Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, transmisogyny, cissexism
On September 2, the hashtag #CognitiveCissonance made its way around twitter, mostly from trans* people. Started by @AmyDentata, the obvious word play on cognitive dissonance was made to point out the hypocritical and double-standard that many cis people have towards the identities, presentations, and lives of trans* people. For example, the idea that trans women must present en femme to really be women and that trans men must be masculine to truly be male. Cognitive cissonance was a witty way to expose every day trans*phobia and cissexism.
Cognitive Cissonance became a trend through accident. Being a writer, who enjoys bringing comedy into what she writes, the original tweet was based in snark and wordplay (obviously). What started as an off-the-cuff joke turned into a massive twitter following in the trans* twitter world. Something about the simplicity and catchiness of #cognitivecissonance caught on like a wildfire. People began basing their own tweets off of Amy’s original tweet. “I guess maybe the phrase just happened to describe that phenomenon succinctly enough to drive the point home”, she mentioned when asked why she felt the hashtag became so popular, “I think trans people, myself included obviously, are sick of the double-standards, hypocrisy, and two-faced behaviors that result from cissexism and all the beliefs that go with it.”
Trans* and cis people both got involved in #cognitivecissonance, pointing out the double standards and problems that plague trans* people in their everyday lives. Soon tweets were pouring in using the tag. People began to point people towards the tag as a means of education of the issues trans* people faced. Wit captured in 140 characters was the platform for education.
“My snark comes from a place of wanting positive change,” Amy told me, “I hope it’s done at least a tiny amount to keep that change coming.” While Amy did not expect #cognitivecissonance to take off, she is certainly pleased by it. Cis people have been coming fourth and saying they have learned a lot about the issues trans* people face in their lives. Twitter allowed for an open platform for people to share their experiences with cognitive cissonance, something that every trans* person has experienced at one point or another.
She told me she was a little uneasy about the spread of the hashtag. “Things that trend can derail and lose the spirit and intent of their origins”, she told me. With online media, this can be very true. The very message behind something can change as people get involved and input their own messages and feelings. They can take a whisper down the line type of evolution, sometimes ending up the complete opposite of what is intended. This is very true with twitter, where people will hijack hashtags and fill them with sarcasm and tweets mocking the original intent of the message. Despite this, Amy said she enjoyed the spread since it spoke to people and was more sincere than something started as a campaign. #Cognitivecissonance naturally evolved into a phenomenon because it spoke to people at a personal level, not because it was already a campaign.
She does not feel she is the sole creator of the #cognitivecissonance hashtag either. For her, these ideas are a collaborative effort. While she created the original tweet, this could not be accomplished without the help of others. “Everything comes from dialog between people, not from smart people thinking in isolation”, she told me in her e-mail. She feels that the best dialogue comes when people are allowed to talk on equal grounds about their experiences. She would prefer that the hashtag be an example among other people, something that is collectively shared, rather than something she is the mother of. “I love that what I write resonates with people, I prefer when this kind of phenomenon remains a dialog among equals.”
Unlike the #fuckcispeople hashtag that became infamous, #cognitivecissonance was without much controversy. It called into light the problematic ways that people limit trans* expression and identity that #fuckcispeople did without the harsh language. While #cognitivecissonance and #fuckcispeople brought up the same problems, issues, and discourse, #cognitivecissonance did in a more almost artistic way. Many tweets covered the fact that there is a huge double standard for trans* people when compared to cis people. Tweets about how trans* people were expected to dress and act were common, as were tweets about how cis people often policed how they saw trans* people. People brought up how trans women are expected to be feminine and attractive. The idea that trans* people are tied to their biological gender while cis people are not, especially with regards to genitals, was brought up. Many people touched on the rampant obsession on what is in the pants of a trans* person. #Fuckcispeople existed for trans* people to vent their anger and frustration with how society deals and feels about them, while #cognitivecissonance allowed trans* people to have a more educational platform, showing the double standards often experienced.
Something that started with no other purpose, but to bring some wit, humor, and snark into a serious topic, turned into a mini-movement. Something meant to bring light a serious situation in a humorous way turned into a hashtag that provided education into the many issues trans* people face. 140 characters to embody the daily struggle of trans* people from all walks of life. Issues from passing, expression, genitals, and simply identity were covered. Trans* people from all over the spectrum added their voices and their struggles to the hashtag, bringing the problem to life. Personal stories and experiences brought a very real sense to something that started out as a one-off snark tweet. Education can happen in all forms if people are willing to add their input, experiences, and a little piece of themselves. Amy happened to find the magical formula to do this on twitter with #cognitivecissonance and sparked a creative and inventive way to talk about the multitude of issues trans* people face.