In a [Western] society, where patriarchy dominates much of our daily lives, it is too easy to forget that there are also subtle (and not so subtle) web-like power structures which too many of us fail to recognise our own role in – the able bodied and the differently abled, people who enjoy stable mental health and those who don’t, white and black or colour, straight and gay/bi/queer, trans*gender and cis gender.
This a very simplified overview and there are of course many other variants, and interweaving hierarchy’s across all those and more. As we grapple with those concepts, peeling away the layers and struggling with continuously evolving understandings, working out where our oppressions and privileges are within those structures, there is often push back from those who have prefer their theologies more orthodox – more conservative.
Those with such staunch conservative tendancies do not tolerate ‘liberals’ (a word that is often spat out with some venom) – we are heretics, false prophets threatening what they believe with dangerously tempting ideas that put the mortal souls of the laity in danger, taking them away from the One True Feminism that will keep them safe, and their liberation far from jeopardy. But like the fire and brimstone conservatives of the Christian Church, their refusal to engage with the deepening, enriching theologies is driving away and hurting the very people we should be embracing.
I want to take on the latest Glosswatch blog post on the term cis: in part because nothing rankles me faster than a false equivalency, but more importantly because I think it is vital for cig-gendered feminists to call out the idea that the term cis is oppressive to women for the lie that it is.
I dislike being blunt about things: I would prefer that feminists could respect each other in their disagreements – but people are flawed and as we grapple with our understandings of ourselves as human beings, our identities and wrestle with these sometimes complicated ideas, there will inevitably be friction. I would like to hope that we can show each other grace in that process more often. But sometimes we can’t and we have sisters hurting because of these lies.
In criticising (again) the use of the cisgender – as defined by sociologists Kristen Schilt (Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago) and Laurel Westbrook who co-authored Doing Gender, Determining Gender this past year – GW demonstrates false equivalencies, flawed premises and, to be blunt, painful ignorance. What Glosswatch actually clearly demonstrates is what Schilt calls ‘gender panics’:
Transgender equality has never been more visible as a key issue than it is today and with the development of every new trans-supportive law or policy, there typically follows an outbreak of criticism. In our analysis, we find that these moments, which we term “gender panics,” are the result of a clash between two competing cultural ideas about gender identity: belief that gender is determined by biology vs. belief that a person’s gendered self-identity should be validated. These gender panics frequently result in a reshaping of the language of such policies so that they require extensive bodily changes before transgender individuals have to access particular rights.
They point out that biological essentialism – which would segregate our trans*gender sisters from us in sex segregated spaces – actually reproduces the very beliefs about female weakness against which our conservative sisters – who would deny our trans*gender sisters their very identity – claim to rail. The idea, therefore, that ‘cis-gender’ oppresses us is fallacious – it does quite the opposite. It not only allows us to stand in solidarity with our trans*gender sisters (both binary and non-binary), it begins to free us from the strictures of patriarchal oppression that would keep us its victims, weak and powerless. Further, by denying the term cis, we actively continue to oppress further our trans*gender sisters.
I would never deny that my conservative sisters desire our freedom – but I know they do not desire it for all my sisters and I do not believe that they can provide it. And there will be more thoughts on that later.