Hey, cis!

Is ‘cis’ a slur? Understanding cisgender and its usage

Let’s dive into a term that’s popping up more and more these days: “cisgender,” often shortened to “cis.” Originating from the Latin word “cis,” meaning “on this side of,” it’s the flip side of “transgender.”

Let’s further unpack what “cis” means, how it’s used, and whether it’s viewed as a slur.

What is cisgender?

Dana Defosse is credited with coining the term “cisgender” in 1994. The term describes people whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth. It’s the counterpart to transgender, which describes those whose gender identity differs from their assigned gender.

In other words, identifying as (or being labeled) cis is simply identifying as (or being labeled) not trans.

While it reached its peak Google search popularity in July 2020, the term “cisgender” first appeared in academic texts in the 1990s and has since made its way into everyday language—entering dictionaries by 2015.

Used in various fields like law, medicine, and everyday conversations, cisgender provides a respectful way to acknowledge the range of human gender experiences.

Using the word cisgender isn’t just academic; it’s crucial for advancing gender equality and understanding. Recognizing the full spectrum of gender identities enriches our discussions and helps ensure fair and kind treatment for everyone.

Cis doesn’t mean straight

There’s a bit of confusion out there—some folks mix up cisgender with being heterosexual. These two are not the same, though. Cisgender talks about gender identity and heterosexual talks about who you’re attracted to. With that in mind, cisgender men and women could identify as straight—or they might be lesbian, gay, bi, or another sexuality that falls within the queer community.

Cis can’t be a slur

Just like any label, “cis” can be misunderstood or misused. Some people wonder if cis might be a slur, but most experts and advocates agree that it’s a neutral term, like brunette or left-handed.

The definition of a slur according to Merriam-Webster is “an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo.” And as Dr. Alon Lischinsky, a nonbinary linguist and lecturer at the School of History, Philosophy & Culture at Oxford Brookes University, told us previously, it has to be used against someone with less social power than the speaker, because what makes it a slur is precisely that it builds on prejudices that already exist. But there is no prejudice against cis people in our culture, so there is no way ‘cis’ could fit this bill.”

Even still, some people have a problem with it

Super notably, transphobic Elon Musk announced on his social media platform, X (formerly known as Twitter), that cis is considered a slur on the platform:

The also famous TERF, JK Rowling, has been on the record calling cis an ideological term connected to unprovable beliefs about gender identity.

William Shatner, famously known as Captain Kirk from “Star Trek,” was also up in arms about being called a “straight white cis man”—labels that objectively describe him—as if they’re insults rather than just plain facts.

Wrapping up

Understanding and respecting various gender identities isn’t just about being politically correct; it enriches our interactions and deepens our connections within the community. We’ve seen how the term cisgender (and its transgender counterpart) helps frame conversations about gender in a way that includes everyone.

So, let’s continue to embrace these discussions with open minds and open hearts. Share your experiences and listen to others—because every story adds a layer to our collective understanding.

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