I Am NOT Cisgendered

I am NOT "cisgendered." I reject that label. Why? From what I've read, "cisgendered" is a label that began in academic discourse as a way of describing people who weren't trans. But the meaning of it was akin to what we might call "normatively gendered."
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Two gay men couple posing with their child on black background
Two gay men couple posing with their child on black background

I am NOT "cisgendered." I reject that label. Why? From what I've read, "cisgendered" is a label that began in academic discourse as a way of describing people who weren't trans. But the meaning of it was akin to what we might call "normatively gendered." That means your gender identity is within a limited range of what society considers to be acceptably "normal." Normative is a word of negation and resistance. It rejects the boundaries delineated as "normal" by illustrating their discursive construction, i.e. not essential. However, while "cisgendered" operates within a broader language of gender as a means of description, it is also prescriptive and limiting. The reason I place it in quotations is because it sets up a binary that is antithetical to the purpose for which it is employed in popular discourse. If gender isn't binary, if it is fluid and can transgress boundaries, than a binary between cisgender and transgender cannot exist. If it does, then we must delineate what "real" transgender or "true" transgender means, and who is allowed to inhabit it.

If "cisgendered" means your gender identity matches the social construct attached to the sex you were assigned at birth, than there cannot be a male gender identity that acts outside those normative social boundaries. And if you say there is variation on gender identity, but "cis-" just means you were born with a penis and identify and live as a man, than you negate the many variations on what it means to "be a man" or even to "live as a man." You are imposing your concept of those things onto me, enforcing a binary that is paradoxical. Moreover, you are denying the gender fluidity of those who have a penis and identify as male, but prefer women's underwear or wear makeup or transgress norms in innumerable other ways. Adding more labels -- like "cisgendered male transvestite" -- in order to justify your act of aggression defeats the purpose of simplifying things with words like "cisgendered."

What is perhaps most disturbing in being called "cisgendered," is that it imposes an identity on me. Doing so invalidates my complicated experience of gender. Don't tell me that I am somehow normatively gendered for my body when my life experience has led me through periods of deep confusion about my gender identity and living as gender queer. How is living gender queer normative? How does that reconcile with the sex and gender roles society associates with having a penis? Moreover, you don't get to make a reductive statement about my gender identity or how I embody my gender while trying to argue for recognition of the diversity of other peoples' embodied genders. If you are going to argue for a less simplistic reading of others' embodied genders, than you have to do so with mine too. That includes recognizing that as a queer person, I'm automatically not inhabiting the normative roles society has constructed for those with a penis. My behavior, and sexual and romantic attachments aren't normative for "men." My intuitiveness isn't normative. My choices of profession haven't been normative. My mode of speech isn't normative.

By imposing the label "cisgendered" onto me, you do me psychological and intellectual violence. You are saying that I am the same as all the people who do accept and inhabit the normative roles attached to the social construct of "men," "male," or "masculine." You are silencing my voice and rejecting my right to determine my own identity. You have put me into a binary that alienates me from gender discourse. You are telling me, "check your privilege," a phrase that has been weaponized and become popular to use in ways that are adolescent and regressive to the discourse. You are saying -- especially with the implication of that last phrase -- that I need to reexamine my privileged position. That assumes I am unaware of my privilege and how my privilege affects. It is a phrase that in this context has one purpose -- to invalidate the opinions and silence the voices of those who you disagree with. It is aggressive and hurtful language -- weaponized. The fact that some people may not see those connections, may want to disavow them and the weaponized nature of how these terms are currently used shows a lack of understanding of the nature of discourse and how it shapes our world. By imposing your label on me and then questioning why I'm offended by it, you are questioning and invalidating my right to feel. That further silences my voice.

This has happened to me several times in the past few months since I began blogging on The Huffington Post. It follows a trend of invalidating men's opinions and voices in gender discourse, as though we don't have gender or don't have worthwhile experiences of it. Meanwhile we have to sit and listen as society demands us to be strong and silent, but sensitive and intuitive to the needs of our partners; as news stories and the media identify all men as predators who enjoy and participate in rape culture; as our experiences of sexual abuse and sexual assault are made into jokes and not challenged by anyone -- as opposed to the uproar over rape humor with female victims. Men who cherish their children suffer exponentially and disproportionately in custody cases. Men who don't fit easily within a handful of archetypes are still forced to seek out alternative communities and cohorts, sometimes being alienated from fathers and family members.

The term "cis-" has also participated in an increasing hostility toward gay men, and in particular white gay men. Race is, of course, a complicated issue within the LGBTQIA community. But when did gay men become the enemy? I hold no rosy belief that our community's political power is spread out equally among all our groups. But the attacks within the community only erode our unified political force when that unity is required. Infighting begets enmity and isolation. Throwing angry and hateful rhetoric -- essentially demanding everyone acknowledge your pain by lashing out -- erases those voices who might otherwise make important contributions to our cause.

Yet, as a "cisgendered" man I'm not allowed an opinion, not allowed a voice, not allowed to disagree, not allowed to have a lived experience of embodying a gender identity that is diverse and varied and absolutely out of step with the norm I'm ascribed to by the word "cis-." Instead, I'm supposed to reflect on my privilege before I am allowed to interrupt the people whose opinions matter. I'm supposed to "check my privilege." I am a binary male within a binary "cisgendered" vs. transgendered paradigm. I'm the enemy because I'm afforded privilege by my family background, my skin color, my penis, and my "cis-"-ness. Somehow that fails to take into account the fact that I haven't been able to hold down a full-time job because of a mental illness that sometimes leaves me incapacitated. It ignores the fact that my experience of everything has been shaped by a lifetime of being large and marginalized within gay male and Western European cultures. If someone doesn't understand why I find the term "cisgendered" offensive, why I refuse to allow someone else to define me or inscribe their ideas onto my body, then perhaps I'm not the ignorant one. I'm just the evil white gay guy with too much privilege.

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