AI: When Is It Okay to Label Someone Else?
Upon further reflection on debates about the use of words like “cisgender” or “neurotypical” I have been thinking about times in which it is appropriate to put a label or term on another person without them choosing that term themselves. I was already thinking about this, and then this past week’s Skeptics Guide to the Universe touched on this debate too. I think they handled it badly, actually, siding with those who consider such language to PC. Mind you, I generally like SGU a lot, I just think they were wrong this time.
I also generally support people being able to use whatever language to identify themselves that they want to. I have been learning a lot about this lately (some of you may remember my big mistake awhile back, which really put me on the path of thinking about these things more) and I do generally want to support people using the language they prefer to define themselves.
However, those who object to language like the term “cisgender” don’t seem to be doing so out of a desire to define their own identity. Instead it seems to come from a place of objecting to the idea that they are not “normal” or better than those of us who’s identities are less common. A word like “cisgender” requires people to acknowledge that both cis* and trans* identities are valid, worthy, and equal in value – a difficult thing for many to deal with.
So it is okay for me to label someone with a term they may not have chosen for themselves? When is it okay for me to do this? Should I stop using it if they object, if I don’t think their reasons are okay? My impulse is to say that I have a right to point out the privilege of people who have it, and the use of this kind of language is essential to that, but I’m not sure that’s right.
What do you think? Do you use words like cisgender, neurotypical, or similar language that labels more common identities instead of calling them “normal?” Should I stop using them if someone is offended by them?