My friend Jewel sent me a Washington Post article last week about Elon Musk and the term cisgender. In case you don’t know, cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity coincides with the sex with which the person was born. It’s in contrast to transgender, where one’s physical sex and inner gender identification differ.
It seems that Elon has his panties in a bunch over the term, threatening to suspend anyone from Twitter who uses it. Elon cites an anti-trans activist who maintains that a “pedosexual” doctor (who has been accused of pedophilia) created the term in 1991. On account of this tainted history, Elon regards the term as a slur.
The article describes a much longer history, leaving out the doctor altogether. As early as 1914, the prefix cis was being used by people researching gender identity and sexual orientation. The Oxford English Dictionary has traced the actual term cisgender to a University of Minnesota grad student, who used it in a 1994 paper. The OED officially added the word in 2015.
So, about that cis. It’s a Latin preposition meaning “on this side of.” That’s all it means. Cisgender people feel firmly “on the side of” the gender associated with their physical accoutrements. Others, such as transgender people (trans meaning “across, on the other side of”) feel as though these are two different sides–physical sexuality vs. gender identification.
To be blunt, the cisgender option permits us to avoid normal as a descriptor, which implies that trans, non-binary people, and others are not normal, which is indeed stigmatizing. The term pulls us away from judgmental sounding labels. There’s nothing debasing or dehumanizing about it.
Here’s a balanced discussion of the language kerfuffle in Forbes magazine. Please share your thoughts.