we need the word “cisgender”

i’ve been noticing that lots of writers avoid the word “cisgender,” opting instead for “non-trans*” or “not-trans*” or “genetic *” or “bio*.”

matt kailey does it (i love matt kailey!), the government does it when it decides to differentiate between trans* people and cis people, most of the pieces in the (totally awesome) gender outlaws: the next generation do it, and people trying to be inclusive do it (etc.).

i have trouble with this.  i don’t fucking get it.  “cisgender” is a specific, value-neutral term for a group of people who are typically centered as the default.  i think we need to decentralize cis-ness by naming it in an accurate and value-neutral way– such as with the word “cisgender.”

so why are some people so squeamish about the word?  i mean, grues are squeamish about being called “cis” cuz they’re fucking grues and they don’t want the icky trans* folks to talk about them in value-neutral ways– but what about everybody else?  in particular, why are some trans* people reluctant to use the word “cisgender?”

i mean, imagine if matt kailey (i’m picking on him cuz i read his blog voraciously and i’m ultra used to his usage of “non-trans”), a relatively high-profile trans* writer, activist, and educator actually used the word “cisgender.”  i imagine that a shit-ton of cis folks would be introduced to the concept of cis-ness in a rather clear, reaspectful way.  matt seems clever, articulate, and respectful; i think he could do a lot to decentralize cis-ness through naming it.

same thing with gender outlaws: the next generation.  awesome book– i reallyreally love it, but very few of the pieces in it actually call cis people “cis” rather than “non-trans*,” “bio *,” or even “genetic *.”  i think the alternatives to “cis” further centralize cis-ness– so why spread them around?

the main reason i’ve run into is in regards to comprehension.  apparently, people don’t want to introduce other people to new words because they want people to know what they’re talking about.  that seems reasonable, but why not write “cisgender (non-transgender)?”  that’s what some people do and it seems to work awesomely.

i realize that we don’t always have time to educate cis people; if we’re coming out to someone on the fly, we may not want to include new words.  i also realize that we get exhausted with educating people and that the burden of education lies with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed.  taking care of ourselves is more important than going out of our way to educate our oppressors, even though those 2 things often intersect.

that said, when so many trans* folks seem downright squeamish about the word “cisgender–” doesn’t that tell cis people it’s a dirty word (if they ever hear of it)?  and if we’re writing and we have time/space to breathe and to think about our words, why not just call a cis person a cis person?  (i realize that it may be unsafe to use the word “cisgender” in some situations.)

also, if you try to include trans* people in your surveys, your official government form-thingies, your medical intake forms etc. and some trans* person tells you about “cis” and how it’s less problematic than “bio *” or just “woman/man–” please don’t just tell me you don’t want to confuse people.  cuz “cisgender (non-transgender)” is pretty clear to me.

i’m honestly struggling with this; feel free to offer up some wisdom-nuggets of awesome.  seriously, let’s confabulate!

resources: cis is not a slur, grues and “cisgender” is not a slur, john aravosis.

9 responses to “we need the word “cisgender”

  1. I can’t speak for why other people don’t use cis or cisgender. As someone who is cis I have no problem with the term.

    I think having the designation of man and woman, automatically and solely, set to those that are cis is appalling. Cis, just like heterosexual, should not be portrayed by society as the default setting.

    I’m also not a fan of the terms bio or genetic. The biological/genetic factors of a person are of less interest to me than the real person. It’s too similar to the hetero-normative view far too many people have of the world. I have trans, gender-fluid, non-identifying, and cis people in my life. Each is who they truly are. I do not need biology/genetics to tell me anything else about them. They are capable of telling me all that is relevant.

  2. i’m gonna be honest and say that i love cis people who id as cis. it tells me the person is at least sorta up on trans* issues and isn’t a blatant grue. sorta like how i think it’s important for white people to id as white, ya know? so, yay.

    “I think having the designation of man and woman, automatically and solely, set to those that are cis is appalling.”

    i concur! there’s this dentist in my city who decided to be inclusive of trans* people by (get this) having 4 gender boxes on their patient intake form: “man,” “woman,” “transgender man,” and “transgender woman.” when i spoke to them about it (quite hopefully, tbh), they told me to “take what i could get” and that “men and women ARE just men and women. why assign them a separate designation like ‘cisgender?'” bleh.

    my biggest problems with “genetic x” are: a) most people don’t actually know their own chromosomal makeup, so you can’t always be sure of other people’s chromosomes and b) i don’t want to reduce people to their chromosomes; the gender you’re designated at birth has more of a direct effect on your experiences than your chromosomes do. i mean, even if you have the chromosomes you think you have, your chromosomes influence (even dictate) which gender you’ll be designated as. that gender designation is going to have an effect on your entire life in concrete ways– so i’d rather focus on THAT.

    as for “bio x,” i mean, what are trans* people? robots? are we synthetic? if a trans* person gets ALL the surgeries and ALL the hormones, are they now “bio” people? yeah.

