Not Cis; not a TERF

My friend loathes the word “cis”. She told me of going to University, where the young ladies had a curfew of 11pm imposed on them, and had to wear a dress for the evening meal on Sundays. Male guests were not permitted after 7pm. She rebelled.

She was amazed and repelled by how compliant the others were. This was in the ‘Seventies, not the ‘Forties. I love her strength and determination. She managed to get round some of the rules, and was part of the pressure for their relaxation. There was no curfew when I went to Uni in the ‘Eighties, though one lad asked when “Lights Out” was, and we got the impression he would have liked one.

Back in the Eighties, feminists talked of “Consciousness raising”. If you could explain to women how oppressed they were by patriarchy, they would become feminists, fighting it. No-one talks of that now. No amount of consciousness raising will drive the soft pink floral sweater from the nation’s wardrobes. Some women see the oppression and fight it, some women love femininity and work with it. I don’t know whether James Damore, formerly of Google, is right that women are generally more co-operative, interested in people rather than things, or whether that is from socialisation or predisposition, but some women are.

Why should she be called “cis”? She rejects the feminine gender stereotype, because she does not fit it. She is a radical feminist: women share reproductive organs, and femininity is merely cultural, merely oppressive. She is a woman, but that does not make her a particular gender, and her gendered expression sometimes fits and sometimes fights the gender stereotype.

I wish she would meet me half way. I would love co-operation between her gender non-conformity and my own, because the gender stereotype, the Patriarchy, oppresses both equally and because I am more interested in people than things, and in co-operation. She called Trans a conservative movement. Tell that to the conservatives, who hate us! I suppose her argument is that we go along with the idea that my co-operativeness, etc, makes me feminine so I should express myself as female. Feminine = Female is a conservative idea. However, I have sought out the way society permits me to be my extremely feminine self- it is transition, which allows me to escape the masculine expectations forced on me. I love floral blouses and dresses, so want women to wear men’s shirts, jackets and ties if they wish; and if they wear dresses I do not imagine that says anything about their levels of co-operativeness or interest in people.

So, she is not Cis, because she does not conform to gender. Not only trans people reject the gender enforced on them. I could argue that it makes a useful shorthand to distinguish those who call ourselves trans or non-binary from everyone else, but she is not having that. She even rejects the idea that we might be particularly distant from the stereotypes, thinking gender oppresses everyone, apart from a few “alpha” males.

I would not presume to state her argument against the word TERF, but she is not hostile she says to trans women, only supportive of the rights of- she would say “biological women”. Calling us “women” sticks in her craw, but it is our way in to freedom.

The lesson I draw from this is that it is a disaster for both trans folk and her kind of feminist that we should be ranged against each other; that the oppression we suffer from Patriarchy, or whatever, is very similar, as is our interest in attacking that oppression. I feel in some cases her side’s objection to us is rooted in revulsion from femininity, falsely enforced on them. Femininity freely chosen is beautiful.

6 thoughts on “Not Cis; not a TERF

  1. I very much like this post Clare and the idea that femininity freely chosen is indeed beautiful. For us choosing to express ourselves in that manner is akin to heresy because to rebel against the favored gender makes no sense to non trans people. The worst elements of patriarchy need to be dismantled if both the feminists and us are to be freed to be who we are.

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    • Thank you.

      There are two issues- whether femininity and masculinity really mean anything, and (if they do) whether one is more highly valued. I find masculinity generally more valued than femininity, and discrimination against women means that the woman’s leadership (which is not “feminine”) is devalued and not recognised, but also that the “feminine” tendency to co-operate and reconcile differences is devalued.

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  2. But what makes pink and floral feminine? Who decided that? I’m all for people expressing themselves how they wish but understand the reluctance to call it masculine or feminine. If you are attempting to deconstruct gender norms then labeling this thing or that masculine or feminine defeats the purpose. I like flowers and pink, but I also like fishing and power tools. It is my expression of me; not my expression of my femininity and masculinity.

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    • Yes.

      This morning I read this, which linked to these research articles, which I currently fully intend to plough through, presenting evidence that men’s and women’s personalities differ. As these issues are contested, other articles may argue otherwise. The soft pink floral sweater is a symbol indicating femininity, so it is at one remove, whether there are aspects of personality commoner in women or in men, whether those come from physiology- hormones, or the mere fact of being on average smaller and weaker- or Patriarchal oppression, culture, something else or some combination. We have stereotypes which help us navigate the world, and children but also adults censure those who do not fit. I observe aspects of personality in a small child maintained into adulthood, and our personalities are moulded by our surroundings.

      I would split gender from sex. Gender is cultural, and I choose to express myself through the cultural feminine gender. Gender is a wide range and I feel those of us who are trans are particularly far out on the range. Then I choose the floral blouse I bought two weeks ago as a symbol of that.

      Mine is an intermediate stage in deconstructing gender norms. I and those like me have found freedom from “masculine” norms in transition, and my public non-conformity undermines that masculinity.

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      • I agree with the idea of splitting gender from sex. Which I think is where my confusion is coming from. Sex = male or female, no? Man or woman?

        So if your purpose is to be identified as a woman/female because of the conformity to feminine tastes wouldn’t that be perpetuating the gender norm?

        Perhaps it’s splitting hairs, but I took from your friends ideals that she wishes to identify as female yet doesn’t want any restrictions be they masculine or feminine on her. Hence, my example above with the fishing and power tools.

        It seems to me to deconstruct gender norms when I say, “Yes, I’m a woman and I like to work with power tools and build things.” I guess what I’m saying is that working with power tools and building things should be neither feminine nor masculine but just an activity.

        If a male who identifies as male wears a pink trousers and a floral shirt then that would be, to my thinking, breaking gender norms. Or perhaps he bakes. Or maybe he likes to get a manicure. But he’s still a male.

        I’ll give another example. A friend of mine posted a picture of her husband wearing a pink shirt. He looked downright gorgeous in it, but another friend of hers(a man) commented that her husband would have to give up his ‘man card’. Why? Because he bucked against a gender norm.

        I think what I’m trying to say is that there is a difference between challenging gender norms and deconstructing them.

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        • Arguably, I am perpetuating gender norms. Why would I do that? Because attempting to perpetuate masculine norms wore me out and drove me into self-hatred, and transitioning to female gives me relief. I like to think I am challenging norms, if I am visibly AMAB (Assigned male at birth) but enjoying feminine norms. Male=feminine. Does not compute. Calling myself a woman- well, the conservatives reject that, so they are not fooled, and they hate our way of being. It’s the modus vivendi we have reached with the doctors and the liberals.

          I do not think anyone AFAB should be feminine, necessarily, but as she wishes, playing soccer or netball, using power tools or manicure tools, giving leadership or preserving friendly, peaceful relations.

          I kind of fit the feminine stereotype, soft pink floral sweaters and all, possibly in part because I want to fit in, possibly because it is my true nature. I have found a way I can survive in the world as it is, and I feel I am at least a little irritating the conservatives and encouraging others to break out of norms. All we trans folk say that some people need to transition, but not that anyone needs to transition just because they are a girl who plays football or climbs trees, or even a boy who likes dresses. The “man card” comment shows that the gender norms are really powerful, and my half-way house to challenging them is the best I can manage at the moment.

          It’s lovely to see you back blogging.

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