#fuckcispeople, the Twitter hash tag, provoked an overdue exchange between “etiquette politics” as a more suitable approach for working within normative channels, versus what was perceived as guerrilla tactics intended to disrupt organized, exclusive (and exclusionary) social activism projects. The irony was that the origin of this hash tag was neither a tactic nor a guerrilla flavour of activism. It was a spark of spontaneous exasperation expressed in a tweet by Laurelai Bailey (@stuxnetsource) following a discussion between her and Caroline Criado-Perez, on the U.S. military leaking the email and photo that in 2010
Bradley Chelsea Manning sent to disclose being trans (just before being arrested). The tweet was critical of how for the last two years, it was known to several trans and even cis people that Manning was not a cis gay man, despite cis gay mass media portraying otherwise:
Understandably but unexpectedly, Bailey’s hash tag ignited a firestorm. It burnt through a fraction of pent-up abuse, trauma, and anger experienced by people who are trans and gender-non-conforming, at the hands of people who are cis. #fuckcispeople resonated because the tweets were a product of the structural cisnormativity through which every trans and gender-non-conforming person has had to confront at some point. Relative to cis people — other intersectional experiences remaining unchanged — such confrontations occur disproportionately at the endangerment to and hardship of health, security, and opportunity for trans people. A bit like The Matrix, it may be impossible to know how such danger or harm will reveal itself until it actually happens. Consequently, many trans and GNC people have learnt how this can come from anywhere, at anytime, and are on a constant state of alert — even when that alertness stays deep within the recesses of one’s cognition. For some, this manifests as a persistent level of stress unknown to their cis counterpart. #fuckcispeople might have been a way for Bailey to voice her own frustration, but it turned out that quite a few trans people were no less exasperated in their own ways.
@Cisnormativity, our twitter account, monitored the #fuckcispeople conversation for the better part of its run. Its draw was instantly memetic, organic, and unregulated. Roughly a couple of hundred voices spoke candidly on their own experiences of structural cisnormativity — namely, its silencing of trans agency and its unchecked institutional abuse toward trans and GNC people. They offered harrowing narratives of ineffable violence. I posted some tweets relating to my own personal experiences, but frankly I was in gut-churned awe by what others were revealing. #fuckcispeople was a rare, shared catharsis within a social order where such therapy is chance and episodic, and where the venues to have such conversations are fleeting. The #fuckcispeople tweets were not representative of all trans people, or even some trans people, but they were representative of the people posting them. By reading the many #fuckcispeople tweets, however, one could glean patterns in cisnormative barriers faced by trans people. The hash tag also made it easier for trans and GNC people to be heard and, paradoxically, to not stand out as much (than had they tweeted without memetic context).
Keep in mind that the #fuckcispeople hash tag, during its August 15th to 16th run, was not palatable to all trans people. This makes sense, as trans people’s world views are no less diversified than the world views of cis people. Several spoke to defend that the #fuckcispeople “campaign” was counterproductive, even divisive. They said that earning the tolerance and respect of good cis people was more important. Suggestions were few, but consistent: find another hash tag which didn’t use the f-bomb to alienate “allies”; praise instead cis people who tolerate trans people; and come up with a more productive “campaign” which didn’t engage in an optics of “rage.” Some remarked on their own intersectional observations of how the hash tag may have overlooked the way that intersections of gender, race, and class implicate one another within communities:
Conversations on structural barriers — spontaneous discussions especially — can reveal some of the most unvarnished, raw narratives on how those barriers undermine the welfare of an intersectionally marginalized population. For #fuckcispeople, the latest of several provocative hash tag discussions begun in the past week with @Karnythia’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen, the discussion centred on how cisnormativity positions people who are placed as cis over those people who are not. Cisnormativity is the structural bedrock beneath the foundations of both heteronormativity and (for over the past forty-odd years) homonormativity.
Incidentally, despite the intersectional experiences of being cis, trans, and GNC as orthogonal, even perpendicular to intersectional experiences of sexuality, normativities of sexuality are nevertheless informed by an omnipresence of gender. For much of the Westernized, colonized world, gender exists as a di-gender social order; elsewhere, tri-gender social orders may be prevalent. These social orders are inherently kyriarchical. Within this, kyriarchy is what realizes patriarchy, racism, and other intersectional disparities.
Stated in archaeological terms, gender is a human technology. It may have preceded spoken language and the division of labour. Nevertheless, gender as a human technology has been very effective at regulating social order and, consequently, a lopsided dominance of one population over others. It is manifest and maintained by wilful, unconscious, and even inconspicuous moments of sexism, cissexism, misogyny, transmisogyny, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. All trace their roots to a structural cisnormativity wherein both reward/punishment conditioning and externally driven engineering of gendered socialization (reaching back to one’s birth) are considered acceptable. For a trans person, the gendered socialization directed toward them may not have been intelligible or useful, while other channels of gendered socialization deemed verboten were.
