On the word cisgender, and labels we use

I’ve been immersed in an online dialogue about the word “cisgender” which I did not realize has been interpreted as an insulting term by some feminists, who object to being labeled without their consent. Ironic, of course, because transgender people have been labeled without their consent since the word “transsexual” first started being used my medical professionals (in 1949, according to Wikipedia, by Magnus Hirshfeld, after the first successful gender reassignment surgery, which took place in 1930.)

Labels are a funny thing. The word homosexual didn’t exist until the 1880s but homosexual and bisexual activity and relationships have existed since the earlier human times. It wasn’t until we started to label “homosexuals” that we needed to then define who wasn’t a homosexual. And then gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queers, dykes, fags, and all the rest of us started to define and re-define ourselves, because it took back power from those who had first defined us.

And we needed to have a term to define people who aren’t gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer, because linguistically this became easier than saying “non-homosexual people”. So straight and heterosexual were born as labels.

So too is it with transgender people. Transgender people and gender nonconforming people have always existed, but for many years they had to live in silence, without being defined. Even when they had surgery the goal was then to slide back undetected into society without anyone knowing they were transsexual, the first medical label. And then – that is, now, trans and gender nonconforming people are defining and redefining themselves in ways that better fits them.

And so linguistically there is a need for a term to define “non-transgender people”. So cisgender was borne.

I read in one blog post that the objections feminists have to cisgender are in part because some feminists view all of gender as a social construct. I would argue that Kate Bornstein long ago floated the idea that if you expand the definition of transgender to include anyone who has ever transgressed gender, it includes a lot more of us. Including those same feminists.

Gender is a construct. But how we live in the world is important. But so is how we talk to each other and about each other. What labels we use for ourselves is important, but only because it is supposed to enable us talk to each other more easily and get our needs met. We’re missing the point here.


~ by realsupergirl on July 27, 2017.

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