August 14, 2009

I know I’m a bit late to the party, but there’s this meme going around that “cis” is an insult and we shouldn’t use it.

I think it’s high time we admitted it: “Cis” IS an insult.

That’s right. Because by calling you cis, we’re calling you no better than a fucking tranny*, and THAT, my friends, is one of the worst insults we’ve got in US culture. We’re calling you no more real than us, and we’re not real. We’re calling you no more a woman than us, that you deserve no more respect than us, and in your eyes, that means, that means Ann Coulter jokes, that means it’s fine for the general public to post videos of your genitals all over the internet with big purple arrows and random fetishizing speculations, and fire you unless you show us photos of your genitals. It’s saying you can’t apply makeup. It’s insulting your penis size and your manhood. It’s saying that the only difference between us is that you think you’re better than us.

Hell yeah, it’s an insult. Well, that is, so long as you’re unwilling to give up on cis supremacy.

*Obviously, I mean this in the un-reclaimed, insulting sense of the word.

(Also, I’d like to note, that the OP claims that PHB commenters and bloggers would all stop calling trans people trans if we asked them to. I call BULLSHIT, there’s no way they would honor that, they’d make jokes about how ludicrous this request was.)

12 Responses to “Cis”

  1. This post is amazing.

    That’s exactly the “problem” with “cis.”

  2. Rebecca said

    I’ve been trying (and failing) to discuss this with someone who keeps linking to my blog as an example of how the “transgender community” is attempting to “feign innocence and obliviousness when told it’s [using cis is] offensive.”

    I’ve been brought to understand, at least somewhat how, yes, saying “We’re using ‘cis’ as a label to describe you, like it or not,” can be taken negatively. I get that, in the sense that being told any label applies to you, like it or not, won’t necessarily sit well. But what’s frustrating me is my inability to find an answer – with this individual, in the comments you linked to, in any of the other threads discussing this issue – to this question: What language, if not cis, should be used to describe people whose gender identity matches their assigned gender?

    Because, while I haven’t seen an explanation better than yours, I’m willing to posit that cis is somehow offensive for a more substantive reason. But I’m unwilling to agree that, to legitimately discuss gender/gender identity/trans issues/sexism/transphobia/etc, some word isn’t necessary to take the place of cis, for all the reasons you note and more.

  3. Cedar said


    As Queen Emily wrote at QT a while back, it’s not *that particular* label that offends them, it’s *any label* that doesn’t affirm their being better than us (e.g. bio), or simply not-us (non-trans)(which, of course, cis is pretty fucking close to anyway.

    I think the question before the court is not whether or not we use the word cis, but whether or not we mark the dominant class.

    Who is it, btw?

    I’d go comment/post “OK, you think it’s offensive: why?” and “OK, what word do you want to call people whose gender self-determination is upheld by the state? Coz that’s a readily identifiable experience.” (in a way that I’m not sure relying on “gender identity” is readily identifiable to people who don’t want to see it…) OK, if you don’t want us to use cis, propose something that doesn’t imply that you’re more normal or more man/woman than us, and that still marks your experience as a class.

    And, you know, I think it’s a pretty substantive reason, I just think it’s s afucked up one.

  4. Carto said

    I just can’t care about the cis cooties. I didn’t choose to be labelled trans, so I sure as hell am going to call them others cis if I feel like it. Besides, it’s a very neat linguistic construction, too (google Gallia Cisalpina/Transalpina for early (2nd century BCE) usage of cis/trans -pair).

  5. […] over at Taking Up Too Much Space just weighed in on the whole cis debate, and summed things up pretty well: I think it’s high time we admitted it: […]

  6. Rebecca said


    I agree, the issue isn’t actually about “cis,” it’s about the general concept of a label for the “non-trans” population. What I’ve been hoping, and failing, to find is a response to that specific question because I feel like the debate over cis specifically has become ridiculously pedantic and a stand-in for the larger problem: “We non-trans people don’t think it’s necessary to have any language for that concept, so there.”

    As you say, the real question should be how/if to mark the dominant class, but I’m worried that’s getting lost in the general hubbub.

    I tried to have this conversation with Carolyn Ann at CaroLINES, but have given up. (At the risk of linkwhoring, I’ve summarized what happened in this post.)

    As for what Carto is saying, I do think it’s worthwhile to come up with a response to, “But aren’t imposed labels bad?” That seems to me to be the most reasonable-sounding argument against the use of cis.

