will be harder for me to handle it when I know they know better. There are plenty of people who would be great about it though. Heck, last month, when I asked a colleague at another branch about some inconsistencies in the spelling of this person’s name throughout the organization (specifically, in masculine and feminine versions), in addition clarifying the correct spelling, and mentioning that it will be become more consistent pending a legal name change*, my colleague asked me to use the name instead of pronouns where possible as well.

In retrospect, I am also thinking that the colleague with the non-binary sibling-in-law deliberately brought it up because she’s clocked me as enby (I am actually sort of passively out in minor ways at work – my public bio on the web site uses they pronouns, for instance). In any case, I do know I am not alone here, and I know I have allies.

But still, I’m scared, somehow? I think I just don’t know how I want to go about it. I could send out a big organization-wide email blast. I could start with the branch I work at (but how?), and sort of depend on word-of-mouth and/or come out to other people a bit at a time as necessary from there. I could talk to my managers about it first, though that doesn’t seem particularly necessary.

…I could also wait and see what this other colleague of mine does and then ride those coattails, but I suspect that would not be the best approach for a bunch of reasons. And to be honest, I’d probably rather not have to hear what everyone’s responses to that coming out will be, if they are still under the impression that I am cis when that happens. I don’t want them to think I’m a ‘safe’ person to hear whatever shit they need to say, and I just don’t need that in my life generally.

Maybe I’ll make it a new year/new leaf thing? I don’t know why I feel the need to be able to give a “but why are you doing this right now?” justification for it, but I feel less stressed about it when I have one.

Ugh, I dunno. Words of wisdom and/or support are welcome.


*I am quite sure this is not a question of organizational policy (as in, this is not a repeat of the fuckery I dealt with in another library system), but rather just that my colleague has decided to wait until the name change comes through before actively asking for the change – right now, the new name spelling only appears in my colleague’s email signature.

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: C is for “Cis is a slur”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

C is for “Cis is a slur”

Ok, this one is admittedly a little complex. First and foremost, cis (which is short for cisgender) is a descriptor – saying that someone is cis just means that they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, simple as that! For the most part, it is just a word that means “not transgender”. It’s creation and original intent and usage were definitely not slur-like.

I admit that is not sufficient evidence that a word isn’t a slur, though. So, I want to take the claim that it is a slur seriously enough to probe at what makes people object to the term.

When people object to being called cis or cisgender, it usually comes with one of a number of reasons (and if you drill down, it’s usually not actually that they think cis is a slur). I’m going to try to address the ones I’m aware of here, though if I miss some, please let me know!

There doesn’t need to be a word for that! That’s just normal

It is true that an overwhelming majority of people are cisgender. But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or important to have a word that encapsulates that particular aspect of gendered experience. Most people are also heterosexual, and in fact we didn’t get around to making a word for that until we had already come up with the category of homosexual – it is a function of categories that if as long as you are assuming everyone is the same, you don’t need a word for that sameness.

It is only when one begin recognizing and naming different experiences that it becomes apparent that there needs to be a word for the ‘sameness’ against which those differences are being identified. The only way to truly make linguistic room for the idea that all of these experiences are equally valid is to have words for all of them, not just the rare or ‘weird’ ones. We all have a relationship to the gender we were assigned at birth (if we were assigned a gender at birth), even if it’s a relatively uncomplicated one that we haven’t ever really thought about, as is often the case with cisgender people.

But I *don’t* really fit the gender I was assigned at birth!

I never quite know what to do with people who don’t like being called cisgender because (of course!) they don’t perfectly fit into the box associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. The thing folks making this claim seem to miss is that cisgender absolutely does not mean ‘conforms to the gender they were assigned birth’, it just means you identify that way. It is totally fine and great to be a gender non-conformist cis person. It just doesn’t make you not cisgender.

But If you really don’t identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, then that’s another thing entirely, because then you would be trans. And then you’d be right to object to being called cisgender, because it would be inaccurate. But continuing to claim you’re not cis while simultaneously living a dysphoria-free life in the gender you were assigned at birth – and benefiting from the privileges that come with that – isn’t going to fly.

You don’t get to decide what labels to use for me!

So, most of the time when I see this one get pulled out, it’s straight-up trolling – the person making the argument doesn’t believe in their own premises in the first place and it’s pointless. But I’m going to go ahead and assume someone somewhere has made this argument and meant it and address it anyway.

I guess the major thrust of this argument is that it is hypocritical for a group of people who have fought – and are continuing to fight – very hard for the right to define the words that are used to describe them, to then turn around and choose words to describe other people.

The thing is, though, that there is a false equivalency going on here. In terms of questions like the general rejection of the word ‘transsexual’ in favour of ‘transgender’ is a question of the words’ accuracy to what it is describing. While transsexual is a word that some trans people find to be an accurate description of their experience, many of us experience our trans-ness as specifically related to our gender and may have little or no dysphoria around or desire to change our sex/sexual organs. I, for example, am transgender, but I am distinctly *not* transsexual. ‘Transgender’ is simply a better descriptor for most trans people’s experiences.

Cisgender meanwhile, as I said above, is simply a word that arises naturally as the linguistic ‘opposite’ to transgender, and it really does just mean ‘not transgender’. As I said in the previous, if a person is NOT not transgender (i.e. is they’re not cisgender according to that definition), then of course they can object to being called cisgender, because they’re not.

However, barring an actual objection to the word’s accuracy in describing he people it is applied to, this argument is pretty facetious.

But the word is used as a slur!

So, here’s the thing. A slur is a word that it used to oppress or dehumanize marginalized people. A word used to describe those in a position of privilege can’t be a slur in that sense – it simply doesn’t work that way.

I do understand that sometimes trans folks use the word ‘cis’ as a sort-of insult, though more particularly it is usually in an exclusionary way (as in ‘you’re not one of us’ – which, for the record, is true.) I am honestly not really sure what to say about that though. I think that most people understand that when, for instance, a straight woman who is dealing with heartbreak gets her lady friends together to talk about how all men are trash, that is just perfectly reasonable and understandable venting, and that no matter how many times it happens “man” isn’t going to become a slur. To be honest, I think the reason this same venting use of any of the other markers of privilege (white, rich, cis, etc.) doesn’t get as easily read that way is that people in general are less understanding of the very real pain and frustration that various marginalized people are dealing with.

And listen, I’m not going to pretend that no one has ever actually wanted dehumanize and eradicate cis people. It’s just, that’s such an irrelevantly small number of people with – let’s face it – no power whatsoever, that it just doesn’t rate.

Cis isn’t a slur. It is sometimes used in a way that is meant to discredit people, but it’s level of insulting-ness is more along the lines of something like calling someone ‘weird’. Weirdness is often considered to be something that discredits people, but it can also just be a true description of a person, as long as their comfortable with their weirdness. If you just understand that you are cis, and that’s ok, then being called cis shouldn’t be an insult to you, really, even when it is meant as such.

And honestly, if it makes you uncomfortable to be reminded that your relationship to your birth-assigned gender isn’t the same as everyone else’s, that’s actually a manifestation of your cis privilege. So deal with it.

Check out the rest of “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!