Crowdfund, Twerk, Blue-ray, interweb and intersectionality are just a small sample of what has officially entered our lexicon this year, but one word seems to stand out further for the transgender and gender-nonconforming community than any other. The OED has officially added ‘cisgender’ to its revised 2015 edition.
As a point of reference, cisgender and transgender are terms derived from Latin. Cis meaning “on this side of” while Trans meaning “on the other side of,” thus anyone who is not transgender, is considered cisgender. In other words, if you are not transgender, you are cisgender, or a person who identifies with the sex they were born as.
The usage of the word seems to be relatively new, especially with the sudden visibility and acceptance of people who are transgender over the last few years, but the term has been around for slightly more than a century.
In a 1914 book called “Lexikon des gesamten Sexuallebens” by Ernst Burchard, a noted German Sexologist and LGBTQ+ activist, used the term “cisvestitismus” to identify people who were dressed accordingly to societal norms, as opposed to ‘transvestitismus‘ to identify those who were dressed opposite to societal norms.
‘Cis’ and ‘Trans’ has been used across multiple arenas including chemistry with the cis/trans distinction, in genetics with the cis/trans test, also known as the complimentation test, or in the northern part of Italy known as the Cisalpine Gaul meaning ‘on this side of [Cis] the Gaul [Alps].’ In this case, it is merely being used as a reference to align gender identity with assigned sex.
Although the inclusion of the word ‘cisgender’ into the OED now gives it some weight and credibility, the term has been under fire since its usage began to increase last year. Calling it a slur, the non-trans community has in part rejected this term and have tried to accuse the trans community of what they call ‘cisphobia,’ or fear of non-trans people.
Interweb discussions ranging from, “Cis” is a slur, it doesn’t belong in ANY dictionary,” to “we already have words for cisgender – those are WOMAN and MAN,” have peppered the comments sections of articles using the word ‘cisgender,’ but there has been no organized attempt by any group to discredit the word.
In an recent article published by The Independent in the UK, Bernard Reed, a trustee of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society, said: “We strongly support the use by the gender non-conforming community of a whole range of terms to describe themselves individually. It’s interesting that they have chosen to describe people outside that spectrum as cisgender, which is not a term that cisgender people have chosen for themselves.
Sexual stereotypes enforced through implied dichotomy [people are either cis or trans] can be considered limiting, thus to some people a slur or an insult, but simply having a word that tells people their gender matches their body should by no means be considered offensive.
No doubt the term ‘cisgender’ will be debated for years to come, but for now, it seems to be a welcome entry into the dictionary as the language of gender and gender identification continues to expand.
Editors note. The author of this post’s highly contentious article documenting the unfortunate departure of Mississippi Gulf Coast Rainbow Center Jeff White illustrates just how objectionable some non-trans people find the word Cisgender.
Planet Transgender respects all people’s right to self-identify. It is the editors opinion if an individual does not want to be called cisgender, then so be it.