Cisgender (often shortened to cis; sometimes cissexual) is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth.[1] The word cisgender is the antonym of transgender.[2][3] The prefix cis- is Latin and means 'on this side of'. The term cisgender was coined in 1994 and entered into dictionaries starting in 2015 as a result of societal changes in the way gender is conceived and discussed.[4][5] The term has at times been controversial and subject to critique.

Related concepts are cisnormativity (the presumption that cisgender identity is preferred or normal) and cissexism (bias or prejudice favoring cisgender people).

Etymology and usage

Cisgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis-, meaning 'on this side of', which is the opposite of trans-, meaning 'across from' or 'on the other side of'. This usage can be seen in the cis–trans distinction in chemistry, the cis and trans sides of the Golgi apparatus in cellular biology, the cis–trans or complementation test in genetics, in Ciscaucasia (from the Russian perspective), in the ancient Roman term Cisalpine Gaul (i.e., 'Gaul on this side of the Alps'), Ciskei and Transkei (separated by the Kei River), and more recently, Cisjordan, as distinguished from Transjordan. In the case of gender, cis- describes the alignment of gender identity with assigned sex.[6][7]

Sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook define cisgender as a label for "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity".[8] A number of derivatives of the terms cisgender and cissexual include cis male for "male assigned male at birth", cis female for "female assigned female at birth", analogously cis man and cis woman,[9] and cissexism and cissexual assumption.[10] In addition, one study published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society used the term cisnormativity, akin to heteronormativity.[11][12] Eli R. Green wrote in 2006, "'cisgendered' is used [instead of the more popular 'gender normative'] to refer to people who do not identify with a gender diverse experience, without enforcing existence of a normative gender expression".[13]

Julia Serano has defined cissexual as "people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their mental and physical sexes as being aligned", while cisgender is a slightly narrower term for those who do not identify as transgender (a larger cultural category than the more clinical transsexual).[14] For Jessica Cadwallader, cissexual is "a way of drawing attention to the unmarked norm, against which trans is identified, in which a person feels that their gender identity matches their body/sex".[15] Jillana Enteen wrote in 2009 that cissexual is "meant to show that there are embedded assumptions encoded in expecting this seamless conformity".[16]

Serano also uses the related term cissexism, "which is the belief that transsexuals' identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals".[17] In 2010, the term cisgender privilege appeared in academic literature, defined as the "set of unearned advantages that individuals who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth accrue solely due to having a cisgender identity".[18]

Medical academics use the term and have recognized its importance in transgender studies since the 1990s.[19][20][21]


The term cisgender was coined in 1994 in a Usenet newsgroup about transgender topics.[22]

German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch used the neologism cissexual (zissexuell in German) in his 1998 essay "The Neosexual Revolution". He cites his two-part 1991 article "Die Transsexuellen und unser nosomorpher Blick" ("Transsexuals and our nosomorphic view") as the origin of that term.[23]

The terms cisgender and cissexual were used in a 2006 article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies[24] and Serano's 2007 book Whipping Girl,[14] after which the term gained some popularity among English-speaking activists and scholars.[25][26][27]

In February 2014, Facebook began offering "custom" gender options, allowing users to identify with one or more gender-related terms from a selected list, including cis, cisgender, and others.[28][29] Cisgender was also added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015, defined as "designating a person whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth (in contrast with transgender)".[30] Perspectives on History has stated that since this inclusion, the term cisgender has increasingly become common usage.[22]


Use of the term cisgender has at times been controversial.[31] Novelist John Boyne rejected the use of the term cisgender in an article in The Irish Times. He considers himself not as a cis man, but as just a man. He argues that one person should not "force an unwanted term onto another".[32]

From feminism and gender studies

Krista Scott-Dixon wrote in 2009: "I prefer the term non-trans to other options such as cissexual/cisgendered."[33] She believes the term "non-trans" is clearer to average people and will help normalize transgender individuals.[33]

Women's and gender studies scholar Mimi Marinucci writes that some consider the cisgender–transgender binary distinction to be just as dangerous or self-defeating as the masculine–feminine gender binary because it lumps together people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) arbitrarily and over-simplistically with a heteronormative class of people as opposed to with transgender people. Characterizing LGB individuals together with heterosexual, non-trans people may problematically suggest that LGB individuals, unlike transgender individuals, "experience no mismatch between their own gender identity and gender expression and cultural expectations regarding gender identity and expression".[34]

