Healthy Living

What Is Cisgender?

What Is Cisgender?

The definition of cisgender is “an adjective for someone whose gender would correspond to the sex assigned to them”. Cisgender, or cis in abbreviated form, describes individuals whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Cisgender can be applied to a vast majority of individuals wherein it would describe anyone who is not transgender. A transgender woman would be someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female later in life. A cisgender woman would be someone who was assigned as female at birth and identifies themselves as female indefinitely.

The term cisgender is originally from the Latin-derived prefix cis-, meaning “on the side of”, which is the opposite of trans-, meaning “across from” or “on the other side of”.

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Individuals who tend to feel that their assigned sex matches their gender identity are considered cisgender. For example, a man, who was born male, and identifies themselves as a man would be considered cisgender. The same goes for women. An individual who is born with a combination of both female and male reproductive parts, and identifies as intersex, can also be considered cisgender. 

For some time, the term cisgender was only something that appeared in academic journals or books. In the present, it is a term that is seen all over the internet. The term cisgender has even made itself known and entered the Oxford Dictionaries. On a popular networking site for gender identification, 56 genders are present. One of the gender options on this is cisgender.

Sex vs. Gender: What’s the Difference?

In general terms, “sex” describes the biological difference between females and males, such as the genetic differences and genitalia. “Gender” is slightly more difficult to define but can refer to the role of female or male in society (gender roles), or a person’s concept of themselves (gender identity).

Sometimes, an individual’s genetically assigned sex doesn’t line up with the gender they identify themselves as. These individuals may refer to themselves as non-binary, transgender, or gender-nonconforming.

Differences with Sex

The differences between female and male sexes are physiological and anatomical. Sex is related to our biological differences. For example, female and male genitalia, both external and internal, are different. Additionally, the types and levels of hormones that are present in female and male bodies are different.

Genetics define the sex of a person. Women possess 46 chromosomes including 2 Xs and men possess 46 including X and a Y. The Y chromosome is dominant and carries the signal for the embryo to start growing testes. Women have greater levels of progesterone and estrogen than testosterone. Men possess more testosterone than progesterone and estrogen.

Although the female and male split is often viewed as binary, this is not completely true. For example, some males are born with 2 or 3 X chromosomes, just as some females are born with a Y chromosome.

Differences with Gender

Gender tends to denote the cultural and social role of each sex within a given society. Rather than being completely assigned by genetics, as differences in sex generally are, gender roles are adhered to as a response to the media, family interactions, education, and peers.

Gender roles are particularly more rigid in patriarchal societies than what is seen in more liberal countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, a female’s gender role is the homemaker. They are subservient to men and withheld certain freedoms, such as operating a vehicle. This is not to say that gender roles are not still apparent in liberal countries. Women frequently spend more time childrearing while men are more likely to take the role of a primary money-earner. Gender stereotypes and gender roles are highly fluid and can change substantially with time. For example, high heels, which are now viewed exclusively as feminine apparel, were originally created for male aristocrats to use while hunting on horseback. Over time, women began wearing high heels and the perception of this footwear altered from masculine to feminine.  

In short, the term gender is said to be a social construct. It mostly refers to behavior, social norms, rules, and expectations which are viewed to be appropriate for men and women in society. The terms male and female are used for describing the sex of an individual.

The Difference Between Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The terms gender identity as well as sexual orientation are not one in the same. A person who is cisgender can be homosexual, asexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. The same also applies to an individual who is transgender.

Will Cisgender Survive?

The term cisgender may not ever truly become a household name, and this is not because of its origins as academic jargon. After all, the term transsexual, which is the basis for the term transgender, was first introduced in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. The terms homosexual and heterosexual were invented by neurologists to name what they considered to be opposing perversions in the late 19th century. Despite this, these terms have lasted the test of time, and cisgender may do the same.

That being said, the term “cisgender” seems to be more improbable as a word than the term “transgender” ever was. While the prefix “trans” is found in hundreds of English phrases (transport, translate, transcend). However, the prefix “cis” only appears in a handful of words, the least obscure of these being “cisalpine” (“on this side of the Alps”). The meaning of cisgender is not as transparent as compared to transgender.  

It is important to recognize that there is more at stake than this term’s ability to survive. Cisgender presents a commonality amongst individuals who are non-transgender and those who are transgender, in a time when the transgender movement is still struggling for recognition. It reminds us that everyone experiences some type of relationship between their bodies and themselves, whatever the relationship may be. Additionally, it reminds society that individuals who experience this “match” between body and self tend to have it somewhat easier in society than individuals who don’t. In this respect, cisgender can help raise awareness of intolerance and injustice towards the transgender community. Cisgender could, potentially, assist in building consensus on transgender rights.

However, there are those who protest this idea. Surprisingly, most of these complaints have arisen from the left. Many feminists, who are usually counted on to support transgender rights, have balked at the idea that a cisgender woman has more privileges in comparison to a transgender woman that was born male.

Below are some of the privileges that are commonly enjoyed by cisgender people:

  1. The ability to use a public restroom without fear of physical intimidation, verbal abuse, or arrest.
  2. The ability to use public facilities such as store dressing rooms or gym locker rooms without fear, anxiety, or stares.
  3. Strangers do not assume that they can ask about a cisgender’s sex life or what their sex organs look like.
  4. A cisgender’s legitimacy as a woman, man, or human being is not based on the degree of surgery that they’ve undergone or how well they can “pass” as the gender they identify with.
  5. Cisgenders are usually able to go about their day unnoticed and blend in. They do not have to feel that they are being gawked at, pointed at, whispered about, or laughed at because of how they look.
  6. People will call a cisgender by the name they provided. people will not ask their “real name” and then assume they can call them by that name.
  7. Cisgender people do not have to feel as though their ability to obtain a job, secure a loan, or rent an apartment will be based on their gender identity or gender expression.
  8. A cisgender individual is able to flirt, form a relationship, or date without fear that their biological status may lead to rejection or attack.    

Bottom Line

The impact, if any, that the term cisgender may have on society can only be observed with time. There are many factors that will make it hard for cisgender, as a gender identity, to gain mainstream success. However, this does not mean that it is impossible for this term to catch on and acquire the same popularity as other similar terms. 

Key Takeaways

  • Cisgender can be applied to a vast majority of individuals wherein it would describe anyone who is not transgender.
  • Individuals who tend to feel that their assigned sex matches their gender identity are considered cisgender. 
  • The term cisgender is originally from the Latin-derived prefix cis-, meaning “on the side of”, which is the opposite of trans-, meaning “across from” or “on the other side of”.