The word forces us to reconsider ideas of default gender identities
June 29, 2015 7:46 PM   Subscribe

"While Friday marked a historic victory for the LGBTQ community, it turns out there’s another advancement to celebrate: Last week, the Oxford English Dictionary released a list of 500 new entries, and among the more notable additions was cisgender. The word —which is defined as 'designating a person whose sense of personal identity matches their gender at birth'— is seen as an opposite and complementary term to transgender." Why the Oxford English Dictionary's Addition of Cisgender Matters (Anna Diamond, Slate)

Paris Lees at The Guardian, 'Comment is Free': "OK, it’s in the Oxford English Dictionary – but do you know what 'cis' means?"
"Having a word to describe people who are not trans is, of course, quite a useful thing. But I’m not a huge fan of cisgender, or its related terms, 'cissexual' or simple 'cis', because it doesn’t pass what I call 'the hair salon test'. If I can’t say a word to my hairdresser and expect to be understood, it’s not, in my view, a good word. Cisgender smacks too much of esoteric gender theory to me; all very well if you get a kick out of discussing the minutiae of identity politics all day, but I’d rather talk about important stuff. Like lipstick.

"I tend to use 'non-trans' in my writing, simply because it is clearer to your average reader and the primary purpose of my activism is to spread the message that trans people deserve love, respect and decent healthcare to as many people as possible."
"Wait, Cisgender Wasn’t in the Oxford English Dictionary Already?" - Erica Schwiegershausen for 'The Cut' at New York Magazine
"The Oxford Dictionary (different from the OED) added the term cisgender in 2013, and in February 2014, Facebook included ten different cis- terms in its expanded gender-identity options. Yet people have been using cisgender for at least two decades. The Oxford Dictionary traces the evolution of the word to the '90s, and usage appears to go back to at least 1994, when a University of Minnesota biologist included the term in a post about a study on transphobia.

"To be fair, the term was mostly confined to academic journals and online forums about gender issues until trans activist Julia Serano popularized it in her 2007 book, Whipping Girl. Serano says she started using the adjective after reading an essay by social-justice activist Emi Koyama, who wrote that terms like cisgender and cissexual are useful because 'they de-centralize the dominant group, exposing it as merely one possible alternative rather than the 'norm' against which trans people are defined.'"
"'Cisgender' Added to Oxford English Dictionary" - The Advocate, Mitch Kellaway
"Cisgender — sometimes abbreviated to 'cis' — is a neutral descriptor akin to gay people labelling non-gay people as 'straight,' say trans advocates, and can be applied whether a cisgender person personally uses the word to describe themself or not.

"Some cisgender people have argued against this assertion saying, as gay writer J. Nelson Aviance did last year, that it 'imposes' an identity on others, implies that all cisgender people are 'normatively gendered,' and is used with hostility. But while the term remains fraught for some, many trans advocates maintain that it is simply a practical classification aimed at making language more inclusive."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (208 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ugh, everyone should suck it up and learn the word cisgender already.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:51 PM on June 29, 2015 [20 favorites]


...but hair salon!
posted by odinsdream at 7:54 PM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Everybody should know the difference between computer memory and disk storage, too. But there will always be those people who want to install more megabytes in their cupholder, and who are still getting used to "gay" as something other than a synonym for "happy."
posted by Rangi at 8:01 PM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


"The Hair Salon" test is actually pretty good rule of thumb. I never use the term "cis" because I doubt one person in a hundred I speak to IRL would know what it means and I'm not going to waste time explaining it. Maybe, someday, it will become a commonly used term but today is not that day.
posted by MikeMc at 8:04 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


J. Nelson Aviance, if you're not trans and you're not cis, you're something else, and that's okay, but that something else just might be an asshole.

On the other hand, you're also a good excuse to link to Everyday Feminism, so you have that going for you. Those folks are awesome.
posted by WCWedin at 8:08 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was cautious at first, largely for the reasons mentioned in the FPP, but have warmed to it lately. After all, languages change over time, and terms that weren't generally understood not long ago can enter common parlance quickly, something that all of us computer peoples should be well-acquainted with.
posted by JHarris at 8:11 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wonder if people who worry about being momentarily uncomfortable explaining a slightly obscure word at the hair salon ever use the words pyrrhic or nonplussed, or if they have any idea of how many awkward moments trans people have a day and will continue to have until "everyday, normal" people step up, learn about the world around them, and spread that knowledge to others.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:14 PM on June 29, 2015 [83 favorites]


Fap fap fap is now an interjection recognized by the OED I guess

I guess that's about where we are just now
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 8:15 PM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


If we can't utilize our totally made-up languages in a way that promotes social justice for all people then we are FUCKED as a species and we should just let the aliens or the meteors or whatever-the-hell just come and annihilate us forever
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:19 PM on June 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


How is a word supposed to become common enough to use if we don't use it?
posted by yeolcoatl at 8:27 PM on June 29, 2015 [46 favorites]


I started off kinda ok on Aviance - cis can elide gender transgressive behaviours that absolutely get punished, it isn't as simple as 'cis = never punished by society for your gender", all of which also tie into gender policing for anyone, which is sometimes how I've had conversations go*. Then he got into 'silenced all my life' and 'everyone jokes about male rape' which just really undermined the bigger argument about the way in which cis (and trans) can reinforce binary gender identity matrices by literally legitimising them.

But I am a ciswoman - one who often doesn't (cannot) perform correctly, aesthetically, behaviourally, socially, but cis nonetheless, and I think there is a qualitative difference in 'you are not performing your gender right, so we will punish you for your leg hair/baldness/outspokenness/anger/queerness' and misgendering. Even if sometimes the results are the same (abuse, assault, exclusion).

Glad it's in there though, the more words the better, and it plays an important part in discourse.

*human nature I think, since I've seen the exact same tendencies in discussions about having children, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, being a working parent, and so on.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:29 PM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


usage appears to go back to at least 1994

Man, everything is always way more old than I think it is.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:34 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Woo! This is great news for pedants like me. And now I can hopefully get "cishetdude" on my driver's license.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:35 PM on June 29, 2015


Fap fap fap is now an interjection recognized by the OED I guess

Is this for realsies or I joke? Because I'm hoping it's for realsies.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:36 PM on June 29, 2015


The first time I ever saw the word "cisgender", I was baffled. By the second or third time I saw it, I was no longer baffled because I fucking looked it up online.

If I (a mid-50's white middle-class hetero - cisgender, I might add - male) can, like most of the rest of the Internet, figure out slang like "kthxbye" and "bae" and so on, I can sure as hell assimilate the term "cisgender". I'm sad that apparently a large part of the world can't get over themselves and do the same.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:37 PM on June 29, 2015 [56 favorites]


From the Guardian article: This is a pragmatic approach – if cis gains wider currency, I’d be happy to use it more.

So, someone else has to do all the heavy lifting to get the word accepted, then you'll agree to join the party? That's so generous of you!
posted by langtonsant at 8:37 PM on June 29, 2015 [41 favorites]


Okay, maybe that was a little unfair of me. But I do think it's a little frustrating when people reject a very useful word just because it's not already well known. How is the word "cis" supposed to become common currency if people who know what it means won't use it? It seems a little odd to me.
posted by langtonsant at 8:43 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Kinda a weird assumption that your average hairdresser doesn't know the word "cis". Maybe it's from living in a major metropolitan area or something, but my hairdressers, when I could afford that type of luxury, tended to be young, hip, and more likely to be visibly queer than most other beauty service jobs. There's a kinda gross assumption here too that women in the service industry are...what? Uneducated? Ignorant?

Just gives me the ickies. I know it's not the point of the article, exactly, but just assuming the people around you are less likely to use language as dynamically as you do smacks of that type of elitism that perpetuates (not necessarily politically) conservative idealism.
posted by zinful at 8:45 PM on June 29, 2015 [33 favorites]


I said "women in the beauty industry" above because there's also that classic stereotype seemingly in play here--that service industry people are women and aren't as educated about these things because...sexism/classism, I guess.
posted by zinful at 8:49 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is this for realsies or I joke? Because I'm hoping it's for realsies.

Oh it's for real real, according to the link which helpfully refuses to define any of the words which are new.

Also I understand that it's a collection of language rather than a collection of things defined by language, but I really did not need the Morgellons people to get more cred.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 8:54 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Christ. No word starts out known by everyone who speaks a given language.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:57 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


and I'm not going to waste time explaining it

In my experience, this takes, like, 10 seconds. "It means 'not transgender', or that the gender they identify with is the same as the one they were assigned at birth." Some people are transphobic in a way that they'll be intentionally thick about it and pretend not to understand, but most people figure it out. People who already know the prefix cis- also sometimes comment on the cleverness of the word.
posted by NoraReed at 8:57 PM on June 29, 2015 [32 favorites]


The great thing about intersectional feminism is that it really does allow for a discussion of all oppressions that people face. Like, the gender policing that geek anachronism is describing, and the stuff their friend was complaining about, that's sexism. Anyone can experience sexism. However, the way that people experience it can be influenced by their identities.

A particularly noxious strain of anti-woman sentiment is transmisogyny, which refers to the stereotypes and abuse that women who are transgender experience.

There are also some issues that primarily concern AFAB people (not just ciswomen, but also transmen and many intersex and nonbinary folks), such as abortion, birth control, etc.

HOWEVER, I really love when these conversations focus on what we can do to address these issues for all of us. Take, for example, a model of comprehensive reproductive justice. This would envision a world where trans people can get hormones safely and inexpensively, and can afford sexual health monitoring and access real research about their fertility (a field that largely doesn't exist yet, that consists of trans and queer people experimenting on themselves; see Michelle Tea's column about concieving with her nonbinary partner, or Imogene Binny's writing on trying to conceive with her cis girlfriend).

It would also be a world where all my friends with fibroids, endo, and other gynecological issues would have gotten them detected sooner and treated more effectively. Where HIV retroviral treatment involves cheap and effective drugs, and where new infection rates drop due to improved prevention education in schools. Where no one has to travel farther for an abortion than they would to go to the outlet mall. Where women on prison aren't chained to beds while they give birth, and where condoms and dedicated teams to preventing sexual violence exist in men's prisons.*

That's a very incomplete view of how an awareness of intersectionality can play out on a major scale. I think it's important to focus on the members of my community that need the most support, because equality trickles up, not down.

Imagine a world where a carefree black trans girl can go get some Miko's Italian Ice, go eat it in the park, chill on the bench with it and check her cell phone, and take the long walk home because it's so beautiful out. She gets home, sits on the steps, and watches the sun set as all her friendly neighbors wander leisurely past. Isn't that a world you want to live in? Wouldn't that world be a better place for you?





*Or, you know, while we're dreaming here, a world where prisons don't exist. Sadly, I will always work for prison reform within my lifetime, because I don't see abolition happening before then, but I absolutely care about the safety and dignity of every single person locked up right now.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:57 PM on June 29, 2015 [60 favorites]


Oh man, my SO is right next to me catching up on her email as a senior manager and HR person for an organization where she has to be far more educated about trans issues than the average person. She is a hairdresser by trade, and I'm not going to show that Guardian excerpt to her because she doesn't need the aggravation, and I honestly fear she might just hulk smash whatever device she is reading it on out of reflexive rage at the misogynist and classist denigration that profession constantly receives.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:58 PM on June 29, 2015 [23 favorites]


"Sibling" used to be an esoteric genetics term, too. Everything's gotta start somewhere, and words that clarify things or fill needs are great! Hurray.
posted by wintersweet at 9:02 PM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Cisgender is a word I first encountered on Metafilter. I still find it an aesthetically unpleasant word, and I hope it is eventually superseded by a synonym that is more palatable, but it is also a clearly necessary word that communicates a clear and important concept. It should have been included in the dictionary years ago.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:03 PM on June 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I wonder if people who worry about being momentarily uncomfortable explaining a slightly obscure word at the hair salon ever use the words pyrrhic or nonplussed [...]

Well, no. I know what they mean, but I can't say I use them regularly.

Cisgender as a term is a necessary one, but my goodness, I wish that it were more pleasing to the eye and easy to pronounce. The only common English word beginning with "cis" is "cistern; the combination "sg" is rare, hard to say, and almost always appears in negative words such as those beginning with "mis-" or "dis-".1 I presume its creator chose cis- as an antonym for trans-, but cis- is a vastly less-common element than trans-, and is only found in technical vocabularies (e.g., "cis-alpine Gaul", or "cis/trans isomerism").

