The meaning of “Cis”

If you’d asked me seven years ago if I thought the word ‘cis’ would enter mainstream language I’d have scoffed at the idea.  Yet despite some cis people’s dislike of the word, it is becoming much more widely known outwith trans* and activist communities.  Not only that, but mainstream media is paying much more attention to trans* people and issues, and even managing to progress beyond the level of Victorian freak show that typified trans* portrayal in the not so distant past.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that the trans*/cis dichotomy is beginning to replace the “normal” “biological” person vs trans* person language that came before.  And it’s fantastic that more and more cis people are willing to think of themselves as having gender identities, rather than treating gender identity as a thing peculiar to trans* people.  And it is much easier to have a conversation about trans* issues with a cis person than it has ever been before, as language and general awareness have evolved to the point where meaningful discussions are possible.

But I am bothered by the way that the word cis is often used today.  It seems to have taken on a rather firm definition, drawing a solid line separating being trans* and being cis, with little grey area in between.  And I am particularly bothered that ‘cis’ is often used in a rather limited way focusing on having a gender identity the same as one’s assigned birth gender and not transitioning to a different gender.  And in doing so, sweeps up a whole load of people who many have always regarded as being part of the trans* community. Continue reading