If you have never read this before, go read it, now: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/08/terrible-bargain-we-have-regretfully.html [Trigger warning.] But come back please. We have so much to talk about.
If I played by cissupremicists’ rules, specifically the one that dictates it only takes one trans* person doing one Mean or Duplicitous or Disrespectful or Unlawful or otherwise Bad Thing to justify hatred of all trans* people, I would have plenty of justification for hating cis people, if I were inclined to do that sort of thing.
Most of the degendering comments I have heard have been in supposedly safe spaces. I frequent feminist and atheist communities, many of which claim to love queer and trans people as a reaction against conservative Christian hate of the same. I have heard that my genderqueer identity is an invention to blind myself to the realities of the kyriarchy, that trans women are just men trying to blackmail lesbians into having sex with them if they don’t want to be called bigots, that trans* people are oppressing cis people with our denialism of biological realities.
But I don’t hate cis people because I play by different rules. In fact, there are cissies in this world whom I love quite a lot.
There are also individual cis people in this world I would say I probably hate, or something close, people who I hold in unfathomable contempt, but it is not because they are cis.
No, I don’t hate cis people.
It would, however, be fair to say that I don’t easily trust them.
My mistrust is not, as one might expect, primarily a result of the constant arguments and occasional threats of violence as regards to my gender. It is, instead, born of the multitude of mundane betrayals that mark my every relationship with cis people—the casual cross-dressing joke, the use of the wrong pronoun, the dehumanization of the non-binary body, the accusations of overreaction, the requests that I be patient with them as they still “see me as a woman” so this is going to be very difficult for them.
There are the insidious assumptions guiding our interactions—the supposition that I will regard being exceptionalized as a compliment (“but you’re really hot!”), and the presumption that I am, really, still eager to reinforce the way cis people have always thought about gender. “Surely, we’re all in agreement that if I’m attracted to women, and I’m attracted to you, that means I get to relate to you as I do to other women.” Always the subtle pressure to abandon my identity, as if I’ll one day throw up my hands and laugh “you caught me, I was just doing it to feel different and special, when I’m really just female to the core!”. I am exhorted to be patient and understanding, and if I hesitate, I’m just not being understanding, surely I can’t expect cis people to understand. And so it goes.
There are the jokes about “my gender is now mongoose”, about “traps”, about “invented” pronouns, about “Ann Coulter is a man”. They are told in my presence by members of supposedly safe spaces, just to get a rise out of me, as though I am meant to find funny a reminder of my second-class status. I am meant to ignore that this is specifically meant to put me into my place. I can laugh, and they can thus feel superior, or I can not laugh, and they can thus feel superior. Heads they win, tails I lose. I am used as a prop in an ongoing game of kyriarchal posturing, and then I am meant to believe it is true when some of the people who enjoy this sport, in which I am their pawn, tell me, “we’re all on the same team, really.” I am meant to trust these words.
There are the occasions that people—intellectual people, clever people, engaged people—insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading: Gender Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged people want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged people, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. “Why do you have to take this stuff so personally?” ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged people, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.
There is the perplexity at my fury that my life experience is considered more biased and less relevant than the opinionated pronouncements of cis people who make a pastime of informal observation, like gender is an exotic locale which provides magnificent fodder for the amateur ethnographer. And there is the haughty dismissal of my assertion that being on the outside looking in doesn’t make one more objective; it merely provides a different perspective.
There are the persistent, tiresome pronouncements of similitude between cis and trans*/genderqueer experiences, the belligerent insistence that they don’t “feel gender” either! that trans* identities reinforce gender stereotypes! that anything done by one gender can be done by another! that they don’t even mind when someone uses the wrong pronoun! and other equivalencies that conveniently and stupidly ignore institutional inequities that mean X rarely equals Y. And there are the long-suffering groans that meet any attempt to contextualize gender and refute the idea that such cis experiences, though prevalent they all may be, are not necessarily equal to trans* experiences.
There are the stereotypes—oh, the abundant stereotypes!—about trans* people, not me, of course, but others, those trans women with their relentless shopping habits and their disgusting vanity and their inability to stop talking and their disinterest in Important Things and their trying to trap men and their false rape accusations and their being bitches sluts whores cunts… And I am expected to nod in agreement, and I am nudged and admonished to agree. I am expected to say these things are not true of me, but are true of trans women (am I seceding from the union?); I am expected to put my stamp of token approval on the stereotypes. “Yes, it’s true. Between you and me, it’s all true.” That’s what is wanted from me. Abdication of my principles and pride, in service to a kyriarchal system that will only use my collusion to further subjugate me. This is a thing that is asked of me by people who purport to care for me.
There is the unwillingness to listen, a ferociously stubborn not getting it on so many things, so many important things. And the dispassionate refusal to believe, to internalize, that my outrage is not manufactured and my injure not make-believe—an inflexible rejection of the possibility that my pain is authentic, in favor of the consolatory belief that I am angry because I’m just being oversensitive.
And there is the denial about engaging in transmisogyny and binarism, even when it’s evident, even when it’s pointed out gently, softly, indulgently, carefully, with goodwill and the presumption that it was not intentional. There is the firm, fixed, unyielding denial—because it is better and easier to imply that I’m stupid or crazy, that I have imagined being insulted by someone about whom I care (just for the fun of it!), than it is to just admit a friggin’ mistake. Rather I am implied to be a hysteric than to say, simply, I’m sorry.
Not every cis person does all of these things, or even most of them, and certainly not all the time. But it only takes one, randomly and occasionally to call me “she”, like an unexpected punch in the nose, to send me staggering sideways, wondering what just happened.
Well. I certainly didn’t see that coming…
These things, they are not the habits of deliberately, connivingly cruel people. They are, in fact, the habits of many of the people in this world I care for quite a lot.
All of whom have given me reason to mistrust them, to use my distrust as a self-protection mechanism, as an essential tool to get through every day, because I never know when I might next get knocked off-kilter with something that puts me in the position, once again, of choosing between my dignity and the serenity of our relationship.
Swallow being misgendered, or ruin the entire afternoon?
It can come out of nowhere, and usually does. Which leaves me mistrustful by both necessity and design. Not fearful; just resigned—and on my guard. More vulnerability than that allows for the possibility of wounds that do not heal. Wounds to our relationship, the sort of irreparable damage that leaves one unable to look in the eye someone that you loved once upon a time.
This, then, is the terrible bargain we have regretfully struck: cis people are allowed the easy comfort of their unexamined privilege, but my regard will always be shot through with a steely, anxious bolt of caution.
A shitty bargain all around, really. But there it is.
There are cis people who will read this post and think, huffily, dismissively, that a person of color could write a post very much like this one about white people, about me. That’s absolutely right. So could a lesbian, a gay man, an asexual. So could a poor or disabled or intersex person (which hardly makes a comprehensive list). I’m okay with that. I don’t feel hated. I feel mistrusted—and I understand it; I respect it. It means, for me, I must be vigilant, must make myself trustworthy. Every day.
I hope those cis people will hear me when I say, again, I do not hate you. I mistrust you. You can tell yourselves that’s a problem with me, some inherent flaw, some evidence that I am fucked up and broken and weird; you can choose to believe that the genderqueer and trans* people in your lives are nothing like me.
Or you can be vigilant, can make yourselves trustworthy. Every day.
Just in case they’re more like me than you think.