Learning Feminism

April 29, 2009

On cisgender

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joce Claire @ 7:09 pm
Tags: , ,

The term “cisgender” bothers me. It’s the opposite of transgender — in biology and chemistry, “cis” means on the same side and “trans” means across or on the opposite side.

A transgender person is someone whose gender is the opposite of his or her biological sex, I guess. So cisgender means your gender is the same as your sex. Which I guess would be fine, if it were only being applied to those people who rigorously conform to gender protocols.

But what of the rest of us? By labeling everyone who doesn’t identify as transgender as cisgender, you’re basically implying that “cisgender” women match up perfectly with their gender stereotype.

This is not true for many people. Most “cisgender” women match up to some gendered characteristics of women and match up to other characteristics of men. Some women match up mostly with male stereotypes or androgynous ones. But if they have no desire to pass for a man, they’re still considered “cisgender.”

“All women are female impersonators to some degree.” — Susan Brownmiller

Few women are perfectly comfortable with the gender binary. Why would we be? We certainly get the raw deal.

The term “cisgender” — same-side gender — implies that if you are not “trans,” you must fulfill all your gender roles and obligations. It implies that you never experience any gender role dysphoria, when I’d bet everyone does from time to time.

Some have compared the terms transgender/cisgender to homosexuality vs. heterosexuality. But homosexual and heterosexual are self-defined categories. Anyway who isn’t solely attracted to one sex or the other may call herself bisexual. Are the majority of people who don’t fit perfectly into one set of gender norms to call themselves “bigendered”?

Cissexual, on the other hand, makes sense to me. I was born a biological woman, and I feel no conflict with my biological sex. Only with my gender.



  1. Cis bothers me because it is just another example of men naming women.

    Comment by The Fabulous Kitty Glendower — April 30, 2009 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  2. Oooh, my friend! I’ve got problems with “cis-gender” too!

    Kitty, did the MtFs make this up? (I’m really getting confused about WHO is a transsexua/gendered male, so I’m going with the mtf and ftm in the meantime.)

    Joceclaire, you make an EXCELLENT point that cis-gender implies the *willing* fulfillment of socially mandated gender-roles. Which, from my experience, is NOT the goal for most people who actually KNOW what “Cis-gendered” MEANS. These are, as a rule, very VERY progressive people.

    Relatedly, this point highlights what I view as the “institution” of transsexuality’s desire to GLOSS over the fact that “GENDER” is a *combination* of both aesthetic and personality characteristics, including mannerisms. A person does not meet female GENDER qualifications merely by dressing the part (otherwise ALL cross-dressers would BE the gender that they dress as!). I find a person’s behavior to be much more important and consequential than their outfit-of-the-day.

    And REALLY, if cis is, by definition, NOT trans, what does that make masculine women or the feminine men?? It makes them INVISIBLE. Which seems to be what transsexuality is aiming for. And I don’t LIKE IT!

    PS. LOVE: “All women are female impersonators to some degree.” — Susan Brownmiller I am SOOOO an impersonator. I love dress-up. 😉

    Comment by undercoverpunk — May 4, 2009 @ 10:47 am | Reply

    • YES! It’s like the trans community has created a new binary, a trans/cis one rather than man/woman. And everyone in between is, like you said, invisible.

      I think it was an FTM transsexual who coined the term “cisgender.”

      Comment by joceclaire — May 4, 2009 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  3. Cisgender people do bother me as well. I think it’s the transgender communities way of rebranding themselves so they can say they are the same thing no matter how many times they try to rebrand transgender.

    You take a look at this site also because if you think cisgender people bother you, just wait until you see how these transgender people will really bother you when they try to co-opt the intersex and rebrand it.


    Comment by kamododragon — May 12, 2009 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

  4. “bigendered” LOL
    Or how about, “multi-gendered”?

    All terribly silly really, I will stick with NON-gendered.

    Comment by stormy — June 8, 2009 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  5. Cis does not mean you blindly follow social norms and stereotypes. It only means that you are female-bodied and identify as a woman. It has nothing to do with how much you bend or fuck gender. But you feel like a woman or you feel like a man. It’s no judgment call. It’s just a label. Why do transfolk have to be labeled while you are just too normal to have a label?

