When I was at primary school, we talked about firemen, policemen, postmen. Now the general terms for these jobs are firefighter, police officer, postie. At work our meetings have a chair, not a chairman. Yes, these are small things, but they remove a linguistic signal that says these jobs are only for men to do, or that male is the default, female an afterthought, an add-on. A lot of language is male-dominated, because for so long men were seen as the default. Changing that helps us to realise it's no longer the case. Or rather, it shouldn't be.
And so we come on to 'cis', a word lots of people seem to be talking about at the moment. Cis is a Latin preposition meaning 'on this side', as opposed to the Latin preposition trans which means 'on the other side.' Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook define cisgender as a label for "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity"
So if that applies to you, you might be thinking: 'neat! now I have a new word to sum up my gender identity.'
Or, like Sadie Smith writing for the New Statesman, you might not: "A lot of cis women have a problem with the term in a way they can’t quite fathom. Well, I’ve fathomed it and I’ll tell you: because it’s a name that has, once again, been conferred upon a certain group of women without their consent. It would still matter, although infinitely not as much, if a Twitter search of “cis” demonstrated that the term is mostly used in a sisterly and affectionate manner. Nah, more like “cissexist” or “cisfascist”.
And that’s the stuff I didn’t search for, I just happened to see it on my feed one Tuesday evening.
So forgive me if I hear “cis” as an insult to the very essence of who I am and then, when I complain, feel aggrieved that I’m not entitled to experience my discomfort because my “privilege” means that my point of view doesn’t matter and my opinions don’t count."
I can't agree.
By adopting the word cis we ensure that we have words to describe different experiences. Without it, cis is positioned as the default, the norm. By only ever 'naming' trans we're essentially pointing a big flashing arrow at trans people that says 'different! strange!' Talking about cis experiences, identifying as cis, means acknowledging that there is room for more than just what is seen as the default.
I think this makes some people uncomfortable because they're not used to looking at themselves in this way. It reminds me of the way other groups react when they're called out - if you've never seen a straight white man get annoyed because someone has pointed out that his experience is not necessarily universal, it's unlikely you've spent much time online.
Let's listen to each other. Let's find new ways to do that. Let's stop assuming that certain groups have a monopoly on what is 'normal.'