Rejecting the term “Cisgender” is inherently transphobic

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A while back, I asked the readers of Ask Addi to make comments on why they may have a problem with the term cisgender. The answers I received ran the gamut from “it just sounds weird” to “it’s a slur you trans people made up to attack people like me.” There were also a few who said that people should be able to identify as they wish and not have a term forced on them. Those people are usually cisgender, straight and white; people who have never had an identity marker forced on them. Well, at least not since birth.

The impression I got was that a lot of people didn’t think that they needed a term to describe them because they are “normal.” Trans folx, like me, are the weird ones, so we need a word to define us. Rejecting cisgender is just a symptom of believing that trans people are the other, a sign of transphobia.

Let’s step back and look at what these terms mean. Transgender is an adjective that indicates a person’s internal gender identity doesn’t match the gender that society, in general, would assign them usually based on external physical characteristics. This means a person whose experienced gender is a man, but they were born with a female body or vice versa. It can also include people whose internal gender doesn’t fit nicely into the societal definition of man or woman, otherwise known as a non-binary identity. The word transgender consists of the Latin prefix “trans,” which means “on the other side of” and gender. It’s reasonably straightforward.

Cisgender means that a person’s internal gender identity does match the gender that society, in general, would assign them usually based on external physical characteristics. It’s merely an academic term that means the opposite of transgender. It’s formed by applying cis-, “the Latin prefix for “on the same side of,” to the base word gender. Again, it’s straightforward.

Cisgender is a term that was made up by a German researcher back in the 1990s. Technically, they created a German term, and it became the Latin/English word that we know today when editors translated the article into English. Cisgender is just a word meant to make communication easier and academic writings shorter. Creating a slur was the furthest thing from the author’s mind. It is not an insult of any kind. The trans community did not make it up.

Please stop saying that cisgender is a slur. That shows you’re uninformed and have bought into misinformation created and spread by anti-trans activists.

Transgender and cisgender are just classifications, not actual identities. I am transgender, but that is not my identity. I’m a transfeminine non-binary person. I fall into the category transgender because I was assigned male birth, and that did not fit how my mind is wired. A person who identifies as a man who was assigned male at birth falls into the cisgender category. One is not forced into an identity when they are called cisgender. At most, it’s just a comment on how one identifies.

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Photo by Denin Lawley on Unsplash

The overall tone of the comments against using cisgender I’ve seen is that people are concerned that having a term that is the opposite of transgender legitimizes being trans. It does, but why is that a problem? The only possible reason one could have for wanting to make sure that transgender denotes a special category, means otherness, is that one considers trans people to be outside of the permissible. That is to say, transphobia. People who think like this consider transgender to be a special class and usually a lower class.

If you consider cisgender to be a slur, then you must also find trans to be a slur that you want to preserve. If non-trans people shouldn’t have a term for themselves because they are “normal,” then you must agree that there is something abnormal about being trans. Not different. Abnormal. If one considers trans people to be normal but different, then cisgender makes perfect sense as a term to designate normal non-trans people.

I do have to agree, though, that cisgender is a weird sounding word. But what do you expect from a German term coined in an academic journal which is then translated into English academic journals and then found its way to widespread use?

If you are someone who has an issue with the term cisgender, I invite you to examine where that attitude comes from. Are you really upset that there is a term for you that might put you on even footing with trans people? Or do you, like me, wish we lived in a world where both words are unnecessary?

Written by

LGBTQIA+ diversity/sensitivity educator, trans activist, videographer, musician and writer living in the American Midwest with their cat. They/Them

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