I Never Thought of “Cis” As a Derogatory Term

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.


8 thoughts on “I Never Thought of “Cis” As a Derogatory Term

  1. This is the kind of thing that always manages to irritate me somewhat. If you’re going to throw something at me for what I’m about to say, give me a second to duck first! lol

    Labels, labels, labels, labels. We have to label everything. I had never heard of “cis” before I read this post. And then I read the post you refer to. Why does a woman (or a man) who is born a woman (or a man) and feels like a woman (or a man) need to be called anything other than a woman (or a man)?

    When are people going to be people? Just plain old people. Man, woman, gay, straight, black, white. People.

    I know that I am naive. I do. I expect a level of maturity out of people, that may never be demonstrated. It always reminds me of a quote from Men in Blacks Agent K ‘ A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.’ Now, he’s talking about something different, but the song remains the same.

    And we get ourselves into trouble with these labels, just as you inadvertently did with cis. I call myself crazy, although “people” can’t have that. That’s mean, derogatory…whatever.

    I’m an English/German/Irish White Straight Woman. Or, I am a woman. Or, I am a person.

    Treat everyone well and the labels will stop mattering.

    Excellent topic for conversation!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, I think this conversation is far from over, but I’m happy to have it. I’m totally with you too. I can’t wait until we get to the point where we don’t have to worry so much about labels. Let people be people and stop damn judging them for what we think they are.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A major sign of maturity is the ability to not be offended by judgments, and to refrain from making them about yourself and others. I’m not there yet…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is difficult for a comedian in today’s world to speak without offending someone’s sensitivities. I write humorous crime fiction. In it, my private investigator’s gay neighbor refers to him politely as cis-gendered. Admittedly, my editor had to look the term up, but my gay friends use it all the time and I have never taken offense. I honestly think people need to get over themselves and lighten up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re really hitting on part of the answer. People tend to be so jumpy and extreme in their anger when someone might be offended. We do need to slow down and consider context. On the same token, I think we also need to be open to hearing each other when a particular label feels hurtful. No white comedian would really dare using an n-bomb, but I think we need to practice more patience with a term like “cisgender”. I was treated very gently and patiently by the woman I referred to in this post, and perhaps I should’ve communicated that more clearly.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m always looking for more viewpoints.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do strive not to be hurtful in my comedic exploits. My transgendered sidekick breaks through a stereotype and becomes the heroine of the story. Certainly if someone told me that they took offense to something I said to them, I would apologize and treat them respectfully.

        Liked by 1 person

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