Objections to ‘Cis’

Many women have written eloquently over the years about their objection to the word ‘cis’. According to those who wish to impose it on us, it is just the equivalent of using the word ‘straight’ to define yourself if you are not gay: without this word some people might be tempted to use the word ‘normal’ for their sexuality, thus positioning the other as ‘abnormal’. So far so understandable, but there’s a fundamental difference in the function of the words ‘straight’ and ‘cis’. ‘Straight’ has a definable meaning, which is ‘heterosexual: attracted to the opposite sex’. Even if homosexuality did not exist, heterosexuality would still be a meaningful definition – you don’t have to believe in homosexuality for heterosexuality to exist.

‘Cis’ however, does depend on a belief system to make it meaningful, and it is this which makes it more than a neutral descriptor. Cis is short for cisgendered, and the usual definition (apart from ‘not trans’) is having ‘a gender which matches your sex assigned at birth’. Immediately there are two major assumptions to challenge: sex is not ‘assigned’ at birth, it is recorded, and ‘gender’ is a concept which is rejected by many people and is in any case impossible to define. Calling me cisgender does not just say I am someone who is ‘not trans’, it ties me in to a belief system I don’t share and which I see as actively harmful, especially to women and girls. This is a perfectly understandable reason to reject the word ‘cis’ and that should be the end of it… but there’s more.

The unwanted labelling of ‘cis’ is enforced whether you like it or not. Many women object to being demoted to a subset of their own sex class, when previously the word ‘woman’ was sufficient and carried meaning. For a movement dedicated to the idea of always believing that people are what they say they are, there is a notable lack of acceptance of the position ‘I’m not cis’. According to the ideology you have to be either cis or trans, and this imposition of gender is one of the things that is most regressive about trans ideology. I didn’t spend a lifetime trying to escape the confines of the feminine gender box only to be forced into the restrictive cisgender box instead.

If you’re forced to accept the word ‘cis’ then you have to concede that women come in both male and female varieties. ‘Cis’ is the other side of the coin to the ‘transwomen are women’ mantra, in that it ensures the category of women contains both sexes. In this system a ‘transwoman’ is a male woman and a ‘cis woman’ is a female woman, and these are now equal subsets of the category ‘woman’. Cis is doing the job of letting men into the female sex class, and it means you can no longer be just a woman, you have to make a choice over what sex of woman you are.

An argument I have been seeing more frequently when women object to men in their spaces, is that it’s not ‘cis men’ who will be allowed in, but ‘transwomen’. Cis works here to differentiate between the men who are really male (cis men) and those who are really female (transwomen), and at the same time it puts ‘transwomen’ and women into the same category. However, without the belief system which says that women can come in both male and female varieties, it is not always possible on the ground to tell the difference between a ‘cis man’ and a ‘transwoman’, especially now that the bandwidth of ‘trans’ has been widened so exponentially. In accepting the word ‘cis’ you have lost the means to differentiate between men and women, because they both now come in both sexes.

Question: “What is the difference betweeen a cis man and a transwoman?”

Answer: “His say so”.

Once ‘cis’ has done its job of mixing up the sexes into a new gender-determined classification, a much bigger problem becomes clear. The two subsets of women (cis and trans) turn out to be not so equal after all. Cis is being used to posit an axis of oppression which subverts the usual order of things and places females as the oppressors of males: if women come in both cis and trans varieties it’s the cis ones who have the privilege. Cis privilege means that cis people oppress trans people, so it naturally follows that males are the most oppressed of all women. Once that’s established, then it’s clear that female women, with all their privilege, can no longer be allowed to organise alone without their male ‘sisters’. Groups like ‘Sisters not Cisters’ have sprung up to make sure we can never have anything just for ourselves ever again.

