Politics & Policy

Cis-Ridiculous

How many labels do we need?

It’s time to come out of the closet: I am a cisgender woman.

I can see that you have a quizzical look on your faces. I suppose you don’t know what cisgender means. It is one of the 27,956 genders one can choose for oneself on a Facebook profile. A cisgender person identifies as the gender he or she was assigned at birth. “If a doctor said, ‘It’s a boy!’ when you were born, and you identify as a man, then you could be described as cisgender,” says the website BasicRights.org.

Wait, you are saying to yourselves, then aren’t you just a straight person? What is the difference between straight and cisgender?#ad#

According to a Tumblr blog called What-Does-Cis-Mean:

terms like cis allow us to identify when we mean cis men/women instead of always using men/women to mean cis men/women while always distinguishing trans men/women as the other. It places cis and trans people on equal ground.

I agree, that explanation was needlessly complicated. I will dumb it down for you. A cisgender is basically a non-transgender. But wait, you can’t say non-transgender. It is offensive for some reason. According to BasicRights, “referring to cisgender people as ‘non trans’ implies that cisgender people are the default and that being trans is abnormal.”

This is the main reasoning behind the existence of the word “cisgender.” It was created so as not to offend the trans community. (Although this reasoning doesn’t really apply elsewhere: Referring to minorities as non-whites means that the white people are the norm and the minorities are not. So, in the same vein, calling a group of people non-trans means that transgenders are the norm.)

The earliest mentions of the word “cisgender” in academia go back to a 1995 article by sexologist Volkmar Sigusch in which he discussed “transsexual desire and cissexual defense.” Most recently, even though the term in effect refers to straight people, “cisgender” can be found only on websites catering to the trans community. In fact, when researching the definition of the word, I came across an article called “Trans 101: Cisgender.” If the word is meant for non-trans people, then why is it primarily found on trans websites?

The “cis” term has been popularized in, among other places, a book called Whipping Girl, which is not, as you might have guessed, about a dominatrix but about the transsexual experience. Why is the transgender community creating words for what I should call myself? So that the trans community will feel better about themselves? In the words of a Tumblr blogger called “Nerd is my gender”:

Do not call me cisgender. You have no right or authority to name me without my consent. . . . It does not come from us, as its origins are from a trans perspective. . . . Do not call me cisgender. That is offensive to me. I am offended that you consider that you have power over me, and can name me.

Maybe I should come up with a new word for people who reject the cisgender label and make that the 27,957th gender choice on Facebook. Please leave any ideas in the comments section below.

— Christine Sisto is an editorial assistant at National Review.