Why we shouldn’t be offended by the term ‘cis people’…

Rowan doesn’t identify as being male or female. Here’s their story and a few thoughts for people to consider…

Hi, my name is Rowan and I’m a non-binary trans person. It says female on my birth certificate but I don’t identify with being either male or female so I use the term non-binary to refer to myself. One of these days I’ll find a word to describe what I am rather than what I am not as language changes all the time. But non-binary will do till then.

I’m writing feeling sad after finding out that a friend who I work closely with and respect was less clued up about gender issues than I would have expected from their general political viewpoints. The discovery came due to the recent publication of government guidance on relationships, sex and health. This guidance is widely recognised as problematic by organisations that support trans people – if you would like to know why please take a look at this statement by mermaidsuk.

In an online chat about the guidance, my friend posted a link with content from Graham Lineham (who has compared trans activists to Nazis). So I sent them a polite message to ask if they knew how transphobic he was. As part of the message I referred to ‘cis people’. This term has only fairly recently come out of scientific literature to become more commonly used when talking about gender identity. They were very offended by its use and felt it was rude of me to use the word. I’m hoping this guide will help to avoid future misunderstandings.

Common terms people use when they want to talk clearly about gender issues:

Sex: a category based on physical characteristics. There is a range of sexes with male and female at the opposite ends.

Gender: a category based on cultural expectations. The conservative view is that people should have the gender (masculine or feminine) that matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

Intersex: At least 1% of the population are intersex. This means born with characteristics that are not clear or are a mix of male and female. It is not possible to know the exact number as birth certificates only allow for M or F and so doctors just put the gender that the child looks most like.

AFAB / AMAB: assigned female (sex) at birth, assigned male (sex) at birth. As explained above approximately 1% of people are assigned a sex at birth that doesn’t accurately reflect their sex. The number of people who are assigned a sex that doesn’t match their gender is impossible to know.

Pronouns: someone who identifies as male will usually use his/him. Someone who identifies as female, she/her. It’s also (thankfully to me) becoming more common for people to use they/them to refer to themselves to indicate that they are non-binary. Some people say this is confusing as ‘they’ is a plural pronoun. A good example of its use as a single pronoun can be seen above where I refer to my friend as they; this is to preserve their anonymity so you don’t know if they are male, female or non-binary.

Trans person: a person who identifies with a gender other than that which they were assigned at birth. The ‘trans’ in ‘transgender’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘on the other side of’.

Cis gender: a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. The ‘cis’ in ‘cisgender’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘on this side of’.

If you are cis gender and think it is an unnecessary or insulting term because being cis is ‘normal’ then please reconsider. If you are saying that being cis gender is normal then it (probably unintentionally) implies that being trans is abnormal. Being part of a minority group is not the same as being abnormal. We are all unique, everyone has their own special mix of characteristics. If there is to be such a thing as normal let’s make it normal to be kind and respectful to each other whoever we are.

Thanks for reading. I’ll try to answer any (polite) questions.
Rowan McLaughlin


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