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Cis means that someone is not trans. It is a neutral way to say that someone's gender or sex is the same as the gender or sex their doctors and parents assigned them at birth. It is an adjective or prefix attached to a noun. Most of the population is cis, and receive certain rights and privileges that trans people do not simply because they are cis.
Cissexism is the positioning of cis identities as better or more real than trans identites. Cis does not refer strictly to gender performance, but gender identity. There are a wide range of cis identities, some traditional and some not traditional, and while cis people often experience sexism or heterosexism based on their performance, their identity still privileges them over trans people.
Cissupremacy refers to the system of oppressing trans people and privileging cis people. Trans people often challenge assumptions about gender and sex just by existing, and thus face a lot of discrimination from cis people who want to make sure that trans identities continue to be seen as lesser. Cissupremacy ensures that trans people face harassment, discrimination, and violence in social, domestic, professional, legal, educational, and cultural spaces (to name only a few) simply for being trans. Cissupremacy also ensures that cis people do not face this brand of hatred; cissupremacy often gives cis people full reign to enforce their prejudice against trans people without punishment.
I say "cis" instead of saying "not trans" because I want to show readers that cis people have gender identity, too. If you self-identify with the gender or sex you were assigned at birth, you are on the cis spectrum and receive cis privilege. Trans identities are marked, and marking trans but not cis identities is a way of othering trans people and showing that they are not right. If I call cis women just "women" or "normal women" and always call trans women "trans women", that says that trans women are not real, regular, or normal women. Cis identities are no more or less legitimate than trans identities, and referring to them as cis reinforces that idea.
Cis is not a word I made up, nor is it an academic word. It was first used in 1995 in Internet communities by trans man Carl Buijs. Julia Serano popularized the term in her book Whipping Girl. She writes:
"[A]s a scientist (where the prefixes “trans” and “cis” are routinely used), this terminology seems fairly obvious in retrospect. “Trans” means “across” or “on the opposite side of,” whereas “cis” means “on the same side of.” So if someone who was assigned one sex at birth, but comes to identify and live as a member of the other sex, is called a “transsexual” (because they have crossed from one sex to the other), then the someone who lives and identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth is called a “cissexual. "Serano learned this word from Emi Koyama of eminism.org. She writes:
"By using the term "cissexual" and "cisgender," they de-centralize the dominant group, exposing it as merely one possible alternative rather than the "norm" against which trans people are defined. I don't expect the word to come into common usage anytime soon, but I felt it was an interesting concept - a feminist one, in fact - which is why I am using it".Lisa Harney has written extensively on language and cissexism, and Questioning Transphobia is an excellent resource if you're new to words like this. In a post entitled "How to Check Your Cis Privilege", she wrote:
Many people who are known for expressing the most transphobic views in public, react very badly to the term “cisgender,” claim that it is a slur, that it is imposing gender on them. It’s none of these things – it simply means “someone who is not a transgender person.” ... This is an othering tactic – by claiming that “cisgender”, “cissexual”, or “cis” is an offensive slur, you’re saying outright that you’re unwilling to allow trans people to stand on equal footing with you. That you’re normal and they’re deviant. That you require the right to name trans people as other, but that trans people have no right to name you as privileged and oppressor. That it is normal to assume that not being transgender is the natural way to be, in the same way that not being gay or lesbian is assumed in straight society."Did you like this post? Want to see more simple, straightforward definitions of complicated social justice lingo? Donate to Deeply Problematic, or find other ways to support this site.
This and other "Why I use that word that I use" posts are a 101 space - if there's something that you're not getting, you have greater room than usual to ask basic questions.
ETA: Check out the comments for some necessary expansion and critique from Sunset and pokemontaco.