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On the term “Cisgendered”

May 20, 2009

“Cisgendered” is apparently the latest politically correct gender terminology. The term came up in a Black Rose class last night on Scene & Queer Identities that was taught by Del, and that’s what got me [re]thinking about how much I dislike the term.

“Cisgendered” means someone whose gender is in alignment with their biology. I’ve been hearing this term a lot more in the queer and academic communities. I think it’s an awkward term, but I understand why it’s being used. It’s less harsh towards the trans community than “bio-male” or “bio-female.” I was kind of indifferent towards the term until someone recently told me that I was cisgendered.

My knee jerk reaction to having this label applied to me was not positive, which got me wondering why – other than the usual crankiness with having someone try to label me.

This person was assuming that because I am currently presenting as female and my bits also are female, that I my gender is in alignment with my biology. It isn’t, and those kind of assumptions are dangerous. You would think that people in the queer community would be better at the whole “not making assumptions based on how people look thing,” but I actually think that they are worse at it. They use so many visual and cultural cues – hair cuts, dress, jewelry, body language – to determine who is in the community and who is not that judgments like that end up being made.

Does the fact that I am currently presenting as female and I’ve never not wanted a vagina (penises are just inconvenient) mean that I am any less gender queer?

No. I have struggled with gender for the majority of my life. I have had panic attacks over it, I have sliced my skin over it, and I am fully aware of the difference between gender presentation and gender identity. The queer community should be too.
I choose to present as female, but female is not an identity that I claim. The problem with the term cisgendered is that it is a term that the queer community is using to apply to other people. This labeling is done under assumptions of presentation. I understand how the term “bio-female” might be taken the wrong way from the transgendered perspective, but I think that cisgendered is not a term that the queer community should be throwing around unless someone self-identifies as it.

I am on the gender queer spectrum, yet I am not transgendered. I would prefer bio-female, actually. I am a bio-female gender queer polyamorous pansexual kinkster.

And the next person who tells me that I am “cisgendered” can shove it.

Edit:
RMJ over at Deeply Problematic wrote further commentary on this here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2009 3:44 pm

    First of all, thanks for coming out to my class last night.

    I, too, struggle with using the term “cisgendered”. I think most people for whom the term would apply haven’t had occasion to really identify where they lay on the gender spectrum, because they haven’t really come to terms with the idea with a “gender spectrum” outside of the binary.

    I have come to a place in my life where I try not to make assumptions about a person’s gender identity, but I admit I look for markers that help me make an educated guess. I’m willing to make mistakes, to be corrected, and to learn more about the people who wish to share that part of their identity with me.

    I was recently (about a year ago) lamenting in a class on gender play, my frustration that for the vaginally enhanced spectrum of genderqueer, that any outward embracing of femininity was frowned upon. As though there’s a very singular expression of what “genderqueer” looks like – the idea frustrates me to no end.

    However, the flip side of the coin is that we lack ways to “flag” our gender so that even the best meaning friends and allies can tell how we identify. A friend recently got me a necklace that has “butch” on one side and “fem” on the other, so I can do just that.

    Anyway, thanks again for coming out, and for the well reasoned reminder about gender assumption.

  2. Jemma permalink
    August 29, 2010 2:17 pm

    (Many people who are known for expressing the most transphobic views in public, react very badly to the term “cisgender,” claim that it is a slur, that it is imposing gender on them. It’s none of these things – it simply means “someone who is not a transgender person.”)

    (However, saying that it is a slur is transphobic, because if “cisgender” is a slur, then how can you justify “transgender” as being anything else?)

    You’re saying that you are “normal” and we are trans. (This is an othering tactic – by claiming that “cisgender”, “cissexual”, or “cis” is an offensive slur, you’re saying outright that you’re unwilling to allow trans people to stand on equal footing with you.) In fact, it’s incredibly othering. Compare the differences in the following pairs:
    normal vs disabled, OR currently abled vs disabled
    normal vs homosexual, OR heterosexual vs homosexual
    normal people vs people of color, OR white people vs people of color
    normal vs polyamorous, OR monoamorous vs polyamorous
    normal vs female, OR male vs female
    normal vs trans, OR cis vs trans

    Do you see how hurtful the word “normal” is, and how the trans community NEEDS a word to describe the cis community?? You may not enjoy identifying with the term “cissexual,” but rest assured, the trans community REALLY didn’t enjoy being labeled as “trans” and “other” and “not normal” by all of you cissexuals.

    Portion of my reply in parentheses comes from http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/how-to-check-your-cis-privilege/

    Please note, you said yourself, “….yet I am not transgendered”. transgender is an adjective, not a verb. I believe you meant to say “…yet I am not transgender”. When you use “transgendered” as a verb like that, you’re implying that trans people used to be cissexual, then something weird happened that made them trans. No, we are and have always been, and identify as trans. This is the exact same reason it is rude to use the phrase “colored people,” and we say “people of color”.

    Furthermore, why on earth do you say it’s an “awkward term”, that you hear in “academic circles”. Oh puh-leeze! That is the lamest excuse ever! You take a Scene & Queer Identities class!! You post on feminist blogs about heteronormitivity! and gender essentialism! but you can’t ….just….google… the word cissexual? That’s just lazy.

    Then you have the audacity to say “I would prefer bio-female, actually.” bio-female. Uhm, what. Trans females are females too. And trans women have DNA, mitochondria, cells, tissues, bones, so they’re biological too. So “bio-female” can describe trans women and cis women, and is about as descriptive as “female”. Great…

    (The inequity involved in people saying things like “I’m not cis, I’m a woman” whilst firmly denying trans women the woman part of the equation should be obvious. Until we live in a world where trans women are accepted as women whose identifications, histories and bodies are as legitimate as their sisters, there will be a need for the term cis. Because when you use “women” and “trans women” you know what you’re saying? That trans women aren’t women, that we’re a separate group. And that’s just not acceptable, and it doesn’t take a PhD to work that one out.) (bottom parentheses quoted from http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/)

    • aelphaba permalink*
      August 29, 2010 5:51 pm

      I think that, at the core of what I was trying to get at, is that no one should be labeling other people. I should not be calling someone transgender, or gay, or queer, or whatever, unless that is a term that they are using for themselves. I would never say, “Oh, [name] is transgender.” Unless I knew for a fact that the person in question identified that way.
      Cisgender is inherently a term that someone is not actively calling themselves. It is a label that one group is applying to another and that is NEVER okay in my book. It is not acceptable for someone to say, “Oh, [name] is cisgender.” Unless they know for a fact that the person in question identified with the term.

      I NEVER used the term normal in my blog entry. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

      Also, at the time when I wrote this entry, I had heard cisgender exclusively in the context of gender studies courses and from academics teaching sex education courses in a community. I had googled it and there was, at the time, very little information on the word.

      The English language is not a stagnant thing. It’s been only a year since I’ve been active in the LGBTQ+ community and since then the idea of “transgendered” vs. “transgender” was introduced. I only actually heard about that this past weekend. I think it’s an interesting point and is one that I understand (I always thought it was kind of weird for it to be a verb anyway) and will pick up for future use.

      But I maintain: I refuse to use a label for anyone who does not self-identify as that label.

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