The result is that women are increasingly being called out when they prioritise ‘female women’, or leave out ‘male women’, in activities which were formerly perfectly well-understood as women-only. What once would have been celebrated as progressive for centering women, helping to promote justice, level the playing field or correct the male default, is now a sign of ‘transphobia’. Karen Ingala-Smith suffers periodic abusive Twitter pile-ons because her ‘Counting Dead Women’ project does just that, and Jean Hatchet endures a similar fate for her ‘Ride for Murdered Women’ fundraising bike rides. The Twitter accounts of ‘Women’s Art’ and ‘Great Women of Mathematics’ have had similar attacks from trans allies who cannot bear to see the word ‘woman’ being used without the inclusion of men. International Women’s Day has become just another opportunity on social media to insist that males must be included in the category of women.

It’s a double bind: we are apparently expected to adopt the categorisation of ‘cis women’ but then we are not allowed to organise as ‘cis women’.

Trans people on the other hand are allowed to have meetings and days of rememberance, days of visibility, and all manner of trans-only events and celebrations, without bomb threats or violence or protest. ‘Inclusion’ of other categories is not demanded of trans groups, it’s only demanded of women. When we are lambasted for ‘excluding’, there is no recognition that we are losing something we are entitled to, and often something we rely on. ‘Women-only’ has meant a place of safety or of sanctuary or of healing ever since second wave feminists fought for our rights as women, decades ago.

The Women’s Institute is the latest women’s organisation to come out as trans inclusive, which means it is no longer women-only. It is not just the case that women’s organisations have the choice whether or not to include males, it is now the fact that any which decide not to are hounded until they give in, or forever have to accept the label of bigoted transphobes. We are very nearly at the point where whenever we do anything for women we will have to include men. Many women are happy with this, actively wishing to include men who identify as women, and this is their choice. The choice though, for women who don’t want to, or can’t, include men, is dwindling. These women are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable: sexual abuse or domestic violence survivors, prisoners, women who need refuge and women of particular faiths for example. For other women it’s just a matter of preference: the presence of males in the room makes a difference: men dominate, they talk louder, they interrupt more; sometimes you don’t want that; increasingly it’s being forced on you.

The implications of this are far-reaching. When services are advertised as ‘women-only’, or expected to be so because of social convention, then a possibility arises that a woman needing a male-free environment, for whatever reason, will at some point come across an unexpected male, possibly when she is in a state of undress or otherwise vulnerable. Very few women in this position will know what the new rules are. Not everyone is on Twitter. No woman can say on behalf of any other woman that it is now ok for ‘women-only’ to mean ‘both sexes.’ Nobody has that right. Each woman gives consent for herself and herself alone.

The equality law in the UK works by protecting certain characteristics that have traditionally suffered discrimination. Although ‘sex’ as a protected characteristic can be used to protect either sex, in reality sex discrimination mostly discriminates against women. The fundamental basis of women’s rights is a distinction between the sexes, allowing single-sex spaces and services where this is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’ It is the service which is judged by these criteria, not the individual wishing to use it, and up until now the aim of providing a healing space in which to recover from male violence has always met those criteria. Single-sex spaces are therefore ‘allowed’ by the law, even if the provision of them discriminates against another protected group.

It has been suggested many times (as a serious argument) that the aim to keep women’s toilets and changing rooms women-only would entail a policing of people’s genitals at the doorway, as if we were not very good at determining the sex of anyone we come across without checking their chromosomes or looking inside their pants first. Pictures of ‘passing transwomen’ are rolled out as a ‘Gotcha’, as though the successful feminisation of a single man disproves the male and female sex binary. It doesn’t though; quite the opposite: it highlights just how difficult it is to escape the confines of biological sex, with its combination of obvious and subtle visual differences. The problem is that you may say ‘transwoman’ but we see ‘male.’

What’s the difference again, between a ‘cis man’ and a ‘transwoman’?

His say so.

There is no definition of ‘ciswomen’ in law. ‘Ciswomen’ is not a protected characteristic. Choosing to use the definition ‘cis’ turns ‘woman’ into a two-sex category for which the law cannot deliver single-sex protection. Arguably, that’s the whole point of it. The protected category of sex becomes unworkable, and with it women’s basic rights. Distinct rights for women become impossible if ‘women’ includes ‘men’. If the use of the word ‘cis’ becomes normalised, then as females we will always be yoked to males.

