Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are you CISSEXUAL? Keeping up with the Lingo...

Happy Pride Week!

Is everybody feeling queer? I certainly am! Today I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop intended for human services providers (more commonly known as social workers).

The official workshop title was something along the lines of “Providing services to the lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex and queer communities,” but the focus was on providing inclusive services to trans women. All too often, trans men and women find themselves with no place to turn because our social services sector is still struggling to accommodate the trans community.

I’ve been to a number of these training sessions, but no matter how many I attend I always manage to learn something new. Today’s new information was some terminology I never knew existed. That’s the thing about LGBT lingo: it’s in constant flux. It can be hard to keep up. Ever heard the terms CISSEXUAL and CISGENDER?

Me neither! Not until today, at least. What do they mean? They are the contrast terms for the concepts of TRANSSEXUAL and TRANSGENDER.

CISSEXUAL – refers to people who are not transsexual and have only ever experienced their gender identity and physical sex as being aligned. (ie. A woman born with female genitals, who had only ever thought of herself as female.)

CISGENDER –refers to individuals whose gender expressions match the behaviours or roles deemed by society to be appropriate to that sex. (ie. A “girly” girl. There is a certain amount of cross-over here, though, as a passing transwoman who exhibits “feminine” behaviours and look would also be considered cisgender)

Until these words came along, we would express contrast by saying, “She’s transgender and I’m…normal…” but look at the opposition that sets up! It makes the trans person come across as abnormal.

So that’s the function of the terms cissexual and cisgender. They’re still contentious in their own ways, since terminology can never be perfect, and I’m somewhat doubtful these terms will catch on in a big way, but now we know they exist. By the way, the “cis” is pronounced “sis.”

End of language today’s lesson.

The thing I find most encouraging about LGBT workshops is that they’re taking place at all. The social services sector is addressing the fact that many of its professionals aren’t all that comfortable around all things transgender. If they’re walking on eggshells on transgender issues, imaging how they’ll react to real life trans people!

Oh, one last thing: if you’re in Toronto and you’re looking to support the transgender community, you’re in luck! This year, you can attend Toronto’s first ever Trans Pride March. Meet at Bloor and Church at 7 p.m. Friday June 26, 2009 for the 8 p.m. march to Church and Wellesley. It’s not a long walk due to permit denials or some such nonsense, but you can certainly show your support by attending!

Hugs and Happy Pride,
Giselle Renarde

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