William Shatner says ‘straight white cis man’ is a ‘slur’ that ‘harasses and debases’ him

William Shatner. (Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images)

Across a volley of tweets stretching several days, William Shatner sparred with LGBT+ Twitter users over the term cisgender, often shortened to cis.

The word “cis” can trudge up grievances among some people perhaps not used to being labelled in this way. The phrase, which dates to academic circles in the 1990s, refers to when the gender someone was assigned at birth and their sense of identity match-up, in other words, not trans.

“If you’ve never heard or come across the term cis before, it’s OK to be a bit confused at first,” Kirrin Medcalf, head of trans inclusion at Stonewall, previously told PinkNews.

“Nobody is expecting someone to know everything right away, but it’s important to take the time to learn about why using language like cis helps make a more inclusive, accepting world for everyone.”

It’s a three-letter-long word that appeared to have stung Shatner, who, across seven days, has engaged in online dust-ups with users over the use of the term. He claimed that he is being “harassed” and “debased” by the word, especially when used in the phrase: “Straight white cis man”.

The scuffle unfolded on the same week that a top trans rights group announced that the number of trans people in the US murdered in 2020 just surpassed last year’s total. It’s only been seven months.

William Shatner: ‘The only time CIS is used when referring to me [is to harass or debase].’

The 89-year-old, known best across his decadeslong career for playing Captain James T Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, tweeted Monday (August 3) about a Twitter user trying to prompt Shatner to block them.

A supporter tweeted: “You’re an old white man so you MUST be a hateful bigot, is the new bigotry the kids are all about these days.”

“You forgot CIS as in, old white CIS man,” Shatner dryly said, “need to stay current.”

Shatner later responded to a user who, according to screenshots, said he was “happily surprised that you didn’t use ‘cis’ in a condescending manner”.

The actor replied: “Some need labels and categories to separate people in order to harass or debase them. The only time CIS is used when referring to me is in that way. ”

Star Trek legend says cis people are oppressed for being cis. 

What followed was a quick cascade of tweets from the director that have roiled many LGBT+ Twitter users.

Shatner offered blunt rebukes to various users who were seeking to inform Shatner that “cis people aren’t oppressed for being cis”, and that the term is simply a descriptor, not a slur.

As Shatner’s Twitter mentions mushroomed, the flashpoint appeared to arrive Saturday (August 8), when the producer, refusing to dial-in his comments, provided examples of what, he said, were examples of cis people being oppressed specifically for being cis.

But Shatner’s attempted firewall against criticism did little to tamper it. Many users flagged that his examples of violence and discrimination have little to do with being cis, but rather touched off the complexity of oppression.

People are categorised in various ways – from their class to sexual orientation to race. What these terms allow is a way to explain the challenges specific to people categorised in that way may face, and how these terms sometimes overlap with others.

These terms represent people’s real, lived experiences, there for people to better understand themselves and let others know who they are.

“Ultimately, [cis is] just another adjective, but for trans and non-binary people, it can be the difference between being welcomed in society, and being ostracised,” Emma Underwood, trans programme officer with the LGBT Foundation, said.

The use of cis is not a slur, users stressed, and is simply a descriptor of a certain kind of identity that, in this case, carries privileges that those who are not cis – such as trans folk – do not have. Both cis and trans people can experience hardship in life, but trans people experience systemic prejudice specifically because they are not cis.

As the odyssey continued, Shatner doubled down on his take that the word cis is a slur. Amid accusations of transphobia, he denied that his views are anti-trans, emphasising his issue was the word cis itself, and said: “I never had any problem with people being trans.”

On Sunday (August 9) he reiterated that “straight white cis man” is a slur and is, he claimed, “used most commonly in harassment”.