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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Strange Worlds
My friend Marie was kind enough to invite me and a plus-one to the preview of the Strange Worlds exhibition on Angela Carter which she's curated at the RWA, so last night I went along with my other friend (I do have more than two friends, I hasten to disambiguate), Htay. It's a truly fabulous exhibition, and I highly recommend it if you have more than a passing interest in that old Bristolian, or in unsettling art generally. I saw quite a few of my old colleagues and students too, which was nice.

While I was there, I was buttonholed by a researcher doing a survey on reactions to the exhibition, which I happily gave. At the end there was the usual information about age, race, etc., for their equality stats, and as usual under "gender" they had "Male", "Female" and "Transgender" as three separate and mutually exclusive options - language which mirrors the Equality Act (2010), which habitually refers to "men, women and transgender people" as if there were no possible intersection between these categories.

This is annoying in several related ways. First, it forces trans people to choose whether to erase their gender or the fact that they are trans. Given that choice, I imagine that most (like me) answer according to their gender; but if they want the information for some legitimate statistical reason, the information on the number of trans people will inevitably be rendered inaccurate in consequence. At an art exhibition this is probably of no great moment; but in other contexts it could be used as an excuse for not providing services for trans people because we're too few in number.

But also, it's just such a clunking category error: a bit like saying, "Which is your favourite kind of car? Fiats, BMWs or blue ones?" Trans is not a gender, after all, but a fact about the relation of one's gender to one's body. Logically, they should have boxes marked "trans" and "cis" if they want to collect that information - but that of course would be horribly oppressive to cis people...

Well, the label "cis" is certainly offensive, as its meanings include "not yet", "short of", and "below".

I myself am iso.

The Greeks had a word for it...


They also killed Socrates for clever remarks. I think we're both better off without the Greeks.

(Not in the sense that Germany is. I took you to mean the Classic Greeks.)

I really don't grok why so many other cis people are upset by being identified as such; I wonder whether it would work to have boxes for male/female (pick exactly one, because they don't seem to have noticed nonbinary people either) and then a yes/no for "do you identify as transgender?" That would be similar to US forms that ask both for race and whether one is Hispanic.

That would certainly be preferable, if the 'c' word is deemed too... whatever it's deemed too much of!

I've met a lot of people -- a LOT-- who don't know what cis is.

That said, I am so coming to resent these tacky boxes and their assumptions that invariably I choose "other" if there is that option, or leave it blank if I can.

I can't say I love them either - but if you're going to do them, at least do them coherently!

Another problem of course is that not every trans person (or indeed every gay person) is happy to out themselves to a stranger with a clipboard. I hope they take that into account when compiling the stats.

Exactly. I guess I remember the days when jobs, certainly, and even lives depended on passing. So I have leftover resentment for bureaucratic nosiness. (What people choose to disclose or not in their daily life is a different matter.)

Right. What's weird isn't the people who ask "what does cis mean?" because they don't know; it's the ones who claim it's some kind of slur, because gods forbid that there be matching words for trans and non-trans, rather than an unmarked state that can call itself "normal."

it's the ones who claim it's some kind of slur

I had that experience with my brother, which was somewhat startling for me; he said he had heard it only in dismissive contexts, "more straight white cis male bullshit," and so assumed it was not a technical term so much as a pejorative one, like "breeder." We talked about it.

That's strange indeed, given that 'straight', 'male' and 'white' aren't generally pejorative.

That's strange indeed, given that 'straight', 'male' and 'white' aren't generally pejorative.

That was part of what we talked about. I think it was a combination of the unfamiliar term and the suddenly un-unmarked category it implies. In the meantime, I have gone on using both "trans" and "cis" neutrally around him, so he had better have gotten the picture.

Edited at 2016-12-10 11:42 pm (UTC)

Exactly, exactly. Just about every time I've been asked to explain it, and have (sometimes with a surprising amount of trouble) the reaction has so often been affront. As if this so-called "normal" doesn't require a label, only "other" requires a label. It's a difficult affront to define. But it's been there, repeatedly.

and as usual under "gender" they had "Male", "Female" and "Transgender" as three separate and mutually exclusive options - language which mirrors the Equality Act (2010), which habitually refers to "men, women and transgender people" as if there were no possible intersection between these categories.

That's not helpful.

Are you supposed to check two boxes if relevant?

I asked: only one box may be checked.

I asked: only one box may be checked.

They're going to get some really bad data that way.

I filled in some survey a while back, which asked you to tick a box as to whether you identify as gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. I can't even remember what it was for now, just that I sent them an email to point out their mistake, for which I'm sure they were very grateful.

A refreshingly different kind of stupid!

It's nice that there are so many to go round.

I think write-in or multiple non-exclusive tick boxes is the way to go. There is the issue of many people not knowing the term cisgender, but you could easily have brief definitions under the boxes.

Yes, I think some basic lessons in questionnaire design would go a long way to ameliorate the situation!

Ethic categories are the ones that cause me the most trouble. Is Judaism an ethnicity or not? If not, what am I?

Also, I may stop identifying myself as white or Caucasian (both ridiculous terms, when you think about it), because of the company they suggest you keep nowadays. Of course, I've always felt that way about being male ...

Me and the 'prefer not to say' button are very good friends. But yeah, ethnicity is a tricky one.

Yes, sometimes I take that option too. The counterweight is a kind of "Why should I hesitate to tell the truth about myself as if I were ashamed of it" mulishness, and a general feeling that it's for the communal good for sound data to be available. But if the question is designed in such a way as to make the collection of sound data impossible, I get antsy.

Yes, and for good reason! Mine is mostly based on 'but it's none of their business', whether I am twitchy about the info or not. (Plus as I think I said at some point long ago - I'm mostly twitchy about the sexuality questions, and feel it would look like I'm hiding something if I answer everything except that.) Then again I'm mostly doing it in those forms attached to job applications, so it's not really for the communal good.

Ethnicity is hard anyway since I'm not entirely clear what sort of answer they want. If I understood it I'd try to answer it!

I am reminded that when I give blood I am asked at every visit whether I was identified female at birth. Surely that's not a fact that's going to change, and could go in my permanent record?

That does seem very odd!

Too many researchers in the world. Too much research. Who needs all these figures anyway? Who stands to make money from them?