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Cisgender is NOT a slur! Here's what it means.

Cisgender is NOT a slur! Here's what it means.

Cisgender is not a slur. Here's what it means
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A little louder in the back for people still confused.

@andrewjstillman


The misinformation continues... but we're here to clean it up.

Cisgender is not a slur. Here's what it means

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As we become more open to discussing different gender roles and sexualities, there’s a term that’s gotten a rise in popularity of use that seems to have some confusion around what it actually means: Cisgender.

If you’re over on X, formerly Twitter, you may be familiar with the new CEO, Elon Musk, and his opinion on the topic. If you’re unfamiliar, Musk is under the impression that “cisgender” is a “heterosexual slur,” an opinion he has doubled down on recently after causing an initial upset in October of 2023. Each tweet says basically the same thing, which essentially is him shaming anyone for using the term.

To clarify before we go any further, “cisgender” is not, in fact, a heterosexual slur, nor is it even a slur at all.

Now, let’s talk about what cisgender is — and isn’t — so the people out there like Mr. Musk who still seem to be confused by this can get a little education.

What is "cisgender"?

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Cisgender, often shortened to just “cis,” is a term meaning that you align with the same gender that was assigned to you at birth. Yes, it really is as simple as, “I was born as a man/woman and I am totally okay with that.”

It is the polar opposite to transgender, or “trans,” who are people who don’t align with their assigned gender at birth. In case this causes confusion, this is really as simple as, “I was born as a man/woman but I identify as something different.”

It is wildly more complicated than that once we start to dig in a little deeper, especially when we start to consider nonbinary individuals and all of the different pronouns and types of genders explored in other cultures. For now, however, this basic understanding will do.

Where did "cisgender" come from?

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“Cis-” is actually a Latin prefix meaning “on this side.” If it helps, “trans-” is also a Latin prefix that translates to “on the other side of” or “beyond.”

Scientifically, the “cis-” prefix is added to the name of a molecule containing two atoms or groups that are situated on the same side of a symmetrical plane passing through the molecule, such as two carbon atoms. The cis-acting element in molecular biology regulates a neighboring gene when it binds to a trans-acting element.

When did we start using this term for gender roles?

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According to Merriam-Webster, while the term for being “transgender” dates back to as early as 1970, the term for “cisgender” was born out of the 1990s. Their evidence cites 1994 as the beginning of its use.

While they were at it, Merriam-Webster also addressed whether or not the term was a slur, stating, “A slur is a word or phrase that is intended to insult or disparage someone. A term that is neutral can become a slur over time, but our current evidence shows that cisgender and its variants are overwhelmingly used neutrally.”

Why is it important to differentiate between "cis" and "trans"?

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Part of the reason — really a main one, if we’re honest — is all about inclusion. Previously, terms like “normal” and “regular” were used to describe people now known as “cis,” whereas phrases like “abnormal” and “irregular” are used for those who identify as trans. This reinforces the idea that being transgender is “wrong” and being cisgender is “right,” which is a way of thinking we’re still fighting hard to change.

Cisgender people are more common, yes, but assigning them their own term that acts as a neutral contrast to being transgender and helps expand our language to promote the idea that neither identification is right or wrong, but rather that individuals are simply “cis” or “trans.” This also paves the way to talk about our experiences from different viewpoints and can help us bridge the gap of confusion to find better ways to communicate with each other.

How does this relate to gender identity and gender expression?

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Firstly, understand that there are a lot of differences between sex and gender, which is still basically the heart of this argument. “Sex” refers to the physical reproductive organs a person has, and “gender” is the assigned societal roles that are meant to match with each of those organs. Remember here that sex is not binary, and some people can be born with both reproductive organs and genitals and are known as being “intersex.”

Being cisgender is a gender identity. It means your gender and your sex align with how feel. This could change as time goes on, but it also influences your gender expression. This refers only to your external appearance toward the world, so the way you dress and act, and how it compares to your assigned gender and its societal role. Your gender expression does not have to conform to societal roles, and you can still identify as “cisgender” if you’d prefer a more androgynous look.

Are "cisgender" and "straight" the same thing?

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It’s totally understandable how people can think that being “cis” and being “straight” are one and the same, but they’re actually not. Again, being “cisgender” essentially just means you agree with the gender assigned at birth. You can be a gay cis man or a lesbian cis woman just as easily as you could be a straight cis man or woman. Being cisgender has nothing to do with sexuality at all, but more about the self-identification of aligning with your assigned gender or not.

If you’re out there and you’re straight and you’re really in need of having your own term for all of this, “cishet” — meaning “cisgender and heterosexual” — is the one for you.

But, also… you don’t really need that, so calm down. Let's actually keep the focus on those in need of the respect.

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Andrew J. Stillman

Contributing Writer for Pride.com

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.