June 22, 2023 - 7:00am

On Wednesday, Elon Musk made another off-the-cuff policy announcement on Twitter. The billionaire tech titan tweeted that the words “cis” and “cisgender” were slurs on his platform, and that targeted and repeated use of the “slurs” would result in a suspension. Musk was responding to a tweet by gender-critical activist James Esses, who posted to say that he had “received a slew of messages from trans activists” calling him “cis”.

It’s fair to say most normal people will have never heard of this innocuous-sounding three letter word. Activists will authoritatively tell you that “it’s just an inclusive way to describe people who aren’t trans.” Or if they’re feeling particularly smug, they might point out that it’s “Latin for on the same side as”, as if using a dead language makes it a bona fide real thing. But in normal circles, having a specific word for the 99.4% of the population who don’t identify as trans is about as logical as inventing a term for people who don’t have webbed toes.

Researcher and writer Genevieve Gluck traced the term “cis” back to a somewhat iffy German sexologist called Volkmar Sigusch. He first used the term as an antonym for transgender in 1991. But the concept of having a term for “non-trans” only really makes sense for those who already believe that we each have what is in effect a gendered soul, which may or may not align with the sex we are. It is far from a neutral descriptor.

Perhaps what is most irksome about the cis label is that even those of us who reject trans ideology in its totality risk being told by some jumped-up gender adjudicator that our consent is not necessary; we simply are cis. This seems more than a little rich from a movement which holds that words can be deadly weapons.

Despite Musk’s takeover, Twitter’s opaque terms and conditions still prohibit so-called “misgendering”. And in this regard, it seems fair that if the beliefs of those who identify as trans are protected then so should the rights of non-believers to not be called “cis”.

But there is something troubling about the ease with which Musk has made what is in effect a policy announcement conversationally on Twitter, as if the platform were his plaything. And while the rebalancing of rights away from the demands of trans activists is overdue, it’s also an alarming reminder that the world’s biggest public forum is in fact privately owned and subject to the whims of one man. Ultimately, just because ideas are freely exchanged, the platform is not a democracy.

US-developed social media platforms have been allowed to become a vector for the spread of gender identity ideology. Musk has used his position to stop this new form of imperialism, and few of the Anglosphere celebs who huffed and puffed in protest have followed through by leaving.

It’s popular to be disparaging about Twitter, to write it off as “toxic” and a “cesspit” that doesn’t allow for nuanced debate. But short-form posts are the perfect tool for sifting out extraneous information and getting to the bones of any matter. By stating that “cis” is a slur, Musk made his point concisely. This could end up proving more consequential than we think.


Josephine Bartosch is a freelance writer and assistant editor at The Critic.

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