Why Language Matters

I didn’t want to write this post. I have been trying to be less controversial and continue writing about pop culture. Unfortunately, something has been bothering me for months now. Language and word choice matter. “Fuck off” is a very different phrase than “go away.” Both have similar meaning, but one just is much more direct and obscene than the other. 

Mount Holyoke College announced they will be admitting trans women now, and that is awesome. Unfortunately, the sentence from their new policy statement is clunky and offensive.

It is this positionality that biological and transwomen share…

I will let you think about what is offensive about that. Got it? If you found the word biological used in a weird clunky way, you win a prize. They are positioning that biological women are the opposite of trans women. The correct term if you even had a modicum of sense of googling would be cisgender. We are all biological. This makes it seem like trans women are silicon based lifeforms. The term biological others trans people like me implying we are weird, not biological, or fake.

Using the term cisgender apparently is offensive. It shouldn’t be at all. Cisgender means same gender. Cisgender people’s gender identity align with their assigned sex at birth, Transgender means across genders. Trans people’s identities do not align with their assigned sex at birth.

So why is cisgender offensive? Because it points out that everyone has a gender identity? Is being called heterosexual offensive if you identify as that? Normalizing othering hurts marginalized groups. Every time I hear someone say they don’t have a gender identity, it hurts. It is a microagression. It puts my gender identity under the microscope because it makes me think about my own more. Using the world “normal” is offensive because nothing is really normal. We are all weird organisms.

I am weird for a lot of reasons, but being trans and queer are not them. I am tired of othering. Cis people need to recognize their privilege. They mostly don’t have to defend choices and likes that align with the opposite gender. For example, I feel like I have to defend my love of sports all the time because I feel like cis people would think I am not a real woman because I love sports. Cis women who love sports do not have to defend their gender identity because they like something that is considered traditionally masculine. There are plenty of reasons trans women go super femme. Gatekeeping by cisgender people has forced us into this box of femininity that cis women do not necessarily have to subscribe to. Luckily for a lot of us trans women, we are breaking free of this forced box and into our own fleshed out beings.

I do commend Mount Holyoke College (and Mills College, who also announced they were accepting trans people) for expanding their admissions policies. Mount Holyoke even includes gender noncomforming people in their admissions policy now, which is pretty awesome.  I just am angry that they still participate in the othering of trans people.

Every time a cis person argues with me about the term cisgender, it hurts a bit more. I figured by now we have acceptable terms for gender description. They are just descriptors, nothing more. I am not saying you have to shout from the hills that you are cis. I am just saying accept the fact that you have a gender identity. The term cisgender was not created in some back room with a bunch of trans people plotting on how to hurt non trans people. In fact the prefix cis, has been used by science for a long time, mostly in chemistry to describe bonds that are the same.

Cisgender is not a slur. If you believe it is, you probably think heterosexual, white, or rich are slurs. Check your privilege and understand how you hurt me and countless other trans people. We can then move on and be healed.

By Alyson

Queer Pop Culture Junkie in the Northwest. Addicted to Coffee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fantasy Sports, The Mountain Goats, and Tottenham Hotspur.

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