Cis is not a slur.

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:

slur

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.

cis

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:

  1. They may be beaten up or sexually assaulted.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Humanism ≠ Feminism

On Monday I went up to visit my parents. On the drive back to the train station, my mom told me that she’d had a super awkward conversation over dinner with old friends. The people she was eating dinner with brought up a guy they knew who had passed away in a car accident some years back. In the conversation, they remembered him being “a great guy” with a “great laugh.”

Mom brought the conversation to a screeching halt with two small sentences:

“Yea, such a great guy. You know he used to beat the hell out of his wife?”

After that, things got weird and awkward. Other people in the conversation called the woman in question “mouthy” and said that it wasn’t a coincidence that every man she’d been in a relationship with had beaten her. Mom cited repetition compulsion and that being “mouthy” (whatever that fucking means) is never an acceptable justification for abuse.

Mom felt super awkward about the conversation, but I was so proud of her! Feminist killjoy moments like that make me so happy I just have to Tweet about them.

When I told my mom that the conversation was an awesome feminist moment and how thrilled I was that she had opened up like that and corrected the other people in the conversation, her response was to say that she doesn’t “identify as feminist,” but rather as a “humanist.”

At which point I just wanted to put my head in my hands and rub my face with frustration.

I totally get where she’s coming from because I used to be her. I thought that feminism was too aggressive a movement for me to identify with. I didn’t want to lose friends over my association with some extremist viewpoint. I also thought that feminism was exclusive to women and didn’t want to exclude the men in my life from my primary operating belief system.

I had some serious learning and growing to do.

The first thing that I had to learn is that humanism is already it’s own thing. Humanism is chiefly the belief that humans have no need of supernatural powers to solve their problems. The American Humanist Association defines humanism as having numerous meanings depending on what exactly you are speaking about. Literary humanism differs from religious humanism, for example. They define Modern Humanism as:

“…a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.”

It should be noted that modern humanism grapples with whether or not it should be defined religiously or secularly. I, personally am a secular Humanist. I’m basically an atheist and I truly do believe that humans have the potential to rationally sort out their own problems. With that said, my humanism and my feminism are distinctly separate beliefs that inform one another.

My understanding of feminism was fundamentally changed when I re-framed it as a resistance to – and revolution against – the patriarchal ideals which inform our society. I realized that men were very much included in feminism when I learned about things like toxic masculinity and started to think about how the roles and responsibilities that we apply to the fantasy that is the gender binary hurt people all along the sex and gender spectrum.

My world was further opened when I found myself interacting with intersectional feminists and discovered that my feminism could include not only all genders and sexual identities, but also people of other races and other issues of social justice. Of course, this portion of my feminism meant I got called out a lot on my white feminism and my ignorance when it came to issues of trans inclusivity, which was incredibly awkward for me at the time.

The point of all of this is to say that feminism and humanism are not the same. But even more than that, feminism includes men and women and trans folk. It includes people of all colors, sizes and sexual identities. And if you meet someone who calls themselves a feminist and doesn’t actually include all of those things? Then they are not really feminists. Feminism is either intersectional or bullshit. One of those two things. But that is an issue for another blog.