    Comment by nome — September 20, 2009 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

    • That’s cissexual — identifying with your biological sex. Cisgender means identifying with a particular gender role.

      “[Cisgender] means that from the time you were born until this point today in your lives, you were not only comfortable in your gender identity-body matchup, you are comfortable with the societal gender role you perform based on that body to the point that you hardly ever think about it.” — Monica from TransGriot

      I accept the label cissexual, as I find it describes me.

      Comment by Joce Claire — September 20, 2009 @ 12:56 pm | Reply

  6. Not a pinch! Cissexual means you identify with the body you were born into. Cisgender means you’re ok with the gender but not necessarily the roles or stereotypes that go along with that.

    Comment by nome — September 20, 2009 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

    • Right, I’m not ok with gender, at all. I think the social construction of gender is the main force behind patriarchal oppression.

      Comment by Joce Claire — September 20, 2009 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

    • How can you be ok with gender but not the roles or stereotypes that go with it? What is gender beyond roles and stereotypes?

      Comment by Joce Claire — September 20, 2009 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

      • Some of the personality traits that go along with femininity — being nice, and cooperate, and polite, and self-sacrificing, and giving — are great in theory, and if everyone has those traits the world would be a better place, but right now those characteristics just make women more submissive to men, and more vulnerable to rape and abuse.

        The appearance-related traits associated with femininity, of course, are totally made up and vary completely from culture to culture and time to time.

        Comment by Joce Claire — September 20, 2009 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

      • Everyone is a gender! You have a gender. Your gender is however you shape it. Being a woman doesn’t mean one thing or the other. You decide what being a woman is to you. The only difference is that my gender is not existent in society’s viewpoint. But I have as much of a gender as you do.

        Comment by nome — September 28, 2009 @ 11:54 am | Reply

        • Well what is gender then? If you’re defining “being a woman” as meaning absolutely anything, how is it different from being a man?

          Comment by Joce Claire — September 28, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

  7. radfems in general have a big problem with trans-issues and therefore with the cis-gender concept. some radfems even have a problem with trans-sexual as a concept. this is an area of massive contention and infighting between lib and radfems. i was just reading up on this actually, as there was world war III happening between womanist-musings and a rad fem carnival. heres the link. follow the links within as well.


    it seems disingenuous to me to say that cis-gender is the opposite of trans-gender as if that gives either one any credibility. i believe that “gender” is a cloak, made of clothing and other artificial and socially-contructed “coverings” therefore i also believe that trans-gendered people are just playing dress-up. glad they have the time! not only that, but they want a big-old pat on the back for reinvigorating the gender binary, when radfems know that the gender binary is antithetical to the main goal of feminism: the advancement of women as a class, worldwide. because as long as there is “femaleness” as a gender, there will be rape, because rape is about power, and the power differential between female and male. its NOT about biological sex (if thats all there were to it, sex and rape would be identical. particularly women know that sex and rape are NOT the same).

    i hadnt thought about this part of it, but one radfem reading of trans-sexuals (where they actually transition and have surgery) is that its literally erasing “woman” as a sex. MTF have “breasts” but they are not fnctional: literally for decoration only (and literally for male consumpion, even more so than functioning breasts which also have other uses). and the MTF “vagina” is literally just a fuck-hole. it has no other purpose, and its not funtional outside that use. (blow-up sex dolls, anyone?) and FTM are literally having their female parts cut off, and thrown into the incinerator.

    Comment by factcheckme — September 28, 2009 @ 10:43 am | Reply

    • Wow, way to be transphobic as hell. That is so off that I can’t even begin to tell you the 15 different ways you’ve offended every trans/genderqueer person out there.

      Comment by nome — September 28, 2009 @ 11:55 am | Reply

    • You should develop this into a full-lenght post over at your place, factcheckme.

      Comment by redmegaera — September 30, 2009 @ 12:19 am | Reply

      • That would probably end her guest-blogging gig at womanist-musings! It is interesting though, the idea that MTF transsexualism erases the nonsexual aspects of femaleness. I never thought of that before.

