Recently the phrase “cis is a slur” has been making its way across social media once again, mostly due to high profile people spreading the usual lies and misinformation (or cisinformation if you like). I have seen various trans people and allies try to explain that cis is in fact not a slur, and whilst I of course could not agree more that cis is in no way a slur, there is one fundamental flaw in the explanation that they are using to get this point across. They describe cis or “cisgender” as “A person whose gender identity matches their birth sex.” Now although this is in fact accurate, the flaw here is that the “Gender Critical Feminists” (or GC’s for short) and general transphobes alike will twist this and say that cis is in fact a “slur” because they do not believe in gender and will say that they do not have a “gender identity.” To the GCs in particular this is because whilst their views on gender identity are HIGHLY inaccurate and cisinformed, they believe that “gender identity” is the same as “gender roles”. They believe that Gender, Gender identity, and transgender are all made up of societally based, restrictive stereotypes that keep women in these narrow boxes. This therefore means that in their eyes cis is a “slur” because it is putting a label onto women that forces them to conform to these patriarchal chains. The truth is that gender stereotypes effect all of us, INCLUDING trans people. I wrote a whole other article which expanded on this which you can read right here.
So what does cis really mean then? Well I could tell you that it comes from the Latin prefix meaning “On this side” or that it’s merely the gender equivalent of “heterosexual” (which coincidentally homosexual and heterosexual also derive from latin prefixes) However neither of those explanations really do this justice. So how do we explain what “trans is” if it’s not just a bunch of “stereotypes”? The way I like to describe it is how people will often say in times of a crisis that “My whole worlds been turned upside down” well for us it gets turned the right way up. We can’t really explain why it feels right, no more than we can explain how some foods can taste incredible to some, but make others want to throw up. Something just clicks, and our worlds just become so much clearer for the first time ever. Being trans feels like there are these alarm bells ringing in your head that just tell you that something isn’t right, which is what then leads a trans person to know they are trans, which in turn follows with them transitioning (be it socially, medically or both) to turn off these alarm bells, however feels right for them. Being “cis” merely means that you do not have those alarm bells telling you that something doesn’t quite match up, the way that a trans person does. It really is that simple; nothing more and nothing less
Within the trans community there are a tiny number of people who choose to side with the GCs. Among them are two people named Fionne Orlander and Debbie Hayton. They refer to themselves as “transwomen” which is how the GC’s refer to trans women as a way of denying our gender identities. Fionne and Debbie have adopted the term as a way of detaching and disassociating themselves from the rest of the trans community.
Both of them believe that gender is based on stereotypes and is “Erasing women” as the GCs like to put it. Both of them also believe that trans women are “men” and Debbie and Fionne have even gone to the extremes of proudly and unironically donning T-shirts that say just that. However what I find most interesting is that whilst they believe they are “men” (and all trans women are too) they’ve still undergone gender reassignment surgery as well as Fionne having had facial feminisation surgery too. So even if they don’t believe in gender, and even if they distance themselves away from the trans community in any way they can, they STILL clearly had to have had those alarm bells to tell them that they were actually trans rather than simply crossdressers. This is what it truly means when we compare trans to cis.
Some GCs will argue “Why do I even NEED a label, why can’t I simply be known as a woman?” and truth be told, this is what most trans people want too. With most of us whilst we are proud to be trans, we also don’t want it to define who we are (except GCs are insistent that trans people keep their prefixes whilst they refuse to be called cis). In most circumstances, simply referring to trans and cis people as either men or women is all we really need, however there are going to be some circumstances where these descriptors are necessary in life such as for medical purposes. Descriptors usually work in exactly this way and rarely make up a persons entire identity. For example, John is a gay man, John isn’t going to go round introducing himself as “Gay John”, but he would however put his sexuality on a dating profile.
There have been similar complaints from GCs regarding the inclusive language surrounding menstruation and pregnancy. They will say it is “Misogynistic to call a woman a mensruator because it reduces them to their sexual organs.” However once again, this is wildly inaccurate as these terms are ONLY relevant in the specific context of talking about menstruation and so are not defined by or reduced to those terms outside of this.
On the other hand, the GC’s will refer to themselves as “Adult human females” and will identify as such by saying that this is the one and only definition of what a “woman” is. This is defined as “of, relating to, or being the sex that typically has the capacity to bear young or produce eggs”. Now not only does this exclude cis women that are infertile, but this very definition is what is reducing women to nothing more than walking vaginas and baby makers”. THAT is the true misogyny here.
The biggest irony in all of this is that the ENTIRE reason why words such as “cis” and “mensruator” are coming up in conversation SO frequently, is because GCs have decided to centre trans people in their “feminism” and so are CONSTANTLY talking about us. If they weren’t waging war against trans people then these terms would rarely ever come up in conversation. If GCs stopped talking about and focussing their “feminism” on how trans women supposedly impact cis women (as they like to purposely and conveniently forget that trans men even exist) then there wouldn’t even need to be this constant comparison between cis women and trans women.
In conclusion, Cis is not a slur. It is a mere descriptor that is used to help with navigating this beautiful and expansive world.
So the next time that you hear the word cis and you think it might be a “slur” then you have two very easy options. you can either try and remember the alarms that go off inside trans peoples heads – Or you can ignore us and simply keep pressing the “snooze” button.
The choice, as they say, is yours.