Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cis people problems

Today Facebook started allowing "custom" gender options and also "they" pronouns.  For some reason they have only 58 options rather than a text field.  Several of those options are cis.

(For those who are unfamiliar with the term, "cis" or "cisgender" means that you are the gender that you were assigned at birth.  That is, you are not trans*, and do not have a trans-related identity.)

This presents a dilemma for cis people, who surely deserve a lament on the tiniest of violins.  Do I indicate that I am "male" or "cis male"?

I posed this question to my Facebook friends.  Some people preferred instead to not have a public gender at all.  There were also many genderfeels on the distinction between "male/female" and "man/woman" with respect to cis and trans identities.  But here I stick strictly to arguments about "male" vs "cis male".

(1) Argument: By identifying as "cis", you show that you know what it means, which tends to be a marker for being a trans* ally.  Some trans* people may be happy to see this.

Counter-argument: Indicating that you are cis is a purely symbolic action.  Some people may be happy to see it, but does it concretely improve their situation in any way?  Good feelings without substantive change could be seen as a bad thing.

(2) Argument: By identifying as "cis male", I reject the idea that "cis" is the default option.  Being cisgender is weird--you're randomly assigned a gender at birth, and you keep that particular gender for the rest of your life.  If mostly trans* people used the "custom" genders, this gives the mistaken idea that trans people are the only weird people.

(3) Argument: If cis people all specified that they were cis, then we might be able to tell that someone is trans when they identify simply as "male" or "female" without the cis qualifier.  This is a potentially dangerous loss of privacy.

Counter-argument: Realistically, most cis people will not specify that they are cis.  Most people identifying as "male" or "female" will be cis people, and thus it will not telegraph a trans person's gender history.

Complications: It may be true in general that most cis people will not identify as cis, but it may not be true of your particular social circles.  Also, since the counter-argument relies on the fact that most cis people are not going identify themselves, we should avoid any public campaigns to encourage them.

(4) Argument: If cis people indicate that they are cis, this reinforces the idea that gender history is public information.  If someone says he's a man, it's none of your business whether he is trans or cis.  But if cis men volunteer their cis status, this may make people feel entitled to that information, or it may make trans* people feel obligated to disclose.

Counter-argument: This may also require a critical mass of cis-identifying people in order to be a problem.  Up to a certain point, identifying wherther you are cis or trans simply normalizes the option to disclose, and beyond that point it suggests an obligation to disclose.

Counter-counter-argument: The critical mass for (4) to be an issue seems much lower than the critical mass for (3) to be an issue.

Have at it.

1 comment:

miller said...

I would say 'male' because 'cis' or 'trans' are not one's gender, they're one's history, in the same way that I've seen trans* people stress that a 'trans* woman' is not a 'transwoman', she's a woman who happens to be trans*, in the same way that a 'blonde woman' is a woman who happens to be blonde. Cis man as a gender makes only a little more sense from that perspective than blonde woman as a gender.