Friday, June 19, 2015

Newspeak*: "Trans" and "Cis"

[A quick note about terminology: you'll hear me place people into two subgroups, “trans” and “cis”. “Trans,” of course, means transgender people. “Cis” is the opposite of trans – it's a convenient label meant to designate people whose gender identity is congruent with their birth sex. Basically, if you're not trans, you're cis.]
Skeptoid podcast
I admit the transgender concept baffles me. It just goes to prove that there are people who will pay a lot of money and endure a lot of pain to get life set up just the way they want it.

I'm not sure how happy that will make them because as Thomas a Kempis famously said in The Imitation of Christ:
Wherever you go, there you are.
I also wonder because the desire to continually bring attention to one's transgenderization seems odd. If one finally feels "normal" wouldn't one just shut up and finally enjoy that feeling? For example I have an office mate who has lost 200 pounds in the last two years. His friends and family are pleased for him and he enjoys their congratulations on his accomplishment, but he doesn't go around announcing to everyone he meets that he's lost 200 pounds.

That brings me to the "cis" label.

It is normal for people's "gender identity to be congruent with their birth sex." To add a label it is to assume that it could possibly be abnormal for one's gender to agree with their birth sex. (And just to have to put together the words "birth sex" makes me laugh typing it.)

The day after I came across this term and mentally dismissed it, I read author Ann Leckie's answer to a question about her Ancillary Justice series.
So, I don't think I've ever said that Radchaai are gender neutral--just that they really don't care about anyone's gender, and don't mark it socially or linguistically. So, they're humans, and as such come in all sorts of genders, and they know gender exists, but it's not really a thing they care much about. They care about it, maybe, as much as we care about hair color.

I think it's worth considering (though I know you didn't bring this up explicitly, but I feel it's sort of lurking in the background of your question) how much of what we consider to be "obvious" about someone's gender when we look at them is actually a set of social cues ... And cues that we will often talk about as though they're non-negotiable are full of exceptions--breasts, for instance. I know unambiguously masculine cis-men who have more breast tissue than some unambiguously feminine cis-women.
There was "cis" again.

If you notice, "cis" is completely redundant. If a man was "trans" then wouldn't one expect his body to be consistent with his sex? That's the point of it, right? Leckie's point is moot if the people are not as God made them originally.

The only reason I can see to add "cis" is for political correctness. I'm all for not hurting people's feelings but there's no doubt that such "correctness" changes the way we view others and ourselves.

It's Newspeak*.

And "cis" is Newspeak worming its way into our social consciousness.

Do we need to keep slicing our identities up by continually emphasizing ever-increasing differences? Wouldn't it be better to do as Leckie's "Radchaai" and just not worry about it?

By worrying about how we're different we aren't helping each other. It is only when we recognize how we are the same that we can recognize the humanity inherent in each one of us.

Labeling turns us into the "other" and separates us.

No labels for me, thanks, and I won't use them on you either.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Reinhold Niebuhr


*Newspeak: language with a limiting and constantly shifting vocabulary designed to control thought and eradicate undesirable concepts. From the novel 1984 by George Orwell,


  1. You might be interested in this piece Bad Catholic wrote last year. Really excellent.

    1. It is good. Though I think he's crediting people with applying more thought to the subject than they will. Thanks for the heads up on that!