Before I dive into this conversation, let me define something for you first kittens..
Cisplaining: Cisplaining is the process by which a person with cisgender privilege condescendingly explains something basic, talks over or otherwise undermines the other speaker who is not cisnormative and/or outside the gender binary, i.e., transgender and gender variant people. It is not the place of a cisgender person to speak in place of the transgender person’s experience(s) because they lack the necessary knowledge and/or life experience to do so. This is a prime example of privilege blindness.
I have been writing two other posts for here, but this is one of those issues that is so preoccupying my thoughts that I must speak to it to give myself the space to work on other items of more importance.
Allow me to set the scene for you.
Meeting room, scheduled conversation with new folks who want to sign on and be part of current work being done. More hands make the workload lighter, right? Sure thing! Everybody seemed to be a good fit, even if one person dominated conversation and sounded more like he was delivering a stump speech every time versus conversation with the other people in the room. I still observe every minute detail, and the body language of other participants was rather telling.
Then we come upon the moment… said cisgender male decides to speak about the experience of trans people in the Church-Wellesley Village. I was about to speak to it from a trans perspective, nobody knows the numbers better than I do, I’ve lived it since before this person was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes. Nope, I was shut down and discounted, that I wouldn’t know/understand, and then had the trans experience cisplained to me and the other people in the room.
I froze up, in other words, just been triggered, and I’m about to shut down completely and go mute for the balance.
I am also highly disappointed. I thought I had taught others well enough, or that they were up to speed on the ins and outs of the trans experience. Nobody else took notice. There was no opportunity for discussion post-meeting.
By the time I reached home, I was in such a state that I went straight to bed and curled up with my cat after letting a few friends know I couldn’t be part of a planned conversation.
And on the trip home, I play it over and over again, cursing myself for freezing up and not doling out a severe education and a hard yank on the reins. Or is it because this has happened so regularly over the years that it doesn’t even seem to be worth trying to do anything about it. Not sure, but it sure as hell isn’t the first time.
Two friends reach out, one says please text me, let’s talk (difficult, it’s a crappy little phone – dropped my good one and haven’t replaced it yet). I was struggling to get my breathing back to some kind of regular rhythm again, so I sent a few private messages instead. Another says, feels like you need to vent… and in that moment I let loose a torrent of stuff.
What’s nice is that they both get it. One is a fellow warrior (read previous post, New Beginnings, for mental health warriors), the other is someone I work with and is like a brother, even when we have different opinions or approaches to various situations – it’s that thing known as respect.
The one thing I’m left with, if this is going to be consistent behaviour, I have serious doubts about my efffectiveness with this group if condescension/cisplaining is going to be a standard. I do know the next meeting of the working group will find me mute for the entire two hours… just ain’t worth speaking from experience only to be discounted and shut down again. I can do without the condescending attitude, and I can find other things to do with my time.
What frustrates me even more… I have kept things well managed on the mental health front for a few years… I had a book full of things to self-manage PTSD. For some reason, things seem to have gone totally pear-shaped over the holidays. Goodness knows that Anne can tell you from experience what happens when it’s not a good day, how many times have I woken her up in the middle of the night by grinding my teeth so loudly that it startles her awake. Thankfully she knows how to wake me up and break whatever spell was happening. Who knows what exactly is going on when it happens beyond reliving some past incident, I’ve tried various things to avoid it, but it happens when I’ve been triggered or over-stressed. Usually the other thing that goes with that is the strange sleep patterns and hours, which has been going on for 6 weeks now. Some nights I sit up or wander around the apartment, or when the weather permits, open the window and sit under it on the floor and listen to the night sounds.
And then today, I’ve been wracking my brains about what I have I missed or omitted in educating people that such a blatant example of being cisplained goes without notice or comment. What else do I need to put in? What has been lacking?
And then the other inquiry happening at the same time… maybe this is not for me, maybe I should just step away, perhaps I cannot inspire this group to do greater and bigger things and cause positive change.
And this is the point where the desire for self-isolation becomes overwhelming. The ins and outs will be hashed out in another post, but, suffice it to say that it is a prominent effect of my daily battle. Something else that has been held in check for a few years now, but not so successfully lately. Giving into it would mean I would not be seen outside my apartment until our next lecture series in March/April, and then out of view until June for a community event, and then out of sight for the entire summer. Thanks to my Anne, I managed to do just that for the majority of the summer last year.
What frustrates me most is me. I never used to freeze and shut down, I would be fast off the mark and likely to deal out an epic tongue-lashing long to be remembered (it’s the mom in me some days), shoot from the lip and not give a tinker’s damn about what came out or my choice of phrasing – almost 400,000 words in the OED, and I’m sure I’ve used some of the more obscure ones more than once. I laughed, I was once told when giving someone a proper telling off, that’s when I pull out my “50 dollar words” and confound them with language (and send some scurrying for a dictionary). These days, I lose track half way through a bloody sentence when I’m on edge. Where the hell did my crusty old broad self bugger off to?
I shall remain in the self inquiry, but that is an example for you of the frustration I deal with regularly.
At least now I can get back to what I was working on previously, thanks for letting me clear some space.