What is the purpose of the word ‘cis’ if it just means I am a man with a penis? What is the point of having another word to use?
Great question. Language evolves to give us better ways to describe what is happening around us. We can track a lot of what goes on in our culture by how that language has evolved. The word ‘cis’ is used more or less as an opposite to trans.
cis – on the same side
trans – on the other side
Both cis and trans exist outside of identity, but have been used recently to describe gender. Because of the recent visibility of trans people, we’ve shifted to using language that is more technically correct – and less offensive. For instance, many people still use words like crossdresser, transvestite, tranny, drag king/queen, and shemale interchangeably and often with little understanding of what these words might mean or not mean. Without an understanding of the history or the power that these words hold, you are often communicating something very clear (I don’t like you and don’t really care to understand you) or something very confusing (I have no idea what I’m talking about and should study more before I try to communicate about it.) Some words come with negative connotations. Some have very specific definitions. Some are simply outdated, or slurs.
As we fight towards trans equality and normalize this experience as a society, we need a way to discuss people who aren’t trans. Enter cis. Cis makes it really easy to say “I consider myself the gender they said I was at birth” without saying things like “I’m just normal.” Since, of course, being trans doesn’t make you abnormal.
Even trans/cis language can be problematic. For instance, there is a new transnormatively forming where we as as society continue to view gender as a binary – you’re either a man or a woman. Yet many people fall between men and women, and believe in something called gender fluidity. That opens up another discussion about the many different ways we can discuss gender.
I don’t think it’s necessary to use the word cis in conversation, the same as its not necessary to use the word trans in conversation. I’m a big fan of letting people keep their identities private except to the people they want to talk to about it. Cis has become such a hot topic because it stresses the privilege of not being trans in our society… and people typically cannot see privilege if they are within it.
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