Gender & Sexuality dictionary


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What does cis mean?

Cis is short for cisgender, which refers to when a person’s gender identity corresponds to their sex as assigned at birth. Cisgender is the opposite of transgender.

Related words

gender-fluid, nonbinary gender, gender-neutral pronouns, queer, SJW

Where does cis come from?

Cissexual was coined in the mid 1990s by a German sexologist. He used the Latin preposition cis, meaning “on this side of,” as a contrast to transsexual, trans being the Latin for “on the other side of” or “across.” 

The phrase, eventually morphing into cisgender, picked up steam in gender and sexuality studies throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, it didn’t enter the mainstream until the 2010s. This was due to a variety of factors, such as the rise of social-justice-oriented social-media platforms like Tumblr and important LGBTQ rights debates (e.g., bathroom access and military service), both contributing toward greater visibility for trans individuals. This in turn, made those who were cisgender realize their own positionality.

Cisgender was added to major dictionaries in the 2010s and is commonly shortened to cis in everyday contexts. In 2014, Facebook offered custom gender options for users, including cisgender or cis. Cisgender helps provide greater visibility for and inclusivity of transgender and nonbinary people because it doesn’t assume the default meaning gender refers to traditional male-female gender assignments. People often now ask others to use their identified pronoun options such as he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs.   

Some other terms that have become associated with cis in include cissexism and cisgender privilege. Cissexism is the belief that being transgender is inferior to being cisgender. Cisgender privilege is the unearned advantages that cisgender individuals have due to being cis.  

There is some controversy over whether or not cis is offensive. Some believe that it continues to promote the gender binary and the male/female divide. There has been controversy over the decision to cast cis actors in transgender roles. Outrage erupted in summer 2018 when actor Scarlett Johansson was originally cast to play a trans man, Dante “Tex” Gill, in the upcoming movie Rub & Tug. Ultimately, she turned down the role, but this isn’t the first time a cisgender actor played a trans character. In 2014, Jared Leto won an Oscar for playing a trans woman in the 2013 Dallas Buyers Club.

Examples of cis

What transgender women in tech can teach cisgender women (and vice versa)
Lauren Schiller, Salon (headline), July, 2018
I wanna be in charge of that untitled Harley Quinn movie so that no cis white male directors can mess with my babies
@artoopio, August, 2016
I called out a cis man on fb and he responded positively?? and took my criticism onboard? and deleted the post? I am bewildered
@lleuadau, August, 2015

Who uses cis?

Cis is commonly used in the discussion of cisgender privilege. People will often compare the experiences of transgender people to the experiences of cisgender people. It can often be to make a point about the systemic inequalities of gender-normative and heteronormative society.

Cis folks can recognize their privilege by calling out the fact that they are indeed cis.

In line with cisgender privilege, some users may reference cis as a way to talk about gender oppression. They may make statements about the biases of the cis population as a whole when talking about discrimination or the difficulty of being trans or nonbinary.    

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of cis like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of cis that will help our users expand their word mastery.