Well, that's my rant over for today. Thank you.

1 The only somewhat-common exceptions I know of are almsgiver, phosgene, and thanksgiving. Maybe grisgris, if you don't hyphenate it. 2
2 Don't get me started on hyphens.

posted by Joe in Australia at 9:09 PM on June 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


'Straight' people don't like being defined by the sub-alterns of the gender system, and the term is experienced by them as a usurpation. People in privileged positions generally demand the power to define.
posted by clockzero at 9:10 PM on June 29, 2015 [32 favorites]


A particularly noxious strain of anti-woman sentiment is transmisogyny

Transphobia generally seems to be very largely driven by misogyny and a fragile construction of "masculinity"; most transphobia is directed at trans women (compare and contrast media reactions to Chaz Bono and Caitlyn Jenner, for instance); especially academic transphobia--cf. the idea of "autogynephilia"; "trans women are sexual deviants who are aroused by the idea of themselves as women"; NB that the person who came up with that doesn't believe "autoandrophilia" is a thing; trans women are viewed by some as men who have rejected masculinity which has to be some sort of sexually-driven devianceand clearly makes them Lesser and Freakish while a trans man is not as much of a problem because who wouldn't want to be male, given the option? These dynamics also play out to a somewhat lesser degree in "feminist" TERFism, which is more precisely "Transfeminine Exclusionary Radical Feminism"; TERFs tend to view trans women as men who are seeking to claim femininity and thus subvert "women's spaces" and feminism from within (which upon examination isn't all that terribly different to cis male transphobia that views trans women as "decievers" seeking to entrap red-blooded straight men into queerness) , and in common with believers in "autogynephilia" view trans women as sexually deviant or otherwise problematic; TERFs tend to view trans men as confused butches who've been co-opted by the patriarchy.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 9:10 PM on June 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


There seems to be a lot of implicit equivalence between cis and non-trans in these artcles. It gets addressed once, but there is excused because a large majority don't know about genderqueer? That doesn't sit right with me.
posted by halifix at 9:11 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


But I’m not a huge fan of cisgender, or its related terms, 'cissexual' or simple 'cis', because it doesn’t pass what I call 'the hair salon test'. If I can’t say a word to my hairdresser and expect to be understood, it’s not, in my view, a good word. Cisgender smacks too much of esoteric gender theory to me. . .

I don't know where Paris Lees gets their hair done, but if I were to tell my barber "Just a little off the top; nothing too esoteric," I don't think he'd have a clue what I was getting on about. And if I told him I wanted a cut that would challenge prevailing gender theory, I'm quite sure he would give me a blank stare.

But its addition to the OED, which includes more than 600,000 words, signals an important shift. Including the word forces us to reconsider ideas of default gender identities—the idea that everyone is considered properly aligned with their assigned gender until they say otherwise.

I'd like some evidence of that assertion. I am confident that, before the adoption of "cisgender" by the OED, there were hundreds of millions who had never considered, let alone reconsidered, ideas of default gender identities. And now that the OED has added the word, most of them still have not done so.
posted by layceepee at 9:14 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


The only somewhat-common exceptions I know of are almsgiver, phosgene, and thanksgiving.

And lord knows, people have whined loudly about the ugliness of and difficulty in pronouncing those words for simply years.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:15 PM on June 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


I wish that it were more pleasing to the eye and easy to pronounce

"Sis-gender" (like "cisalpine Gaul"); not hard to pronounce at all? ("C" is always hard in Latin but Latin words in English tend to have soft "C", like "Caesar", etc).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 9:16 PM on June 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


I wish that it were more pleasing to the eye and easy to pronounce

Lots of words are ugly. That doesn't make them unnecesary. Words are tools. Beauty is not an essential characteristic. Utility is.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:20 PM on June 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


(also it's a soft "G" in "gender", if you pronounce it the same as in "phosgene" or "thanksgiving" you're doing it wrong)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 9:21 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait - since when is "phosgene" pronounced with a hard 'g'?
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:23 PM on June 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


I've been going to the same barber for a long time. His name is Tom. Before him I got my hair cut by a guy named Henry. By before I mean all the way back to my first ever haircut. He was an old Japanese man and when I was a kid he always reminded me of Mr. Miyagi. Really liked him. I switched over when he died because Tom had worked for him in the old shop and was starting his own business.

Tom has a mustache and thinning hair. He has a laid back and polite demeanor. He enjoys nature and nature photography. He likes NASCAR, the Cleveland Browns, and at some point, probably from working with Henry, he developed an appreciation for Japanese beer. I know this just from looking around the shop. We don't actually talk all that much. He is great at conversation, it's a very useful talent if you want to run a barber shop, but I'm more the silent type. I get the same haircut every time, the same one Henry gave me. I'm not really adventurous with personal appearance. Aside from the basic, "Hi, How ya doing?" "Fine, you?" stuff I don't think we have exchanged more than a few minutes of conversation in all these years.

Here is how I imagine our conversation on this subject would go.

"Hey Tom, do you know what cisgender means?"

"Nope."

"Well, do you know what transgender means?"

"Yup."

"Well, basically cisgender means people who aren't transgender."

"Okay."

And then, completely incident free, nothing else would happen.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:24 PM on June 29, 2015 [37 favorites]


Getting into the OED is kind of a low bar, like getting into the Library of Congress. The surprise is more "They didn't have that already?" The list of additions has a number of words like that: autotune, bukkake, crowdfund, hard code, hot mess, intersectionality, kryptonite, twerk, uncanny valley.

I think "cis" is kind of clever, because I appreciate a little Latin wordplay.
posted by zompist at 9:35 PM on June 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Getting people to understand the term should be feasible; getting them to naturally think about themselves using that term is an entirely different matter. So a useful term within the correct context, but, I suspect, not greatly impinging on most people’s self-identity. Society’s view of gender would have to change considerably before that changes.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:05 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's awesome that cisgender's got its own entry now, but FWIW, it was probably in there already, sort of, albeit with some assembly required. I mean, I'm not about to pay whatever ridiculous price the OED is charging these days to actually find out, but, like, they have entries for prefixes, right? Cis- is just a prefix, applicable to just about any root, which the other Oxford Dictionary (which is good enough for Susie Dent, so it's good enough for me) defines as:
1 On this side of; on the side nearer to the speaker:
 'cisatlantic'
 'cislunar'


1.1 historical On the side nearer to Rome:
 'cisalpine'

1.2 (Of time) closer to the present: cis-Elizabethan

 Often contrasted with trans- or ultra-.

2 Chemistry (usually cis-) Denoting molecules with cis* arrangements of substituents:
'cis-1,2-dichloroethylene'
* Chemistry
Denoting or relating to a molecular structure in which two particular atoms or groups lie on the same side of a given plane in the molecule, in particular denoting an isomer in which substituents at opposite ends of a carbon-carbon double bond are on the same side of the bond:
'the cis isomer of stilbene'
Compare with trans1.
In other words, anywhere you might use trans- to indicate the crossing of some threshold (literal or figurative), you can use cis- to mean its opposite, i.e. not crossing said threshold. People have been using this prefix since friggin' Roman times, fereffssakes.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:12 PM on June 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


The only common English word beginning with "cis" is "cistern

Also household name Cisco; cf. cyst and cystic; cf. very common sis and sys analogues; cf. common soft-initial-c words like cylinder, cycle, cyan, cyber, cymbal, etc.

But the word-initial requirement is in any case a silly restriction for the sake of bolstering a weak argument. As a non-initial component of English words it's a common segment, as in any number of words with affixes -cist and cism (geneticist, romanticism); also closely related common formulations around e.g. -cision (precision, concision). Close analogue to a weird but very common formulation, scissor. See also: San Francisco.

the combination "sg" is rare

Not profoundly so, though more commonly with a hard g sound.

hard to say

Misjudge, disjoint, misgender, disjuncture—there's nothing that should be difficult about that phonetic move for a native English speaker. If you are coming late to the language from one that doesn't have the phonetic machinery to produce that combo, or suffer a relevant speech impediment, "hard to say" is a legitimate beef. Otherwise it's an absurd whine.

and almost always appears in negative words

{replace eyerolling here with something a bit more clever –ed}

"I don't like the way this word looks or sounds" is a totally legitimate personal opinion to have, but I will never understand the need people have to dress that up in some cheap, ill-fitting litany of half-considered linguistic blather in order to treat it as more than precisely the personal aesthetic inclination it is. Just go ahead and dislike the damn word; not one person will actually be able to stop you, and the number of people who will particularly care at all about your reasons if you insist on enumerating them is not much larger.
posted by cortex at 10:29 PM on June 29, 2015 [62 favorites]


Glad people have touched on the question-beggy nature of the hair salon test already. In general I really like Paris Lees and I feel like it's not my place to do her down too much, but - she occasionally does the thing where a populist advocate for a cause will throw even slightly more academic or radical activists for the same cause under the bus, perhaps in an intended bid for more mainstream attendance. (see caitlin moran with feminism, for example). This felt like a pretty strong example of that, which was disappointing.

Again to emphasise that I'm highly aware that Paris has done more for trans acceptance than I ever could in a hundred lifetimes, but the word cis was so useful to me in understanding the idea of a default notion of gender, and seems to be getting more and more accepted in the mainstream, so to have someone who is an activist say - no thanks, not enough people use it, can't be bothered to push for its acceptance - felt a bit frustrating.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:37 PM on June 29, 2015


'Straight' people don't like being defined by the sub-alterns of the gender system, and the term is experienced by them as a usurpation.

That's an excellent summation, even if subaltern always seems a sneer to me. As you know Bob, the surest sign of being privileged in some aspect of your life is that you don't have to define yourself, because you are the norm, the standard against which others (have to) define themselves.

And such definitions always carry the scent of deviance with them, no matter how liberal or open minded we think ourselves to be, hence the resistance when somebody else has the temerity to define us.

Which is why it is important that not just trans people define themselves by their transness and pronouns, but sympathetic cis people do as well. It's been happening in the Twitter circles I'm following for a while now, seeing pronoun preferences in Twitter bios.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:42 PM on June 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wish that it were more pleasing to the eye and easy to pronounce

>Lots of words are ugly. That doesn't make them unnecesary.


Agreed, hence the first eight words of the sentence you partially quoted.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:44 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wait - since when is "phosgene" pronounced with a hard 'g'?

Since when isn't gender?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:47 PM on June 29, 2015


I don't like the sound of cis, never have since I first heard it on Mefi and even later in astronomy ("cislunar space") to confirm it wasn't suddenly made up.

But I do like the sound of the word "moist" so I'm probably just a freak.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:53 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wait - since when is "phosgene" pronounced with a hard 'g'?

Since when isn't gender?


What's good for the goose...
posted by Sys Rq at 11:36 PM on June 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Juice.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:37 PM on June 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Gander

This is complicated
posted by disclaimer at 11:40 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


>Lots of words are ugly. That doesn't make them unnecesary.

Agreed, hence the first eight words of the sentence you partially quoted.


Fair point. Sorry about that. I didn't intend to mischaracterise Joe in Australia's comment - that was careless of me.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:52 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I knew of "cis" as the opposite of "trans" long before I had ever heard of "cisgender," (even long before the 1994 citation, although the way it's used there suggests it's not a novel coinage at that time) thanks to the cis- and trans- designation in chemistry. Which had an interesting dual effect: I pretty easily understood "cisgender" to be the opposite of "transgender" when I first came across it; on the other hand it was jarring that a prefix I knew as the opposite of "trans" only in the context of chemistry was suddenly being used elsewhere. (I probably would have had the same reaction if I had suddenly started seeing "cisatlantic" or "cislunar" all over the place.)

I got past it, eventually, but it took awhile before "cisgender" didn't instantly conjure up associations with chemistry.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:04 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


But I’m not a huge fan of cisgender, or its related terms, 'cissexual' or simple 'cis', because it doesn’t pass what I call 'the hair salon test'. If I can’t say a word to my hairdresser and expect to be understood, it’s not, in my view, a good word.

You need a better hairdresser, Paris. Also a less regressive way to evaluate vocabulary.

Cisgender smacks too much of esoteric gender theory to me; all very well if you get a kick out of discussing the minutiae of identity politics all day, but I’d rather talk about important stuff. Like lipstick.

