Dori Owen wrote this fascinating story for Feminine Collective, “Lost In Translation”. In it, she describes a friend’s transition from male to female. Having some transgender friends, a couple of whom are still in transition, the story was especially interesting to me. I tweeted it with the line, “Interesting cis take on trans life”. Dori Owen replied to me with a thanks but with a note that she considers “cis” to be derogatory.
I was quite shocked since I’ve heard other women use the label and had never heard of it referred to as a derogatory term. Regardless, I’m a staunch believer in letting people self-identify, and if Dori Owen is uncomfortable with that label, I’m certainly not going to apply it to her. I apologized, quickly deleted the tweet, and replaced it with a new one that did not include any label of Dori Owen’s gender. (Full disclosure: I don’t know Dori Owen personally, but I am quite an admirer of her work. We follow each other on Twitter. We travel in some similar circles, but we have no personal relationship.)
Dori Owen also sent me a link for “What Does Being ‘Cis’ Mean for a Woman” which informed me on why she was not comfortable with being called “cis”. Again, I’m not about to call anyone by a label they don’t want, but this was quite helpful to me in seeing why she was so uncomfortable. I try to recognize my own privilege as much as possible, but despite being a straight white man, I haven’t always lived the most privileged life. People assuming I have often causes me hurt, and I don’t want to do that to anyone else. So while Dori Owen certainly didn’t owe me this education, I am quite grateful for it.
I will still refer to myself as a cisgender heterosexual white man for the time being. Those labels don’t really bother me, but I will be more aware of how any of them may be bothersome to anyone else. Of course, there will be plenty of times when I will enjoy the privilege of simply referring to myself as man or male and not have to include all the rest. That’s a discussion for another time, though. From now on, I’ll be as careful with the “cisgender” label as I have been with any others. Everyone has a right to self-identify, and I want to be sure I don’t take that away from anyone.
This awareness thing is hard, but I do prefer it to being ignorant and hurtful. So if you have more thoughts or knowledge on this particular topic (or other matters of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, etc.), leave me a comment. I want to learn more.