Why is "cis" considered negative/would upset people?
I've noticed that within some interactions between some people, the term "cis" is considered negative and that it would piss people off. I do not fully understand why, and I also find it a bit contradictory since the furry community is considered to be accepting. I do know that my definition of "accepting" may not align with everyone else's, as my definition is "regardless of background, creed, ethnicity, gender, and any other defining factors of a person, they are to be treated with respect and understood as another human being." Again, my definition may not align with others', and I wish to understand why "cis" is considered a negative thing and may upset people.
Aryu (age 18)
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That is an excellent and highly germane question to ask in these tumultuous social order times, so thank you for your letter. Before I answer the question, a little background for readers because sometimes people think they know what a term means but they might get it a little — or a lot — wrong.
The term "cisgender" was coined in 1994 by Dana Defosse, who at the time was a graduate student researching trans adolescent health and wrote a post using the term on the alt.transgender discussion board (Defosse currently works at a library developing health literacy programs). She came up with the term to fill a need for a word describing people who were not trans, so she borrowed terminology used in chemistry in which atoms positioned on the same side of a molecule are designated cis versus those on opposite sides of a molecule, which are designated trans (i.e., cis-trans isomerism). It was as simple as that. Defosse was just trying to find one word to conveniently distinguish non-trans people from trans people in a way that was not awkward for readers.
As trans rights have come more and more to the forefront of public debate, the term cisgender has come under fire from both straight people and LGB people. The main objection is that they do not wish to be part of the trans nomenclature that includes such terms as well as the plethora of pronouns. It is, in essence, the fear of semantic infiltration. That is, the fear that those outside your demographic are forcing you to define yourself by their terms. The technique of semantic infiltration has been used historically in politics, such as the Russians inserting terms into debates with the West during the Cold War and then changing the usage of certain terms in order to present a more favorable opinion of their political views. The fear in the LGB and straight communities (not all people in these groups, but some) is that trans people are using words (and defining non-trans people with them) across the LGBTQIA spectrum to forcefully fit everyone into their paradigm so that trans people are not seen as "other." Also there is resentment that "normal" straight people or "normal" gay people do not need a new word to define them because they have been using "straight" or "gay" or "lesbian" for decades.
The use of cisgender has hence become embroiled in the literal battle of words in our society. Defosse finally spoke out about this in a Huff Post article dated February 18, 2023, in which she wrote: "Although I’ve not yet experienced personal attacks for being associated with its creation, it is painful when people imply it was intended to hurt others. I never believed that adding the word to the lexicon caused problems ― it only revealed them." In other words, it's not the term that's the problem; the word just reveals the underlying social unrest more poignantly. Defosse continued: "It saddens me to hear that people feel harmed by the word cisgender. Is the creation of the word to blame? No. Cisgender is just a straw man. It is easier to attack a word than to address the reasons people feel intimidated by discussions of gender identity."
I hope that answers your question. I recommend reading the entire Defosse letter for her full response.
Papabear (a cis gay bear)
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