Defining Cisgender (and Why It Matters)

When our team leads a training, one of the things we address early on is language and terminology. Many people now know the very basic definition of what "transgender" means and thanks to Caitlyn Jenner, can name one trans person. However, a relatively new term that many are surprised to learn is "cisgender," a word now defined in most major dictionaries.

In short, cisgender is defined as someone whose gender identity matches the body they are born with. Most of the world is cisgender. Cisgender is used instead of simply saying "not transgender" because that implies that being transgender is abnormal.

Cisgender originated with biologist Dana Leland Defosse who first used it back in 1994. Etymologically speaking, "cisgender" is a direct antonym of "transgender. " Since both terms share Latin roots, they are quite clearly descriptive:

  • Cis (Latin for 'on this side of') gender
  • Trans (Latin for 'on the other side of') gender

Sometimes cisgender is shortened to "cis", so if you hear someone self-identify as a "cis female" you now know what that means. You might also hear someone referred to, or identify, as "cis het" which means cisgender and heterosexual.