Cisgender, or cis for short, is still a relatively little-known word. As I write this, my computer’s spellchecker is underlining it and insisting that I actually mean all manner of unrelated things. Which makes my spellchecker rather like a certain subset of feminism.
I have never seen a word more wilfully misinterpreted than ‘cis’. There are several tired old arguments against it, ranging from the ridiculous (“It rhymes with ‘cyst’, so it’s an insult!”) to the sly insinuation that trans people are using the term to police people’s genders.
Let that sink in a moment. Trans people, whose genders are constantly policed by a society that treats them as aberrations, who are marginalised and hurt and killed for not conforming to social expectations, are somehow forcing cis people to conform to particular constructions of gender. Despite the fact that they have no structural power with which to do this.
Cis is nothing more than a way of saying ‘not trans’ that doesn’t label non-trans people as ‘normal’, and therefore, by default, also label trans people as ‘abnormal’. That’s it. That really is all there is to the word.
I was going to write a rebuttal to the people who leap on the word ‘cis’ as an excuse to attack trans people, but frankly, I don’t think there’s much point. They’re not going to change. Instead, I thought I’d address what cis really means, for those who are unfamiliar with the word.
With thanks to T. S. Eliot:
The Meaning of Cis
The meaning of cis is the simplest matter
It isn’t an insult, a jibe, or a slur
(Although there are some who insist on the latter
And claim that it’s short for “Don’t listen to her!”)
The meaning of cis isn’t shorthand for “Woman
With double-X chromosomes, lipstick and curls
Who relishes life as a second-class human,
Submits to the men and buys shoes with the girls.”
The meaning of cis is just this: It’s the Latin
For ‘on the same side’ – not a measure of worth,
It just means ‘not trans’, and implies that your gender’s
A match with the sex they assigned you at birth.
Cis doesn’t mean that you never take issue
With sexist ideas of what people should be
Cis doesn’t mean you’ve not hated your body,
Not looked in the mirror and loathed what you see
Cis doesn’t mean that the tropes all ring true
That you’re puppy-dog-tails or you’re sugar and spice
A big burly man who likes football and beer
Or a sweet little lady who’s ever so nice
All that cis means is ‘you are not transgender’.
Full stop. The end. There’s no need to take fright
Or rail oh so hard at a neutral descriptor
That’s no more a judgement than ‘dark-haired’ or ‘white’.
Oh, and just for the record – I’m cis. I loathe the assumption that any hobby, career or activity is ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’. I’m a proud feminist who will not accept women (or any other marginalised group) being dehumanised or treated as ‘less than’. I’ve had times where I’ve been so at odds with my own body that I’ve wished I could just be a brain in a jar. And I’m still cis, because I’m not trans. Because that is all that cis means.