Cisgender Definitions

No, “cis” is not a slur.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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Pete, a white cis man, and Pax, a Black transmasculine person, are sitting in front of a brick wall, next to a projection screen displaying several gender identity terms. Pax is speaking into a microphone while Pete watches.
Pax gives a presentation on gender identity at a Wikipedia salon alongside host Pete Forsyth, April 2016. Photo CC BY-SA 4.0, Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

Yesterday (June 20, 2023), Twitter CEO Elon Musk announced that “cisgender” and “cis” are now considered slurs on that platform. In response, below is a slightly updated version of a blog entry I wrote on that topic in 2015.

Living as a trans person for the past nine years, I sometimes forget that much of society does not have any clue about the definitions I take for granted. I’ve been assuming that most regular readers of this blog understand that “cisgender” is a term that simply means “non-transgender.” It comes from the Latin prefix cis, meaning “on this side of,” as opposed to trans, meaning “on the other side of.” Cis people agree with the gender identification they were assigned at birth; trans people do not.

Cis is not a slur, though some trans people have used it as such, just as some people of color have used “whitey” as a slur. When an oppressed person uses such language, it is “punching up,” not “punching down,” and use of such language should be policed within the community, not by outsiders.

Some cis people have pushed back that they are simply “normal,” and that the term cisgender is politically correct or “woke”. Some ask how we can expect our own identities to be respected when we force a label on them.

Here’s the thing: Cisgender is not a gender. When I say that someone is cisgender, I am not defining or labeling their gender identity. I am simply stating that they agree with the gender identity they were assigned at birth. They might not consider being a man/boy/male or being a woman/girl/female to be an identity because they’ve always lived with one of those labels without question, but cis people “self-identify” just as much as trans people do. They just aren’t questioned, mocked, or attacked for it. The same is true of preferred pronouns.

As far as cisgender people who consider themselves to be simply “normal” while transgender people are “abnormal,” the hope is that being trans will come to be considered just another human variation. More people are coming to accept varieties in sexual orientation, and you don’t hear a lot of pushback from folks being labeled “straight” or “heterosexual” nowadays (though I’m sure there are some who reject those terms). Acceptance of variation in gender identity…

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Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, pacifist. Pronouns: they/them/their. funcrunch.org, patreon.com/funcrunch