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In gender studies, cisgender ( /ˈsɪsɛndər/) and cissexual are a closely related class of gender identities where an individual's gender identity matches the behavior or role considered appropriate for one's sex.[1] There are a number of derivatives of the terms in use, including "cis male" for a male with a masculine gender identity, "cis female" for a female with a feminine gender identity, and "cissexism".

Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook defined "cisgender" as a label for "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity", complementing "transgender".[2] A similar adjective is "gender-normative"; Eli R. Green wrote, "The term '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."[3] Jessica Cadwallader characterizes the slightly wider "cissexual" similarly, as "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".[4]

Cisgender v. cissexual

According to Julia Serano, cissexual is an adjective used in the context of gender issues to describe "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).[5] A crossdresser, therefore, could theoretically be "cissexual" but not "cisgender". Helen Boyd, author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married, has argued on her blog that "cissexual" is a less loaded term than "cisgender" and reflects fewer assumptions about the person's relationship to gender roles and the transgender community.[6]


Cisgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis, meaning "to/this the near side," which is antonymous with the Latin-derived prefix "trans." This usage can be seen in the cis-trans distinction in chemistry, or in the ancient Roman term "Cisalpine Gaul", i.e., "Gaul on this side of the Alps". In the case of gender, however, "cis" refers to the alignment of gender identity with assigned gender.

Internet use

The word "cisgender" has been used on the internet since at least 1994, when it appeared in the alt.transgendered Usenet group in a post by Dana Leland Defosse.[7] Defosse does not define the term and seems to assume that readers are already familiar with it. It may also have been independently coined a year later: Donna Lynn Matthews, the charter maintainer of the usenet group, attributed the word to Carl Buijs, a transsexual man from the Netherlands, claiming that Buijs coined the word in 1995.[8] In April 1996, Buijs said in a Usenet posting, "As for the origin, I just made it up. I just kept running into the problem of what to call non-trans people in various discussions, and one day it just hit me: non-trans equals cis. Therefore, cisgendered."[9][10]

Academic and Literary use

German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch may have been the first to use the term "cissexual" ("zissexuelle" in German) in a peer-reviewed publication: 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 the term.[11] He also used the term in the title of a 1995 article, "Transsexueller Wunsch und zissexuelle Abwehr" (or: "Transsexual desire and cissexual defense").[12]

The terms "cisgender" and "cissexual" have more recently been used in publications, such as a 2006 article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies[13] and Julia Serano's 2007 book Whipping Girl,[5] after which the term gained some popularity among English-speaking activists and scholars.[14][15][16] Proponents of using the terms rather than terms like "non-transsexual" or "non-trans" have argued that it calls attention to and unsettles the assumption that people, by default, have an internal sense of being male or female that matches the sex marker they were assigned at birth: for example, Jillana Enteen wrote that "cissexual" is "meant to show that there are embedded assumptions encoded in expecting this seamless conformity."[17] On the other hand, other authors have argued that other terms are more likely to be familiar to readers: for example, Krista Scott-Dixon noted "I prefer the term non-trans to other options such as cissexual/cisgendered... as I think it both centers trans as the norm, and presently offers more clarity to the average person than the cis prefix."[18]

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."[19] While having been used by trans activists for some time,[20][21] the term "cisgender privilege" has recently appeared in the academic literature and is defined there 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."[22]

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