...and this is why Paris Lees is awful. Yet more 'fuck you, got mine!' as is her wont when dealing with the trans community in general, with a hearty dose of sexism and classism thrown in. It's okay Paris. You go talk to your hairdresser about your important lipstick. Us adults will keep discussing important shit and annoying you with our words.



"The Hair Salon" test is actually pretty good rule of thumb. I never use the term "cis" because I doubt one person in a hundred I speak to IRL would know what it means and I'm not going to waste time explaining it.

Use it and explain it once, rather than not use it and explain the referrant idea every single time. The former seems better to me. Using "non-trans" is not an option - you might as well start contrasting trans with normal.



It gets addressed once, but there is excused because a large majority don't know about genderqueer? That doesn't sit right with me.

Genderqueer identities are generally considered to fall into the category of trans - i.e. gender identity does not match gender assigned at birth.
posted by Dysk at 12:54 AM on June 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


(People sometimes analogise trans/cis to the gay/straight thing, which is where I think a lot of the 'but what about genderqueer people?' objections come from. It's not analogous to gay/straight, it's analogous to queer/straight - the former category is deliberately inclusive of anyone not in the latter.)
posted by Dysk at 12:56 AM on June 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


Jewish people have had "gentile" for over 600 years (dates to late 14th century), and they make up 0.2% of the world population (1.4% US). Self-identifying trans people make up 0.3% of the US population (and probably worldwide).

I'm pretty sure everyone's hairdresser knows what "gentile" means. If anything cisgender should be more broadly recognized.

I will admit I am not as comfortable with the Xe/Ze/Zhe/Zher/Zhim alternate pronouns - that's an awfully small percentage of the population to be refactoring fundamental aspects of the language for - but it is entirely possible my feeling that way is due to the intersection of privilege and age-related-mental-inertia bias. I honestly don't know. Certainly it's not my place to say "this is the percentage below which we will not refactor our language," and it's probably not anybody else's, either. The few trans people I know seem pretty split on the subject, so I don't think I'm a monster for feeling this way but it's entirely possible I'm simply wrong.

Everyone is a work in progress.
posted by Ryvar at 12:58 AM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love this word and hope it is the standard all future neologisms are held to.
posted by 256 at 3:02 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not entirely sure about the definition of cis meaning "not trans".

Maybe practically it does? But then what about those who identify as agender or bigender or aporagender

I would prefer to define it as referring to the alignment of one’s gender identity with one’s biological sex assigned at birth.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:14 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's a good point. I don't think it's terrible as a basic simple intro, but other identities shouldn't be erased from the conversation after that start.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:33 AM on June 30, 2015


I didn't intend to mischaracterise Joe in Australia's comment - that was careless of me.

Have no misgivings; I am neither disgusted nor disgruntled. It was a mere misjudgment; there was no transgression and you are not disgraced.

N.B. apart from obscure compounds using dys- or dis- (e.g., "disgeneric", "disgenius"), "cisgender" and "phosgene" may be the only two words with an "s" followed by a soft "g".
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:42 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


N.B. apart from obscure compounds using dys- or dis- (e.g., "disgeneric", "disgenius"), "cisgender" and "phosgene" may be the only two words with an "s" followed by a soft "g".

Umm... transgender?
posted by Dysk at 3:44 AM on June 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


For those of you who think widespread acceptance of "cisgender" as a word is some kind of important victory, more than just another useful word, I urge you all to encourage it further by taking every opportunity to use words like cislunar, cisgenic, cisalpine, cissoid, and cismarine in casual conversation.
posted by sfenders at 3:46 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Umm... transgender?

Firstly, that's not in /usr/dict/words. Secondly, there's a very important distraction outside that window and I invite you to take a look.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:55 AM on June 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sounds like you need a better word list.

(I suspect I'm unusual, but I use cis/trans terminology for stuff other than gender all the time - cismunar, transmunar, cisminmal, transminmal, etc. Why yes, I do play a lot of Kerbal Space Program.)
posted by Dysk at 3:57 AM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


For those of you who think widespread acceptance of "cisgender" as a word is some kind of important victory, more than just another useful word, I urge you all to encourage it further by taking every opportunity to use words like cislunar, cisgenic, cisalpine, cissoid, and cismarine in casual conversation.

...eh?
posted by ominous_paws at 3:58 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I believe the point was to make other uses of the cis- prefix more common so it doesn't seem weird when people hear it in a gender context.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:59 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


(or it was sarcastic, I can see that too sfenders so you might want to be more clear on that.)
posted by Drinky Die at 4:01 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Firstly, that's not in /usr/dict/words. Secondly, there's a very important distraction outside that window and I invite you to take a look.

While we're on the topic, 'misgender' as well. And cisgenesis/transgenesis.
posted by Dysk at 4:05 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Sibling" used to be an esoteric genetics term, too. Everything's gotta start somewhere, and words that clarify things or fill needs are great! Hurray.

"Sibling" is an old Germanic word, which referred to a member of your "sib" (extended family - the "-ling" suffix means "belonging to", as in "Earthling").

So yeah, it fell out of use for a while and when it came back the meaning was altered a little, but the use of "sibling" for a close relative is very ancient.

/This derail brought to you by the letters S, L and the History of English podcast. Yay!
posted by jb at 4:18 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


So it's pronounced 'sizz-gender' and works like 'cisatlantic'? This is good to know because in my head I've been reading it 'sigh-gender' for some reason. Luckily I haven't had my hair cut recently.

Stress on 'sizz' or 'gen'? This might be a cis/transatlantic problem because transatlantic speakers seem to put the stresses earlier (eg 'YOOR-inul' vs 'yoor-EYEn'l' for 'urinal').
posted by Mocata at 4:28 AM on June 30, 2015


For those of you who think widespread acceptance of "cisgender" as a word is some kind of important victory, more than just another useful word, I urge you all to encourage it further by taking every opportunity to use words like cislunar, cisgenic, cisalpine, cissoid, and cismarine in casual conversation.

I'm just a sweet cisvestite from Cissexual Cissylvania.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:33 AM on June 30, 2015 [19 favorites]


Genderqueer identities are generally considered to fall into the category of trans - i.e. gender identity does not match gender assigned at birth.

Unless you happen to be reading or talking to a transmedicalist. To be clear, I like "cis" as a word, but I find the lack of a grey space between cis and trans to be really alienating.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:34 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "While we're on the topic, 'misgender' as well. And cisgenesis/transgenesis."

transgenerational
posted by kyrademon at 4:51 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


diosgenin
posted by kyrademon at 4:54 AM on June 30, 2015


dysk: (People sometimes analogise trans/cis to the gay/straight thing, which is where I think a lot of the 'but what about genderqueer people?' objections come from. It's not analogous to gay/straight, it's analogous to queer/straight - the former category is deliberately inclusive of anyone not in the latter.)

Wait, what? Does trans actually get used that way? It always sounds fairly non-inclusive when I hear people use it. Certainly there are a lot of people trying to find their own terms as though there were a great deal of room between trans and cis.

(don't people worry about the term being co-opted if it's too inclusive?)
posted by mittens at 4:56 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


one of my favorite tumblr jokes (the source unfortunately seems to have disappeared) is "cisformers: really just some cars"
posted by NoraReed at 4:58 AM on June 30, 2015 [42 favorites]


You know "masshole" also made it into the OED on this go around. Despite the fact that it is much more of a niche term that has its own cultural shelf life, I find it interesting that nobody is challenging whether it's a made-up piece of jargon.

People like terms that they can use on others and get nervous with terms that make them feel othered.
posted by bl1nk at 5:02 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


(though tbh I do not think most trans people probably identify with transformation in the way that transformers do, and that transformers probably are more like some bigender people who do tend to fluctuate how they identify, though of course most of those people do fit under the trans umbrella)
posted by NoraReed at 5:04 AM on June 30, 2015


I also knew the term cis from cis-trans isomers in chemistry, which is why I thought it was such a clever, charming term when I first heard it. Sure, it's not the worlds most attractive-sounding word, but it's just hiding out there in the lower middle of the pack with lots of other marginally unpleasant sounding words and it's a nice, useful word -- I never understood people's objections.

(I always pronounced it like the first syllable in sister.)
posted by jeather at 5:11 AM on June 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I identify as genderqueer, I am not your genderqueer, I am not the official word on genderqueer opinions.

I tend to explain cis/trans to folks who are new to such concepts as

"cis = package matches contents"
"trans = *original package does not match *originally expected contents (in a wide variety of possible ways)"

At its most basic, that is how I (and as I understand it, many trans folks) use the term. It can mean someone within the binary, it can mean any of the variations on non-binary.



* Small text = additional clarifying words that can be added when explaining this
posted by HermitDog at 5:12 AM on June 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


So it's pronounced 'sizz-gender' and works like 'cisatlantic'?

OED says sisˈjendər.
posted by WCWedin at 5:13 AM on June 30, 2015


I'm just a sweet cisvestite from Cissexual Cissylvania.

Jeez, can we watch something else tonight? This movie is so boring, i swear
posted by clockzero at 5:27 AM on June 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Listen, apparently the word was created in Minnesota, and that's enough for me, a native Minneapolitan, to decide its one of the best words ever, in the same way the University of Minnesota-created Honeycrisp is the best apple there is.
posted by maxsparber at 5:28 AM on June 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


You know "masshole" also made it into the OED on this go around. Despite the fact that it is much more of a niche term that has its own cultural shelf life, I find it interesting that nobody is challenging whether it's a made-up piece of jargon.

The shelf life of that will be as long as people from Massachusetts are assholes. The entire concept of gender may be a distant memory before that stops being true.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:33 AM on June 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


I knew the words cis and trans in the context of gender before I saw them again in chemistry classes. Sentences from my biochem book like "in the cis configuration the double bond creates a kink, but in the trans configuration there is no kink" took on whole new meanings.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:35 AM on June 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


Unless you happen to be reading or talking to a transmedicalist.

There are many many reasons why the medical establishment is generally not well-regarded by the trans community writ large. This sort of thing is but one of them. And even then, it's not consistent - the gender clinics in Britain do certainly describe non-binary identities as trans, for example.


Wait, what? Does trans actually get used that way? It always sounds fairly non-inclusive when I hear people use it. Certainly there are a lot of people trying to find their own terms as though there were a great deal of room between trans and cis.

Outside of medical contexts (ugh on many fronts when it comes to language) I never see anyone contest the idea that 'trans' refers to all non-cis identities. Occasionally someone will get in a little bit of a huff over it being inclusive of crossdressers as well, but by and large, outside of the 'true transsexual' communities and their analogues, 'trans' is deliberately incredibly broadly defined.
posted by Dysk at 5:37 AM on June 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh, another aspect of the "trans as umbrella term" topic.

Cis also includes a wide variety of people. It makes no assumptions about gender presentation or performance. Cis people vary along a wide spectrum from stereotypical to atypical to whatever-feels-like-a-good-fit in how they live within their gender identity, as do trans people.
posted by HermitDog at 5:43 AM on June 30, 2015 [21 favorites]


HermitDog raises a really good point - I've seen people get a bee in their bonnet over being called cis, thinking it implies they're super happy with societal gender roles or something. You can be cis and entirely gender-non-conforming. It makes no statement on gender performance, only on identity.
posted by Dysk at 5:46 AM on June 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm curious now, have any other languages come up with different words for this? I took a quick look at wiktionary, but their list seems mainly to be words borrowed from English and/or coming from the same two root words.
posted by eykal at 5:51 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everyone hated the sound of the word "blog" in 1999, a word which is, by a factor of at least a thousand, less aesthetically pleasing than "cisgender". Try finding someone in 2015 who doesn't know what a blog is.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:13 AM on June 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


I did not dislike the sound of the word "blog". Different feelings about "cisblog" though.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:17 AM on June 30, 2015


N.B. apart from obscure compounds using dys- or dis- (e.g., "disgeneric", "disgenius"), "cisgender" and "phosgene" may be the only two words with an "s" followed by a soft "g".

I think you've probably misjudged that. (Bloody hilarious, that is, considering you actually used "misjudgement" in your post? Do you not know what words sound like?)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 6:39 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I should preface this by saying that I'm approaching this as someone who's working through a fair bit of pain questioning my own gender and identity. I'm not making broad rhetorical claims.

Transmedicalists generally identify themselves as trans, and are rarely part of the medical establishment, even though they support medical diagnosis as a hard requirement for claiming the trans label.