Gender studies professor Chris Freeman criticises the term, describing it as "clunky, unhelpful and maybe even regressive" for "[creating] - or re-[creating] - a gender binary".[35]

From intersex organizations

See also: Intersex and Endosex

Intersex people are born with atypical physical sex characteristics that can complicate initial sex assignment and lead to involuntary or coercive medical treatment.[36][37] The term cisgender "can get confusing" in relation to people with intersex conditions, although some intersex people use the term according to the Interact Advocates for Intersex Youth Inter/Act project.[38] Hida Viloria of Intersex Campaign for Equality notes that, as a person born with an intersex body who has a non-binary sense of gender identity that "matches" their body, they are both cisgender and gender non-conforming, presumably opposites according to cisgender's definition, and that this evidences the term's basis on a binary sex model that does not account for intersex people's existence. Viloria also critiques the fact that the term "sex assigned at birth" is used in one of cisgender's definitions without noting that babies are assigned male or female regardless of intersex status in most of the world, stating that doing so obfuscates the birth of intersex babies and frames gender identity within a binary male/female sex model that fails to account for both the existence of natally congruent gender non-conforming gender identities, and gender-based discrimination against intersex people based on natal sex characteristics rather than on gender identity or expression, such as "normalizing" infant genital surgeries.[39]

