Basics: What does cis or cisgender mean?

I’ve heard this question asked a few times this year, almost exclusively from cis folks who are not up on modern gender language, so here is a few simple facts about the word cis:

How do I say it?

Via the dictionary –

‘cis·gen·der’ – pronounced ‘sisˈjendər’
– adjective
– denoting or relating to a person whose self-Identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.

Cisgender or cis?

The word cisgender is often abbreviated to cis. Not CIS or C.I.S, it’s abbreviation not initialism, so remember not to capitalise ‘cis’. It’s like hetro for hetrosexual, you’re not changing the word, just shortening it.

 

What does cis mean?

Your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned at birth.

So you were born a woman, you know you’re a woman, you feel like you’re a woman. Then you are cis.

So you were born a man, you know you’re a man, you feel like you’re a man. Then you are cis.

You gender and your sexuality are two different things. From the World Health Organisation:

 

“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

To put it another way:

“Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories.

 

Oh so cis is being normal, right?

No. It is typical. Transgender people are as normal as cisgender people – trans people are human and alive. For as long as humans have existed transgender people have existed. Transgender people are everywhere, teachers, doctors, moms, dads, go to school, work construction – approximately 1 in 300 people are transgender. Have you met more than 300 people in your life? Then odds are you have met someone who is trans – and you didn’t realise it.

Transgender people are normal. Cisgender people are typical.

 

OK, so you just made this cisgender word up, right?

It has been in use since 1998, so no, it is sixteen years old. Words get invented all the time – iphone, sexting and so on. The number of new slang words invented every years is countless, the new formal words entering the dictionary every year can range into the dozens.

It’s how language evolves. So if you hear or read someone arguing that the word ‘cisgender’ is not a word, then get them to stop using any words invented in the last sixteen years!

 

OK, so is calling someone cisgender an insult?

By default, no, it’s not an insult, it is a descriptive term. Like all words, it can be used in multitudes of contexts, so could it be used as an insult? Well, yes, but so can practically any word.

‘You’re as useful as a toaster!’ She yelled, her eyes red, fists shaking with anger. She turned sharply and stalked away.

Does that make the word toaster an insult, or was it in the way the word was used? Exactly.

 

I’ve heard other cis words, what about those?

Cissexual – People who feel the sexual anatomy they were born with is right for them.

Cissexism – A belief that people whose  gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth are inherently inferior. This is bigotry.

 

OK, let me great this straight. Cis people were born a  sex and they identify with that gender. Trans people were born a sex and they don’t identify with that gender, right?

Basically, yes, that’s right but … it’s a little more complex than that when you start to realise that transgender identity is not necessarily binary, and trans people can pick and choose from either gender or pick neither gender. Let’s not get too deep right now though, and stick to defining cisgender!

 

Give me more information!

You can find out even more on Wikipedia’s cisgender page.

 

The Basics is a series of articles that form a short guide to transgender terms, trans history, and what it means to be trans. It’s not meant to be exhaustive but rather an easy place to get started. You can find all the Basics articles over here.

Profile photo of Marcy Cook

Female geek, author and blogger. Non-cis, non-straight, non-single, non-asshat.

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