Every manifestation of the word ‘cis’ is detrimental to women. There are no benefits. We have everything to lose. Don’t give in, don’t use the term ‘ciswomen’.

43 thoughts on “Objections to ‘Cis’

  1. becklaxton55312570 July 16, 2020 / 10:45 pm

    Thank you so much much for this clear and detailed explanation. As a feminist for forty years, I’d lost touch with everything and getting up to speed on trans ideologies has been a shock. It seems we never make an advance but we lose it as soon as we relax our guard. I’m about to become a lot more activist.

  2. becklaxton55312570 July 16, 2020 / 11:01 pm

    And I was obediently calling myself ‘cis’ because it seemed to be compulsory. Good to have my consciousness raised!

    • Not The News in Briefs July 18, 2020 / 10:02 am

      Thanks for the feedback, and yes, we need that consciousness raising again don’t we?

  3. helenduignan July 16, 2020 / 11:10 pm

    Thank you so much Helen. Really clear and very well argued. Great points. I only wish I could remember everything. I’ll copy and paste to my phone notes and familiarise myself with the arguments. I’m not willing to be a subset of my own sex! I’m not willing to be a subset of my own sex! I’m not willing to be a subset of my own sex!

    • Not The News in Briefs July 18, 2020 / 10:06 am

      Thank you. We need to take notice when we feel uncomfortable with something don’t we?And then find the words to defend our position.

  4. Lily Maynard July 17, 2020 / 3:07 am

    Spot on, Helen! Thank you.

    • Not The News in Briefs July 18, 2020 / 9:59 am

      Thanks for sharing, it seems to have resonated with a lot of people x

  5. Kay Warner July 17, 2020 / 11:07 am

    Bloody good blog!

  6. BettyLou Hooke. July 17, 2020 / 5:44 pm

    This is very well written. Thanks!

  7. Belissa Cohen July 17, 2020 / 5:56 pm

    So well-written and well-thought-out! Very impressive and super helpful. Puts our collective discomfort into words. I’m going to post the link to gender critical feminist pages on Facebook!

    • Not The News in Briefs July 18, 2020 / 9:58 am

      Thanks, I hope it will be useful!

  8. Katrina July 17, 2020 / 9:29 pm

    Ask a dairy farmer about whether a bull can identify as a cow, and be included in the milking shed. Farmers will tell us in no uncertain terms that there is NO SUCH THING AS A MALE COW. How come they know that female and male animals are different, but the Women’s Institute doesn’t? Now, cows ain’t humans, that’s true, but humans are still animals, just like a cow and a bull are. We’re the only dumb-arse animals mixing up the cows and bulls.

    • Mary McQueen July 17, 2020 / 10:47 pm

      Exactly my thoughts too, we are mammals, primates! I’m fine with H. Sapien being part of a subset of primate–Great Apes! Never shall cis-woman cross my lips. Thank you for article.

    • miacampioni July 18, 2020 / 5:43 am

      Haha, Katrina! Spot on! Only humans are into alternative reality!

  9. Daniel R. Grayson July 17, 2020 / 9:44 pm

    Very good.

    Some corrections: “criteria” is plural; change “yolked” to “yoked”.

    • Not The News in Briefs July 18, 2020 / 9:53 am

      Thank you. Oops! Edited.

    • JahnieQ October 18, 2020 / 6:40 am

      always a man to come along and find the “wrong thing” she said, no matter how petty.

  10. New Bee July 17, 2020 / 9:49 pm

    Their own ‘scientific’ reasoning is ‘Biology isn’t simple/completely airtight and therefore can be completely disregarded (not defined or quantified in any way)’. I think most things CAN NOT be proven without a doubt/ without exceptions to the rule. However, biological sex clearly exists DESPITE any exceptions to the rules. Even IF biological sex was completely disproven, it would not be ethical/fair to force others to accept that. Flat Earthers are not silenced, impoverished (fired), or imprisoned for their beliefs that go against scientific observation, so why should people who believe in XX and XY chromosomes determining sex IF that was completely disproven (and for the record I really don’t think it should be, especially not for their definitions).

