Friday, October 16, 2009

why I'm not "cis" gendered

So, cis gender.  

Cis gender is a word that's fairly new to me, and it's been attracting a lot of attention over the past year or so. However, the term has been around since the early 90s.

Cis is used to refer to folks who were identified as a male or female at birth, socialized as that gender and continue to identify as that gender.  

When I first heard the word, I asked my friends to please not refer to me as Cis.  I understood the need for a word for people who identify as the gender box they were stuck in as a baby, especially because without such a word, these folks were referred to as "normal".  Which puts trans folk in the "other" column.  That's assuredly not ok.  Trans folk are living the gender they were born with too.  We all are.  There may be gender identities and experiences that are more common, but certainly not more normal.  If you break down each individuals experience of their own gender you'd find more differences within a gender group than sameness.  There is no one set of characteristics or attributes that define men or women.  Or any other gender.

There's something about the word "cis" itself that irritates me.  It sounds like cyst.  You know plugged ducts in the body that can be painful and occasionally become smelly, oozing pus filled abscesses.  Yuck.  And really, it's not how I think of myself.

Then someone explained that cis is from the Latin, meaning "on the same side" as opposed to trans which means "on the other side" or across.  I should have paid more attention in Latin class.  The explanation made the word feel more comfortable.  And definitely helped replace the cyst image in my brain.  Besides, we need a word to help avoid the "normally" gendered comment.

So I went with that for a while.

But the more I think about it, the less I like it.  

First of all, it feels like it reduces gender back to the place we're trying to get away from.  What's between your legs now and what was between them when you were born.  It's birth genitalia defining gender.  Again.

I know guys who rock their vaginas.  Women who glory in their dicks.  And, given that people who were born with penises sometimes refer to their ass as their cunt, and people who were born with clitorises and vaginas strap on dicks, pack with them and do all kinds of delishishly dirty things with them, I'm even more convinced that genitals shouldn't be the center of this discussion.  And the folks I know who do these things identify as many different genders - some even as the gender they were identified at on their birth day.  Birth genitalia says little about your current gender.

Cis feels narrow.

Is anyone truely cis gendered?  

Seriously, let's use my gender and my parent's as an example.  Since their the ones I know best.

I was identified female at birth, socialized as female by society and two parents.  One of my parents is a woman who is as girly as they come.  She cries at Hallmark commercials, she bakes bread, she has more shoes than is reasonable (I come by some things honestly). She's also almost six feet tall, very opinionated and active in local politics.  My father, until recently was the head of a 3000 member congregation, tells tasteless dirty jokes, takes care of the finances,  drinks extremely dry martinis - stirred, not shaken (don't bruise that gin!).  He also wears pink suits, silk scarves and as much jewelry as he can get away with.   Both of them are what would be termed "cis" gendered.  But is the way they live their genders really "on the same side" as most other men and women?

I identify as both a woman and a femme.   My gender is that which is most commonly associated with the bits that I was born with and continue to have. I wear high heels and make up and corsets.  I love puppies, and knitting and I make a mean apple pie.  All things that fit in the "gender norm" for women (whatever the fuck that is). I'm also six feet tall, have strong features, more facial hair than I'd care to admit to, use power tools, drive a jeep, could once squat more weight than our current (male) governor and like to have sex with women.  Which should, I think, make me a man.

But I identify as woman.

It's common in the store for folks, especially men, to ask me if I'm trans.  There are people that I know from performing (burlesque) that have assumed I was a drag queen or a trans woman for months.  Until they asked.  Which, by the way, is the polite thing to do.  Assuming someone's gender?  That's rude.

I don't identify as trans.  Or gender queer.  Or gender fluid.  Or intersex.  Of course, I can't say with absolute certainty that I'm not intersex.  I doubt it, but I've never had testing and/or given birth.   

I identify as a woman.  And as a femme.  

I don't identify as cis.  It feels limiting.  The word implies that all people who identify as a woman (or a man) mean the same thing when they cite that identity.  My experience of my gender is undoubtedly different than someone who identifies as a woman but was identified as male at birth.  My experience of my gender is also different from a woman born into a family or culture in which her gender means young marriage, multiple children and subservience to her husband.  Or that of a woman who feels most comfortable in jeans, work boots and a mullet.  People's understanding of their gender is deeply colored by race, class, religion, culture and biology.

I understand that in this culture I receive privilege because of my particular gender and gender expression, that people who are trans are discriminated against, otherized, even murdered because our society has a fucked up understandings of gender. 

In our fight toward a broader understanding of gender, toward a culture in which each person's gender is both accepted and celebrated.  Where all of us are able to walk safely in the streets, and not fear or experience discrimination because of their gender or appearance of gender, does giving the privileged a box to happily climb into perpetuate a limited understanding of gender?

Perhaps what we need is an understanding that none of us is truely "cis" gendered.  Fewer boxes, not more.  Each of us builds our gender in our own way.  In our own time.  An approach like this will take more time, more explanation, more bridge building.  But it's more true. Nature creates diversity and uniqueness that defies categorization.

And thank goddess.  Because it makes our world a much more beautiful place.

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