        Comment by Joce Claire — September 30, 2009 @ 4:11 am | Reply

        • it bothers me a lot that there are very interesting aspects of the trans-movement that radfems have explored, but that arent allowed to be discussed “in polte company” lest you be de-linked, de-blogrolled, and ignored thereafter. the breasts/vagina as solely for male consumption in a MTF is fascinating, isnt it? i hadnt thought of it that way before, either. and joce makes it even more interesting by underscoring how that erases the non-sexual aspects of being a female (while the piece i read underscored how it magnified the sexual aspects). of course, both are true. but in not discussing them we are cheating ourselves (and others) of honest discourse on the subject.

          i might even take it a step further and note that, as far as male-consumption in MTF goes, its the MTF “himself” thats also literally consuming “his” own breasts and vagina. he is buying and paying for them while “he” is still a “he” (pre-op) and as a MTF he is feeling himself up and looking at his new playthings in the mirror…but i am sorry, he was still born a man. how does this make what hes doing FEMALE consumption? its male consumption, and then when he has sex with a man its doubly male-consumption of “his” new parts.

          as far as whether the trans-activists are feminist….how does what they are doing advance women as a class, or work to eradicate rape, DV and birthing injuries/unwanted pregnancy? this is a serious question. i dont think it does, at all. if anything, its literally promoting the buying-and-selling of plastic boobs and vinyl vags, while the MTF herself is reduced to the status of a fucktoy, for men.

          Comment by factcheckme — September 30, 2009 @ 8:16 am

        • Yes. In her book Beauty and Misogyny Sheila Jeffreys interprets transvestism and male-to-female transsexualism in terms of male masochism. I think it would also be interesting to explore how real-life women are being substituted or supplemented with artifactual women- be it men manipulating Lara Croft’s body in Tomb Raider,life-like sex dolls,new developments in reproductive technologies or male-to-female sex-reassignment surgery- particularly in the context of factcheckme’s last couple of comments.

          Comment by redmegaera — October 1, 2009 @ 12:13 am

  8. well, there are some fundamental differences between lib fems and rad fems in this area. and clearly, lib fems and trans-allies are absolutely offended at the radfem take on it. it doesnt mean that the radfems are wrong though. i included a link above for people to do their own reading, and to make up thier own minds on the subject.

    this is not to say that i think that transgender or transexual persons should be demonized or harmed in any way. in fact, not that i expect a “thank you” but i rather think that the trans-identified have radfems to thank for the laws that ARE out there that address rape and DV and violence against women in general, AND (ironically) i think that trans-persons will only continue to benefit in the future from radfems work to dismantle the gender binary. thats because we are working to eradicate gender-distinctions and power differentials that fuel violence against women, and that limit womens choices and all sexualities across the board. meanwhile, libfems are only contributing to essentialist thinking and sexual/gender dichotomies that have everything do with the problem in the first place, and nothing to do with the solution.

    Comment by factcheckme — September 28, 2009 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

  9. O, you’re right. It’s ok to offend the marginalized group you’re talking about because OBVIOUSLY you know more about the topic than the people experiencing it. *roll eyes*

    Don’t you understand that by recognizing the various forms that transfolks (whether they be transmen, transwomen, mtf, ftm, mt?, ft?, genderqueer, etc) express their gender we are breaking that shit down? You act as though only ciswomen are hurt by the patriarchy but ignore that the patriarchy AS WELL AS cissexism, transphobia and genderphobia all attack us as well. How convenient that you ignore the ones you are guilty of.

    Comment by nome — September 28, 2009 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  10. sorry, but i dont see it that way. you arent “breaking anything down” when you say that there is any such thing as “feeling” female or “feeling” male, and that if your “feelings” dont match your gonads then there must be something wrong with you. trans-identified people are the ones that are saying about themselves “there is something wrong with me.” they are saying about themselves “my insides and outsides dont match and everyone elses do match, i am wrong and they are right, and i want to be like them.” how is that doing anything except supporting the status quo, when everyone already believes that there are “female” emotions, or “male” thoughts for example? instead of just emotions and thoughts of which we are all capble?

    frankly its offensive to me as a female that there are men out there who are born into male privilege but who would willingly give it up, just because they have a fucking tender thought, or dont buy into macho masculinities. that doesnt mean you are a woman, that means you are a human being who is resisting being socialized to be an asshole. whats wrong with resisting offensive gender socializations? then theres your desire to be “treated like” a woman. but you want to be treated like a woman…how? by being raped? by making 70 cents to a mans dollar? well, its very nice that you get to make that choice, because i never got to choose. these things were thrust on me whether i like it or not. not only that, something tells me that you want to be treated “better” than a woman: that is, you want to keep all your male privilege but adopt all the luxurious and pampering-aspects of femininity that you think women enjoy. what a misogynist concept of womanhood! you think that all we do all day is dress up in outrageous outfits and eat fucking bon-bons like peg bundy? not even close.

    for the record, all the “phobias” you mention are symptoms of a patriarchal and misogynist culture. the various “phobias” do not exist outside that context. men and maleness make victims out of the weak, and femaleness (homosexuality and any gender “less than” 100% cis-male) will always be the target of that hate. and radfems are against the patriarchy, and misogyny, and the gender binary that makes this possible. so, radfems are protecting your interests, even as you hate them and criticise them. and even as you undermine them, you are benefitting from their work, and from their perspective.

    Comment by factcheckme — September 28, 2009 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

    • OMG, this is beautiful. Teeeeeell it!!!

      Comment by Undercover Punk — September 29, 2009 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

    • That is only ONE path people may go. I have nothing to do with that. I do not feel a sex. I have a gender that has nothing to do with masculine or feminine. I also do not have to justify my existence to you. I am so done with this conversation. I do not need this abuse. I do not need you telling me that I have not been raped when I have. I do not need you to tell me that I have not had my body assaulted walking down the street, both with fists and eyes and words. I do not need you telling me that because I do not fit the tiny image of trans that I am confused.

      Comment by nome — September 29, 2009 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  11. Everyone is a gender! You have a gender. Your gender is however you shape it. Being a woman doesn’t mean one thing or the other. You decide what being a woman is to you.

    Ah voluntarism. It just reeks with the stench of free-market libertarianism and other such nonsense. Yes gender is all about personal expression. There’s nothing coercive about it at all. It’s not a form of social organization that benefits one cohort of the population to the detriment of the other. It’s not about domination and submission. Women like wearing six-inch heels and doing the housework because it’s their way of expressing their freely-chosen gender identity. Hahahahahahahahahahaha!

    Comment by redmegaera — September 30, 2009 @ 12:18 am | Reply

    • the “choice” aspect of this bothers me too. MTF are literally choosing to give up their “god-given” male privilege, and take on “female” physical and psychological roles, meaning those that men have decided are female roles, while women who were born women have been coerced into these roles for decades by the time they ever question it, if they ever do question it. many of them dont. dont they know (or care) that men probably chose these roles for women because they are roles that they didnt want to fulfill themselves? who the hell wants to be a fucktoy for men? who wants to be a slave? who wants to be a perpetual victim? nobody does, but men are the ones that get to decide, and they decided that its not gonna be them. now we have MTF who are deciding they want to do these things. well goody for them. as always, its men making choices, and exercising their agency. and as always, they are blind to their own privilege while they do it, and the very nature of “choice” as a privileged act, performed from a privileged place.

      FTM exercising the choice to transition is at least a little subversive in that area, in that its a nonprivileged person demanding agency, and using it. but theres a reason that FTM are so much more rare than MTF. think about that aspect of it. the sheer numbers of those making the transition, from one to the other. and tell me that the higher prevelence of MTF doesnt just reek of male privilege.

      Comment by factcheckme — September 30, 2009 @ 8:32 am | Reply

  12. Hey Joce Claire – I have just created a blog where I intend to critique transgender politics from a radfemm POV. Do you mind if I link to this post of yours?

    Comment by Miska — October 10, 2009 @ 3:14 am | Reply

    • Not at all! Will be interested in reading your new blog.

      Comment by Joce Claire — October 10, 2009 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

  13. […] Learning Feminism: “On Cisgender” […]

    Pingback by In Which I Announce I am TRANSPHOBIC « Against All Evidence — January 6, 2011 @ 6:09 am | Reply

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