Elijah Luke Michel explores the origins of the term ‘cisgender’ and searches for an alternative to appease those who find it offensive.

Over the years I have often wondered who coined the term ‘cisgender’ and what they were thinking?

Innocently introduced in 1994 to highlight cis-normativity and cis-sexism (a bias towards cisgender people) by researcher Dana Defosse, she said in a HuffPost article that the term ‘cis’ was never intended to hurt others and she never believed, “adding the word to the lexicon caused problems – it only revealed them.”


With Latin roots, the word ‘cis’ means ‘on this side of’ and it has predominantly been used in scientific and medical realms. However, now that it’s being incorporated into social arenas (and at times accusingly bandied about), it’s time to assess how helpful – or unhelpful  – to both the transgender and cisgender communities the term can be.

I wonder how disingenuous it is to use a term that when spoken (the C is pronounced like an S) sounds like sis, as in sister, or worse, sissy. How unhelpful it is to the cisgender community – especially men as the prefix pronunciation denotes the feminine or a derogatory term for effeminate males – and therefore to the trans community, as it creates further dissension?

After Elon Musk banned the words ‘cis’ and ‘cisgender’ from Twitter/X earlier this year labelling them ‘slurs’, Jordan Peterson tweeted, “Call me cis to my face and see what happens.” I decided to ask cis-gendered (those whose brains match the gender they were assigned at birth) people outside the Rainbow Community if they had heard the term and what it meant to them:

– “I’ve heard of it but don’t know the meaning. A sister who is transgender?”

– “No idea. It implies something faulty rather than gender dysphoria which does not because it is an explanation.” (10 points for knowing the term gender dysphoria albeit confusing cisgender with transgender).

– “Yes, but only recently, and ‘cis male’ was one of the most Googled terms in 2023 apparently. Is it to do with the gender assigned at birth and then what you identify as? If the above is correct then I think it’s a great way for people to describe what they identify as, versus what they were assigned at birth.” (Again, kudos for understanding the premise despite confusion about which is which).

– “Cis (Sis) means female to me, but I really do not know.”

– “I have heard of ‘cis’ not cisgender. I’ve only ever heard it used as an insult or to put down white males. I feel pretty much like I do about any discrimination – that it is offensive.”

– “I have recently heard of it [and find] women seem to be more accepting than the traditional males.”

– “Yes, someone who identifies with the gender they were born with. How do I feel about [the term] cisgender? I don’t. If a person is a human being then I don’t care if they are cisgender or otherwise.”

As you can see from the responses above, most were unaware of the meaning thus unaware the term actually pertains to them.

I recently saw a protest sign calling out the ‘cistem’. Whilst a clever play on words, it is, effectively, what the respondent above was pertaining to when she said she’d only heard it being used to put down white males. Blaming someone for something outside of their control (skin shade or gender) is, as we all know, unkind.

An alternative word, one that expresses cis’ meaning in a way that would be more beneficial to both communities, would be ideal. ‘Snartgendered’ is the literal opposite of transgendered, but I’m sure some antagonist would try and claim it as “smart”.