William Shatner doesn’t like the “CIS” label.
He railed against it recently on Twitter and received some alt media coverage about it afterward.
The term, in case you don’t know, is short for “Cisgender.” It is used by some to describe people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.
Shatner is not alone. Many people find the word distasteful and object to being labelled as such. And there are probably many who don’t care.
But it is a reminder to everyone how labels can be offensive to people, something I’ve been keenly aware of over the course of my newspaper editing career.
There are dozens of labels we need to be wary of in the media business, and in daily life as well. We need to question whether it is really necessary to use labels related to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and age, to mention some, before we write about people or talk about them in conversation.
It can be a challenge for headline writers, something I’ve been doing for decades. Editors would like to go beyond the simple “Man or woman does something” headline. But they wouldn’t write “Gay man hit by a car at dangerous intersection” if his sexuality is irrelevant to the news.
But it might be fair to write “Another senior hit by car at dangerous intersection” where there has been controversy over the amount of time people have to cross the road before the traffic light changes. For some older people with mobility issues, it is difficult to cross a street in the allotted time. It has been an issue in Montreal.
The words “senior” and “elderly” are particularly problematic and, sadly, they end up in headlines and copy far too often. Many people over the age of 55 or 60 don’t want to be called “seniors.” And a 72-year-old woman might object to being called “elderly.”
Yet, too often, we see headlines in media reports labelling people as such when age is not even relevant.
I’m particularly mindful of ageism labels these days because they are everywhere. And there is confusion by many about their usage: at what age would you say someone is “elderly”? I’ve seen the term used in some media reports for people in their early 70s.
I suppose people over 55 or so might seem “elderly” to an editor in their 20s or 30s. But they need to be mindful of that label and all the others when they are writing about people. Don’t use them unless they are relevant to the news being reported.
And we all need to be mindful of people labels in our daily conversations, too. Call William Shatner an actor and a man. But don’t call him cisgender, please. It offends him.