There’s yet another supposed trans “ally” decrying how the word cisgender (or “cis” for short) is an indication that “political correctness” has proved we have all “lurched back to 1991”. This time it’s the turn of Spectator hack Damian Thompson. No, I won’t link to the “article” in question, I won’t give them the traffic. It’s called The march of the new political correctness (because of course it is) if you want to Google it.
He tries to start by setting himself up as a trans ally but the mask slips very quickly – in the first paragraph, in fact. That’s where he decides to put the word “identify” in quotes, to suggest identities are not real things. Its obvious he does not believe in our identities by his claim that he knows a couple of trans women (written in a typical “some of my best friends are black” manner) and claims that “One was so convincing that my jaw hit the floor when I was told she was born a man” (emphasis mine).
Note that he was told, not that she told him. Not also that she had to “convince” him, he didn’t simply accept her gender. That’s a red, flashing warning light right there. This guy claims to be a trans ally but he’s really not.
He then quickly goes on to claim only 0.7% of the world is trans; which is patently absurd. Conservative estimates put 1 in every 100 people on the trans/intersex side of the spectrum, which would make his claim to our numbers be very unsound.
The actual numbers don’t matter, however. He’s trying to play to the small-minded fears of those who are comfortably in the majority. Why should we pander to the minorities, he suggests, when there are so few of them? Surely they should try harder to fit in with us? No. You don’t get to make peoples’ lives miserable just because there are more of you than them. That is the logic of the bully, the troll, the idiot. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking like a vicious minority who masquerades as part of the reasonable majority.
The troll minority don’t like labels, because labels get in the way of their internal story about how they are “normal” and how everyone should be just like them. There is no normal. Sure, there are some collections of averages but there isn’t a single person who fits into every median for every measurable aspect of human life; which is what “normal” is supposed to be. Labels help sort out categories for those times when we need a category, such as when discussing groups of people in generalised terms. In those situations, the idea of “normal” is worthless, because it’s not only incredibly vague but also totally stupid – you would have people who were “normal” for the purposes of category A but “abnormal” for category B. Do you want to be lumped in as “abnormal”? No, of course not. So stop fighting for other people to be abnormal.
Cisgender, or “cis”, is a label like any other. It means your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned when you were born. That’s it, nothing more. You can look at it as meaning “not transsexual” or “not intersex” if you want but it still won’t mean anything more than you get put into the majority pile when we are discussing gender identity and intersex/transgender rights. That’s it. It doesn’t change your life in any way, just like being labelled as straight doesn’t.
Damian then goes on to use the slow march toward acceptance for trans people, and the subsequent change in acceptable language as more and more people realise it’s not okay to insult us, as a way of trying to make out that the old days, when you could happily call anyone any insult you felt like, were a good thing. They really, really weren’t – unless you happened to be a heterosexual, cisgender, white man, of course. Back in the bad old days, the world was made for you and you had it great. Now you have to share and I understand that some of you are having a hard time coming to terms with that. Here’s the thing though: you’re going to have to get over that. Those days are gone and they are never coming back.
There’s another problem though, Damian: language is fluid. It changes all the time. Back in the middle of the last century, a school kid picking up a penny in the street would be called a “Jew” and teased mercilessly by their friends (if you can call them friends – are people really friends if the only reason you hang out with them is that you’re stuck in the same room together for eight hours a day?). Kids when I was at infants’ school called things “black” when they didn’t like them (ignorant kids nowadays use “gay” in the same manner). Some modern children have taken to calling people “a bit UKIP” if they think they are creepy. Language changes. In the case of children, language changes fast.
Language also changes for adults, of course. I’m 34 and I remember a time when a facebook was a specialised photo album and only Jack and Jill tumbled. We take in new terms whenever we need them for new ideas, or to replace outmoded old ideas. The only time this seems to be a problem for people is when they decide they don’t want to change. They like the world the way it used to be and don’t want to adapt to suit the modern reality; like they have a choice in when everyone moves on. You don’t have a choice. Adapt or get left behind.
But hey, let’s pander to Damian for a moment, just to show how ridiculous his position really is. Let’s look at the world as it would be if the language we spoke never changed:
Dissimulare possumus omnes quasi linguae atque evolutionis non mutatur, sed in fine ipsi soli nos seducimus. Quo magis repugnaret ad mutationem loquimur pauciores populus loquar tibi.
What’s that, most of you can’t read Latin? Of course you can’t. The world moved on. Here’s something to think about though: when Latin was in its prime, there wasn’t the need for a term like LGBT. The Romans were, on the whole, far more accepting of LGB people (the jury is still out on trans acceptance due to lack of documentation – we won’t go into Elagabalus right now) and having a gay fling was far from uncommon.
I’m not saying we should go out and embrace Roman lifestyles but I will say this: don’t let backward-thinking naysayers like Damian Thompson push us back to the dark ages. We fought long and hard to come into the light, let’s all enjoy the fruits of that labour.