What 'Cisgender' Really Means — And How It's Different From Being Straight

It's really not all that complicated.

smiling woman AlessandroBiascioli / Shutterstock

Gender identity, orientation, and expression are increasingly common topics of discussion among just about everyone currently living in the U.S.

As we continue to gain have a greater understanding of LGBTQIA+ terminology and the spectrum of human sexual orientation and gender identity, it should be no surprise if the term "cisgender" has popped up in the mix of new words you've seen that seemingly lack clear definitions.


What does "cis" or "cisgender" mean?

The term cisgender is used to describe someone whose gender identity (i.e., woman or man), gender expression (i.e., feminine or masculine), and biological sex (i.e., female or male) all align.

"Cis" is simply a shortened, gender-neutral version meaning the same thing.

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The dictionary defines cisgender as "noting or relating to a person whose gender identity corresponds with that person’s sex assigned at birth."

If you identify as the gender you were born, as you may very well be cisgender.

For example, if someone is assigned female at birth (biological sex), identifies as a woman when they grow up (gender identity/orientation), and presents as a woman to the outside world, she is a cisgender woman.

The same goes for someone who's assigned male at birth, identifies as a man, and presents as a man to the outside world.

A cisgender woman may also be referred to as a cis woman, and if she is both cisgender and heterosexual, she may be referred to as "cishet." Likewise, a cisgender man may be referred to as a cis man, and if he is both cisgender and heterosexual, he may be referred to as cishet as well.


A pansexual cis woman is a person who identifies as a woman and was born a woman, but is sexually attracted to all genders, including cis, non-binary, and transgender people.

Where did the term "cisgender" come from?

The word "cisgender" was actually coined in academic journals in the 1990s. It gained popularity in 2007 after transgender theorist Julia Serano wrote about it in her book, "Whipping Girl."

Over the next decade, activists, scholars, and online platforms helped to spread the word — literally. "CIS" became a trending hashtag on Twitter and pronouns became a trend in Instgram bios.

Now, it's in the basic lexicon of our everyday lives.


Think of the word cisgender as an equivalent contrast of the word transgender.

In Latin, the prefix cis- means "on this side of," where trans- means "on the other side of."

A transgender woman may be referred to as a transwoman, a transgender man may be referred to as a transman; as is the case for people of any gender, their sexual orientation may fall into any of the number of identities on the spectrum of human sexuality.

What percentage of the population identify as cisgender?

While it's difficult to find a statistically reliable record of how many people in the U.S. are cisgender, transgender, neither or other, it's been estimated that about 1 in every 250 adults, or almost 1 million Americans (0.39% of the population), identify as transgender.


That figure is believed to be underestimated and is expected to rise in the future.

It should also be noted that the percentage of transgender individuals, or people who identify as transgender, is higher in international studies, nor is it necessarily inclusive of people whose identifies aren't either cis or transgender — such as genderfluid, gender non-conforming, agender, non-binary, genderqueer, and so on — or those born intersex, for whom the constructs of biological sex and gender may be even more fraught.

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What is cis privilege?

Serano says the best way to understand the seemingly new nature of these gender orientations is by considering the parallel use of homosexual and heterosexual as terms.


"There was a time when there were homosexual people and everyone else was considered to be the 'normal' people," Serrano further explains. "Now, people think of themselves as straight or heterosexual," but they don't necessarily think being so makes them any more "normal" than anyone else.

That doesn't mean cisgender people are "normal" and everyone else isn't, but it does mean many have thought that way until recently. This is cis privilege.

Why is it important to learn about the spectrum of sexuality?

Since being transgender isn't as simple as being either a woman or man living in the body of the opposite biological sex, no discussion of gender is as simple as black and white.

Cisgender has now been added to major dictionaries, and social media forums are continually expanding the options provided for users when selecting their gender identification.


While some cis people see the label as an insult, it's not. The thing is, it's really not about you.

For Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, a better understanding of what it means to be transgender is critical in the fight against transphobia and the violence too frequently encountered by trans men and women.

"The lack of understanding of our humanity continues to cause us to face disrespect, discrimination, and violence, and is actually killing us," Keisling wisely says. "And when trans people face that and other issues like racism, ableism, and xenophobia, the disrespect and violence can be so much worse."

And Serano believes learning about the spectrum of human sexuality and gender orientation should be a given for us all.


People who are cisgender and have never had to consciously label themselves as such still have a gender identity, Serano says, "it's just not one that is challenged or questioned."

"People don't go around all the time thinking of themselves as a straight woman or a heterosexual man," she continues, "but it becomes useful when you're talking about the ways in which people are treated differently in society."

Does cisgender mean straight?

No, cis or cisgender does not mean someone is straight. Many believe the two are correlated when the opposite is true. That is, they describe two completely different things.

Healthline Media, a digital platform dedicated to medical advice, released an article on why cis does not mean straight, which was medically reviewed by Janet Brito Ph.D. LCSW CST.


The article explained that cisgender is a term used to describe gender identity, and straight is used to describe sexual orientation.

Though they may overlap in some situations, that is not the same case for everyone.

In the end, of course, we're all human.

Gender is a socially constructed concept.

Male and female. Transgender and cisgender. Straight, gay, and everything in between.

Neither our sexuality nor our gender defines the totality of who we are as individuals, and we should treat others as such, no matter how they identify.

RELATED: Why Cisgender Actors Should Never Be Cast In Transgender Roles — Under Any Circumstances

Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who has written hundreds of articles about relationships, trending news and entertainment, numerology and astrology. Follow her on Twitter for more.