The word cisgender (often shortened to cis; sometimes cissexual) describes a person whose gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth, i.e., someone who is not transgender.[1][2][3] The prefix cis- is Latin and means on this side of. The term cisgender was coined in 1994 as an antonym to transgender, and entered into dictionaries starting in 2015 as a result of changes in social discourse about gender.[4][5] The term has been and continues to be 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).


The term 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 cistrans distinction in chemistry, the cis and trans sides of the Golgi apparatus in cellular biology, the ancient Roman term Cisalpine Gaul (i.e. 'Gaul on this side of the Alps'), and Cisjordan (as distinguished from Transjordan). In cisgender, cis- describes the alignment of gender identity with assigned sex.[6][7]

History and usage of the term

Marquis Bey states that "proto-cisgender discourse" arose in German in 1914, when Ernst Burchard introduced the cis/trans distinction to sexology by contrasting "cisvestitismus, or a type of inclination to wear gender-conforming clothing, [...] with transvestitismus, or cross-dressing."[8][9] German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch stated in 1998 that he coined the term cissexual (zissexuell in German) in his two-part 1991 article "Die Transsexuellen und unser nosomorpher Blick" ("Transsexuals and our nosomorphic view").[10]


The term cisgender itself was coined in English in 1994 in a Usenet newsgroup about transgender topics[11] as Dana Defosse, then a graduate student, sought a way to refer to non-transgender people that avoided marginalizing transgender people or implying that transgender people were an other.[12] Correspondingly, some trans activists argued that using terms such as man or woman to mean cis man or cis woman reinforced cisnormativity, and that instead using the prefix cis similarly to trans would counteract the cisnormative connotations within language.

Academic use

Medical academics use the term and have recognized its importance in transgender studies since the 1990s.[13][14][15] After the terms cisgender and cissexual were used in a 2006 article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies[16] and Serano's 2007 book Whipping Girl,[17] the former gained further popularity among English-speaking activists and scholars.[18][19][20] Cisgender was 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)".[21] Perspectives on History states that since this inclusion, the term has increasingly become common usage.[11]

Social media

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.[22][23]


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".[2] 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,[24][failed verification] and cissexism and cissexual assumption[25] or cisnormativity (akin to heteronormativity).[26][27] 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".[28]

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).[17] 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".[29]

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".[30] 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".[31]


As of July 2023, use of the term cisgender has been considered controversial.[32]

While intended to be a positive descriptor to distinguish between trans and non-trans identity, the term has been met with criticisms in more recent years.[33]

From feminism and gender studies

Krista Scott-Dixon wrote in 2009 that she preferred "the term non-trans to other options such as cissexual/cisgendered",[34] saying non-trans is clearer to average people.[34]

Women's and gender studies scholar Mimi Marinucci writes that some consider the 'cisgender–transgender' binary distinction to be as dangerous or self-defeating as the masculine–feminine gender binary because it lumps people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) together (over-simplistically, in her view) with a heteronormative class of people in an opposition with transgender people; she says that 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".[35]

Gender studies professor Chris Freeman criticizes the term, describing it as "clunky, unhelpful and maybe even regressive" and saying it "‍creates – or re-creates – a gender binary".[36]

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.[37][38] 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.[39]

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.[40]


Three decades later, in a personal essay, Defosse said she did not intend the word as an insult. She says she does not believe the word cisgender "caused problems – it only revealed them."[12]

See also


  1. ^ "cisgender". Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  2. ^ a b 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. Archived from the original on April 23, 2016. 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. ^ Bey, Marquis (2022). "Heart of Cisness". Cistem Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 29. ISBN 9781478018445. OCLC 1290721475.
  9. ^ Burchard, Ernst (1914). Lexikon des gesamten Sexuallebens (in German). Berlin: Adler-Verlag GmbH. p. 32. Retrieved June 22, 2023. Cisvestitismus, die Neigung, die Kleidung einer anderen Altersstufe, Volks- oder Berufsklasse des gleichen Geschlechts zum Zwecke sexueller Entspannung anzulegen, dem Transvestitismus verwandt.
  10. ^ Sigusch, Volkmar (February 1998). "The Neosexual Revolution". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 27 (4): 331–359. doi:10.1023/A:1018715525493. PMID 9681118. S2CID 25826510.
  11. ^ a b "Tracing Terminology | Perspectives on History | AHA". Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Defosse, Dana (February 18, 2023). "I Coined The Term 'Cisgender' 29 Years Ago. Here's What This Controversial Word Really Means". HuffPost. Archived from the original on February 18, 2023. Retrieved February 18, 2023.
  13. ^ Aultman, B (2014). "Cisgender". TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. 1 (1–2): 61. doi:10.1215/23289252-2399614.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Williams, Rhaisa (November 2010). "Contradictory Realities, Infinite Possibilities: Language Mobilization and Self-Articulation Amongst Black Trans Women". Penn McNair Research Journal. 2 (1).
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Brandon Griggs (February 13, 2014). "Facebook goes beyond 'male' and 'female' with new gender options". CNN. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  23. ^ The Associated Press. "Facebook's New Gender Identity Options". Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  24. ^ Brydum, Sunnivie (July 31, 2015). "The true meaning of the word 'cisgender'". The Advocate. Archived from the original on August 3, 2015. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  25. ^ Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Berkeley: Seal Press. pp. 164–165. ISBN 978-1580051545.
  26. ^ 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. Archived from the original on October 6, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Sullivan, Nikki; Murray, Samantha (2009). Somatechnics: queering the technologisation of bodies. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-7546-7530-3.
  30. ^ Serano (2007) also defines cisgender as synonymous with "non-transgender" and cissexual with "non-transsexual" (p. 33).
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ "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.
  33. ^ Aultman, B. (May 1, 2014). "Cisgender". Transgender Studies Quarterly. Duke University Press. 1 (1–2): 61–62. doi:10.1215/23289252-2399614.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ Marinucci, Mimi (2010). Feminism is Queer: The Intimate Connection between Queer and Feminist Theory. Zed Books. pp. 125–126.
  36. ^ "The True Meaning of the Word 'Cisgender'". July 31, 2015. Archived from the original on August 3, 2015. Retrieved November 26, 2021.
  37. ^ Domurat Dreger, Alice (2001). Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. US: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00189-3.
  38. ^ Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization, An interagency statement Archived July 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, World Health Organization, May 2014.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Caught in the Gender Binary Blind Spot: Intersex Erasure in Cisgender Rhetoric Archived November 12, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Hida Viloria, August 18, 2014. Retrieved October 17, 2014.

Further reading