Comment: Do you know what ‘cis’ means?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Writing for PinkNews, Naith Payton explores what the word ‘cis’ means, and why it is important.

Cis means not trans. If trans means someone whose gender is different from what they were assigned at birth, then cis means someone whose gender is the same as they were assigned.

It’s not perfect. Like all words, it’s a generalisation. Humans are more complicated than language can describe. But it’s the best we’ve got so far.

It’s a description – not an insult. People often object to its use as they’ve seen it used negatively.

That’s understandable. No one likes to think they’re being insulted for something they have no control over, or have assumptions made about their character or beliefs based on that.

But it’s important to remember that when trans people decry the way cis people behave towards, the way a cis-centric society treats us – we don’t mean all cis people. We don’t mean all cis people are bad or wrong. We mean that the majority of negativity we face comes from a cis-centric society.

If you refuse to participate in that culture, if you refuse to engage in transphobia – we don’t mean you. All we ask is that when we bring up transphobic attitudes, and what harms us, you take a look at whether you’ve ever done that. All we ask is that you accept the possibility that you have benefited from cis-centric culture, and work towards improving it.

That might feel difficult. Plenty of cis people are harmed by our culture that looks down on gender non conformity. You might have been hurt by transphobic assumptions, sexism and homophobia. Almost all of us have. So it’s in all of our interests to work towards ending that.

When trans people say that something hurts us particularly, just listen. Let us have a moment to discuss, and explain, and educate. Then we work together.

Don’t say “But what about…?”or “But I don’t do that!” say “How can I help?”.

A lot of people dislike the word cis because they feel it’s being forced on them without their consent. That’s understandable too. But the same is true of many words and labels. Trans people never asked to be called trans, but we are.

It doesn’t have to be a focus of your identity. You don’t have to claim it or use it all the time. But sometimes its relevant. If we need to understand the differences between trans and cis people, we need words to do that.

Because the other alternative is “trans people” and “normal people” and that’s just offensive.

If you’re not trans, or intersex, and your gender is the same as you were assigned at birth, then you are probably cis. And that’s fine. If we can get over this hurdle, then we can move on to what really matters.