Calling someone cisgender is not a slur

In another bizarre move from Elon Musk, the billionaire announced last month that ‘the words “cis” or “cisgender” are considered slurs’ on Twitter.

It came about after a cisgender man claimed he was being harassed with the term for rejecting its usage altogether.

It goes without saying that no one should be harassed for whatever reason, but to slam the word ‘cis’ and ‘cisgender’ because some people allegedly used it in a derogatory manner is quite the leap.

Almost any word can be used in a negative way. The word ‘gay’ is often used as slang in a disrespectful way, but the word itself isn’t bad. The issue here is intention.

Therefore, the word ‘cisgender’ isn’t a negative word – no more so than ‘straight’. It’s simply an identifier.

The term cisgender was thought to be coined by researcher Dana Defosse in 1994, and was added to the Oxford Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2015, where it is described as: ‘Designating a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds to his or her sex at birth; of or relating to such persons. Contrasted with transgender.’ 

So it basically refers to people who are happy and content with the gender and sex they were assigned at birth – as opposed to trans or transgender, which means there is a mismatch. So in simple terms, it means people who are not trans. 

The origins of the word derive from Latin – as the prefix cis- means ‘on this side of’ and the prefix trans- means ‘on the other side of’ or ‘beyond’. We see these prefixes used in other contexts – like transatlantic and cisatlantic.

This means that the majority of the population would fall under being cisgender, which often comes as a surprise to people. That’s because most people are so accustomed to being seen as the unspoken norm – or just ‘normal’ – that a word to describe their experiences sounds foreign to them because they’ve never been confronted with it.

But if we are going to use the word trans or transgender to describe people’s experiences, the opposite must also exist.

Just like we have words like straight to describe people who are heterosexual, or the word non-disabled to describe people who aren’t disabled. Cisgender is therefore the same – a word used to describe an experience that is universally considered the majority.

I have had conversations with people who say they don’t like using it, but once we’ve had a conversation about the purpose of the word, most people have acknowledged that it has it’s uses, but they won’t necessarily be using it in everyday situations, which I think is fine. 

It’s not about people introducing themselves with it wherever they go, but rather just understanding its purpose and why it’s useful in certain contexts. 

In my experience, people usually oppose the word’s usage for two main reasons. They are either uninformed about what the word actually means and don’t understand the point of it, or they claim that an identity or ideology is being forced upon them.

The latter are also usually people who don’t fundamentally recognise trans people as who they are, and are generally quite prejudiced or bigoted towards trans people.

They therefore aren’t opposing the word because there’s something wrong with the word itself, but rather out of the principle that anything related to trans issues must be bad. 

The reason some people reject or oppose the word cisgender so vehemently is because they believe our gender identity is determined by what types of bodies we are born with – if we are born ‘male’ we grow up to become boys and men, and if we are born ‘female’ we grow up to become girls and women.

This is often referred to as gender essentialism, which reinforces patriarchal ideas about sex and gender and how men and women are expected to be, behave, dress and the roles they take on in society – that essentially places men in a position of power over women. This belief is the cornerstone of misogyny and sexism, and reinforces heteronormativity and cisnormativity in society.

The word ‘cisgender’ challenges that worldview, and questions why being trans isn’t just seen as an ordinary diversity of life, rather than something ‘abnormal’ or ‘different’.

By naming what’s always been considered ‘normal’ we put both experiences on an even playing field, where one experience is no longer seen as more valid than the other. 

For those that don’t believe that the trans experience is a valid one, this becomes unacceptable. 

So they fight against it because they don’t want people to accept trans people for who they are, and respect them for how they choose to express themselves. So, in my mind, people usually only protest against it so loudly because they have a problem with accepting trans people.

At the end of the day, it’s not about demanding that people start referring to themselves as cisgender at every opportunity. I personally couldn’t care less if people don’t want to use the word. You don’t have to.

But to claim it’s a slur or a derogatory term is clearly choosing to take offence to something that’s fundamentally not offensive – and people taking issue with anything that affirms trans experiences as something just as valid as the opposite.

At the heart of this, it’s about power and privilege.

Those who have comfortably belonged to the unspoken norm and never had to seriously consider their gender identity as something different wish to remain so – and don’t want to consider that their experiences have afforded them privileges over others.

Equality and equal treatment often feels like oppression to those that are accustomed to privilege.

But in the words of the word’s creator, Dana Defosse: ‘History has taught us that no matter how much power and wealth a person wields, ideas that speak truth are always more momentous and enduring than those who attempt to extinguish them’.

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