But I feel trapped in a double-bind here. Cis as used around me absolutely implies normality or at least comfortable accommodation with gender birth gender, and can't really account for my acute PTSD, emotional difficulties with passing, or the profound alienation I have with both gender around me and gender. I don't feel that I can describe myself as cis and get the kind of help I need.

On the other hand, my insurance-covered prescriptions and therapy visits constitutes a level of privilege that many trans people do not have. So I don't always feel comfortable putting myself under the trans umbrella.

A fear this week is what if there's no authentic gender identity under the Pavolovian reflexes to minimize risk of violence? The OED definition assumes that I have a personal identity beyond those reflexes, and I often don't know what that is.

And I'm honestly baffled in that in two separate posts and a handful of hours, you've defined what I do as both trans and cis.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:46 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


That last statement isn't a "gotcha." It's an observation that a big trans umbrella and a big cis umbrella create ambiguities.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:49 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think we do need another word for people who are not cis or trans.

I, for example, do not have an innate gender identity. It's not that my gender identity matches my gender assigned at birth, or does not match, it doesn't exist (or I can't find it) - I'm not really genderqueer but agender. I have to take it on faith that other people have gender identity, much like a colour blind person takes red and green on faith.

So my experience is totally different from someone with a strong internal gender identity, whether cis or trans. And I don't fit under the trans* umbrella or within the experiences of trans or non-binary people.

Also: I wonder how many of the feminist theorists who insist that gender is completely social, and not personal, are actually agender themselves and thus lack a gender identity. For a very long time, I assumed everyone was like me, and the only reason they would identify as male or female was because that was how they were assigned and treated by society.

I've since had gender identity explained to me by people who have it (cis and trans), but I think that the gender discussion is undermined unless we talk about agender and why some people experience gender solely as social.
posted by jb at 7:20 AM on June 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


Surprised nobody here has drawn parallels between "the hair salon rule" and "tech so easy my grandma could use it"...
posted by gusandrews at 7:26 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Surprised nobody here has drawn parallels between "the hair salon rule" and "tech so easy my grandma could use it"...

Well, while they are both bunk, my grandma understands transgender/cisgender, and still often uses texts/chats like she is writing a letter. :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:40 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I like the word cisgender (I pronounce it "sis-gender") because its use provides a way of saying "not-transgender" without using the word 'normal,' which I've often been annoyed to hear used in the same context.
posted by Mooski at 7:57 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I got past it, eventually, but it took awhile before "cisgender" didn't instantly conjure up associations with chemistry.

On the other hand, I was actually familiar with the word "cisgender" a ways before I took organic chem, so I must admit to having the complete opposite reaction when I learned about cis and trans conformations. Ha. (A similar thing happened to me with aromatic rings vs the term aromantic, referring to someone who doesn't experience a desire to date anyone.) It's pretty fun to me when I run into familiar words or prefixes in a context I haven't found them in before. Sometimes a little whiplashy, but still fun.

Incidentally, for those of you worrying that the range of gender presentations within, say, cisgender women gets collapsed by the term cisgender... well, I've often found that using the term "gender non-conforming" for people with a gender presentation that varies from the common or stereotypical presentation of their gender identity to work quite well. As a bonus, it doesn't make any assumptions about anyone's genitals.
posted by sciatrix at 8:04 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


That said--sorry, reading down the thread--I have also known a lot of genderqueer/nonbinary people that don't feel comfortable identifying under 'cis' or 'trans.' Unfortunately the nomenclature isn't really helpful for that, since it's hard to be simultaneously not across and not on the same side of a thing. It's a useful shorthand for people with binary identities, but it definitely isn't a perfect term.
posted by sciatrix at 8:09 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, for me when I discovered that the cis- prefix described part of my identity, the two associations with it in my mind were organic chemistry and Caesar crossing the Rubicon. I was okay with this.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:16 AM on June 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


By the way, this always happens when a previously marginalized community becomes visible enough for there to need to be language to need new labels. The nearest parallel is the word "straight" to define people who are not gay. There was literally no larger need for that word as long as gay people were marginalized to the point of invisibility. "Straight" was used by the gay community as early as the mid-20th century, as far back as 1941. In 1968, Joan Beck of the Chicago Tribune noted that parents might assume that a book titled "Growing Up Straight" would have something to do with posture.

(That book, by the way, is a piece of work. A quotes from Beck's article: "It is a psychiatric cliche that a pre-homosexual adolescent boy seldom or ever plays baseball.")

Oddly, flipping through newspapers about the subject, I find an Ann Landers column from 1970 where a man writes in to ask if he can be cured of his homosexuality, and Landers tells him that he might consider seeing a therapist -- not to make him straight, but to address whatever emotional issues are making him despise himself and help make him more comfortable with his sexuality. Ann didn't have issue with the word straight.

I think I'll try to be like Ann. People who rankle at new language that becomes necessary as the world becomes more just are inevitable on the wrong side of history. I think Ann was on the right side of history 45 years ago, and I want to be like her.
posted by maxsparber at 8:21 AM on June 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


I did not dislike the sound of the word "blog". Different feelings about "cisblog" though.

What about “cishetdudeblog”?
posted by Going To Maine at 8:23 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was first trying to work things out and going through Trans 201, I wrote something to the effect of being non-binary on a cis/trans spectrum as well as male/female. Since then I've mostly just considered myself in the penumbra of the big trans umbrella. But sometimes that feels like imposter syndrome.

So my experience is totally different from someone with a strong internal gender identity, whether cis or trans. And I don't fit under the trans* umbrella or within the experiences of trans or non-binary people.

Nonbinary is itself an umbrella category with a lot of diversity beneath it, and includes agender. The enby pride flag has 4 stripes:

yellow, for off-axis/"third" gender (neither male nor female)
white, for pangender
purple, for androgyny
black, for agender

And of course none of these attempt to describe dynamics -- genderfluid vs. bigender vs. statically androgyne for instance, or where the strength/solidity of the identity fluctuates. Ultimately it's all just categories, not precise descriptions of people.
posted by Foosnark at 8:25 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


And I'm honestly baffled in that in two separate posts and a handful of hours, you've defined what I do as both trans and cis.

No. What you do does not necessarily relate. How you identify does. You can crossdress and consider yourself cis, and would thus be cis. You could crossdress and identify as trans, and you would be trans. Similarly, you could be entirely conforming to your assigned at birth gender and be either cis or trans.

On the other hand, my insurance-covered prescriptions and therapy visits constitutes a level of privilege that many trans people do not have. So I don't always feel comfortable putting myself under the trans umbrella.

This seems really weird to me. I live in a country with free socialised healthcare, but I'm firmly trans. Caitlyn Jenner has access to pretty much anything money can buy, but she's trans. The idea that one needs to suffer, that pain is an intrinsic part of transness is an insidious one that I see pop up occasionally (possibly arising out of the tenor of some trans groups), and I firmly reject it.

Transmedicalists generally identify themselves as trans, and are rarely part of the medical establishment, even though they support medical diagnosis as a hard requirement for claiming the trans label.

Yeah, HBSers, 'true transsexuals' &c. Exclusionary groups who buy into the narratives pushed by the medical establishment. If ever there were a group that did more harm than good, this would be it. Their ideas, and the viciousness with which they and the borders of transness that they entail are often policed are problematic to say the least.
posted by Dysk at 8:28 AM on June 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm just a sweet cisvestite from Cissexual Cissylvania.

But Cissylvania doesn't exist.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:29 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems worth pointing out that the OED is a thoroughly, proudly, and constitutively descriptivist organization. When it chooses to include a word all it is saying is "yes, this word is around and being used"; it's not making some kind of ruling on the significance of the word. It's not saying "this word is important! You need to learn it!" It's just saying "this word appears to have reached sufficient currency that it needs to be recorded."

As for "cisgender" specifically, I'm happy enough to use it (and I do) but I doubt it's as significant a blow for trans-rights as some people seem to think. For one thing, cis/trans encodes, etymologically, pretty much exactly the same binary that people find so objectionable in "normal" vs "abnormal." Cis/trans is modeled on cismontane and transmontane--the people like us who are on "this" side of the mountains and those weirdos "over there" who are on that side.

But more importantly, the value of words like this (and the value of these little political tussels over using the "right" word) is derived solely from the novelty value of the "new" terms. It is the consciousness-raising effect of having to accomodate a new terminology (and the new ways of thinking about the world that are being used to justify that new terminology) that is valuable. The terms themselves are entirely neutral. That is, if "cisgender" becomes a genuinely universal term, it will at that point cease having any value whatsoever. Bigots will happily call themselves "cisgender and proud" or offer "cisgender-conversion therapies" to transgender people or what have you. It's easy enough to imagine, when you think about it, an alternative history in which the word "cisgender" has been around since the C19th and our current political fight is to get people to stop using it ("it's absurd to think of gender as some kind of mountain range with all the 'normal' people on one side and all the 'abnormal' people on the other!"). Just as it's as easy to imagine a world in which "people of color" is the "bad" term and "colored people" is the "good" one as the world we happen to have ended up in.
posted by yoink at 8:59 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've seen people get a bee in their bonnet over being called cis, thinking it implies they're super happy with societal gender roles or something. You can be cis and entirely gender-non-conforming. It makes no statement on gender performance, only on identity.

I get a little weirded out by cisgendered as a word, because it's not my identity. It's what I am. I am a heterosexual male who embraces the gender he was born with. I know it's a point of privilege to not have to think about this very often, but I don't. So while I am those things, that's not my identity. When people ask me what I do, or what I am, or any other question you can think of, cisgendered isn't something that comes to mind. Even when I do think of these roles I am not going to encapsulate them into that word.

My resistance to this word comes from the fact it's being imposed from the outside. It's not me defining myself. It's how others are defining me. I try to be careful to pay attention to how others like to be referred to, and I try my best to accommodate that (and I feel like an asshole when I get it wrong). I don't see many cisgendered people insisting on being defined in this manner, so it feels off to me, like I'm not being extended the same courtesy.

I may be cisgendered, but it's not how I think of myself. Perhaps it's a word I needed to grow up with using to want to label myself that way, but I didn't. This said, if someone wants to use it to describe me, go right ahead, just know you're using a word I don't believe the majority of cisgendered people would use to describe cisgendered people.

I could be wrong.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:01 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I get a little weirded out by cisgendered as a word

Fairly certain cisgendered is not a word.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:02 AM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Fairly certain cisgendered is not a word.

Sounds sorta cool, though - like maybe an exotic fighting move: "Yeah, he catcalled her, but she cisgendered his ass right to the pavement."
posted by Mooski at 9:10 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


cjorgensen, welcome to existing in a marked state! It's really not so bad, we're having a pool party next week. I'm making potato salad.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:15 AM on June 30, 2015 [26 favorites]


it's not my identity. It's what I am.

is this a koan
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:15 AM on June 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


My resistance to this word comes from the fact it's being imposed from the outside

I have to wonder if people whinged as much about being called "heterosexual". "I'm not heterosexual, I'm normal!" If gay liberation hadn't happened, and if being gay/lesbian were still an underground thing that people could be punished for with anything from penal servitude to death, I expect not many people would be calling themselves "heterosexual" either. Recognising that homosexuality/bisexuality are just as normal as heterosexuality means that we need words to define these differing states, as much as we do cisgender and transgender (because being transgender is just as "normal" as being cis, in that it's just another variation in the human condition).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 9:16 AM on June 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


My rule of thumb when I encounter words I don't know:

1) See if I can figure it out from context,
2) Ask what it means, or
3) Look it up.

For cisgender, I never actually had to get past step 1.
posted by kyrademon at 9:24 AM on June 30, 2015


No. What you do does not necessarily relate. How you identify does. You can crossdress and consider yourself cis, and would thus be cis. You could crossdress and identify as trans, and you would be trans. Similarly, you could be entirely conforming to your assigned at birth gender and be either cis or trans.

I don't identify as much other than confused at this time. Probably doubly confused because I don't know how identification can be isolated from cultural construction and context. Saying that nonbinary or gender non-conforming people are cis if we're cis or trans if we're trans really isn't much of an answer.

This seems really weird to me. I live in a country with free socialised healthcare, but I'm firmly trans. Caitlyn Jenner has access to pretty much anything money can buy, but she's trans. The idea that one needs to suffer, that pain is an intrinsic part of transness is an insidious one that I see pop up occasionally (possibly arising out of the tenor of some trans groups), and I firmly reject it.