    Their definition: Women/man=anyone who defines as a woman/man. This is clearly a circular/meaningless definition. Just because there are some problems with the XX / XY definition doesn’t mean we should replace it with a system that makes no sense and is entirely based on individuals personal (and probably sexist) beliefs. Gender is an abstract concept, there is no justification for trying to force people to think/feel/say/act in the same way about gender as you do (Freedom of Religion/ideology/Speech and all that).

    Also since the definitions of man/woman doesn’t have any mention of sex that should mean trans and cis people shouldn’t exist. Gender must have something to do with sex in order for trans and cis people to exist, otherwise what will they be transitioning from or comfortable with. They need the proper definition of sex for their belief system to work, but refuse to let anyone outside of their belief system use it, out of fear that they will use it to declare they don’t exist. This makes no sense.

    Sorry for the long text, just needed to get my thoughts in order after a bunch of gaslighting form TRAs. Love you for the blog and the commenters for showing solidarity.

  11. Floriana July 17, 2020 / 10:21 pm

    I’ve done pages of notes of my own on why I hate ‘cis’ so it’s great to read someone else’s arguments and to agree with them all! While we cannot police the speech of others, I do hope people will now think harder whether they are saying what they really believe. If you don’t believe in trans ideology, ask yourself if, and why, you would use its language. I sometimes wonder why these men don’t call themselves hateful, bigoted ‘cisphobes’ as it ought to work both ways!

    • Not The News in Briefs July 18, 2020 / 10:08 am

      Good point. Except that it’s overwhelmingly the female ‘cis’ people they hate… 🤔

  12. miacampioni July 18, 2020 / 5:36 am

    The best answer to the meaning of ‘cis’ comes from the male as norm, ie. from those who are born male and are gay, when they refuse to be called ‘cis’, ie. they demand to be recognised as born male, ie. having a penis and being into penises!

  13. Oak and Ash July 20, 2020 / 7:50 pm

    Brilliantly written exposition of what a swindle the whole trans rights movement really is! “How hard is it to call yourselves cis women? Why can’t you be kind?” And then any talk about our rights, the ways we’ve been mistreated for being female, or even the natural workings of our bodies is deemed transphobic, so that our reality becomes–once again–unspeakable.

    Claiming we’re privileged as “cis women” is the TRA equivalent of the absurd idea of “female privilege” in men’s rights circles. These terms are intended to perpetuate men’s exploitation of women by obscuring it, since it’s impossible for people to be both privileged and oppressed on the same axis.

  14. Thumb Witch (@thumbwitch) July 21, 2020 / 3:02 pm

    I love this. You’ve managed to show the whole nonsense up for the illogical mess it really is, Well done!

  15. zelothien August 8, 2020 / 10:15 am

    amazing piece of work, I’ll read this multiple times, throughout this week to ingest the content fully in me

    • miacampioni August 10, 2020 / 4:20 am

      ‘CIS’ HAS NOW BEEN INTRODUCED TO DICTIONARIES! iT IS USED INCREASINGLY IN SCRIPT!

  16. Jess Clynewood August 13, 2020 / 7:49 am

    Have any of you ever actually met a transwoman? Whilst I can understand the fear that comes with the “allowing men in to women’s spaces” argument, I have never, ever met a trans woman that I did not want to welcome in to any female space with open arms. To exclude them would be, in my personal experience, nothing other than fear-based bigotry and prejudice. And to force them into male spaces puts them into considerable danger. I’m just not sure what this special female-only space is worth, if it can’t consider extending it’s protection to people that are already marginalised and at risk.

    • Not The News in Briefs August 13, 2020 / 4:02 pm

      Female-only space is worth a lot to women who want privacy, safety and dignity. The most disadvantaged women would suffer most if these were to go, especially those who have suffered CSA, rape or DV. All these arguments have been fought and won already, hence the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act. We didn’t get those on a whim, and the reasons for them have not gone away.

    • Elle September 21, 2020 / 8:41 pm

      Trans people need to go get their own space instead of encroaching on our women’s spaces.

