Walk the Talk

Let’s talk about language again. As an English major, writer, and trans person, I probably notice language and the words and phrases people use more than most. I’ve talked about pronouns extensively, so we won’t be beating that dead horse again. What I want to talk about today is cissexist language – the language and words that people use without even realizing it that helps to marginalize trans people, and normalizes being cis. The problem with normalizing something is that if being cis is normal, then being trans is abnormal. I may be different, and I may be a minority, but I am not abnormal. I’ve said it before, but it certainly needs repeating – language shapes thoughts, treatments, and culture. 
A lot of this language centers on genitals, and the idea that masculinity is something to be desired, and symbolizes courage, strength, and power. The pervasive idea that men and woman are from Mars and Venus, respectively, that they are “opposites,” means that if maculinity is strong, femininity is weak. If men are couragous, woman are cowardly. If males have power, then females don’t. And our language reflects that. Whenever someone says someone else “has balls,” in reference to being courageous, it’s an act of violence against trans men and cis women who are courageous and don’t “have balls.” Whenever someone doesn’t want to do something, and their friends call them a “pussy” for it, what they really mean is that people percieved to be feminine are weaker. 
So straight, cis, guys, the next time you do something that’s considered feminine leaning, and your friends tell you they’re going to take your “man card,” or ask if your significant other has “your balls in their back pocket,” kindly tell them to shut up and stop using language that enforces gender roles. And if they don’t understand why they shouldn’t be saying things like that, maybe you need new friends. This word choice is harmful to trans people because we’re reinforcing the idea that men should have one set of genitals, and women should have another, and the twain never shall cross the imaginary gender line. But some boys have vaginas, and some girls have penises. Even more, this language is harmful to women, because the idea that somehow they are less than men is ingrained into the society so deep that it’s in the language, and when people say things like that, they don’t even realize what they’re saying a lot of the time. 
This language breeds unconscious transphobia and misogyny. An opinionated man is strong. An opinionated female is a bitch. A woman who “acts like a man” is a dyke, and a man who acts feminine is, again, a sissy. And that’s one of many reasons why men need feminism, too. Gender is a spectrum, and the sooner we accept that men can be feminine and woman can be masculine and still be men and women, the sooner we can erase transphobia and sexism and start achieving true equality. 
And this is something everyone can work on. I’m aware of it, and I know I do it, too. I catch myself calling things “retarded” when I know the word I want is “ridiculous,” but it slips out out of habit. I still used “gay” as a synonym for something stupid even after I knew I was trans, and gay. I know that kind of language puts one group above another, and that’s not okay. I’ve been fighting to erase that language from my speech, and you should, too. It takes time, and it takes a conscious effort, but call it out when you hear it. Fight like a grrrl to erase language that normalizes any group over another. We’re all people, after all, and we all have our own personal fights. 

5 thoughts on “Walk the Talk

  1. It’s amazing how deeply misogyny and other prejudices are embedded into language. I think making people aware of the biases that are implicit in the language they are using is a big step towards correcting the way we (as a society) think about women and other marginalized people. I can think of many times that I was hesitant to speak up against language I found hurtful or offensive, but I am making more of an effort to do so now, because it really is important.


  2. A really well written post, thanks. I myself and still trying to move past negatively identifying language myself. It’s easy to make mistakes when casual hurtful insults are so ripe in so many upbringings. Trying to find new, non-gendered words is difficult, and the accusation is that it is trying to form a NewSpeak where no-one can be offended, but there is the level of indecency with the genitally charged terms you have pointed out that will only continue to divide and create inequality. I guess it sounds fun to say the words we’re not supposed to sometimes…


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