I don't, so that's not something I can ignore. But it's not just about who pays for treatment. People who have significant body-related dysphoria have different needs from those who don't. People who need corrected identity documents have different needs from those who don't. People who experience significant mental anguish from wearing the wrong clothing or being addressed by the wrong pronouns have different needs from those who don't.

And I keep coming back to this: cis and trans do not accurately communicate my needs for safety, support, spirituality, and therapy at this time. That doesn't mean that I'm opposed to their use, just that I'm sometimes uncomfortable being classified in those terms.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:25 AM on June 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


This particular cisgender person for sure believes "cisgender" defines me. I go back and forth on whether to use it as a descriptor for myself but not at all because I think it's incorrect for me. I am a woman and was assigned as one at birth. I am comfortable as a woman and have never doubted that descriptor for myself, even if there's some expected-social-role stuff that goes along with it that I decline to conform with. I'm cisgender.

My waffling on whether to use it as a descriptor for myself is all about what I am signalling to trans people by doing so. Originally I had my profile here stating that I was a cis woman - I thought of it as a way to help signal that I'm doing my best to be consciously aware of these issues and not assume cis-ness as the default. More recently I took that down because I started to think that instead, maybe what I was doing was contributing to a perception that one is supposed to declare oneself trans or cis - because fuck that. If you say you're a woman, then you are a woman, and it's none of my business whether you're trans or cis or any other descriptor you prefer, unless you choose to tell me. If you do, I'll honor your preferred terms and be interested in your life experience, but it doesn't change the fact that I consider you a woman if you consider yourself one, full stop, no qualifiers needed.

I still don't know whether I was right before or am right now, but either way, I'll cheerfully embrace "cisgender" as a useful and accurate description for myself. And I'll happily explain that term a million times over to my fellow cis people who don't understand it, and explain that it used to sound a little weird to me too, but as I used it, it became perfectly easy and natural.

Not that this needs to be a referendum on what cis people think, because god knows there's enough of that in the world, but since it's specifically being questioned whether cisgender people refer to themselves as such - yes, I do, I consider it part of my identity, I've no problem with someone else referring to me as such. It's an accurate descriptor.
posted by Stacey at 9:30 AM on June 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


Fairly certain cisgendered is not a word.

You mean because of the "ed" ending? Yeah, you're right. This does go towards supporting my point though. It's just not how I think of myself, so making sure I get it right isn't a priority for me. Add to this, in this whole discussion people are pointing out that words come into meaning through usage, and are advocating for making cisgender more common. A simple google search shows a lot of people use "cisgendered" as a word. I understand why you're calling out my usage as problematic, but to say it's not a word is kind of ironic, since previously to 1992 neither was "cisgender."
posted by cjorgensen at 9:32 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cisgender is a perfectly good word for use in discussing trans* issues. It describes a category that is otherwise unlabeled.

But in general discourse that isn't dealing heavily with gender (and particularly trans* discourse), I think it's a uselessly broad term. It covers too many people and varieties of gender and gender expression - too many people who just aren't alike except in identifying with their birth genders.

To put it differently: enough trans* people have common experiences wth regard to gender that they make sense as a category. But that isn't true of cisgender people. So I question the utility of the category outside of trans*discussions.
posted by graymouser at 9:39 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I get a little weirded out by cisgendered as a word, because it's not my identity. It's what I am. I am a heterosexual male who embraces the gender he was born with.

I get a little weirded out by this hairsplitting between "my identity" and "what I am", particularly as "what I am" is more often really "what I understand myself to be."

"I am a male who embraces the gender he was born with" sounds very much like an self-identification to me.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:43 AM on June 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


So the moral of the story of everyone should study Latin, right?
posted by enjoymoreradio at 9:48 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


The commonality of experience of trans people is a myth, and generally a harmful one to anyone who falls outside of the proscribed narratives for their identity. I've written about this in Mefi in the past more extensively, but yeah. I do not have the same needs as most other trans women, do not feel the same dysphoria or dysmorphia, etc, etc. This does not make me any less trans or legitimate (though you'd be surprised how many trans people would tell you that it does)
posted by Dysk at 9:49 AM on June 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


To put it differently: enough trans* people have common experiences wth regard to gender that they make sense as a category.

I'm going to humbly suggest that you don't know enough trans people.

We're a community, yes, but we're not this homogeneous category. Implying that cis people are all unique special snowflakes and trans people are not is incorrect.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:57 AM on June 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


And of course none of these attempt to describe dynamics -- genderfluid vs. bigender vs. statically androgyne for instance, or where the strength/solidity of the identity fluctuates.

Do not try to disprove the four colour theorem on your flag.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:10 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


[maybe triggering for body dysmorphia stuff]
for shortness sake, i consider myself queer. sometimes i'll extend that to (gender)queer. if i'm going to write it all out i guess it's afab, cis-presenting, genderfluid, masc/femme fluid, pan/bi/poly/omnisexual person. i'm not really entirely sure where on different the spectra i fall and i know i feel it shifting. i've spent nearly my entire life trying to figure out what kind of person i might be under different circumstances. how much of where i ended up was taking an easy path? how much was fight or flight? how much is programing? how much is innate? what difference does it make in the long run? sometimes in my cis-presenting, straight married state i wonder if i made it all up - but then, i feel for a cock that'll never be there and i dream about cutting off my breasts and get off thinking of anyone who is not a cis man. i can't explain it any better way than to say something in the very core of me feels wrong as has as long as i remember and no amount of exploring other avenues ever settled it.

identity is hard and umbrella terms will never feel all the way right, especially for those of us who have found no terms that feel all the way right. the umbrella is still useful though, i think - and i've come to a point where i prefer them - like they give me a place to hide and not drill down too far in it. i can see how if i was in a drilling down spot trying to work shit out, the umbrella terms wouldn't feel right, though.
posted by nadawi at 10:14 AM on June 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


We're a community, yes, but we're not this homogeneous category. Implying that cis people are all unique special snowflakes and trans people are not is incorrect.

I wasn't trying to imply anything of the sort. Categories don't have to be homogeneous to be useful. But cisgender just isn't a useful category outside of a word used to discuss everyone who's not trans* (or an intermediate or non-binary option). Trans*, as you say, describes a community, however loosely defined, about being trans*; you can't say that about cisgender.
posted by graymouser at 10:26 AM on June 30, 2015


Trans*, as you say, describes a community, however loosely defined, about being trans*; you can't say that about cisgender.

Not sure what you are getting at, but I don't think it's correct. Transgender people aren't really a community any more than cisgender people are a community.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:29 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


But cisgender just isn't a useful category outside of a word used to discuss everyone who's not trans*

That's.... the entire point of having the word cisgender. Seriously, that's the whole point. The idea is to change the framing from "normal" vs "trans" (thereby implicitly placing "trans" into the "abnormal" category) to "cis" vs "trans" (such that everyone gets to be in a marked category, not just trans folk).

If you have never been in a marked category before, especially a marked category where the only word for "someone not in my box" is "normal," I invite you to think about what it feels like to be constantly discussed in the same breath as "abnormal."
posted by sciatrix at 10:29 AM on June 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


(this comment is not me aligning sexuality and gender, but rather discussing marked/unmarked comforts) there are reasons to discuss being straight that aren't related to being gay. it used to be fraught - "i'm not heterosexual! i'm the normal one!" but these days we're just all more comfortable with that after a couple decades of popular culture moving us along to view straight people as marked. the same will happen with cis, i have little doubt.
posted by nadawi at 10:34 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


So thanks to comments and wonderful chatters I've now realized that I've somehow gone a long time with an unhelpful interpretation of trans. Binary trans appears to be a more specific term that people who identify solely with the opposite gender of their birth-assigned one. But they're all umbrella terms which may not cover an individual's identity.Thanks for being patient and walking us through it!
posted by halifix at 11:08 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think we do need another word for people who are not cis or trans.

I, for example, do not have an innate gender identity. It's not that my gender identity matches my gender assigned at birth, or does not match, it doesn't exist (or I can't find it) - I'm not really genderqueer but agender. I have to take it on faith that other people have gender identity, much like a colour blind person takes red and green on faith.

So my experience is totally different from someone with a strong internal gender identity, whether cis or trans. And I don't fit under the trans* umbrella or within the experiences of trans or non-binary people.

Also: I wonder how many of the feminist theorists who insist that gender is completely social, and not personal, are actually agender themselves and thus lack a gender identity. For a very long time, I assumed everyone was like me, and the only reason they would identify as male or female was because that was how they were assigned and treated by society.

I've since had gender identity explained to me by people who have it (cis and trans), but I think that the gender discussion is undermined unless we talk about agender and why some people experience gender solely as social.


Forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the definition of cisgender? That one does not question (in a profoundly emotionally challenging or enduring way) or feel dissonance (or any particularly strong feelings) in relation to one's given physical habitus? My experience of gender as social relates to performative standards (constraints, opportunities).

Like I think I know what you mean - I've always just seen myself as a human person, who happens to be female incidentally, but mostly unproblematically as far as the feeling of living in my skin goes. It's not at all important or central or meaningful to me in that way. I've certainly strained against particular social expectations and limits - e.g., growing up, I remember being surprised by and chafing at the differential standards of behaviour imposed on myself vs my brothers and male friends. But isn't this adequately captured by the idea of sexism?
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:23 AM on June 30, 2015


"Similarly, you could be entirely conforming to your assigned at birth gender and be either cis or trans."

....okay, i'm gonna need someone to explain that one to me.

Going off the wikipedia definition of "cisgender":

Cisgender or cissexual (often abbreviated to simply cis) describes related types of gender identity perceptions, where individuals' experiences of their own gender agree with the sex they were assigned at birth.[1] 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] They see cisgender as a complement to transgender.[2]

... we arrive at a place where "conforming to your birth gender" == cis. not == trans.

So, how in the world do we get to "conforming to your birth gender" == transgender, or the converse; "not conforming to your birth gender" == cisgender?

Suddenly, I feel very much like Justice Scalia, wherein words no longer have meaning, and that makes me very sad. (cf. "literally" == "figuratively")
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2015


"conforming" and "experiencing" are different things. Someone could be assigned male at birth and live conforming to male gender norms while all the time experiencing themselves as female, or genderfluid, or agender. "Conforming," at least in this context, is more about outward behavior.
posted by jaguar at 11:36 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a big difference between how you choose to dress and how you think of yourself. I'm a cis dude; if I got into drag I would not suddenly be female.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2015


or it was sarcastic, I can see that too sfenders so you might want to be more clear on that.

Oh, sorry. Mostly not sarcastic, just idle merriment borne of some combination of bemused puzzlement at "cisgender" being a new word, or even a new concept to some people, and a great love for words like "cislunar". Seems like the word has been around forever and OED is a bit late. On failing to notice that's already mentioned in the fpp and searching the web, "forever" is not too far off, it's from the 1990's. Will it survive? (asks the Atlantic) ... well, probably, unless someone has a better word for that thing non-transgender people do.
posted by sfenders at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Conforming to your assigned birth gender" can mean conforming in presentation/performance.

There are a lot of trans people who appear to be cis, and some meeting a very stereotypical representation of masculinity/femininity. There are any number of reasons this can be the case: family, professional, societal, etc.

Why did Caitlyn Jenner (to pick a very recent/visible example) take so long to come out/transition? The entire (or at least much of the) time she was presumed to be a cis man, she was actually a trans woman.

Just because someone *appears* to conform to assigned birth gender, that does not mean it matches their gender identity.
posted by HermitDog at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


OK jaguar said what I was trying to say a lot better
posted by en forme de poire at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2015


I get a little weirded out by this hairsplitting between "my identity" and "what I am", particularly as "what I am" is more often really "what I understand myself to be."

I guess I am confused. Or not seeing your point. My identity is what I am and what I understand myself to be. It's one big ball. I wasn't hairsplitting beyond the fact using cisgender as a descriptor isn't part of my identity, what I am, or what I understand myself to be. Admittedly, this could be ignorance on my part, but it's a word that didn't exist for much of my life and it's not a like there was a void in my life on how to describe myself.

"I am a male who embraces the gender he was born with" sounds very much like an self-identification to me.

Maybe I am still confused, but I would say it goes beyond self-identification, since I'm pretty sure if you polled my friends and coworkers they probably would use similar terms to identify me (at least the ones that know me well enough to know).
posted by cjorgensen at 11:40 AM on June 30, 2015


Also, there's an asston of cultural assumptions behind the construction of gender identity and the theory that cis and trans are primary ways of classifying gender identity. It's "sciencey" to the same degree that hetero/homo/bisexual are "sciencey" in reducing messy and complex human realities to logical abstractions. So I get a bit bugged when those categories are explained (not here, but in general) as human universals.