    “I do not need biology/genetics to tell me anything else about them. They are capable of telling me all that is relevant.”

    i love this. i reallyreally do. <3 'nuff said.

    thanks for your thoughts, xombiekitty!

  3. Nice post. I get what you’re saying and I don’t feel like cisgender is a dirty word or should be avoided. When and why I use different words may be something I need to think about more.

    I make the decision to use words based more my training as an editor and writer where being concise and clear is valued.

    In my writing I don’t use “cis” that much because I don’t want to spend time defining one more term for my readers–and I am trying to write for a general audience most of the time. If I write for a trans audience, I would use cis more because they understand it.

  4. “…being concise and clear is valued.”

    i feel ya. i mean, when we start adding new words to our writing, we risk losing our audience (in my experience). because i’m not a professional writer, i pretty much focus on writing the way i speak– made-up words and all. i bet i’d write differently if i were writing for grownup reasons like money/career-stuff.

    still, i think it’s rad when we introduce people to new words/concepts when we feel it’s appropriate.

    thanks for sharing your brain, transparentguy!

  5. I always use the word ‘cis’ in all its variations, and people don’t generally know what it means, but they ask. That’s how words get introduced into the lexicon, people have to use them. And I have accepted that I am a pioneer for this, and will have lots of explaining through my life…oh well!
    I have never encountered any resistance to the word ‘cis’, but most times I’m having a conversation and using the word, it’s under at least slightly friendly circumstances. But peeps, including cis peeps, seem to appreciate that the word actually says something about that. And certainly many of those same peeps have had no issues telling me that they do have issues with things like gender neutral pronouns, for instance…so they’re not just trying to make me happy, that’s for sure.
    In a lot of way I think cis is like the word hetereosexual. It can still be the “majority” as I have heard the arguement many times, but it gives them an identity. Because really who wants to define themselves based off of someone else? You only know who you are because you’re “not”-trans? So you need trans folks to define you? Thats just silly. Now, you can be cis all on your own!
    Really like waht xombiekittie has to say!

  6. ^^^ pretty much. i mean, nobody knows what “non-binary trans* person” and “pansexual” mean– i might as well explain “cis*” as well.

    i’m always scared to tell cis people that they’re “cis,” but most cis people seem stoked that they actually have their own word. it always impresses me (i know, it shouldn’t) when they get stoked on “cis,” but it makes sense! most people seem to love being able to describe themselves accurately.

  7. I love this post. I identify as a cis woman, and actually feel it’s very important to name my privilege.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think part of the problem is how we define gender. I have heard some definitions lately that hold that your gender identity is your own sense of gender, that it’s programmed into your head, etc. The definitions of cis that is given are something along the lines of having an internal gender identity that’s congruent with your socialized gender. I think that’s part of the problem – not everyone experiences gender that way. I don’t – I don’t feel like I have a gender orientation. I believe my gender was socialized into me – if I hadn’t been socialized as a woman, I wouldn’t be one. My internal identity is just kind of neutral. But the thing is, I was socialized as a woman. I am a woman because I was socialized that way – it’s not some kind of internal identity. But I can live with the way I was socialized – I wish I hadn’t been socialized that way, and I desperately wish I had been able to explore my gender without having been socialized into a certain role – but I was, and I can live with it. I wish it hadn’t happened, but I don’t need to transition. And that gives me an enormous amount of privilege.

    It isn’t necessary for us to each experience gender the same way to own our own privilege. I’m not cis because I have some kind of internal gender identity – I don’t – I’m cis because I HAVE CIS PRIVILEGE. And it’s a privilege that needs to be named.

    My partner is trans, and I see every single day of my life how much shit she has to live with for not being able to live as the gender that she was socialized to be. She does have an internal gender orientation, and it’s strong. It’s so very strong that she puts up with absolutely awful abuse in order to express it. And those of us who don’t put up with that abuse need to name our privilege.

    I really, really wish we stopped thinking about privilege as identity. Privilege does not equal identity! It does not. I don’t need to identity as white to have white privilege – I am seen as white, I am not racially profiled, my features are neutral in this society. Whatever my ancestry, however I understand myself, I have white privilege. Same with sexuality – when I am in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender I experience straight privilege, yet when I am in a relationship with someone of the same gender I deal with a lot of oppression. It doesn’t matter how I understand my sexual orientation – sometimes I have straight privilege even though I am not heterosexual. Identity does not equal privilege – privilege does not equal identity – and I think our conflation of the two is why suddenly we’re not naming privilege anymore.

    I have cis privilege. I want to name it, and I think you have the right to name it too.

  8. comment removed by mx. punk due to cisfuckery. don’t be sad, though; i wrote a post about it here: https://rainbowgenderpunk.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/reader-question-im-a-fucking-gruetroll-help/.

  9. Pingback: reader question: i’m a fucking grue/troll. help?! | rainbowgenderpunk

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