See also


  1. ^ "cisgender". Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  2. ^ Schilt, Kristen; Westbrook, Laurel (August 2009). "Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: 'Gender Normals,' Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality". Gender & Society. 23 (4): 440–64 [461]. doi:10.1177/0891243209340034. S2CID 145354177.
  3. ^ Blank, Paula. "Will the Word "Cisgender" Ever Go Mainstream?". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  4. ^ Martin, Katherine. "New words notes June 2015". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on August 14, 2015. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  5. ^ "Tracing Terminology | Perspectives on History | AHA". Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  6. ^ "Definition of cisgender". Merriam Webster. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  7. ^ Wordsworth, Dot (November 7, 2015). "How we ended up 'cisgender':The history of a tendentious word". The Spectator. Archived from the original on November 12, 2015.
  8. ^ Schilt, Kristen; Westbrook, Laurel (August 2009). "Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: 'Gender Normals,' Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality". Gender & Society. 23 (4): 440–64 [461]. doi:10.1177/0891243209340034. S2CID 145354177.
  9. ^ Brydum, Sunnivie (July 31, 2015). "The true meaning of the word 'cisgender'". The Advocate. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  10. ^ Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Berkeley: Seal Press. pp. 164–165. ISBN 978-1580051545.
  11. ^ Logie, Carmen; James, Lana; Tharao, Wangari; Mona Loutfy (2012). "We don't exist: a qualitative study of marginalization experienced by HIV-positive lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender women in Toronto, Canada". Journal of the International AIDS Society. 15 (2): 17392. doi:10.7448/ias.15.2.17392. PMC 3494165. PMID 22989529. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  12. ^ Ou Jin Lee, Edward; Brotman, Shari (2011). "Identity, Refugeeness, Belonging: Experiences of Sexual Minority Refugees in Canada". Canadian Review of Sociology. 48 (3): 241–274. doi:10.1111/j.1755-618X.2011.01265.x. PMID 22214042.
  13. ^ Green, Eli R. (2006). "Debating Trans Inclusion in the Feminist Movement: A Trans-Positive Analysis". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 10 (1/2): 231–248 [247]. doi:10.1300/j155v10n01_12. PMID 16873223. S2CID 40988200.
  14. ^ a b Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Seal Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-58005-154-5.
  15. ^ Sullivan, Nikki; Murray, Samantha (2009). Somatechnics: queering the technologisation of bodies. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-7546-7530-3.
  16. ^ Enteen, Jillana (2009). Virtual English: Queer Internets and Digital Creolization (Volume 6 of Routledge studies in new media and cyberculture). New York City, New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-415-97724-1.
  17. ^ Serano (2007) also defines cisgender as synonymous with "non-transgender" and cissexual with "non-transsexual" (p. 33).
  18. ^ Walls, N. E., & Costello, K. (2010). "Head ladies center for teacup chain": Exploring cisgender privilege in a (predominantly) gay male context. In S. Anderson and V. Middleton Explorations in diversity: Examining privilege and oppression in a multicultural society, 2nd ed. (pp. 81−93). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. Quote appears on p.83.
  19. ^ Aultman, B (2014). "Cisgender". TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. 1 (1–2): 61. doi:10.1215/23289252-2399614.
  20. ^ Tate, Charlotte Chucky; Bettergarcia, Jay N.; Brent, Lindsay M. (2015). "Re-assessing the Role of Gender-Related Cognitions for Self-Esteem: The Importance of Gender Typicality for Cisgender Adults". Psychology & Psychiatry Journal. 72 (5–6): 221–236. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0458-0. S2CID 18437100.
  21. ^ "New Mental Health Study Findings Have Been Reported by Investigators at Brown University (Gender Minority Stress, Mental Health, and Relationship Quality: A Dyadic Investigation of Transgender Women and Their Cisgender Male Partners)". Mental Health Weekly Digest. 9: 224. 2015.
  22. ^ a b "Tracing Terminology | Perspectives on History | AHA". Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  23. ^ Sigusch, Volkmar (February 1998). "The Neosexual Revolution". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 27 (4): 331–359. doi:10.1023/A:1018715525493. PMID 9681118. S2CID 25826510.
  24. ^ Green, Eli R. (2006). "Debating Trans Inclusion in the Feminist Movement: A Trans-Positive Analysis". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 10 (1–2): 231–248. doi:10.1300/J155v10n01_12. PMID 16873223. S2CID 40988200.
  25. ^ Pfeffer, Carla (2009). Trans (Formative) Relationships: What We Learn About Identities, Bodies, Work and Families from Women Partners of Trans Men (Ph.D). University of Michigan.
  26. ^ Williams, Rhaisa (November 2010). "Contradictory Realities, Infinite Possibilities: Language Mobilization and Self-Articulation Amongst Black Trans Women". Penn McNair Research Journal. 2 (1).
  27. ^ Drescher, Jack (September 2009). "Queer Diagnoses: Parallels and Contrasts in the History of Homosexuality, Gender Variance, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 39 (2): 427–460. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9531-5. PMID 19838785. S2CID 13062141.
  28. ^ Brandon Griggs (February 13, 2014). "Facebook goes beyond 'male' and 'female' with new gender options". CNN. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  29. ^ The Associated Press. "Facebook's New Gender Identity Options". Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  30. ^ Martin, Katherine. "New words notes June 2015". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on August 14, 2015. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  31. ^ "The True Meaning of the Word 'Cisgender'". July 31, 2015. Archived from the original on August 3, 2015. Retrieved November 26, 2021. With such phenomena as angry hashtags on the fringes of social media proclaiming #DieCisScum and passionate op-eds defiantly declaring "I Am NOT Cisgendered," the cisgender population seems to be having an identity crisis.
  32. ^ Boyne, John. "John Boyne: Why I support trans rights but reject the word 'cis'". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on April 14, 2019. Retrieved November 26, 2021. And while I wholeheartedly support the rights of trans men and women and consider them courageous pioneers, it will probably make some unhappy to know that I reject the word “cis”, the term given by transgender people to their nontransgender brethren. I don't consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man. For while I will happily employ any term that a person feels best defines them, whether that be transgender, non-binary or gender fluid to name but a few, I reject the notion that someone can force an unwanted term onto another.
  33. ^ a b Scott-Dixon, Krista (2009). "Public health, private parts: A feminist public-health approach to trans issues". Hypatia. 24 (3): 33–55. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2009.01044.x. S2CID 145160039.
  34. ^ Marinucci, Mimi (2010). Feminism is Queer: The Intimate Connection between Queer and Feminist Theory. Zed Books. pp. 125–126.
  35. ^ "The True Meaning of the Word 'Cisgender'". July 31, 2015. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  36. ^ Domurat Dreger, Alice (2001). Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. USA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00189-3.
  37. ^ Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization, An interagency statement, World Health Organization, May 2014.
  38. ^ Inter/Act Youth • Inter/Act has been working with MTV's Faking It on... Archived September 16, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Inter/Act Youth. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  39. ^ Caught in the Gender Binary Blind Spot: Intersex Erasure in Cisgender Rhetoric, Hida Viloria, August 18, 2014. Retrieved October 17, 2014.

Further reading