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Cisgender And Cissexual Terminology – A Get-Along-Go-Along Moment

As many of y’all know, I’ve had problems in the recent past with how the terms cissexual and cisgender — as opposite terms to the terms transsexual and transgender respectively — have been used at here at Pam’s House Blend. These two cis-related  terms that were envisioned as neutral terms are very easily modified by other descriptors — both for good and for ill.

Here at Pam’s House Blend, I’ve seen cissexual and cisgender turned into weaponized terms by the descriptors connected to the cis- terms. But at the same time, I’ve seen the terms used in a neutral fashion.

Specifically, in Monica Roberts’ piece What A Difference A Year Makes (that we saw crossposted to Pam’s House Blend on Saturday, September 5, 2009), cisgender was used in an intentionally neutral manner to convey the idea of “not transgender” people. In context (emphasis added):

…Back in May 2008 I wrote a TransGriot post entitled ‘Destruction of the Black Transwoman Image.’

In that post I pointed out that transwomen have some of the same problems as our cisgender sisters when it comes to Black womanhood. I also lamented in that post the lack of positive trans role models of African descent.

Just three months after I wrote that, things started to change…

Roberts used the term neutrally as a term to identify people who aren’t transgender people, as in the same vein of others have neutrally used the term straight to identify people who aren’t gay.

To turn the terms straight or cisgender into positive or negative terms, the modifiers are the key words. If one calls someone a straight ally, it’s a lot different than calling someone a homobigoted straight person. In the same vein, calling someone a cisgender ally would convey a much different meaning than transbigoted cisgender person.

At this point; however, how one personally hears the terms cissexual and cisgender becomes a function of one’s internal filtering. Fritz makes the case that the term cisgender is a term that should be avoided by transgender activists in his diary Uniracial vs. Cisgender: Why Language Matters. He argues that we need fewer labels rather than more labels, and that cisgender (and by extension cissexual) is just one more term we just don’t need. Fritz goes on as far to say that use of the term cisgender by Monica Roberts was both “inappropriate and unnecessary.” Well, Fritz’s opinion is one I’m going to respectfully going to disagree with.

This isn’t to say that Fritz has came to his conclusion in an unreasonabe manner at all, but instead to say that his conclusion and mine are much different.

For those of you who are viscerally offended by the terms cissexual or cisgender, yet still want to read about trans issues here at Pam’s House Blend — or on other feminist and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender websites — it’s going to be tough for you into the future to stay up on trans thought. These two cis- terms are terms that feminist and trans communities have pretty much already embraced as neutral terms to describe the state of being not transsexual (cissexual) and not transgender (cisgender).

And, since the piece by Monica Roberts was crossposted from the feminist website Feministe, and cisgender and cissexual are terms that are now common terms in feminist discussion about trans people and trans issues…well, I know I’m not going to ignore important works on important trans related issues if a person uses the terms cissexual or cisgender in his, her, or hir writings.

Like or hate these two cis- terms, these cis- terms are here to stay. For my part, I’m going to be that get along-go along kind of trans person regarding those two terms, and use these as neutral terms when these terms fit what I’m trying to communicate.

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Autumn Sandeen

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