Cis Is Not a Four Letter Word

I’ve been seeing an increasing amount of ire directed toward cis men. Primarily this is from some feminists and transgender folks.

For those who don’t know a cis person is someone who is comfortable with the gender in which they have been raised. So if you were called a male at birth, raised as a male, and have no problem with being male then you are a cis man. If you are not comfortable with the gender you were given at birth and you feel as if you should be another gender then you would be considered transgender. These are over simplified explanations, but for now simple works because my point here isn’t strictly about labels or identity issues.

Somehow cis has come to be slang for everything that is wrong with men. There is nothing wrong with being a cis man, or cis woman for that matter, just as there is nothing wrong with being a transman or transwoman. It’s just another form of being.

I understand that problems arise when cis men don’t check their priviledge and act in ways that marginalizes and harms others. I also realize that among all offenders, cis men are the largest group both as a population and as a percentage. 

A cursory reading of my writings here should dispel any notions that I go easy on men, quite the contrary. This is not one of those “not all men” writings. I’m not using this as a cop-out for me or anyone else. I give guys a lot of shit because I grew up around them, date them, and hear the dumb things they regularly say which indicates a lot of them haven’t done any personal searching.

What we should be fighting against is toxic behavior no matter who exhibits it. Having dated cis men, cis women, and trans women (sorry no trans men yet, but I love ya just the same) I can tell you that toxic behavior can be found in all of these groups. Also amongst these groups are some genuinely lovely people. Everyone has responsibility and thus should be held accountable.

There are a lot of cis men out there who can be or who are feminist and trans allies. We don’t need to push them away.

As you can imagine this is a little personal for me. I consider myself to be very much pro feminist, pro choice, pro trans rights, pro identity rights, and most likely a cis man. 

That last part depends on who you talk to; for instance Kate Bornstein in her book Gender Outlaws would posit that I am trans by bucking certain guy norms and by the fact that I’m also a queer crossdresser. Truthfully, how people describe me doesn’t much matter to me. However, since I am somewhat to mostly content with being a man let’s just say I’m cis for our purposes here.

If you’re trans, queer, and feminist, I’m doing my damnest to be there with you. I regularly check my privilege and allow others to check it for me. If I am called out, it does not diminish who I am. In fact, I make myself become a better person because of it so that I may help others, which is all I really want to do anyway. I live my life by a feminist/humanist ideology and owe much to the theorists from all walks of life who have helped me to see the world in all it’s complexity and with kindness.

And yet, I’m a cis man.

There are some real assholes out there, trust me I know, and I get it that men who have never had to question their privilege are most likely to be the ones to offend, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Maligning all cis men is the same as when TERF’s malign trans women as murderers and pedophiles, it’s the same as when fundamentalists call feminists nazis. Surely we have more compassion and nuance than those groups. 

I think (and hope) that when folks generically write about cis men that they really mean the ones who exhibit toxic behavior. Without that clarification though they are throwing their allies under the bus.

We need to do better. 

To be clear, this is not a call for moderation. I’m not asking you to be less militant. I’m not asking you to curb your anger. You have every right to be angry and you too deserve a hold on the reigns that guide society. Instead, what I’m asking is that in your anger, your militancy, your passion, your fire, and your drive that you bring some level of honesty and nuance to the world along with it.

I thank you, I support you, and I love you!

Signed,

A cis-man (mostly)

You’re Woke And It’s A Huge Problem

Woke was a term that when I first heard it, I thought it was a novel way to describe oneself. By the second time I came across it, the word had already soured. I realized quickly that it would be a self congratulatory term and as liberals we do too much of that as it is. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge to any group but most certainly the liberal/left is to check your ego at the door. We like to think that our views (or perhaps our belonging to a disenfranchised group) put us above others, that we are somehow better than whatever out group we have established. The truth is, most of us are still jerks that live a very unexamined life. If that sentence pisses you off then you need to keep reading more than anyone else. 

We hide behind labels. If we are woke, feminist, liberal, and egalitarian then we can’t be sexist, racist or transphobic. We make those who are outwardly racist/sexist/queer phobic evil and so we must be by opposition, automatically good. 

If being critical of racism, sexism and heteronormativity makes you feel good about yourself then I assure you that you are doing it wrong. Why do you feel good about affording people a basic level of decency? It is because you have positioned yourself against your so-called villains that you seem so accomplished and enlightened. 

Casting ourselves as heroes shuts down our critical thought. This is why women and people of color (though by no means exempt from my criticism) lament the emotional labor they have to expend on their supposed allies and sometimes ask for spaces which exclude us. 

We are still sexist. We expect certain physical or personality traits from out partners (you must be this tall/short and masculine/feminine to ride). The idea of what male and female is has been deeply embedded in the ways we think and act. We think we choose our partners freely but that is no closer to being true than it was 50 years ago. Sure we can marry a wider breadth of people than we could then, but our stereotypes still remain as to how people must look and who they can be in relation to us.  

We have more diverse friends now but how many of those friends serve to make you feel good. I have a friend who talks about being the token black guy among his liberal friends and as much as I’d like to assure him that this isn’t true I know there is an element of truth to it. Likewise, as a queer man, who cross dresses occasionally, I watch liberal women’s faces light up when they tell me they would gladly go out on the town with me in drag. What a story that would be for them and it’s a great way to get your “woke card” stamped. 

Our privilege (ie: ignorance) surfaces when we ask someone to speak for all people of their identification or sexual persuasion. It happens when we occupy the spaces of feminists or people of color and feel resentful that our opinions aren’t weighted to the degree we are used to. It happens when we use others to atone for our “social justice sins” by hogging the spotlight for ourselves and our woes. We want to be good but not at the expense of others noticing how good we are. We languish in our selfish habits. 

Essentially, we rely on others to do the work that we should damn well be doing ourselves. No one is asking you to break down and ask forgiveness from the group (i.e. representation of the other). They are asking you to listen, then take responsibility and put your words where your mouth is. You have to do your own work. The information is out there if you look for it. I hate this term but I’m going to use it, “google it!” Alternatively, ask people what might benefit you to read or watch and then actually do it. 

For instance, I’ve been reading work by trans folks/people in an attempt to understand them as much as I can. It’s shocking how much I thought I was being an ally and yet I was still making so many assumptions that could hurt them and their cause. It’s hard to learn we are wrong but it’s absolutely necessary. Moreover, learning there may not be a correct way to view certain things, like gender, can be exciting and humbling all at once. It’s not always fun work but it’s work that needs done. 

While you’re taking in new information be so honest with yourself that you’d rather not. Then be honest even more because I guarantee you that no matter how much work you do there is still more to be done. Your job of self growth ends when you do. And for god (that I don’t believe in) sake, drop the fucking self-congratulatory labels.