That these things are ethnocentric cultural constructions doesn't mean we shouldn't use them. "The United States" is an ethnocentric cultural construction that will murder you if you get on the wrong side of it after all. But human beings construct gender in many diverse ways, and my utopian soul cringes a bit when gender plurality is framed as a Punnett Square.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:43 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Trans: "You do not identify in a way that matches up with what everyone expected from you because the type of pee pee you were born with"

Cis: "You identify in a way that matches up with what everyone expected from you because the type of pee pee you were born with"

Some people go a long time in life thinking "I'm not trans, but there's something wrong here" and then they may get to a point where they do something to escape the gender marker that was assigned to them. These people go from cisgender, through a liminal period then to transgender, which may end up a permanently liminal state. It gets complicated.

But at the end of the day, trans covers identity stuff AND expression stuff, and drag, and gender queer, and non-binary, and agender, and what have you. It's basically a big group of a lot of different types of people who simply do not "identify in the way that everyone expected from them because the type of pee pee they were born with".

The lines get really blurry in the transmasc/transfemme middle, and that's okay. There people can move fluidly around in the spaces between cis and trans however they want and I'm not all that worried about it really myself. Hell I probably spend most of the time in that blurry goopy undefinable middle as well.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:45 AM on June 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


But human beings construct gender in many diverse ways, and my utopian soul cringes a bit when gender plurality is framed as a Punnett Square.

I think a lot of identities can be thought of as flattened projections of lots of (underlying, maybe unknown/unknowable in some cases?) individual traits into a particular low-dimensional social space though -- certainly I think of sexual orientation that way as well.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I complain often here that we on the left are too occupied with symbolic victories to the exclusion of real ones, but this on the contrary is an important and logical step forward - when you control language, you control society, and if you don't have a word for something, it's an unconscious default. Double-plus good!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:54 AM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


. Admittedly, this could be ignorance on my part, but it's a word that didn't exist for much of my life and it's not a like there was a void in my life on how to describe myself.

Is "straight" part of your identity? If not, is that because your social groups are so overwhelmingly straight that everyone assumes it of each other? If you had never heard of gay people would you think "there should be a word for people like everyone in the world who are attracted to the opposite gender"? It sounds like your whole argument is "I'm not trans and never had to think about it and so why should I start now?"
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:57 AM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wasn't hairsplitting beyond the fact using cisgender as a descriptor isn't part of my identity, what I am, or what I understand myself to be.

This does come from privilege, as has been said. But I really don't think you need to think about this part of your identity beyond saying to yourself "yep, I'm cis, good to know" and "since I'm cis, I should listen to people who are trans when they speak about their experiences and not assume." What is your objection to doing that?
posted by chaiminda at 11:59 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


[Folks, if you're completely new to the concept of trans, coming in with a hot-take reaction is not appropriate. Please read the thread, at least. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:01 PM on June 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Eddie Izzard also identifies as a tomboy!
posted by chaiminda at 12:03 PM on June 30, 2015


cjorgensen, it may help to think about how you probably don't really think of yourself as "American" when you're listing identifiers, because being American in the US is enough of a default that it doesn't seem significant. If you moved to China, though, you'd likely start to see yourself as more American, because your national/citizenship identity would be more distinct if you were surrounded by non-Americans and trying to navigate systems set up for non-Americans. You don't have to think of yourself as "cis" right now because no one's assuming otherwise, you don't run into situations where you have to identify yourself as such in order to access various services, etc. It's a fish-in-water situation.
posted by jaguar at 12:05 PM on June 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


> Seems like the word has been around forever and OED is a bit late.

Seems like you're confusing the OED with Urban Dictionary. The OED doesn't just add whatever comes down the pike; they wait to make sure a word is in wide enough use to hang around for a while. Twenty years is about the minimum.

As for the ugliness argument, here's the early OED reader James Dixon on appendicitis in an 1891 letter: "such jargon as they are! Only yesterday I met with 'appendicitis' -- to mean an inflammation of the Appendix. You know doctors think the way to indicate any inflammation is to tack on 'itis' to a word." (Dixon was quite an opinionated fellow; he wrote to Murray, the editor of the OED: "There is an article called a Cundum ... a contrivance used by fornicators, to save themselves from a well-deserved clap; also by others who wish to enjoy copulation without the possibility of impregnation.")
posted by languagehat at 12:06 PM on June 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


(That's assuming you're American. If you're not, sub as appropriate.)
posted by jaguar at 12:06 PM on June 30, 2015


I have friends who are AFAB, like I am, and kind of sloppy tomboy dudes, like I am. We relate a lot about our awkward femme-iness, or lack of. They identify as cis. I identify as trans.

There are differences between us - they want to have children one day, I have anxiety attacks trying to get a pap smear. They don't experience dysphoria, I do. But those aren't the things that determine why one of us is cis and why one of us is trans.

They feel like "woman" is an accurate descriptor for them and do not spend a ton of time wondering "am I trans?" They feel like they're cisgender.

I don't feel like "woman" is an accurate description of me and I've been exploring the idea that I could be transgender since the second puberty kicked in. I feel like I'm transgender.

The only thing that matters is how someone self-identifies.

In this case, "I'm a dudely-dude and I've never considered that I could be anything different" is counting as self-identifying as cisgender; just because you're being stubborn about learning a new word to poke holes in a bunch of trans people's arguments doesn't change anything.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:12 PM on June 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


> That is, if "cisgender" becomes a genuinely universal term, it will at that point cease having any value whatsoever.

Not sure what you mean; could you elaborate? Does "chair" not have any value whatsoever because it's a universal term?
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


So is it wrong to relate cis-/trans- to the peaks of a bimodal distribution of dysphoria, and discount "presentation" as a factor?
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 12:21 PM on June 30, 2015


I don't think that's wrong.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:27 PM on June 30, 2015


But at the end of the day, trans covers identity stuff AND expression stuff, and drag, and gender queer, and non-binary, and agender

This thread has blown my mind in ways I cannot even describe. I thought we weren't to use expression and drag to identify? Which had me totally hung up on "What is it like to be a bat?" type questions about what this identity is that people are able to feel.

I mean, forget 101, I--a queer person who feels insanely closeted since not in a place where putting girl-markers on boy-bodies is allowed, who has spent half a life online with much of that using The Wrong Pronoun because sometimes it feels like the right pronoun, who feels very female-associated and basically socially androphobic (well, social phobic generally but there's a special flavor to that fear), anyway, I cannot figure out these boundaries we're talking about well enough to be able to write one of those, "Well, as a ___, my opinion is ___" sentences. And I really want to, because otherwise I feel fake and weird participating in these conversations I can't seem to pry myself away from.

There should really be one of those 500-question online quizzes to take for this stuff. Or maybe I just need to stop worrying so much about categories, I dunno. Can't seem to stop worrying about them though.
posted by mittens at 12:34 PM on June 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Human beings live and die by taxonomies. We're expanding our categories from two words for things to four words for the same things. Perhaps one day, we'll have a rich enough language for sexuality and gender to be able to describe them the ways we do color (be that "yellow", or "575 nanometers") although, the degree to which we still argue about colors doesn't give me a whole lot of hope that everyone's going to be satisfied with whatever we ultimately come up with.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 12:44 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


> That is, if "cisgender" becomes a genuinely universal term, it will at that point cease having any value whatsoever.

Not sure what you mean; could you elaborate? Does "chair" not have any value whatsoever because it's a universal term?


I mean it will cease to have the positive political "value" people ascribe to it currently. That is, I think people are mistaking that value as belonging to the word when in fact it belongs to the novelty of the word (or, to be precise, it belongs to pushing back at people's resistance to the word's novelty).
posted by yoink at 12:46 PM on June 30, 2015


Hugs if you want them, mittens. I hope you continue to be unable to pry yourself away, because I value your voice in these conversations.
posted by gilrain at 12:47 PM on June 30, 2015


cjorgensen, it may help to think about how you probably don't really think of yourself as "American" when you're listing identifiers, because being American in the US is enough of a default that it doesn't seem significant.

Right. I got that. I even acknowledged this in my first comment, but in this analogy I think it's more akin to someone insisting I call myself a USian to differentiate from the rest of North America. I don't believe there was a lack of descriptors or a void in how to define people in the manner I do. The need for a word to encapsulate is externally imposed.

It sounds like your whole argument is "I'm not trans and never had to think about it and so why should I start now?"

Not at all.

In the links presented there are arguments for and against using this term as a meaningful word or how it should be used or applied. If this thread has shown me anything I would suggest there's not even a consensus on what cisgender even means (maybe now that it's defined these arguments can go away). I can be totally supportive of trans issues and still not like this term as applied to myself.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:55 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought we weren't to use expression and drag to identify?

Trans/Cis is problematic in many ways, it's a limited model and people do struggle to identify with the terms.

I would prefer a phrase like "gender liminal" myself.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:57 PM on June 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


Gender identity can be a hard one, mittens. I went through a period of gender questioning in the "what does it mean to be a bat" sense before I ultimately decided that "cis, gender non-conforming" was the best label for me. I wound up deciding that gender identity and presentation aren't completely unlinked even though they're not the same thing, and that my identity could be summed up as my having a.... call it a gender within a gender, in that the vein of gendered history and the way I present myself fit well with a particular tradition of masculine/gender non-conforming femaleness. I'm most comfortable living a life and presenting in a way that is in line with that tradition, and I feel the most "that's like me!" connection to other people who present themselves in a similar fashion. If you want to chat about what that process was like/vent confusion to a friendly ear, my memail is always open! So's the IRC chat, usually.

Anyway, it's a tricky question, is my point. A lot of these I think are less clearly-delineated hard lines and more fuzzy boundaries with a lot of blurry grey identities in the edges. For example, I know a trans woman who started out identifying as a cis gay guy who did drag, and she got to realize that she was more comfortable under her drag identity than anything else, and she identified as genderqueer for a while, and after time she decided that actually no it was more that she felt most comfortable presenting as female outside the context of drag too and that she wanted to transition. That kind of thing often takes a lot of time to work through and process, and while people often draw rough lines to say that "well, drag isn't a trans thing, it's a performance thing" or "crossplay isn't a trans thing, it's a nerd thing" because it isn't necessarily trans, it also has some overlap in people.

It's complicated. I'm really glad you're speaking up, though.
posted by sciatrix at 1:01 PM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Or hey, what Annika said much more concisely! Ha.
posted by sciatrix at 1:01 PM on June 30, 2015


In this case, "I'm a dudely-dude and I've never considered that I could be anything different" is counting as self-identifying as cisgender;

Isn't it self-identifying as "dudely-dude"? That is to say that it doesn't really matter what word, or words, you use to describe me, what matters are the words I use to describe myself. You can translate "dudely-dude" into whatever form you like but it means naught to me as long as you use my preferred term when speaking to me. This all being theoretical of course as I never heard the term "dudely-dude" before today (although I may have to try and fit it into a conversation at some point in the future.).
posted by MikeMc at 1:02 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, Annika. "Gender Liminal" is wonderful. That effortlessly removes the argument surrounding "trans-ness" as a state, versus "trans-ness" as an action; a transition from an A to a B (which is seen by some of the trans-people I know as exclusionary, expecting that they will eventually 'fix' their gender issues and become a cis-other.)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 1:05 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


There should really be one of those 500-question online quizzes to take for this stuff. Or maybe I just need to stop worrying so much about categories, I dunno. Can't seem to stop worrying about them though.

Been there, done that... keep coming back and probably will in the future.

What I found really helpful was reading a lot of blogs, trans forums, and a few books, and comparing that to my own feelings and experiences. I did a lot of journaling, asking myself questions. I tried experimenting with my presentation to find my comfort level -- which turned out to be really low, which vexes me. My understanding, my identity, and the way I describe it are evolving, which I've come to understand is totally normal.
posted by Foosnark at 1:05 PM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


X.P.H.: Human beings live and die by taxonomies.

