The use of the term cisgender (hereafter cis) has been a matter of some discussion within the Workers’ Liberty. There has been some discussion suggesting that the term has become a term used by trans people or other advocates of trans rights to invalidate and silence those that disagree with their view.
Before addressing this argument, it is important to first define what it exactly we mean by cis, particularly given the deficiency of some attempted definitions.
Some argue that cis people are those who feel “at ease” or “comfortable” with their socially assigned gender, whilst others argue that cis is simply shorthand for non-trans. Both of these definitions are; to varying degrees, insufficient. To say that cis people are necessarily comfortable with their assigned gender is to ignore the coercive nature of social assignment of gender in society based upon sex differences perceived at birth. Cis people are no less coercively socially regimented and restrained by gendered society than trans people are. None of us are afforded a say in the matter at birth after all. Rather, it is their gender identity that is broadly consistent with their assigned gender, though not necessarily with gendered signifiers or behaviour.
To say that cis simply means that which is not trans is also deficient as its own definition. To define things by opposition necessarily leads to problems. To define cis as “not trans”, woman as “not man” or vice versa allows us only to view that group through the lens of “otherness”. This is to say nothing of the fact that there are those who do not feel they sit in either of these categories, such as many non-binary people.
For the purposes of discussion then, a proposed definition of cis is someone whose gender identity is consistent with their socially assigned gender at birth and does not feel compelled to identify outside of that gendered category in a broad sense. This is said with the understanding that gendered behaviour and signifiers are not tied to gender identity. Given this, is the term cis useful?
In as far as it is descriptive of a majority of the population and effectively describes a feature of their gender identity: yes. Is it sometimes used flippantly as a way of invalidating the input of certain people to debates around the issue of trans rights? Again, yes. But is this phenomenon in any way unique to debates around trans rights? It must be said, no.
Throughout almost all questions of “identity politics” people are told they should not be involved in the discussion of certain issues because they are men, they are straight, they are white etc. I don’t for a minute think we would advocate for an end to any of these terms as useful, descriptive terms simply because they are sometimes used to stifle debate in the same way cis is used. The misapplication and misuse of terminology in certain contexts by some groups of people does not mean that we should do away with the language altogether for fear of this misuse. Certainly not whilst the language still has descriptive value.
Making things up since 1930
The Morning Star is known in some circles, because of its stance on Brexit, as “the Daily Mail of the left”. But, increasingly, this description is becoming unfair — to the Daily Mail.
Since Geordie Greig (a friend of George Osborne who voted Remain in the referendum) took over as editor from fanatical Brexiteer and Boris Johnson supporter Paul Dacre, the Mail has noticeably toned down its anti-EU and anti-Remain stridency (“Crush The Saboteurs” etc). Meanwhile, the Morning Star has continued with its fanatical and largely fact-free anti-EU rhetoric, regularly claiming (against all the evidence) that the EU would prevent Labour implementing its manifesto and regularly carrying articles by the Arron Banks-funded Trade Unionists Against the EU (a recent example blamed the EU for the danger of a hard border in Ireland).
So Monday’s editorial, in the aftermath of the weekend’s 700,000-strong anti-Brexit march, was entirely predictable: “Their patronising demand for a ‘People’s’ Vote, with its implication that extraterrestrials or farm animals voted to leave first time round, oozes New Labour marketing style. “Whereas obstacles were placed in the way of the Stop the War Coalition in 2003, from media misrepresentation or censorship to Blair government attempts to prevent marchers gathering in Hyde Park for fear of ‘damaging the grass,’ the neoliberal media, including the BBC, has been wholeheartedly behind the People’s Vote project.”
This sort of nonsense is typical of the Morning Star: drawing a false comparison with the 2003 anti-war march while conveniently ignoring the fact that (a) Saturday’s march was the biggest since 2003 and (b) according to media interviews many of Saturday’s marchers has also been on the 2003 march. Noticeably, the Morning Star also completely ignored the presence of Another Europe Is Possible and Left Against Brexit contingents on the march: to acknowledge the presence of significant numbers of organised leftists would fatally undermine the Morning Star’s picture of the marchers as either subsidised stooges of Anna Soubry, Alistair Campbell and George Soros (the editorial claims they and “a miscellany of wealthy celebrities” paid for the transport to the demo), or simply misguided liberal simpletons.
But most typical of all is the nonsense about the “neoliberal media, including the BBC” being “wholeheartedly behind the People’s vote project.” Where is the Morning Star’s evidence for this sweeping statement? After all, despite the Daily Mail’s recent change of tone, it — together with the vast majority of the UK press — remains implacably pro-Brexit. As for the BBC: its supposed pro-People’s Vote stance will come as news to those who have watched Nigel Farage’s regular appearances on Question Time (more than any other politician) or listened to John Humphrey’s ill-disguised pro-Brexit commentaries on Radio 4’s Today programme (now produced, incidentally, by Boris Johnson’s friend Sarah Sands). What lies behind the Morning Star’s blatant misrepresentation of the facts surrounding Saturday’s march and Brexit more generally? Is it paranoia or simple dishonesty?
Given the nature of the Stalinist clique that produces the Morning Star, it could well be both.