[cw: culture war crap]
Straight White Male was the default Awful Group for most of my adult life. It was the typical term of derision to describe the thoughtless bro-type we all can’t stand, and before I woke up I used it a lot too. Over the past year (maybe two?) I’ve seen it morph to Cis White Male.
I hypothesize there are three reasons for this.
The first is that being Gay no longer is enough to firmly place one on the “oppressed” side of the Oppressor/Oppressed scale. It’s no longer the 50s. Everyone knows someone who’s gay. Dick Cheney supports gay rights, Donald Trump has held up the rainbow flag. The Log Cabin Republicans have been around for a long time. But, most dramatically, Milo Yiannopoulos exists.
Don’t get me wrong, Yiannopoulos is a complete douchebag. He picks on vulnerable people for audiences that love to cheer on a bully. More importantly though, he’s totally gay. He is the archetypal Straight White Male that all other Straight White Males are stereotypes of, and dammit, he isn’t straight. This decoupling of “Social Justice Virtue” from “Gay” has been building for a long time, but Yiannopoulus was the nail gun that sealed that coffin up tight.
It turned out as more and more people came out that there’s a lot of ways to be gay. So many ways, in fact, that you can’t reliably tell if someone is gay or not just by observing them. Sure, there’s some stereotypical looks and behaviors. But you can’t really ever be SURE that someone is gay unless you ask them. It got to be that you couldn’t call ANYONE a Straight White Male if you didn’t know them personally (and fairly well), because that all-American quarter back or that manly oil rig worker could be completely gay. The darn genderqueer and non-binary people didn’t make things any easier–they might have high heels and nail polish and be totally straight! If you can’t quickly determine if someone is a Straight White Male or not, the term loses a lot of it’s attack power.
Finally, homosexuality is no longer a good signal. A good signal is hard to fake, normally by being costly.
Homosexuality is super easy to fake. You don’t have to have sex with anyone, because it ain’t no one’s damn business who you sleep with. All those gay kids who are still in the closet and have never had sex with, or even kissed someone of the same gender–are you saying they aren’t gay? Very unwoke of you. All that one has to do to BE gay is to IDENTIFY as gay.
And identifying as gay is sooooo easy. Almost no one is on the extreme ends of the Kinsey scale. Have you (as a guy, since all Straight White Males must be Male) ever fantasized about a guy? Thought “man… I would totally sleep with Johnny Depp if given the opportunity” (or insert pretty celebrity of your choice, I’m obviously dating myself with the Depp reference)? That’s good enough to be slightly gay. Have you kissed a guy, just to try it, and didn’t retch in disgust? That’s enough to claim freedom from the yoke of “Straight White Male.” You are at least a little bit gay.
Heck, the person you’re attracted to doesn’t even have to be a male-presenting guy. There’s tons of really hot feminine guys. My first guy-crush was on Kenshin, I didn’t realize he was a guy until 5 episodes in (missed the first one where it was spelled out), and then realized I didn’t really care, cuz he’s feminine and it’s femininity I’m attracted to. So if you’re a guy, attracted to feminine people, but aren’t freaked the hell out by your feminine partner having a penis, well shit, you can claim the label of “gay” or “gayish” if you want to, and those who say otherwise are the real bigots.
People didn’t used to do this, because being openly gay was costly. It’s not anymore. Gayness is no longer a good signal because it’s broad enough of a term to encompass almost anyone who wants to claim it, and there’s no penalty for claiming it.
So a replacement was needed for the “Straight” in “Straight White Male.” Fortunately, trans-visibility has become really big nowadays.
Which, first of all, thank goodness. I say this in complete seriousness. Trans rights are important, and they’ve been neglected for a long time.
But in terms of signaling and tribalism, replacing Straight with Cis was also the logical step. Being trans is much more definitive than being gay, and is pretty costly. It’s also hard to be “slightly” trans so that one can claim non-Cis status. Even being genderqueer or non-binary is fairly costly in many situations.
Also, Cis is easy to say and follows the asthetically-pleasing sound scheme of “Straight White Male.” “Cis White Male” has a similar mouth feel, possibly a better one, and can be said derogatorily very easily.
So, success. The group that is most deserving of hate is once again easily singled out, and any individual you meet can quickly and easily be placed into it (or out), with very little chance of escaping. I may not be a Straight White Male, but I’m definitely a Cis White Male, and good luck getting out of that pigeonhole. I guess it was nice to think I was out of Most Hated status for a while, even if it was illusory.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Change my circle of peers. I have, for the most part, but it’s still frustrating how many otherwise-good people I like that I have to keep at the margins because of this. /sigh