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Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Debate, In the news | 4 comments

Julie Burchill on “cis” and “trans”

One of the many intemperate passages in Julie Burchill’s Comment is Free article attacks the prefix “cis”, used by transsexual activists, scholars of gender studies, etc., in contrast with the word “trans”. So someone who is “cissexual” has a psychological gender identification that is the same as his or her original biological sex. Note that, contrary to what Burchill seems to think, the prefix applies to both men and women who are not “trans” in the relevant sense. It is not a nasty term for “ordinary” or “born” women, as Burchill seems to think.

Burchill wrote: “I know that’s a wrong word [she is referrring to the word “trannies”], but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims.”

Isn’t the most obvious, well-known distinction between “cis” and “trans” found in the expressions “Cisalpine Gaul” and “Transalpine Gaul”? Roughly speaking, this meant the bit of Gaul on the same side of the Alps as us (i.e. us Romans) and the bit on the other side. That should have given a clue to an educated person like Burchill. The term “cis” has nothing to do with cisterns or cysts. Whether or not you like the terminology, Burchill is showing her ignorance here. How did her editor ever let this through?

  • Chill Chick

    In fairness, she just said that “cis” sounds like “syph”, “cyst” etc. – I didn’t conclude from it that she doesn’t know where “cis” comes from. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t.

  • Maybe she did know, but I don’t think that’s a fair conclusion.

    If she did know what cis meant when she uttered that phrase, her actions only seem worse. If she knew, she was being deliberately (as opposed to accidentally) hurtful. Given the tone of the rest of what she said, that’d indicate (to me) yet another degree of hurtfulness — on top of everything else, she sprinkled in a knowing and explicitly-hurtful bastardization of a common term…

  • Colin Gavaghan

    So because they call us by a word that *sounds* like something unpleasant – even if I know it doesn’t mean that – they are lucky I don’t call them by a word that *means* something unpleasant?

  • Chill Chick

    Just to be clear, I am not defending Burchill – that was a pretty astonishing meltdown by her.