  7. Carto said

    I’m afraid there’s no way around at least somewhat imposed labels – after all, language is a common discourse, it doesn’t develop in a vacuum. Plenty of things I haven’t chosen to be called as, and plenty of those words are completely innocent labels: I *am* an amateur entomologist, and I sure didn’t choose the word “entomologist” to refer to people like myself who are interested in insects. But as it isn’t used to oppress me and it’s in effect just a harmless name, a label for people like me, who am I to argue? It communicates one of my interests neatly (I *am* an amateur entomologist, I’m not an amateur botanist, for example), it’s understood by the relevant subset of people on this planet (people who speak English and who have perhaps some acquaintance with biology) – just like cis, in fact. Cis even pairs up with trans nicely.

    That some of the cis are offended by us labeling them with the word “cis” tells, IMO, a whole lot more about them, and the meanings they give to the word “trans”, than it does about us. If “trans” was just a neutral label to the cis, there would be no reason to be offended, no? If “trans” was just a label for people whose sex/gender didn’t quite go the same way it went and goes for the cis, why, it’s very hard to see the word cis would offend anyone at all. But in fact, since “trans” is used to describe a whole lot of inequalities, oppression and violence, and the word “cis” might be an unsavory reminder of that oppression. There would be no cis/trans oppression if it were not for the cis actually oppressing us. Perhaps they don’t like being reminded of the reality of cis oppression of trans people? I know I don’t particularly like being reminded I’ve plenty of privilege, but as a matter of fact, I *do*. I just need to own up to it and try not to fuck up. Just like the cis need to. And many do.

    • Cedar said

      Thanks for this further response, it’s clarified what I was thinking. There are three legit ways to counter being categorized in ways you don’t like:
      1)I don’t belong in this [valid] category, I belong in a different category, x.
      2)this category is invalid–it’s conflating or a false distinction or incoherent.
      & 3)this category is valid & I belong in it, but the way it’s formulated in language implies offensive things, & either its name or other names need changing.

      They’re implying we owe this to them b/c of no. 1, and also acting as if it’s no. 3, but it’s really no.2, where the issues of power they want to ignore matter most… It’s only no. 1 that’s individual or which can be asked without reasoning…

      The more I think about it, the more the whole thing is about them not thinking our genders are real and they’ve been so accommodating we can accommodate them too can’t we?

  8. sherrold said

    I have nothing to say except “This is awesome!” and I’m going to save it and link to it everytime someone says something beautifully ignorant. Thanks!

  9. snowmentality said

    I still just don’t get it. I am cis. it is a descriptive term for the fact that my gender identity matches the gender I was assigned. It is a valid category, I belong in it, and I see absolutely nothing insulting about the term or the category. I don’t hear any connotations when someone uses the word. “We all know about those cis people, they’re…” what? Cis is the socially unmarked category (giving it a name is a step towards equalizing it with trans in terms of being marked). I have the privilege that calling myself or being called cis doesn’t set up any expectations or assumptions about me in the minds of others, other than the simple definition of the word.

    The worst that could possibly happen is that someone uses “cis” as a shorthand allusion to people who are trans-clueless or transphobic, kind of like “white feminists” being used as a shorthand allusion to people who are race-clueless or racist in places where white feminists have often been race-clueless/racist. In that usage, I guess the category isn’t literally correct, and it’s sort of insulting in a way, but it’s understood to be a metonymic usage. It just doesn’t have the social power to make it a slur.

    Also, I really haven’t seen “cis” used in that metonymic way with any frequency at all.

  10. This is the first time I’ve heard this word, because I’m admittedly “trans-clueless.” I am working on this.

    Am I correct in assuming that “cis” refers to someone whose gender identity matches the gender they were born with?

    What does CIS stand for? What does it mean?

    As someone who falls into this category, I can’t see it as an insult, because it (rightly) put me in the same class as a transgender person. It removes the “otherness.” What else would we say? A “transgender versus a NORMAL person?”

    Saying transgender people and non-transgender people is like using the term non-white to describe people of color. It puts white as the measuring stick for all others.

    It feels right to have a defining word for non-transgender people.

  11. Cedar said

    cis isn’t an acronym, it’s a greek prefix meaning same-side, not across. check out the last link in the OP or some of the comments for the rest of your questions.

    BUT, I’m not ok with
    Saying transgender people and non-transgender people is like using the term non-white to describe people of color. It puts white as the measuring stick for all others.

    Trans is NOT to cis as white is to POC, but rather the other way around. The issue with “non-trans” is that it doesn’t do what it’s intended to do–that is, it constitutes cis experience as the experience of not-being-trans, which actually leaves cis people unmarked. Cissexual people have an identifiable experience–having their determination of their own sex upheld and validated by legal/political, medical, religious, and scientific institutions. A more specificially cisgender experience is harder to draw lines around, but goes along the same lines.

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