People who are cis have downplayed (knowingly or not) the material impacts of their cisnormative behaviour and their leverage over people who are trans and GNC. Here is where the suppressed frustration of #fuckcispeople began. While some cis people look on (or just look away) whenever a trans person is being harangued or harmed, many more have taken the lead on rendering the non-cis body as a public object (and the person inhabiting said body as a lesser being) — vulnerable to uninvited investigation without the subject’s solicitation, consent, or deference to whatever agency they may try to voice. For the few, but increasing number of cis people who have responsibly boosted the voices and advocacy of trans people (and offering them the instruments to speak before attentive cis audiences), they must also face their cis counterparts who work against the humanization, agency, and citizenship of trans and GNC people. This is dirty work which needs to happen now.
Egregiously, cis people who prefer to speak on behalf of trans and GNC people’s narratives and experiences (chronically so within cis GLBQ settings) tend to convey their own observations on trans people as somehow more “genuine” than first-person narratives by trans people themselves. This is an effective method of erasure. Such cis people also prefer to venerate “agreeable” trans people with whom other cis people can better sympathize in the dubious pursuit of normalizing trans people within cisnormativity — much the way homonormativity apes structural heteronormativity (homonormativity, as Duggan noted, is a conservative, white, middle-class, and implicitly cis social project). White trans women like Paris Lees, Tara Hewitt, and Savannah Garmon have expressed a willingness toward this kind of normalizing for trans people. At its core, the project is mobilized around a conservation of class (upwardly, or of a commentariat), race (white), and politics (a conservatism of relative institutional security). Consequently, this mutes many intersectional experiences of other people who are trans and mimics a vertical approach of leadership to produce an institutionalized “equal rights” — not a horizontal social project of facilitating intersectional equity.
Over the course of #fuckcispeople, it was evident that quite a few trans and GNC people were not aboard this conservative approach of being normalized within cisnormativity, to be spoken for, to patiently wait for an era of conditional if not begrudging cis tolerance, as this very structure keeps failing them repeatedly and predictably. Many participants of #fuckcispeople spoke grievously of cisnormative institutions which categorically rejected and fleeced them of their basic humanity — the very values of humanity taught to them by cis people (before those cis people realized that they were either trans or GNC):
Partly through timing but more through happenstance, the #fuckcispeople conversation revealed itself as an opportunity for cis people to understand, if incrementally, how they’ve enabled the structural conditions which impact trans and GNC people every day. It also gave trans and GNC people a rare moment of shared empowerment. Our testimonials and situational narratives were a kind of offering to cis people who, before the hash tag, asked deeply annoying questions like “what does cis mean?” They’ll still ask these Google-able questions, but now that a growing body of cis people are aware and (slightly) more knowledgeable of a community which they believed to be largely silent (with exception to rehearsed appearances at cis “gay” prides or carnivals), cis people for whom the #fuckcispeople discussion had a material impact on their awareness of what we endure can now begin to volunteer for some heavier lifting, taking some weight off the shoulders of trans people by advocating for us when we can’t be there to do it ourselves.
Lamenting that some cis people were probably offended by #fuckcispeople, or that a few trans people with the means to speak and be heard (in columns, blogs, or lobby groups) had frowned on other trans people who vented with the hash tag, are grievances rooted in a politics of etiquette. It is a politics rooted in the fear of disrupting intersectional powers greater than themselves (which could bite back). It is a politics rooted in the belief that acts of social justice must always be orchestrated to have efficacy. And it is a politics rooted in the dread that trans people with a byline can neither speak for nor control what other trans and GNC people might say. Acts of social justice aren’t always tidy or polite, nor should they be. Social justice doesn’t always make strides without sometimes being disruptive to those who experience an intersectional pass. Historic riots by trans people, which were tinderboxes on orders beyond #fuckcispeople, were unplanned and episodic. Yet the riots inspire because their chaos was an unstructured act of social justice. Marginalized trans people who were pushed beyond even those margins fought back. For trans and GNC people today, many having few outlets to speak on intersectional abuses they’ve endured within structural cisnormativity, #fuckcispeople was a brief, decentralized way to speak and be heard — even if a bracing, attention-stealing hash tag meant they weren’t seen as the “good” trans people which many cis and some trans people hope to see online.
Eventually this ephemeral moment on Twitter, as with many trending memes, will be forgotten by most, including by those who tweeted with the hash tag. Nevertheless, it was evident that the message was getting across to cis people who correctly saw that #fuckcispeople was not a literal, all-inclusive statement of ill-will. They understood the anger. Many of those cis people, in turn, tweeted to other cis people to pay attention and listen to what these trans and GNC people were saying. Those cis people were beginning to do the heavy lifting of trans advocacy and to take some of that burden off our shoulders.
tl;dr: Acrostics still mean something.