      • miacampioni September 21, 2020 / 10:20 pm

        I worked as a feminist academic ‘under’ a very international powerful academic male ‘feminist’, who transed when ca 50 years, erased his entire history, including the author name-same initials!- on his writings, academic essays etc. and taught Gender Studies and gave international interviews as a female feminist for 40 years……….try that dismantle that one!

    • JahnieQ October 18, 2020 / 6:49 am

      And what about the safety of women? If you look even a tiny you can find numerous instances of men declaring themselves women to get into their spaces, then sexually assaulting them and silencing them. How awful it is for someone who insists on declaring themselves women that they have to hang out with men. We want a space free of men. We don’t get it. Why? Because THEY want a space free of men, and they get it. You want to protect .2% of the population by sacrificing what the 51% built for themselves. We never had women only spaces until we built them OURSELVES. Now our autonomy in those spaces has been sacrificed to those with mental illnesses and delusions, to help them not have to become aware that they have delusions.

      You build yourself a safe space and let anyone in you want, but stop insulting women and trying to set our rights back by a century because you buy their misogynistic bullshit.

  17. Jess Clynewood August 13, 2020 / 8:27 am

    I guess the other thing that I feel is important to remember in this debate is that, as feminists, the thing we are fighting against is patriarchy, not men. Men can and are victims of patriarchy. As are transwomen. So in this sense, it IS possible to be both oppressor and oppressed. Any issue of equality is and has to be deeply intersectional.

    I feel uncomfortable with the thought that in defending women-only spaces, our oppression and victim-hood becomes something that is valued. As stated in the article – “distinct rights for women are impossible if the term woman includes man.” However, freedom from oppression is a human right, not only a female right. Surely we should be fighting for equal rights for all humans? This fight for equality continues but sometimes the focus needs to change, as our society changes.

    • miacampioni August 13, 2020 / 2:20 pm

      There are no Human Rights for Women anywhere, women are assumed to be equal/same as men, while they are more than 50% of the human race, specifically biologically different from men, so the term “human” assumes “male”, and “female” as non-male, it is called phallogocentrism!

      • Jess Clynewood August 16, 2020 / 1:51 pm

        That was a direct quote from the article, hence the quote marks.

    • Not The News in Briefs August 13, 2020 / 4:04 pm

      This is a little bit ‘All lives matter’. Feminists fight for women’s rights – in an unequal society human rights are often male by default so if you fight for them you will leave women out.

      • Jess Clynewood August 16, 2020 / 1:55 pm

        I understand that feminists fight for women’s rights. However, I think that sometimes we need to change our thinking and redefine our fights as society changes. A lot has changed over the past few decades, and I think that nowadays much of the Feminism that is trans-exclusionary is missing the point, and fails to remember that it is patriarchy that is the oppressor, not men.

      • miacampioni August 17, 2020 / 3:27 pm

        Patriarchy is an old concept, it is not fathers that are the oppressors any longer, but a global system of domination which favours those who are born with a penis, so we are living under the norm of phallocentrism, and its discourse is phallogocentrism

  18. Feisty Amazon September 14, 2020 / 8:46 am

    Thank you so much! I am a proud Butch Dyke, came out in 1981, when Lesbians were PROUDLY FEMALE and activist BY AND FOR Lesbians and women as a whole. We stoof up to ALL MALES!! Broke i to so many fields, advocated by and for each other!!

    Do not call me queer,terf or Cis, I am NONE of those things!! I never conformed to feminine roles rejecting it ENTIRELY. Lesbians TAUGHT me to be proudly FEMALE. And that WE can do anything we put our minds to!! Whether it be martial arts,the Trades or anything else. Sadly much ofthat Lesbian mentorship has been lost in everyone trying to switch h” genders”.

    Males are NOT Female, they are NOT Lesbians nor can be,and most NEVER even pass as women. Their voices, their bodies and facial features and particularly their attitudes and assumption of privilege over every woman alive continue to prove just how male they are…

  19. Elle September 21, 2020 / 8:39 pm

    Wonderful article, thank you for this!

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