Gender and gender identity have been major issues that have surfaced in the last few years. We now have a greater understanding of redefining sexuality and its subcategories. So it should come as no surprise that the term “cisgender” had its “biggest year yet” in 2014, and well into 2015.
If you don’t know, cisgender is a term used to describe someone whose gender identity, gender expression and biological sex all align (woman, feminine, female). For example, if someone is born a female and identifies as a woman when they grow up, they’re cisgender. The same goes for someone who’s born a male and identifies as a man.
Statistics say this is the case for roughly 99 percent of the population. But what about the 1 percent of the population that identify as something else?
Think of the word as an equal to “transgender.” In Latin, the prefix cis- means “on this side of,” where trans- means “on the other side of.” Julia Serano says the best way to understand is the parallel between homosexual and heterosexual as terms.
“There was a time when there were homosexual people and everyone else was considered to be the ‘normal’ people. Now, people think of themselves as straight or heterosexual.”
But that doesn’t mean cisgender people are “normal” and everyone else isn’t. And since transgender isn’t as broad as “a woman/man living in the opposite sex’s body,” it’s not all black and white.
Though the dictionary has added cisgender, and Facebook has expanded their options for choosing gender, some people don’t think using “cisgender” is cohesive to getting people to better understand differing sexualities.
Executive direction of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara Keisling, says that it’s counterintuitive to introduce the word cisgender into vocabularies when most people still don’t understand what transgender means.
To Keisling, it has more to do with human rights than gender rights.
“The lack of understanding of our humanity continues to cause us to face disrespect, discrimination, and violence, and is actually killing us. And when trans people face that and other issues like racism, ableism, and xenophobia, the disrespect and violence can be so much worse,” Keisling says.
But others, like Serano, think raising awareness about sexuality and using cisgender in our vocabularies is a good thing. The majority of people who aren’t transgender still have a gender identity, “it’s just not one that is challenged or questioned.”
Serano says, “People don’t go around all the time thinking of themselves as a straight woman or a heterosexual man … But it becomes useful when you’re talking about the ways in which people are treated differently in society.”
While it’s great to know that society is expanding our knowledge outside of male versus female, in the end we’re all humans. Our sexuality doesn’t define who we are as people, so we should treat others as such, no matter who they identify as.