Dear Cis Men, You Don’t Know What You Are Talking About

[NOTE, 03/08/2014: This blog was written over a year ago. Reading it now, I think there’s a lot wrong with it, and it’s in need of some heavy editing.]

[This blog will look at privilege and oppression, but only from the perspective of the cis-trans* continuum[1]. As such, it will not consider any other intersecting forms of privilege and oppression. This is because I want to make a specific point about cis men.]

My understanding of the label ‘cis’ is that it is used on two levels:

  • at a basic level, as a descriptor, meaning ‘not-trans*’;
  • at a deeper level, as a marker or indicator of privilege, meaning that cis people are privileged in ways that trans* people are not. By extension, this means that trans* people are oppressed in ways that cis people are not, and that cis people are implicated in and benefit from that oppression.

I’m a cis man. I think that my cis privilege is clear. As a cis man, I feel that there cannot be any doubt that I benefit from privilege when compared to cis women, trans* women and trans* men.

However, when the label ‘cis’ is applied to women, I think that the picture is less clear. Here’s why:

  • Some trans* women believe that cis women have cis privilege;
  • Some trans* women believe that cis women do not have cis privilege;
  • Some cis women believe that cis women have cis privilege;
  • Some cis women believe that cis women do not have cis privilege.

The key word for cis men to take on board in the four bullet points above is ‘women’.

So when cis men start weighing in on this discussion, and particularly when they do either one of the following two things –

  • demand that cis women take the label ‘cis’, and state that any woman who refuses to is transphobic;
  • insist that cis women should not take the label ‘cis’, and state that any woman trying to force cis women to take this label is projecting her own internalised misogyny

– I have to wonder about those cis men, ‘Why are you getting involved?’

Well, okay, I don’t really wonder about that, because I’m pretty sure that I know the answer.

But my message is – don’t get involved. You don’t have a voice in this discussion. You are neither a cis woman nor a trans* woman. By all means, form an opinion, but unless you are specifically and explicitly asked for that opinion, keep it to yourself. And certainly stop flinging accusations of transphobia or internalised misogyny at women whose opinions differ from your own.

And, if you stop and listen, you might actually learn something about the real lived experiences of both cis and trans* women, about any privilege that they may benefit from, and about any oppression that they may encounter.

[1] I’m not sure that ‘continuum’ is the right word here. I toyed with ‘spectrum’ and ‘dichotomy’. Hopefully it’s clear what I’m getting at.

EDIT1: I had two brief conversations on Twitter about this blog. Here they are Storified:

EDIT2: And here’s another Storify: