It’s pretty simple actually. There are some people in this world who are “transgender”. And, there is everyone else. We could write “everyone else who is not transgender” but instead we write “cisgender”. They mean the exact same thing. Cisgender = Not Transgender. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anyone inferring more meaning is misusing/misunderstanding the term.
It does not matter what you think transgender is. Even if you think there is no such thing as transgender and that they are all a bunch of liars with a fetish, then we would be referring to cisgender people as everyone is not lying about their lived experience. It is just logical: there is a set called People that we divide into two subsets. One subset is transpeople, however you define that. The other set is everyone else. We call that other set cispeople. If you do not like that term, then don’t use it. If you don’t like hearing it, I think you’re silly, but to not offend you I will avoid using it when addressing you personally. I won’t avoid using it generally, because in my writing and speaking to a larger group, I don’t modify my speech to please the silly people and risk offending the others. I try to avoid offending people when I can, but if it is unavoidable I use reason, not the number of people to decide which way to go.
I’ve had this debate soooo many times, I’ve cataloged the arguments. If anyone has a new one, I’d love to add it to the list. Here is what I have so far.
- Some people can’t stand the thought of there even being gender. Gender is a social construct and we should abolish it.
- Some people don’t want to recognize that there are transgender people. They are just attention-seeking liars with a fetish. Gender identity doesn’t exist. There is only your sex. Yes, some people actually say that and claim they are not transphobic, which I guess is logical because for them trans doesn’t exist.
- Some people are not happy unless they are being offended. Cis is the latest fade.
- Some people are offended by the term cisgender, but it’s fine if you say they are “not transgender”.
- Some people think cisgender is a slur because someone else told them it is, but don’t actually know what it means.
- Some people think cis really is a slur and they know what it means. It is a social construct. It does not have to be logical. It’s like saying “people of color” is fine to say, but “colored people” isn’t; unless you go back a few years or travel to S. Africa to change the context. So, for now, no cis allowed. Of course, any word can be a slur. Paki is a slur. Aussie is not. Look up calling someone a “cunt” in the UK vs in the US. TERF was descriptive but became a slur for some. Something is a slur based on the perceived intent of the speaker.
- Some people don’t like “labels” but don’t mind being called a man or a woman or a human or straight or gay.
- Some people don’t like the sound of “cis”, but have no problem with sister or cistern.
- Some trans allies think it is divisive because it is about trans-issues, but recognize there are actually issues for transgender people and they are often the ones who bring them up.
- Some gay people think it excludes them, but they need to check the definition of cisgender. Gays are cisgender unless they are also transgender, e.g. male-to-female transgender that is lesbian. (I may lose some people here, but a transgender person is not gay because they are transgender. I know it is confusing Grandma).
- Some people think it is wrong to label someone as cisgender, because they may not be. But, this is the same as labeling someone gay or trans or not gay or not trans or a baseball fan or not a baseball fan. Making assumptions about an individual you don’t know is generally a bad idea. It applies to all labels. Unless an individual calls themself cisgender, don’t assume they are. Likewise, don’t call someone transgender either. Or a Red Sox fan just because they are from Boston.
- Some people think it is divisive and there are just men and women, but then the argument is about who can be called a man or a woman. In this case, cis is just referring to anyone where there is no debate about what they should call themselves.
If you’ve got an argument that doesn’t fit into my list, please let me know so I can add it.