Grammar

Gender or Cisgender? What’s the Difference?

Cisgender is a relatively young term in the world of gender studies, but more recently, it’s being used more and more often.

Many of the words I refer to in these grammar posts have been around for a long, long time. Cisgender, on the other hand, is less than 30 years old.

Gender, it seems, is much more complicated than most of us ever thought.

There was a time when the world really thought of only two: male and female.

As awareness has been raised about people who consider themselves transgender, we’ve been encouraged to understand that everything isn’t so cut and dried.

That’s a difficult concept for many people to understand. The sheer number of labels that have been created to deal with people’s understanding of their own gender, after all, can be mind-boggling. Back in 2015, I wrote about the fact that Facebook had recently rolled out a total of 58 options for gender identity.

“If you gave me a blank sheet of paper and one hour in a quiet room, I might be able to come up with about six options,” I wrote at the time. “I looked at the master list and there are some terms I’ve never even heard of. But of course, to the people who find themselves in those particular classifications, their reality is every much as legitimate as mine when I just click ‘male’ and move on to the next question; we would do well to consider that such ‘simple’ questions are not always simple for everyone.”

So what is Cisgender?

Put simply, cisgender is the opposite of transgender.

To make it even more clear, someone who is cisgender identifies with the gender they were born into.

In my case, I was born male and have the associated characteristics of a male human being. More importantly, I identify as a male.

Therefore, I would be considered cisgender.

Someone who was born with the characteristics of a male but identifies more as female would be considered transgender.

It’s a simple distinction, but the usage of the term could be problematic. Most people who are cisgender wouldn’t label themselves as such. Those of us who fall into that category are more likely to be labeled as such by people who are transgender as a manner of distinguishing between the two options.

It’s similar to race: I’m not likely to label myself as a “European American” because I don’t consider myself as such, but some people of color use such a term instead of terms like caucasian.

If someone wants to call me cisgender, I’m not likely to take offense. However, I would question that someone about why they felt the need to do so.

On the other hand, just as there’s definitely such a thing as white privilege, there’s surely male privilege as well, and that feeling likely comes unconsciously from my own.

In any case, when using such a term toward a specific person, you should probably tread lightly: you might ask whether they prefer to be labeled as a cisgender male or cisgender female or, simply, as a male or female.

It should always be up to the individual.

2 Comments

  1. The word, cisgender, is really only relevant when differentiating transgender people from others who identify themselves as being the same gender as that which was assigned at their birth (as you pointed out). If I were cisgender, I would consider it offensive that someone would label me as such. By the same token, I don’t appreciate being called a transgender woman. I identify as a woman; technically not a cis one, but not really not wanting to be seen as a transgender woman, either.

    I have heard the alternative to cis , that being “real,” all too often. If, as you say, the opposite of cisgender is transgender, it does not follow that cisgender implies reality, while transgender implies falseness. Yes, one should tread lightly, but, at the same time, avoid any labels when they are not necessary or pertinent.

    1. “Real” certainly sounds worse…and more INTENTIONALLY insulting than “cis.” But I feel the way you do about the point that the designations are usually unnecessary.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.