Cisplaining is the process by which a person with cisgender privilege condescendingly explains something basic, talks over or otherwise undermines the other speaker who is not cisnormative and/or outside the gender binary, i.e., trans and gender variant people. It is akin to mansplaining and the more general condesplaining.
Cisplaining does not require both/all speakers to be present in order for one to undermine the other, meaning it can take the form of a letter, a lecture, an article, etc.
Another version of cisplaining may occur when a cis person feels they are defending a trans or gender variant person. This person does not have the experience to actually speak on the issues raised effectively. For example, if a trans person is engaging in neurosexism (as is often with truscum) and they are being criticized for problematic beliefs or rhetoric by other trans people, it is not the place of a cis person to defend the trans person because they likely lack the necessary knowledge and experience. This is an example of privilege blindness.
Feminism is dominated by cis women's voices, which naturally leads to cisplaining and cissexism more broadly if not carefully considered. In the extreme it can lead to trans-exclusionary radical feminism making everything about cis issues and completely marginalising and oppressing trans voices. Transmisogyny and transmisogynoir are issues that are prevalent in many feminist spaces because cisnormativity and racism are dominant cultural norms.
Adding an asterisk after trans is a manifestation of respectability politics, involving pandering to truscum and Harry Benjamin syndrome supporters. It aims to redefine "trans" from being an inclusive umbrella that includes all people who do not identify with the gender they are assigned at birth, to mean only binary trans people, often only binary trans men. To replace "trans", an asterisk was added in order to appear more inclusive but relegate "trans" for just binary individuals. As such, this led to increased opportunities for silencing trans people:
|the reason the asterisk erases trans women, and non-binary trans women, and other trans maab people is because of how its used by the wider world. when cafab people use it they are almost always exclusively talking about themselves and people like them. people coercively inject the asterisk into things they say about me and its clearly some kind of weird power move and a backhanded way to degender me.|
Cis privilege denial
Another example is when a cis person, often a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, explains that cis privilege doesn't exist because women (i.e., cis women) are also oppressed. This is a demonstration of how badly wrong one can misunderstand how privilege, kyriarchy, and intersectionality work.
Genderbread person argument
Another frequently seen example of cisplaining is the genderbread person used to police gender by enforcing the gender binary and/or cisnormativity. While it may not be initially obvious how using a spectrum or many spectra as a normative representation of gender is inherently problematic, it is because the act of creating a norm is oppressive. This is because using a template to map other people's genders without their permission is likely to lead to misgendering and erasing them. Normative gender leads to assigning people into a gendered box they did not consent to. This is exactly what the gender binary does when it assigns genders at birth and then coerces people into them over their lifetime.
Changing cisnormativity from only two genders and delegitimizing all other genders, to another cisnormativity where there are more genders but all continue to be assigned by an external force (i.e., a norm) is just as problematic. Being cisgender is a function of being assigned a gender without one's consent. If we move to assigning people to three genders without their consent that still remains an oppressive system.
The most respectful way of treating gender is as a self-concept, meaning that each person can describe their gender in any way they like. If they choose to describe it using spectra, that's fine. But insisting that, for example, a trans woman is in any way biologically male, because of a presumed dichotomy between gender and sex is transphobic. No part of a woman is male, because body parts cannot have genders. Assigning genders to body parts (also known as "sexing") resulting in penises designated as male and vaginas as female is a typical example of dyadism.
Notwithstanding, gender presentation lends itself more easily to essentialist descriptions, e.g., a person in a pink dress can be described as femme because femme (within Western culture) is defined as such. The person's femme presentation status however, plays little to no role in their gender itself, because clothes are not what drive gender identity. Gender (and all other aspects of personality) is more likely to drive the clothes one decides to wear, than clothes are to affect gender.
Transrilla, on Urban Dictionary, defines cisplaining as:
|To explain, without ever having felt the necessity to investigate the issue, that there are only two genders which are fixed and invariable for every individual at birth. Usually assumes equal lack of introspection on the part of transgender people who are likely to have spent their whole life questioning what gender means. The cisplainer is often shocked and angry when their cisplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether.
Some trans people also engage in cisplaining never having felt empowered to question the predominate cisgenderism of the society they were brought up in. This has been compared to a form Stockholm Syndrome.
An article is published in a newspaper describing how an individual, who was born male sex, has transitioned to a different gender. One of the first comments will cisplain: "You can have as much surgery or medical treatment as you like but you'll always be a man (or woman)".
- A Field Guide to the Common Tactics of Radical Feminists, by zeroambit
- New friends die kind of easily, by Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls
- Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls, on Tumblr
- So Let’s Talk About The Fucking Asterisk, by Natalie Reed
- zeroambit, on Tumblr; see: full discussion here
- Revisiting ‘the fallacy of cis privilege, again.’, by Cristan Williams
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- The Genderbread Person Redux – When Activism Gets Problematic, by Stacey Goguen
- The Genderbread Plagiarist, by Cisnormativity
- It’s Time For People to Stop Using the Social Construct of “Biological Sex” to Defend Their Transmisogyny, by Mey
- Cisplain, by Transrilla