Recently, with ground-breaking triumphs by trans activists like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, word’s that are relatively “new” to those outside of the LGBTQ community are becoming used more frequently (especially online). As far as I can tell, this is a very good thing (I think it is almost always positive when folks get to choose how their identities are talked about in the mainstream).
One of the things that I see frequently online is confusion around what it means to be cis [an abbreviation for cisgender]. So today I am going to dedicate a short post to [hopefully] clearing up some confusion! (to the best of my ability).
Let’s start with the dictionary:
Well that was short! Unfortunately, there is currently no definition for cisgender in the Merriam Webster Dictionary. Fortunately, (although I would be adverse to my student’s using google as a source), for once, google dictionary seems to have a pretty decent working definition:
adjective: cisgender; adjective: cis-gender; adjective: cisgendered; adjective: cis-gendered
denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.
There are a couple of terms here that I think are worth clarifying.
Self-identity: how you identify yourself in the world
Gender: this is more complicated, but a short version is, this is how you understand/feel/know your own gender presentation (male, female, etc..)
Biological sex: essentially this is the sex you were assigned at birth based on your anatomy.
So in short, a cisgender (or cis) person is a person who identifies themselves as (or feels/knows themselves to be) the same gender as the biological sex they were assigned at birth.
This is in contrast to a transgender (or trans) person who identifies themselves as (or feels/knows themselves to be) a different gender then the biological sex they were assigned at birth.
So why do these terms matter?
Well, as with most of our identities, there are various benefits (or lack thereof) that can come along simply by being born a certain way (this is often referred to as privilege).
In this case, being born cisgendered means that there are certain privileges that you are afforded just for being born as you are. Common examples of this are: being able to go to the bathroom without issue, being referred to with the correct pronoun (his/her/they/them), and being able to be licensed by the state (driving, medical, etc…) without a major battle. For more examples of cisgender privledge please go here.
As with all things, it is very possible that I got some things wrong, so please don’t hesitate to send me a note if you see some corrections that are needed.
If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments box, or you can shoot me an email (I will keep your identity private) at AMoffettB (at) gmail (dot) com.