A sex worker friend complains of discussions about sex work where every participant prefaces their anti-abolitionist stance with “I’m not a sex worker but”. She is left with the options of saying silent, lying, or outing herself.
That’s how felt last Friday, when I saw another friend recommending that everyone who is cis take advantage of Facebook’s new gender options, to say “cis female” or “cis male”, to remove the assumption that “cis” is the default. This was a fairly clued-up friend, but I don’t think she’d thought the implications of this.
I used to be stealth, kind of. I was never very good at it (both in the passing department and in the not telling anyone section). Now, I have it in my fucking twitter bio, and my god it reduces the anxiety about wondering who knows. I can do that because of other privilege I have - I am white, middle class, with high earning potential, and live in a city where I have a support network.
But just because I’ve been fortunate enough to make a decision doesn’t mean anyone else should be forced to make the same one. There are lots of people who aren’t out, for various reasons. That’s entirely up to them, and we need provide a context where they do not have that silence/lying/outing trilemma.
Imagine you’re trans and stealth and loads of your friends on Facebook have changed their gender to “cis male”/”cis female”. What do you do? You can’t put it to “trans” without outing yourself, something that may well affect your personal safety, employment status, etc, regardless of whether some set of your Facebook friends are going to be cool with it. You could change it to say “cis”, I suppose, but you might well think that is a crossing the line into a lie. (Stealth is not lying. Stealth is keeping quiet and sometimes fudging things.) So, stay silent? The thing is, at some point, if “cis” catches on as an identity, an unadorned “female” or “male” will become suspicious.
And then what if you are trans and pre-transition, either because you haven’t quite figured out what you are yet, or because you are not in a position to be able to. You would have to call yourself “cis” even though you don’t feel it’s quite right, or know it’s not true.
As an abstract concept “cis” is absolutely needed, but as an identity it has problems. When it’s relevant go ahead and acknowledge it, but don’t go flaunting it just as a default. And perhaps - sometimes - in solidarity - it would be better to refuse to confirm or deny.