Anxiety Dreams and the Cisgender Label
I know it's bad form to talk about one's dreams but I'd like to start this post by talking about how I woke up in darkness last night, after an evolving, unpleasant, anxiety dream about being trans.
In the first half of the dream, people saw me in a nice apartment, and wanted to take it for themselves because they were real people with real needs and I was only trans. In the second half of the dream, I was attempting to navigate through a dark farm shed area of a cul-de-sac vibe full of empty metal pens (having left the apartment), and some youngish guys were studying me, studying how I was dressed, especially the black high-top hiking boots that I usually wear around Edinburgh, and their implied androgyny.
There had been incidents during that day which had led to the dream, including my sense of being deconstructed and commented upon, and hearing the words 'really weird' as I walked past two people (which might have been directed at me). I also read a newspaper story about how Mumsnet.com had banned the word 'cisgender' because it causes offence to 'real' women.
I never used to care about the word cisgender. Lately, I've started using it all the time. My anxiety dream underlined its value to me. If there is no 'cisgender,' then there is only real/natural gender, and those who are artificial. To be seen as unnatural or artificial is a scary place to be. You're not quite male or not quite female, and history shows us in myriad ways what society does to people who aren't quite one of us. We're not seen as underprivileged, but as a threat. As invasive, and parasitical. In my dream, I felt that fear, the tension of your life being at risk, of people harbouring animosity towards you and being quite relaxed about wanting to hurt you because you're not quite human, not quite real.
Julia Serano, whose book Whipping Girl (2016) I've just read, talks about this binary, between natural/unnatural. It's used by anyone claiming normality: heterosexuality, whiteness, cissexuality, wealth. You represent the normal state of things. People outside of your normality represent the Other: unnatural, threatening, dangerous, to be distrusted.
The label cisgender, popularized by Serano in her writing, is useful because it removes this natural/unnatural binary; it introduced a new binary of cisgender/trans which doesn't paint trans people as monsters, but rather highlights the privilege and lack thereof, depending on whether you were born with your bodily sex in harmony with your 'subconscious' sex (Serano, 2016). Those who are against using the term, I'm guessing are also hostile to transgender people. To them, we really are the threatening Other, the not-quite one-thing-or-another, where in terms of abuse, anything goes. I see it in the academic papers of those who seem to dislike trans people or trans as a concept: there's no desire to get to know us, or understand our experiences. We're portrayed in the most reductive, negative way possible and seen as frauds, as something vaguely malevolent and deceptive, or pitiful and lacking in self-knowledge.
But we are just people, trying to make our way in life with the gender we identify with. At least, I am: I'm the person in the picture, about to get ready for bed, maybe slightly bored if I'm taking this selfie. I'm smiling quite enigmatically in this one, still unaware of the dreams that are coming my way, and not thinking about how artificial I seem to be to those who consider themselves more natural and normal, and whose feelings, taken to their logical conclusions, can justify all kinds of behaviour against people like me.