The human history and prehistory of poetry would disagree.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:17 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't want to derail, but do want to voice my appreciation of "cisgender" as it relates to my own gender experience - as it's given me more space to reflect and analyze my own identity. Without it as a term, I wouldn't be able to readily think of myself as "weakly-cisgender" or cis-by-default, and that's led me to a better understanding of trans issues and gender stuff generally. I can be mindful of the fact that I benefit from cis privilege despite not having an internal gender identity, and have a better understanding that unlike me, many other people DO have a gender identity that's important to them even though I don't know what it's like to be that way. I only have the experience of being who I am (i.e., your friendly local ambivalently-queer nonoriented gendershrug cis guy).
posted by NMcCoy at 1:17 PM on June 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


cjorgensen, having identified your entire life as cisgender would have been strange indeed. It's a new word, and people are using it to describe a collection of identities, one of which you have claimed for yourself. So, this is to inform you that you are cisgender.

You really don't have to introduce yourself as cisgender when shaking hands with people. It's just a category you fall into.
posted by tigrrrlily at 1:18 PM on June 30, 2015


You can translate "dudely-dude" into whatever form you like but it means naught to me as long as you use my preferred term when speaking to me.

Ah yes, I forgot we had that right. As a fourth-generation dudely-dude meme-wrangler noblemun, I hereby insist that from this day forth you shall all refer to me as Your Imperial Manliness. Excepting USians, you're exempt.
posted by sfenders at 1:20 PM on June 30, 2015


Ah yes, I forgot we had that right.

And why wouldn't we?

Your Imperial Manliness

It has a majestic ring to it but It seems more a title than a gender identity.
posted by MikeMc at 1:23 PM on June 30, 2015


My daughter was eleven when she started to use the term cis gender in conversation. By the time she was 13 or 14 she was having discussions with friends in which she could clearly articulate that she enjoyed wearing boxer shorts sometimes because messing around with gender expectations was fun, but that this activity did not make her any less a cis girl. When she was fifteen, she started dating her partner, who is genderqueer.

We do not live in San Francisco or New York, we live in the staid Midwest.

For kids growing up as digital natives, puberty involves surfing the internet and reading about a wide range of identities. The idea that the term "cis gender" is used only by academics and gender theorists and not hair stylists would make my kid and her peers chortle.

For me, the struggle I'm involved in is not to get people to learn the term "cis gender," it's to get people to understand how that term does not apply in the way often presumed in the case of intersex people. I want people to learn about the term "ipso gender"--and that's a term that really is not widely known.

The term "cis gender" is often defined--I would say incorrectly--as having a gender identity that matches the sex one was assigned at birth. So, in standard usage, if your birth certificate says "F", and you identify as a woman (whether feminine or masculine in presentation being irrelevant), you are cis gender. If it says "F" and you don't, because you identify as a man, or as genderqueer, or as agender, or as anything other than a woman, then you are trans.

In the popular imagination, a trans person is someone "born in the wrong body," meaning they have a gender identity that conflicts with their physical sex. Trans people have been shifting the conversation away from the framing of trans experience as a gender identity/sex characteristic conflict, and toward framing it as a conflict between gender identity and sex assigned at birth, for understandable political reasons. Transphobes often present physical sex as binary, natural, and determinative of "reality." Trans advocates battle this by pointing out that physical sex is actually a spectrum, that binary sex is coercively imposed (see intersex people), and that gender identity determines one's reality.

The problem is that this argument, which is conceived of as centering intersex experience, actually renders invisible much of our intersex experience with violence and gender identity. And that's because it refers to a person as "cis gender" when they are born with primary sex characteristics that are intermediate in nature, but are surgically reassigned to conform to a binary sex ideal, if they grow up to identify with that assigned sex. Calling people who have essentially undergone a forced sex change in infancy "cis gender" is extremely problematic.

So, when speaking of intersex experience, what I hope people will do is to recognize that primary sex characteristics do matter, and we can't just talk about binary sex assignment on one's birth certificate. I urge people to define someone as cis gender if they have a binary gender identity that matches the one expected for people born with their primary sex characteristics (genitals, gonads, chromosomes). For intersex people, being born sex-intermediate, a cis gender identity would be a nonbinary identity of some sort. A trans gender intersex person is one who gender transitions to the binary sex they were not forced into at birth. And a person who is born intersex, then medically and legally assigned to a binary sex, who then grows up to identify with that sex is ipso gender. (Ipso gender borrows from the prefix used in chemistry to refer to a substitution in the same place.)

So, for those of you who are fully familiar with the term cis gender as it is typically used, I'd like you to please consider rethinking it a bit. Because the majority of intersex people today do identify with the binary sex we were assigned, typically surgically, in infancy. The percentage of intersex people who gender transition is high, comparatively speaking (estimates vary a lot, but let's just say 10%). But still, the majority of my intersex sibs do not gender transition from the sex they were assigned at birth. Yet great violence was done to my ipso gender siblings in forcing an assignment, rather than letting them grow up to assert their own identities, and to make their own decisions about what surgery, if any, to seek. Calling them "cis gender" makes this pain and violence invisible.

I hope people will familiarize themselves with the term ipso gender. Thanks!
posted by DrMew at 1:26 PM on June 30, 2015 [28 favorites]


I don't think it's meant to be, but indirectly comparing the real struggles of some in this thread to having fun-silly-name times is probably hurtful.
posted by gilrain at 1:28 PM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


And why wouldn't we?

Admittedly, for me the point at which historical baggage involving its misuse accumulates around a word so thickly that it moves from plain language to an offensive slur one might be justified in asking others not to use is a considerably higher bar than the probable mefi average, but I don't think it should be controversial that cisgender isn't there yet.
posted by sfenders at 1:29 PM on June 30, 2015


I'm having a really hard time wrapping my brain around all of this. I'm not trying to be flip, or dismissive of the process if there really is a reason, but IS there really a reason–outside of say Anthropological Studies–for someone to catalog my gender preference?
posted by spacely_sprocket at 2:06 PM on June 30, 2015


> but IS there really a reason–outside of say Anthropological Studies–for someone to catalog my gender preference?

I'd like to be able to talk about my own experience, identification, and perceptions, and that often requires describing the context I live in, including other people. You, spacely_sprocket, are not required to use any particular terms about your own self, but I bet you use names to talk about other people (people you know and people you don't know), like man or woman or child, black or white or Chinese, and so on. You're probably not an anthropologist, but those descriptions are useful to you anyway.
posted by rtha at 2:15 PM on June 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


I would suggest people consider those white people who say, "I don't think of myself as white. I see people all people as human." It sounds noble, but that position is called colorblind racism because the person asserting it is not recognizing their white privilege, and it is impossible to dismantle institutionalized racism if you don't acknowledge race.

We can't fight bigotry unless we can name it. And only talking about the marginalized is victim blaming. It's those of us on the top in any power dynamic who must change. And we have to recognize our position before that will happen.
posted by DrMew at 2:19 PM on June 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


rtha Self-descriptors are keenly useful to me as I try to wrap my brain around my own identity, gender and otherwise, and like you I do talk about my own experience, doubts, aspirations, and etc. (with whom and when appropriate), but I'm not convinced that I have to divide everyone into neat little boxes to do that, and in fact some or most of the boxes are pretty sloppily constructed to the point where making the attempt seems frustrating at best. Even the examples you cite, with the exception of 'child,' seem pretty rickety.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 2:45 PM on June 30, 2015


> but I'm not convinced that I have to divide everyone into neat little boxes to do that

So it's not just that you don't necessarily want to apply [label/name] to your self, but also not to other people? Am I understanding that correctly? I mean, yes, the boxes are often pretty sloppy - they're maybe more like sieves or something! - but declining to use any descriptors like that can also mean that the differences experienced by people who experience life via those sieves gets erased or glossed over. Usually when it's convenient for someone not in or of that experience to do so, you know?

It doesn't have to be about "dividing" - recognizing and acknowledging the existence of difference (of race or gender or sex or perspective because of or in addition to those) is not the same as creating the difference.
posted by rtha at 2:53 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying I don't use names/labels/categories for myself or others. I'm not declining to do that, nor declining to acknowledge the experience of a person or persons who might fall into those groups (or through those sieves), especially when my own experience has been erased/ignored/glossed over for the convenience and comfort of others. I guess in my imperfect way I'm just questioning how giving an old box a new name advances the cause of everyone else in all those other boxes.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 3:08 PM on June 30, 2015


Ah, gotcha.
posted by rtha at 3:10 PM on June 30, 2015


> I mean it will cease to have the positive political "value" people ascribe to it currently. That is, I think people are mistaking that value as belonging to the word when in fact it belongs to the novelty of the word (or, to be precise, it belongs to pushing back at people's resistance to the word's novelty).

Gotcha, thanks!
posted by languagehat at 3:10 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


spacely_sprocket: "I guess in my imperfect way I'm just questioning how giving an old box a new name advances the cause of everyone else in all those other boxes."

I've been following this thread without chiming in, but it seems to me that the old name was much more crude. I think getting away from "...and then everyone else (who are implicitly "normal") in our descriptors does help forward conversation and takes away a lot of negative (and silently approved) connotations.

When you ask if there's a good reason to be able to catalog your gender preference, I think DrMew provides a good rationale - usually the answer to "Why should I use specific words to describe my experiences or who I am or how I live my life" is "To be able to not do so requires privilege not everyone has." Recognizing that you also fall into a box and it colors how you move through life can be a very valuable tool when engaging with others.
posted by erratic meatsack at 3:52 PM on June 30, 2015


erratic meatsack I do use specific words to describe my experiences, to catalog my own gender preference, and to help me figure out how to move through life. But I still have a problem pointing at someone else and saying "Oh, he's this," or "She's this," just as I would have a problem with them doing that to me. Maybe I'm being obtuse or something, but I really don't understand how what's in my pants, in my mind, or in my heart, or who's in my bed, or what I wear, or how I "present," has any relevance for someone who is not me, and if that is my expectation of them, should I expect less of myself?
posted by spacely_sprocket at 4:20 PM on June 30, 2015


Forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the definition of cisgender? That one does not question (in a profoundly emotionally challenging or enduring way) or feel dissonance (or any particularly strong feelings) in relation to one's given physical habitus? My experience of gender as social relates to performative standards (constraints, opportunities).

That's what I thought, but then I got talking to some cis people who have very strong personal gender identity. They feel innately male or female, just as binary trans people describe - it's part of who they are, and if they had been assigned the other gender at birth, they would want to transition to their real gender.

I just don't have that.
posted by jb at 4:49 PM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Maybe I'm being obtuse or something, but I really don't understand how what's in my pants, in my mind, or in my heart, or who's in my bed, or what I wear, or how I "present," has any relevance for someone who is not me,

Because I, if I know you in life, need words to describe you to other people, and to talk and think about how you and I interact, and what I think (or don't think) about what you bring to those interactions and what I bring to those interactions. You're not just a Blank Slate of a Generic Person. You have qualities, physical and otherwise, that make you specific - so that I can do everything from describe you (totally making this up, here!) as "This guy I know, he has the most excellent red hair!" to talking more about how, e.g., "So, Jane's this great woman I work with, but [specific thing about made-up-Jane's race or class or level of femininity that I may perceive as having bearing on an interaction we had]."

So that's why things like this might be relevant, and why I might want to use words to describe them, even if they are not words you would use to describe yourself, necessarily. It's contextual, of course, and can be used for good or ill. For instance, I do in fact want people to know that I'm a lesbian; and it is okay for them to acknowledge that. It's certainly relevant if they're going to start wanting to introduce me to their single friends as a potential date, you know?
posted by rtha at 4:53 PM on June 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's what I thought, but then I got talking to some cis people who have very strong personal gender identity. They feel innately male or female, just as binary trans people describe - it's part of who they are, and if they had been assigned the other gender at birth, they would want to transition to their real gender.

I just don't have that.


Yeah, we don't have a good way of talking about this yet, but I believe people of any gender identity can identify with it to varying degrees. After all, that's true of other identities. For some people, identifying as Jewish is a casual thing and they don't think about it much, but when asked to check a religion box they do so. Others invest a huge amount of their personal energy into living a Jewish life and identify very strongly as Jewish. We've all met people whose whole lives revolve around identifying with something that matters not in the least to us--maybe you are disinterested in sports and their whole house is decorated in Packers paraphernalia; maybe you don't care much what you eat and they are foodies; maybe you never think about the high school you went to and they are still attending every homecoming and running an alum group twenty years later.

