A Theory of Othering Sex and Gender Outlaws

I'm going to keep this short and sweet, to keep myself from wandering off into Mobius strips of postmodern theory. I've been paying attention to some trans activists who are using the word cisgender. According to itvery own Wikipedia page:

"The word has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis, meaning "on the same side" as in the cis-trans distinction in chemistry. In this case, "cis" refers to the alignment of gender identity with assigned gender."

In my pants Who knew? Not me. I'd only begun to hear the word about a year ago but according to its own Wikipedia page, cisgender has been in use on the internet since 1994. So this is me trying to play catch up.

Here's what I've got worked out so far.

1) Cisgender/Transgender is a valid gender binary. I don't like the prefix cis, but that's my problem. A global binary exists that is worthy of examination for its impact on the quality of our lives.

2) Identifying people with fixed gender identities as sex partners is key to both the identities and desires of cisgender lesbians and gay men, as well as to heterosexual men and womenBisex, Polyamory, Asexuality, et al break cisgender rules of fixed desire. Trans, Genderqueer, Drag et al break cisgender rules of fixed identity.

3) To hold on to any power gained thru classimilation, middle class cisgender lesbians, gay men, and heterosexual men and women must defend their desires/identities as both correct & natural.

4) Cisgender people who are sex positive & gender embracing are more than allies, they're family. That's where the idea of any othering of trans by some monolithic cisgender identity ultimately falls apart.

5) Sex positivists and gender anarchists are simply too sexy for inclusion in any middle class arena, including the current "LGBT" movement whose agendas are set by mostly middle class cisgender lesbian women and gay men.

OK. That's as far as I've gotten. It has not been my intention to offend anyone. This is a theory in progress. I believe that no valid theory of identity, desire, or power can other a single sentient being. If you feel offended I was wrong. I'll do my best to right the wrong. I'm talking about this on Twitter so if you've got a comment please tweet me. I've got faster and more frequent access to Twitter than I have to this blog.  

Thanks & Kisses



  1. Kate, I would add one thing to this that is critically important to the discussion of cisgender/cissexual/Cis* — it is not an identity category, it is an adjectival one.

  2. Thanks for the article, I think it’s very thoughtful and written well, on the risk of sounding ignorant and like an idiot, what is fixed gender?
    A man is born a man, but feels more like a woman, or gets a sex change to be a woman, but is attracted to woman?
    Is that right? Sorry! I’m neither gay or cisgender, but I think it’s important to understand the nuances of people and respect those differences.
    I’ve really enjoyed your tweets! This is the first time I have visited your blog 🙂

  3. Dyssonance – That’s a bit of an odd thing to say. Seems to me that cis* can only be an adjectival category if trans* is one as well. Cisfolk might take their gender type for granted but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a core part of their identity, just as my gender non-conformity is a core part of mine.

  4. Thats kinda interesting. But i think its a key part of the backwards move into heteronormativity by the LGBT community that they also move back towards traditional ideals of gender roles – thus legitimizing a lot of the lack of support for trans people and gender rebels.
    A lot of LGBT “activists” are increasingly moving towards heteronormative representations of sexuality also in parallel to this – i.e. married, closeted, “respectable” models. Recently I had to fight hard to try to defend the inclusion of a dark room in a fetish night in my local gay bar – and was horrified at the negativity of the gay community towards its presence. The attitude was that it was some dirty little thing that should be pushed aside, it was like 30 years of liberation had not taught us that a key part of liberation was to break away from conventional patterns of sexual behaviour. I for one was shocked.
    Sadly, that bar closed down last night, a real loss as it also had a monthly (and sometimes weekly) trans night called “here come the girls.” (Unfortunately there are very few transmen in the area, but quite a lot of migrant transwomen who have retired to the region!!)
    love and kisses

  5. Re #4:
    I’m not sure where you get the idea that there is a monolithic cisgender identity. There’s not a monolithic transgender identity, so why should there be a monolithic cisgender identity? What there is, though, is cisgender privilege and cisgenderism in society. That’s what causes the othering of trans people.
    (I didn’t tweet you because you’re not following me and as my tweets are protected you wouldn’t see them.)

  6. Lucy. Thanks for looking this over so closely. Sorry I was confusing. Point 4 agrees with you: there is no monolithic cisgender identity. However, I’ve seen posts & tweets that imply that there is such a thing. Yes, there does seem to be cisgender privilege. That’s point #1. Zat help? K

  7. For what its worth when I used to frequent Yahoo Answers a lot of transsexual users, especially post-op mtf lesbians, embraced the term cisgender to describe themselves, or at least rejected the term transgender.
    The vague consensus that emerged after the made their preferences known was that transgender was either the middle of a cissexual/transgender spectrum, or that being transgender was a characteristic someone could have in addition to being cissexual, intersex, or transsexual.

  8. “transgender was either the middle of a cissexual/transgender spectrum,”
    that should read cissexual/transsexual spectrum, sorry, its sort of nonsensical the way its written

  9. I agree with your belief about id-entity and hunting theory. But how to use, as a tool (political for example), that kind of identity that matches your singular soul “like a glove” (because one has tailored it by hirself)?

  10. JC — Yup, it’s a conundrum when people start to use words to describe themselves that other people disagree with as being descriptive of them. Still gnawing on that.
    Alruuna — Every time I find myself with an identity that matches my singular soul like a glove, I find myself struggling to take the glove off. Sigh. How to use as a political tool? As I just said to JC — I’m still gnawing on all this.
    Thanks for your comments.

  11. Sounds like you’re alive 🙂

  12. “Trans, Genderqueer, Drag et al break cisgender rules of fixed identity”
    I understand what you’re saying here, but to many transsexuals their gender identity *is* fixed. It’s just the body that changes. Maybe to cisgender society it looks like they’re “changing genders”, but it isn’t an accurate description of what’s going on.

  13. Sorry so late to the discussion but.. ya. I’ll throw my two cents in none-the-less.
    J.C.: Someone’s sex and their gender are not attached. If you’ve always been a woman, it makes sense to identify as a ciswoman, even if you were male-born. But that does not mean transgender is somehow illegitimate for other people. For myself, I am cissexual (mostly) and very very transgender. Being one doesn’t mean we have to be the other.
    And to break down the cis/trans gender binary (since I hate binaries) I throw in gender fluid as a category for those who do not fit in either. I have a friend, for instance, who is sometimes a transman and sometimes a ciswoman. So would she be cis or trans?
    I’m still trying to figure out where to put myself on the cis/transsex binary, since that one is being harder to break down in my mind. I’m workin on it though! Since I’m definitely not female-bodied, though am female-born, but am also not male-bodied or neutrois… I’m thinking “sex queer” the way I am “genderqueer. 😀

  14. Again, someone else coming in late to the discussion – sorry!
    I disagree with point 2. Do you mean that cisgendered people are only attracted to people with a fixed gender?
    That hasn’t been my experience. I am a cisgender woman by which I mean that my gender identity and my perceived gender have always matched up. But I have had genderqueer partners and been attracted to people of many genders – I don’t feel that changes whether I am cisgender.

  15. I agree with you in point #5 it doesn’t matter we are family, our sex preference is part of what we like not who we are..

  16. tall_cool_one

    …and (late to the party too)… just to add another wild card in there… hetero doesn’t necessarily mean fixed gender / cisgendered, or even necessarily attracted to cisgendered people. 🙂 (or necessarily not attracted to fixed gender people either… hehehh) i.e. some people just aren’t static in that department. In astrology they use the word “mutable” to describe qualities of some signs… maybe a useful word here?

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