Hello, my lovelies, come sit at my feet and let me impart unto you some wisdom.
Cis is not a slur. I say this as a cis person. And a gay person. And a woman. It’s not.
A slur is defined as the following:
See right there where it says that it is likely to insult them or damage their reputation? That’s what a slur is. Now, being insulted is a pretty broad thing. I can be insulted by the way that someone looks at me. But the key to any good insult, when it is a verbal insult, which is when words like cis get used, is in what, exactly, you are being insulted for.
When someone spits the word cis at you in a conversation, what they are likely expressing is their ire at your privilege. And, while that might sting, it doesn’t do much more than sting. Cis, after all, is a term meant to define a group of people who conform with the norm regarding gender expression and physical appearance.
But cis is not a slur in the same way that cracker is not a slur. Having it flung at you can get you upset. But, at it’s root, it’s just a mean word. It is devoid of any threat to your person or reputation. It is neutered.
Now the second part of the definition of slur as a noun is where the real action is. A slur is something that can damage a person’s reputation. In order to demonstrate how this can be done, I’m going to use the gay community as an example. In order to avoid shitty language, I’m going to make up a slur for gay people that doesn’t exist for the purposes of this example. Our new made up slur is “floof.”
When someone uses a word like floof as a slur against a gay person, the moment in which that word is used becomes pregnant with all kinds of possibilities and meanings for the person being targeted:
- They may be beaten up or sexually assaulted.
- They may be outed to someone who can make their lives difficult, as being gay is not a protected status under hate crime legislation everywhere (yet). They can be evicted from their homes or lose their jobs.
- In addition to imminent threats that are brought to bear upon the person having this word flung at them, the word carries with it centuries of oppression enacted upon they gay community. Demeaning words such as floof do not exist in a vacuum. They have been used intentionally for a long time and they carry a history of oppression.
When you hurl a slur at someone, you are effecting their reputation. When that slur is a word directed at someone’s sexuality, that can do serious damage to them internally, over time, as well as externally and immediately.
The fact of the matter is that you cannot make a slur out of a word that expresses a group’s privilege. Slurs are designed to punch down. When they are used by a member of a privileged group against a member of a less privileged group, they do serious damage. When they are directed from one member of an oppressed group to another, they are being owned by that group. Which is why I can call myself a dyke or why white people can’t use the “n” word. And when they are used by a member of an oppressed group against a privileged group, they are virtually devoid of any impact.
Something to think about when you hear the word cis being used in a derogatory fashion is where that comes from. It comes, more often than not, from a place of anger and pain. That anger is the anger of a community of people who are constantly overlooked and undervalued by people who pass unharassed through society. Who don’t have to deal with uncomfortable questions being asked by strangers about their genitals in public places. Who can go into bathrooms without being asked if they’re lost. Who don’t face very specific forms of gendered violence in their everyday lives.
So while it may suck to have someone fling a mean word at you from time to time, cis isn’t a slur. And honestly? Cis people should consider themselves lucky that it isn’t. Because having to endure the types of hadrship that non-cisgendered people have endured in order to make the words used against them a slur? That doesn’t sound like fun to me.
TL;DR Being cisgendered is a privilege. Acting like you are being persecuted by being identified as what you are is ridiculous.
Featured image taken from Shutterstock.