What does cigender mean and how did the term come about? If you’re asking this question, you’re not alone. The short answer is that a cisgender person is someone who identifies with the same gender that they were assigned at birth.
The term “cis” is a Latin prefix that means:
- “On this side”
In contrast, “trans” is a Latin prefix that means:
- “On the other side”
Outside of gender, I first learned of the term “cis” within the context of chemistry, where cis indicates that the functional groups are on the same side of the carbon chain while trans means the functional groups were on opposing sides of the carbon chain.
Rise of the Term Cisgender
With government officials, medical providers, and society at large recognizing the existence of a gender spectrum, terms such as cisgender and transgender have been on the rise.
The graph below shows rates of Google Searches for the term “cisgender” from 2004 to present. Clearly, searches for this term have been on the rise over the past five years.
Meaning of the Term Cisgender
The term cisgender was first coined by the transgender movement in the 1990s. The prefix cis means “on the same side as.”
As explained above, a cisgender person is a person who identifies with the gender that they were assigned at birth.
Within this context, the word and meaning of cisgender is a clearly an important part of LGBTQ culture and terminology.
The Point of Cisgender
Before cis became utilized within the English language, people often used the label “non-transgender” to describe a person who was not transgender. Unfortunately, this wasn’t particularly clear, nor was it empowering.
Calling a person cisgender was thus adopted as a way to identify someone who is not transgender.
Sometimes, the terms assigned female at birth (AFAB) or assigned male at birth (AMAB) are also used to mean that a person was labelled as “biologically female” or was “born a female”.
Of course, sex assignment at birth is a very complex determination, because medical providers have historically based this decision on a single biological marker (external genitalia), when there are at least 10 biological markers that would be relevant to the decision and likely many more.
Biological markers of human sex include, but are not limited to: chromosomes, gonads (testis or ovaries), hormones, secondary sex characteristics, internal genitalia, external genitalia, gene gxpression, brain structure, skeletal structure, and personal identity.
- A person who was declared to be female at birth and who identifies as a female today would be considered a cisgender woman.
- A person who was declared to be male at birth and who identifies as a male today would be considered a cisgender man.
Of course, people may also exist between these two identities, with examples including people who are intersex, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming (GNC), among many other possibilities.
The Etymology and History of Cisgender
In his two-part 1991 article, German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch first used the term cissexual to describe a person who identified with their original sex.
Trans means “on the other side of” while cis, as we previously stated, means “on the same side as.”
Simply using the labels man and woman were problematic in that it implies that a cis person is “normal” while a trans person is “not normal”.
People used to use the word gender-normative to describe a non-trans person but this obviously brings back the problem of suggesting that one type of person is normal while the other is abnormal.
The term cisgender grew in popularity after it was used in a 2006 article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies. Julie Serano, a biologist and transactivist, used the term in her popular 2007 book Whipping Girl. Serano also introduced the term cissexsim.
Cissexism (sometimes written cis-sexism) is an underlying assumption that a transgender person’s gender is less authentic, or inferior to, that of a cisgender person.
While some people believe that the identifier cisgender is merely an example of political correctness, there are medical scholars who use the term officially.
Definition of Cisgender
In 2013, cisgender was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and defined as “designating a person whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth”.
The Merrium Webster Dictionary defines cisgender as “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.”
In February of 2014, Facebook started to offer Custom Gender Options, showing a more mainstream acceptance of these terms and ideas.
Interestingly, terms using the prefix “cis” represent 10 of Facebook’s gender options, as shown below:
- Cis Female
- Cis Male
- Cis Man
- Cis Woman
- Cisgender Female
- Cisgender Male
- Cisgender Man
- Cisgender Woman
The Answer to “What Does Cisgender Mean?”
I hope this article has provided you with a well-informed answer to the question, “What does cisgender mean?”
If you have additional thoughts or would like to contribute to this conversation, I’d encourage you to share your perspective in the comments below or drop a note here. We love to crowdsource global feedback and integrate your insights.
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