Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Julia Serano's compendium on cisgender, cissexual, cissexism, cisgenderism, cis privilege, and the cis/trans distinction

When my first book Whipping Girl was published in 2007, it was (to the best of my knowledge) the first print publication to include the terms cisgender, cissexual, cissexism, and cisgenderism.* I did not invent these terms - they had been coined and used by trans activists before me, albeit rarely and sporadically. And in the years since, as these terms have increasingly caught on, I find that people sometimes use them in rather different, or even outright disparate, ways.

So for those interested in the history and evolution of cis terminology, I have subsequently written three (freely available!) blog posts that explain various aspects of, and differing perspectives on, these terms. They are as follows:

1) Whipping Girl FAQ on cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege (2009)

This article discusses:

  • the origins of cis terminology
  • the reasoning behind why many trans activists use these terms
  • my responses to common critiques of cis terminology
  • a discussion of how the concept of "cis privilege" is sometimes misused

2) Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited - Part 1: Who Exactly Does “Cis” Refer To? (2014)

This article discusses:

  • the specific way in which I used the terms cis, cisgender, cissexual, cissexism, and cisgenderism in Whipping Girl
  • a discussion of how these same terms are often used in a rather different manner today
  • how ambiguity regarding the terms "cis" and "cisgender" often erases the experiences of non-transsexual transgender-spectrum people
  • my proposal of an alternative (albeit not mutually-exclusive) "three-tiered" model for considering gender-non-conformity and social legitimacy - one that may better account for the gender-based marginalization experienced by those who fall under the cisgender umbrella and/or who do not fit neatly into the cis/trans distinction.

3) Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited - Part 2: Reconciling Disparate Uses of the Cis/Trans Distinction (2014)

Marginalized populations often have different perspectives on, and take different approaches toward, articulating the obstacles they face. Two especially common activist approaches are “decentering the binary” and “reverse discourse” strategies. In this essay, I discuss the logic behind these differing approaches to activism, and explain why they tend to result in very different understandings of cissexism and the cis/trans distinction. In fact, some of the most common complaints about cis terminology are actually critiques of "reverse discourse" approaches to activism. Rather than outright championing one approach over the other, I encourage activists to familiarize themselves with the pros and cons of each strategy in order to use them in the most judicious and effective way possible.

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* note added 7-18-15: cisgender was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary

*note added 12-17-14: It turns out that the terms "cisgender" and "cisgendered" did appear in print on at least one occasion prior to the publication of Whipping Girl, namely, in:
Green, Eli R. (2006). "Debating Trans Inclusion in the Feminist Movement: A Trans-Positive Analysis," Journal of Lesbian Studies. Volume: 10 Issue: 1/2. pp. 231−248.
Also, in 2013 Cristan Williams reported that a variant of "cis" (cisvestitismus) was used to describe non-trans people in the German medical/sexological literature back in 1914:
However, there is no indication that the trans activists who first began using cisgender/cissexual were aware of that literature. It seems unsurprising that such terms may have been independently invented numerous times given the long history of the prefix "cis" being used as a complementary pair of "trans."

1 comment:

  1. The German term "cissexuell" = "cissexual" in English was a term in late 1980ies transsexual self help groups in Western Germany before Sigusch used it without giving reference; maybe he didn't know that. Since it is oral history not yet researched or written down, there is no stronger evidence. But many German persons know not only Latin language and chemistry, some German persons in 1980ies self help groups also had readen books like those by Hirschfeld. The German term "Cisvestit" = "cisvestite" in English was a term Hirschfeld wrote in a 1914 book; Hirschfeld gave reference a patient had coined that term.