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William Shatner Tangles With Trans Twitter Over The Word ‘Cisgender’

Space may be the final frontier, but even Klingons know better than to engage William Shatner in his favorite arena: the Twitterverse.

For six days running, the actor, director and author best known for portraying Capt. James T. Kirk of Star Trek has been embroiled in a Twitter war of words. And the 89-year-old shows no sign he’s ready to surrender. Shatner’s view is that he’s being “harassed,” “debased” and more by the word “cis” — a word that stems from the Latin root that means “on this side of,” according to Sunnivie Brydum, writing in The Advocate in 2015.

According to Brydum, “Trans” means “across, beyond, on the other side of.” By adding “gender” to either word, a new descriptive is formed: “transgender” and “cisgender,” which simply means, “not transgender.”

A cisgender woman is credited with first using “cisgender:” As reported by both The Advocate and The Wall Street Journal, biologist Dana Leland Defosse posted the word in an online forum in the mid-1990s.

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Warp speed ahead to 2020, and Shatner is merely one voice in a chorus of cisgender people on planet Earth who complain about the word. Typically, opponents of “cis” resist the word so as to avoid being “labeled.”

“I’m not ‘cis,’ I’m ‘normal,’” goes the refrain. A blogger named steepholm compiled a Taxonomy of Objections to Cis in 2014 that all these years later remains right on target, including the lament: “How dare you pin a label on me that I don’t accept!”

With sarcasm on full display, Shatner tweeted on Monday that in keeping with the times, someone calling him “an old white man” and “a hateful bigot” should also call him “cis,” in all caps.

Shatner expounded on his complaint about an hour later that same day, in his response to a tweet by John Hennings, 24, of Nashville, Tenn., who had complimented him. Hennings told me he tweeted something along the lines of “I’m happily surprised that you didn’t use ‘cis’ in a condescending manner.” Shatner quote-tweeted Hennings to explain that he believes no one ever calls him “cis” except to insult him.

Transgender and cisgender tweeters alike have spent every day this week, from Monday to Saturday night, challenging this presumption and defending “cisgender” as a neutral descriptor, to no avail.

From his tweets, it doesn’t seem to matter to Shatner whether someone has seven followers, or, like Jetté Knox, more than 62,000.

Shatner, who also used Twitter Saturday to promote season two of his latest show, The UnXplained on the History Channel, made sure in at least two tweets that he “never had any problem with people being trans.”

And earlier in the day:

There are too many tweets to count but one might guess there were thousands over six days, both in defense of Shatner and objecting to his objections. Users on both sides of the debate crossed lines of civility.

In keeping with his well-established pattern, Shatner used the Twitter tool of blocking users to end arguments throughout the week, and on occasion, explained why.

The actor also blocked a prominent trans journalist with 54K followers, accusing her of “trolling” for simply joining in the conversation. Both she and Hennings were on the receiving end of an inordinate amount of hate. It got so bad, Hennings told me he decided, of his own accord, to delete his tweet about the word “cis.”

“I deleted it because I was just being harassed by a bunch of assholes calling me an idiot for implying the LGBT+ community came up with it, or not noticing that Shatner was using it in a condescending manner,” Hennings said. “I still don’t think he was. I think he’s a bit of a prick, but he’s not outright disrespectful.”

This isn’t Shatner’s first voyage in the Twitter wars. In November 2019, it was another word that stuck in his craw: “boomer,” as in the popular millennial phrase, “Ok, boomer.”

“Sweetheart, that’s a compliment for me,” he tweeted. Before that, it was a feud over his autograph policy, Native Americans, a confederate monument, and the list goes on.

Among Shatner’s last rants of Saturday night were to criticize defenders of the word “cis” as “militant types.”

Shatner did not respond to my invitation to comment as of press time.

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