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Cisgender and cissexual (often abbreviated to simply cis) describe related types of gender identity where an individual's self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook define cisgender as a label for "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity," complementing transgender.
There are a number of derivatives of the terms in use, including cis male for "male with a male gender identity", cis female for "female with a female gender identity", analogically cis man and cis woman, as well as cissexism and cissexual assumption. In addition, certain scholars have begun to use the term cisnormativity, akin to the queer studies' heteronormativity. A related adjective is gender-normative; Eli R. Green has written that "'cisgendered' is used [instead of the more popular 'gender normative'] to refer to people who do not identify with a gender diverse experience, without enforcing existence of a 'normative' gender expression."
Cisgender vs. cissexual
Julia Serano has defined cissexual as "people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their mental and physical sexes as being aligned," while cisgender is a slightly narrower term for those who do not identify as transgender (a larger cultural category than the more clinical transsexual). For Jessica Cadwallader, cissexual is "a way of drawing attention to the unmarked norm, against which trans* is identified, in which a person feels that their gender identity matches their body/sex."
Helen Boyd, author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married, has argued on her blog[unreliable source?] that cissexual is a less loaded term than cisgender and reflects fewer assumptions about the person's relationship to gender roles and the transgender community.[third-party source needed]
Cisgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis-, meaning "on this side of," which is an antonym for the Latin-derived prefix trans-, meaning "across from" or "on the other side of". This usage can be seen in the cis-trans distinction in chemistry, the cis-trans or complementation test in genetics, and in the ancient Roman term Cisalpine Gaul (i.e., "Gaul on this side of the Alps"). In the case of gender, cis- is used to refer to the alignment of gender identity with assigned sex.
The word cisgender has been used on the Internet since at least 1994, when it appeared in the alt.transgendered Usenet newsgroup in a post by Dana Leland Defosse. Defosse does not define the term and seems to assume that readers are already familiar with it. It may also have been independently coined a year later: Donna Lynn Matthews, the charter maintainer of the alt.support.crossdressing usenet group, attributed the word to Carl Buijs, a transsexual man from the Netherlands, claiming that Buijs coined the word in 1995. In April 1996, Buijs said in a Usenet posting, "As for the origin, I just made it up. I just kept running into the problem of what to call non-trans people in various discussions, and one day it just hit me: non-trans equals cis. Therefore, cisgendered."
Academic and literary use
German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch may have been the first to use the term cissexual (zissexuell in German) in a peer-reviewed publication: in his 1998 essay "The Neosexual Revolution," he cites his two-part 1991 article "Die Transsexuellen und unser nosomorpher Blick" ("Transsexuals and our nosomorphic view") as the origin of the term. He also used the term in the title of a 1995 article, "Transsexueller Wunsch und zissexuelle Abwehr" (or: "Transsexual desire and cissexual defense").
The terms cisgender and cissexual have more recently been used in publications, such as a 2006 article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies and Julia Serano's 2007 book Whipping Girl, after which the term gained some popularity among English-speaking activists and scholars. Proponents of using the terms rather than terms like "non-transsexual" or "non-trans" have argued that it calls attention to and unsettles the assumption that people, by default, have an internal sense of being male or female that matches the sex marker they were assigned at birth: for example, Jillana Enteen wrote that "cissexual" is "meant to show that there are embedded assumptions encoded in expecting this seamless conformity." On the other hand, other authors have argued that other terms are more likely to be familiar to readers: for example, Krista Scott-Dixon noted "I prefer the term non-trans to other options such as cissexual/cisgendered... as I think it both centers trans as the norm, and presently offers more clarity to the average person than the cis prefix."
Serano also uses the related term cissexism, "which is the belief that transsexuals' identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals." While having been used by trans activists for some time, the term "cisgender privilege" has recently appeared in academic literature and is defined there as the "set of unearned advantages that individuals who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth accrue solely due to having a cisgender identity."
Problems with the term cisgender
While cisgender terms (ie. cis-woman, cis-man, cis-privilege) are used by certain trans theorists, there are other gender theorists who resist this term as they consider this term offensive and inaccurate. Certainly there have been some attempts to clarify that cis is not intended to be 'offensive'; but this type of acknowledgment glosses over the deeper problems that cis-critical theorists maintain. For instance, there are several gender critics who outline the dangers of such terminology. Gender critic and lawyer Elizabeth Hungerford in "A feminist critique of “cisgender”" writes:
"The cis/trans* binary is a gross oversimplification of the gendered dynamics that structure social relations in favor of male-born people. Gender is a socially constructed power hierarchy that must be destroyed, not reinterpreted as consensual, empowering, individualized “gender identities” that are magically divorced from all contextual and historical meaning. Such a framing invisibilizes female and feminine oppression by falsely situating men-born-men and women-born-women as gendered equals relative to trans-identified people. Though possibly unintentional, “cis” now functions as a significant barrier to feminism’s ability to articulate the oppression caused by the socially constructed gender differentiation that enables male/masculine supremacy. Cis is a politically useless concept because fails to illuminate the mechanics of gendered oppression. In fact, it has only served to make things more confusing".
Hungerford's critique is crucial to understanding how 'cis', a term intended to level the playing field of trans and non-trans individuals, actually erases the difference of what feminist theory views as male privilege and the social oppression resultant of male supremacy. In other words, 'cis' renders both men and women equal in a world where the political, economic and social differences between men and women are far from equal.
More recently, Julian Vigo, a specialist in philosophy of science and gender studies, has written about this discursive erasure of the body that has been at the forefront of discussion by radical feminists and trans activists in recent years, in her article "Gaslighting in the Age of ‘Misgendering’": "While the radical feminists are attacked for ‘judging’ for essentialising the trans person to the body, I would argue that the use of ‘cis’ paradoxically encourages such reductions for what language have we if we are reduced to an anomaly of the trans person’s condition?". Arguing that 'cis' is a form of 'specieism,' Vigo's essay takes to task the offense that 'cis' creates, reminding the reader of the historical dangers of essentializing racial, ethnic or other forms of somatic difference. Ultimately part of Vigo's essay demonstrates how cisgenderism is harmful to the construction of dialogue between those who are supportive of transgender persons while also protective of their right not to be named and those trans* individuals who seek out identity in part through linguistic re-namings of the self while also imposing prefixes onto those who do not share that modifier.
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- Schilt, Kristen; Westbrook, Laurel (August 2009). "Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: 'Gender Normals,' Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality". Gender & Society 23 (4): 440–464 . doi:10.1177/0891243209340034.
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- Serano (2007) also defines cisgender as synonymous with "non-transgender" and cissexual with "non-transsexual" (p. 33).
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|Look up cisgender in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Transsexual Roadmap: Glossary of Transgender Terms
- Gender and Sexuality Center FAQ, University of Texas at Austin Division of Diversity and Community Engagement
- The Queer Community Has to Stop Being Transphobic: Realizing My Cisgender Privilege, Todd Clayton, The Huffington Post, 27 February 2013