Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Yesterday, I talked about masks.  Today lets discuss labels.  Labels play a large role in society. Some choose not to identify with a label, while others find a sense of security in a label and use it to define who they are to others. Off the top of your head, how many labels can you think of for the LGBTQ community? Do certain groups not tolerate one another well? In history, the lesbian community and the gay male community have often been at odds. Some facets of the transgender community are hostile toward one another based on personal decisions regarding medical transition or one's choice not to do so.

"Gay." "Lesbian." "Bisexual." "Transgender." "Pansexual." "Genderqueer." "Neutrois." "Non-Identified." "Queer." "Femme." "Butch." The list goes on.

One of the most puzzling to me is "Cis" or "Cisgender."  The situation is more complicated for "cisgender," coined in the 1990s to mean the opposite of "transgender." The "trans" in "transgender" comes from a Latin word meaning "on the other side of," and the "cis" in "cisgender" comes from a Latin word meaning "on this side of." "Cisgender" refers to people who feel there is a match between their assigned sex and the gender they feel themselves to be. You are cisgender if your birth certificate says you're male and you identify yourself as a man or if your birth certificate says you're female and you identify as a woman. Presumably you are also cisgender if you were born intersex (that is, with some combination of male and female reproductive parts) and identify as an intersex or androgynous person.

For a while, "cisgender" only appeared in academic journals. But now it's all over the Internet, and not just on blogs and sites of, by, and for transgender people. It's made it into online reference works like the Oxford Dictionaries. And since "cisgender" is one of the 56 options for gender identification on Facebook (along with "cis female," "cis male," "cis woman, "cis man," "cisgender woman," "cisgender man," and just plain "cis"), it has already achieved a kind of pop officialdom.

There are a number of derivatives of the terms in use, including cis male for "male assigned male at birth", cis female for "female assigned female at birth", analogically cis man and cis woman, as well as cissexism and cissexual assumption. In addition, one study published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society used the term cisnormativity, akin to sexual diversity studies' heteronormativity. A related adjective is gender-normative; Eli R. Green, an interdisciplinary scholar in Gender and Sexuality Studies, has written that "'cisgendered' is used [instead of the more popular 'gender normative'] to refer to people who do not identify with a gender diverse experience, without enforcing existence of a normative gender expression".

The thing is, and this is just my opinion, can there be a normal.  We want to give labels to everything, but if you are male and female do we really have a need to say cis male or cis female?  Wouldn't that just merely he male and female?  Sometimes people make life too complicated, or they try to make things even more complicated with all of these labels.

I use labels in my life for ease of identification to others like me, but I don't discriminate against anyone for choosing to use or not use them. The bottom line is this: regardless of anyone's labels or lack thereof, we're all in this together.


Jay M. said...

This is a well done post. I am something of an expert on this (yeah, I'm patting myself on the back) because it is a frequent theme at the LGBTQ youth group I facilitate. We discuss these labels with all the age groups, the 11-13 year olds, and the 14-20s. And the Genderbread Man is a GREAT tool for working with the idea of self-identity!!!

Peace <3

Amanda said...

If a label makes someone more comfortable that's fine. I've never been one for labels really. But labels can be used to help or hurt depending on the context and person using them. I've been called hurtful things (who hasn't) but you can't let it break you. :)

Jay M. said...

One thing I didn't mention, and that Amanda alluded to, was that we also discuss "good labels" versus "bad labels", and of course, the difference is context. When you are a youth and trying to figure out who you are, and "what" you are, labels can be a valuable way to find that self-definition. When labels are used in hurtful, bullying, or discriminatory ways, even the positive ones that help you realize where you fit into the world can be awful. Amanda is right, context is everything!

Peace <3

Coop said...

Thanks for including genderbread person. I haven't seen the diagram before and it's a big help.
And I never knew what cis-gendered was either.

I'd love to ask people like Eli R. Green to speak in plain English. ""'cisgendered' is used [instead of the more popular 'gender normative'] to refer to people who do not identify with a gender diverse experience, without enforcing existence of a normative gender expression".'" Huh?

Similarly, a childhood friend of mine is a sociology prof who studies gender. I like to think I'm smart, but I don't always understand what she says on Facebook either. And, on some level, I don't care.

Will big words and concepts that not everyone can pronounce or understand help the varied GLBT community achieve equal rights and live free of harrasment? I don't think so.