Cis is not targeted at gay white men, nor is it targeted at feminist women, nor is it targeted at any one particular demographic. Cis people are everywhere. At the most liberal interpretation (highest number of trans people, plus genderqueer and intersex people) I’m aware of, cis people make up ~480-495 out of every 500 people on Earth.
Cis is not an insult, it’s not a slur. It is, however, as much of an identity as trans is, even if most cis people never stop to think about the fact that they’re cis, that they just assume that being what they are (“I’m just a person, I’m not cis/white/het/able-bodied!”) is the normal way to be.
Being cis doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Having privilege doesn’t make anyone a bad person. When you sit back and you think “that person who’s calling me cis is saying I have privilege and thus I AM A TERRIBLE PERSON” consider that the trans person who says that may be white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied, or otherwise privileged. That trans person who says that may even have come to terms with hir own privileges, and does not take it personally when her privilege is pointed out to her.
And what does this privilege really mean? It means several things. Having privilege means is that it’s something you don’t have to think about. As far as you’re concerned, culture is designed to accommodate you in this particular way, treat you as if you’re normal, the human default with regards to gender identity (if you’re a male and identify yourself as a man, or you’re a female and identify yourself as a woman). You don’t have to think about your gender identity because everyone considers it natural. People may consider how you do gender to be wrong, but they don’t question whether you are a man or a woman. They may think that a man attracted to men or a woman attracted to women is doing gender wrong because you’re not heterosexual, but that is homophobia, and is not the same thing that trans people experience. I say this as a trans woman who is also a lesbian.
Transphobia is when I’m told that I’m not really a woman at all, that I’m supposed to be a man. Transphobia is when someone decides I must really be a gay man because I transitioned, despite the fact that I’m attracted to women. Many many many cis gay men and lesbian women make this mistake – I really love it when a cis gay man starts loudly complaining about how trans people are just giving into heteronormativity by transitioning, as if all trans women are really cis gay men who want to naturalize their attraction to men as heterosexual, or all trans men are really cis lesbian women who want to naturalize their attraction to women as heterosexual. And at least acknowledge any genderqueer people, who may identify as both man and woman, or neither, or as in-between, or whose identification may shift. And acknowledge trans people who don’t transition and express their gender in other ways.
Transphobia was when I had an ID card that claimed I was male, even while living as a woman, because surgery is required to change your documentation in many states. Transphobia is when I had to out myself every time I applied for a job, purchased alcohol, or entered a night club. Transphobia is when I go to the emergency room, and once it comes out that I’m trans, regardless of the state I’m in, the conversation is not about why I’m in the ER, but what my genitalia looks like.
Being cis means not dealing with those things on a systematic basis. You may deal with similar things, and you may occasionally deal with some of those things. I know more than a few butch lesbian women who have been asked to leave or even forced out of women’s restrooms, but at the same time, I don’t know any who were asked – as I was – to use a restroom two blocks away when I was attending a business school because they felt I was too dangerous to allow in a restroom with cis women.
And when someone (cis or trans) talks about bigoted cis people, just because you’re cis, does not mean that it’s about you. Not all cis people wallow in anti-trans bigotry to the degree that John Aravosis does. Just because society is built to accommodate you and exclude me in one particular does not mean that every reference I make to the group you belong to is actually specifically about you. If you don’t think it’s about you, and you’re not being called out, don’t take it personally.
This is what’s wrong with the conversation that went down on Pam’s House Blend, and is still going down there now – that so many people are making the fact that transphobic cis people exist into an attack upon them. And by doing so, they end up saying and doing things that fulfills the label they’re trying to reject – the cis person who says bigoted things about trans people. Congratulations. Now, do the easy thing, and stop making it about you. Stop taking rightful criticisms directed at John Aravosis personally. You didn’t make him say those things, and if you don’t agree with them, why are you getting defensive when someone refers to John and his supports as transphobic cis men?
Why does this even need to be explained?
I almost forgot to add – read this post about the need for cis terminology.