Cisgender (sometimes cissexual, often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender.
Etymology and terminology
German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch used the neologism 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.
Cisgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis-, meaning "on this side of", which is the opposite of 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, in Ciscaucasia (from the Russian perspective), in the ancient Roman term Cisalpine Gaul (i.e., "Gaul on this side of the Alps"), Ciskei and Transkei (separated by the Kei River), and more recently, Cisjordan, as distinguished from Transjordan. In the case of gender, cis- describes the alignment of gender identity with assigned sex.
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". A number of derivatives of the terms cisgender and cissexual include cis male for "male assigned male at birth", cis female for "female assigned female at birth", analogously cis man and cis woman, and cissexism and cissexual assumption. In addition, one study published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society used the term cisnormativity, akin to sexual diversity studies' heteronormativity. A related adjective is gender-normative because, as Eli R. Green writes, "'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". In this way, cisgender is preferable because, unlike the term gender-normative, it does not imply that transgender identities are abnormal.
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".
The terms cisgender and cissexual were used in a 2006 article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies and Serano's 2007 book Whipping Girl, after which the term gained some popularity among English-speaking activists and scholars. Jillana Enteen wrote in 2009 that cissexual is "meant to show that there are embedded assumptions encoded in expecting this seamless conformity".
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". In 2010, the term cisgender privilege appeared in academic literature, defined 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".
While some believe that the term cisgender is merely politically correct, medical academics use the term and have recognized its importance in transgender studies since the 1990s.
In February 2014, Facebook began offering "custom" gender options, allowing users to identify with one or more gender-related terms from a selected list, including cis, cisgender, and others. Cisgender was also added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, defined as "designating a person whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth (in contrast with transgender)". Perspectives on History has stated that since this inclusion, the term cisgender has increasingly become common usage.
From feminism and gender studies
Krista Scott-Dixon wrote in 2009: "I prefer the term non-trans to other options such as cissexual/cisgendered." She holds this view because she believes the term "non-trans" is clearer to average people and will help normalize transgender individuals.
Women's and Gender Studies scholar Mimi Marinucci writes that some consider the "cisgender–transgender" binary to be just as dangerous or self-defeating as the masculine–feminine gender binary, because it lumps together people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) arbitrarily and over-simplistically with a heteronormative class of people as opposed to with transgender people. Characterizing LGB individuals together with heterosexual, non-trans people may problematically suggest that LGB individuals, unlike transgender individuals, "experience no mismatch between their own gender identity and gender expression and cultural expectations regarding gender identity and expression".
From intersex organizations
Intersex people are born with atypical physical sex characteristics that can complicate initial sex assignment and lead to involuntary or coerced medical treatment. The term cisgender "can get confusing" in relation to people with intersex conditions though some intersex people use the term, according to the Interact Advocates for Intersex Youth Inter/Act project. Hida Viloria of Intersex Campaign for Equality notes that, as a person born with an intersex body who has a non-binary sense of gender identity that "matches" his/her body, s/he is both cisgender and gender non-conforming, presumably opposites according to cisgender's definition, and that this evidences the term's basis on a binary sex model that does not account for intersex people's existence. S/he also critiques the fact that the term "sex assigned at birth" is used in one of cisgender's definitions without noting that babies are assigned male or female regardless of intersex status in most of the world, stating that doing so obfuscates the birth of intersex babies and frames gender identity within a binary male/female sex model that fails to account for both the existence of natally congruent gender non-conforming gender identities, and gender-based discrimination against intersex people based on natal sex characteristics rather than on gender identity or expression, such as "normalizing" infant genital surgeries.
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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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