Gender identity is like that--varying in intensity. It's just that there is such social stigma still involved in gender transition that people are unlikely to bother unless they have a strong gender identification. But in a world where coming out as trans was like coming out as enjoying classic Motown music, I'm sure there would be weakly-gender-identified trans people, just like there are weakly-gender-identified cis and ipso gender people.
posted by DrMew at 5:06 PM on June 30, 2015 [16 favorites]


But whereas a Jewish identity is cultural, isn't gender identity innate/psychological/possibly biological?
posted by jb at 5:40 PM on June 30, 2015


Yeah, we don't have a good way of talking about this yet, but I believe people of any gender identity can identify with it to varying degrees.
Apropos of that, I've lately been pondering gender as a point-cloud in a 3-dimensional space, with axes of masculinity, femininity, and importance. (There are indeed probably more dimensions, but this is at least visualizable.) I'd be a small dense cloud around moderately-masculine, low-feminine, very-low-importance. Genderfluid people could be a big diffuse cloud, a decisively agender person might be zero-masculinity, zero-femininity, high-importance, and so on.

(Is there common terminology to distinguish between what I guess I'd call "zero-gender" versus "absent-gender"?)
posted by NMcCoy at 5:45 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


But whereas a Jewish identity is cultural, isn't gender identity innate/psychological/possibly biological?

Gender is cultural too. It's just much more deeply-ingrained part of the culture, one which originated with biology but has gradually drifted around and gotten much more sophisticated over millions of years.

Identification with gender does vary in intensity, but I would suggest that it might vary independently of the strength of the concept itself. That is, one can recognize that there are ideas called 'male' and 'female', independent from the biology they originated from, but important and as real as any other of the categories we've invented, without necessarily picking a particular corner to invest with self-image. Identifying as one gender similarly doesn't make your concept of the others any less a part of you.
posted by sfenders at 5:45 PM on June 30, 2015


If I remember right, Kate Bornstein pitched a three-color gender model back in 1994. I also point out here that the Klein Grid involved almost as many dimensions as String Theory and we thought it didn't really do a good job of describing sexuality.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:50 PM on June 30, 2015


Gender is cultural too.

Yes, this. For example, consider the case of Albanian 'sworn virgins'; woman who take a vow of chastity and then live as men. Once they take the vow, they are men in the eyes of the rest of their community.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:51 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Also, just realized that the Crystal Gems are pretty much in my situation genderwise - no internal sense of gender, using "she/her" pronouns out of convenience because that's what external human society assumes based on their appearance.)
posted by NMcCoy at 5:58 PM on June 30, 2015


They feel innately male or female, just as binary trans people describe - it's part of who they are, and if they had been assigned the other gender at birth, they would want to transition to their real gender.

I think this misunderstands the/some trans experience(s). Some people, cis and trans, are always going to feel a strong, definable gender identity. Some cis people are going to say "Got told my gender is X, feels pretty arbitrary, but seems to work okay." Some trans people are going to move from a strong feeling their assigned gender was incorrect towards feeling that their gender is not a big deal. You know how people like to ask "Well, how would you feel if you woke up tomorrow with breasts/a penis", as if that's the defining thing of the trans experience? My brain answers that question with 'Well, that'd be odd, but whatever, I'd deal.... pause for a second Oh wait, did that already and it was really shit.'

To be clear, I've kind of presented a dichotomy of experiences there and I don't actually mean to imply that binary exists. There are lots of other experiences of gender.
posted by hoyland at 6:10 PM on June 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Gender is cultural too.

Gender is cultural, but gender identity isn't. They are two separate phenomena.
posted by jb at 7:05 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because I, if I know you in life, need words to describe you to other people, and to talk and think about how you and I interact, and what I think (or don't think) about what you bring to those interactions and what I bring to those interactions. You're not just a Blank Slate of a Generic Person. You have qualities, physical and otherwise, that make you specific - so that I can do everything from describe you (totally making this up, here!) as "This guy I know, he has the most excellent red hair!" to talking more about how, e.g., "So, Jane's this great woman I work with, but [specific thing about made-up-Jane's race or class or level of femininity that I may perceive as having bearing on an interaction we had]."

“They're just this guy, you know?”
posted by Going To Maine at 7:16 PM on June 30, 2015


Gender is cultural, but gender identity isn't.

I suppose you mean that gender identity is a personal experience not necessarily shared with any wider cultural group? The same can be true of religion. An individual understanding within the tradition of Judaism can also be unique to the person who feels it has come to them directly through divine means. The received traditions that do influence our perceptions of gender are not as explicitly defined or as easily explored. I would agree they likely do have more active connections with biology, but religion is not without those either.
posted by sfenders at 8:25 PM on June 30, 2015


Sfenders, I really don't know if you can equate these things. I mean, people can be argued into changing their religion, but I can't imagine anyone being argued into changing their belief that they were male or female.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:42 PM on June 30, 2015


You ever tried to argue someone into changing their religion? I'm not equating, just continuing the comparison that was made.
posted by sfenders at 8:47 PM on June 30, 2015


There are lots of proselytising faiths, and I understand that (e.g.) Mormons do very well at it. I don't imagine that Team Male would do very well going door-to-door with The Book of Dick Jokes.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:56 PM on June 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, sfenders, I mean that for many people, cis and trans, gender identity is an innate characteristic like sexual orientation. In the case of trans people, their gender identity is usually at odds with their cultural milieu, and they face great cultural pressure to not express it.

This is separate from gender roles, which are cultural. It's confusing because we use related terms, but they are two separate things.
posted by jb at 8:58 PM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


The comparison with religion maybe helps me a little, because that I understand. There are innate characteristics of our minds which religions take advantage of, or help us to understand and use, or deceive us into believing are important, depending on one's point of view. They don't generally have any names outside of religious contexts. But anyway, different religions build up cultural identity of all kinds, along with their other acts, around these. I've never consciously experienced anything similar relating to gender identity, but of course most people never have mystical religious experiences either.

The key difference must be that at least some of these interior experiences involving gender come with built-in outward expressions, which can then be disapproved of by society. The ones I was thinking of, which still seem more natural to imagine, did not. So, thanks for explaining. Don't mind me, just reconsidering ideas of gender identities over here.
posted by sfenders at 9:19 PM on June 30, 2015


Lurker here poking my head in to say I wish I could flag this entire thread as fantastic. As somebody who cares about trans issues but has spent the last decade or two trying to work out my own gender, often wishing for that perfect 500-question quiz mittens wants, I want to thank you all (yes, you!) for your patience and knowledge in this discussion. I especially appreciate NMcCoy's link on cis-by-default, DrMew's explanation of ipso gender, and all of you who have shared your personal experiences. It seems like there's been a lot of grar in MeTa lately about the site being hostile to divergent views, but the well of thought, civility, and generosity in this thread is exactly what I go to Metafilter for. Anyway, carry on, just know that thanks to this thread, there's a little more light in this reader's soul tonight.
posted by thetortoise at 1:38 AM on July 1, 2015 [15 favorites]


But in a world where coming out as trans was like coming out as enjoying classic Motown music, I'm sure there would be weakly-gender-identified trans people, just like there are weakly-gender-identified cis and ipso gender people.

THIS IS SO TRUE. THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM. This is probably because I've spent years swinging off the rafters with my freak flag, and for a lot of people I'm probably their one openly genderqueer friend, but I have people who generally pass as cis come out to me as "a little trans" all the time. I wish the whole world was as safe as my DMs or MeMail inbox was, you know?

I think a lot of worrying about "being trans enough" would go away if being trans stopped being seen as a bad thing. Like, you have to really really want it, because if it's something you can suppress or hide at all society at large would vastly prefer that you do.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:41 AM on July 1, 2015 [19 favorites]


I was just thinking this same thing today. I'm genderqueer trans woman. I look like a girl tomboy who is trying to look a little boyish. People see me, are confused and think "a soft butch tomboy that's trying to look like a boy? Or is that a boy?". Then they decide whether they see me as a boy or a girl. Despite the fact I am genderqueer, I am also very firmly and solidly a transgender woman.

If all the world's fear and weirdness about "boys are boys and girls are girls because what you have between your legs" went away tomorrow, I would STILL have this vague sense that my body does not have the right parts. I would still need to deal with that inside me. That is what makes me a trans woman, and is the first order priority for me to take care of. But when you add all this baggage and fear of interacting with the world it externalizes and exacerbates that internal problem and causes me all kinds of doubt, anxiety and confusion. That is the dysphoria. I would really rather not have to deal with all that.

It seems that so much of our problem with gender is not within ourselves, but with what other people expect from us because of the puberty we went through and how that shaped our bodies. You know what gender you have, or don't have, somewhere deep inside you. And sometimes that is really hard to figure out.

I think getting to that answer is way more difficult than it should be because of all the restrictive, wrong and harmful baggage we have been programmed to believe about what gender is. The gender/sex binary such a strong social force though, that to ignore it or blow it off is scary and is in most places extraordinarily dangerous. So we take all that external crap placed upon us and internalize it, attempting to solve a social problem as if it were an internal problem. Cis, Trans, or Ipso, we end up taking on too much as an individual and causing ourselves all kinds of needless mental anguish.

This is why I like "gender liminal". You can be Cis, Trans, or Ipso and still be "gender liminal". It is in the liminal period where the crisis lives, not in the identification itself, which seems to be a fairly hardwired aspect of self once you get your arms around it. The problems arise when you're trying to peel back the layers of socially encoded bullshit to get at that truth inside yourself. If you don't know how you identify, how do you figure that out? That question is at the heart of what a liminal state is. I would like to see a space in the social gender program for gender liminality to be allowed and embraced without all the need for all these answers. Let it be ambiguous.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:43 AM on July 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


I would like to see a space in the social gender program for gender liminality to be allowed and embraced without all the need for all these answers. Let it be ambiguous.

This would indeed be great. It's one of the things that frustrates me so much about typical media narratives and lay understanding of a trans experience. With respect to my own situation, it is what I dread (not fear) most about telling more people that I'm a trans woman who is transitioning: the inevitable situation where they think "oh now you're a girly-girl, but you're doing that badly, that is sad and I am sad for you" thing....when in fact I'd prefer to just be recognized as being in a state of discovery, and that be OK.

But it's not, really, even within trans-friendly circles, there's a definite push for a binary representation. "Oh you're trans, and moving from X to Y, when are you going to be Y? I'm so happy for you being Y soon." It's such a limited and restrictive understanding.
posted by odinsdream at 9:51 AM on July 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


yeah, some genderqueer people have a hard time understanding how I am trans and some transgender people have a hard time understanding how I'm genderqueer.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:52 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't feel like "woman" is an accurate description of me and I've been exploring the idea that I could be transgender since the second puberty kicked in.

Holy hell, I'm going to have to go through it again? I thought it was one and done!

Seems like a post about a dictionary update deserves a little homonym humor...
posted by phearlez at 1:10 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is this where I reveal that when I first heard 'cis' and 'cisgender', I heard it as 'sis', and thought they were referring to "Sissy", as in "Sissy role play", as in "don't google that at work" - generally straight guys who really really like to dress up in ultra-feminine clothing or underwear?
(But maybe dress masculinely the rest of the time).

Imagine my confusion.

I am in the kind of social circle, where people telling me they were 'sissy-gendered' seemed not out of realms of possibility.


Seeing it in print, and with google to assist, cleared up all confusion, but I did realise that actually, it does sound super awkward, in that it does have just about the EXACT wrong connotations for one of the target audiences, that of 'cisgender males'. As in, how many of them ARE actually hearing the childhood insult 'sissy', when they hear that word?
Ooops?

(Is there a greek prefix we could go with instead?)
posted by Elysum at 7:44 AM on July 3, 2015


Yeah, because it's definitely not like there's any insults that start with the prefix "tran"....
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:36 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The closest Greek equivalents to Latin trans- would be either meta- (usually indicating change, as in metamorphosis, or 'beyond', as in metaphysics) or dia- ('through', as in diagonal, diameter, diabetes).

Unfortunately there's nothing close to Latin cis-. Maybe if it's not 'through' it's 'around'? (peri-, as in peripheral) Or maybe 'alongside'? (para-, as in parasite).
posted by zompist at 10:29 AM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


one of the target audiences, that of 'cisgender males'.

Are they a target audience, particularly? They tend not to be so involved in the sorts of discussions that create the need for words like cisgender in my experience, at least not ones who would fret over that sort of association even if did occur to them.
posted by Dysk at 11:08 AM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Times of India: Over 70,000 transgenders in rural India: Survey
posted by XMLicious at 2:15 PM on July 4, 2015


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