Names, descriptors, titles – these are all vital tools in order to have conversations that serve to educate ourselves and others about anything. We use language to develop concepts and identities within phenomena so that we can continue to explore and discuss them. Over time a concept gains an identity – it becomes normal and understood because society has had the ability to understand its existence.
Transgender (“trans”) is defined as someone who identifies with a gender that is different from the one assigned to them at birth. Cisgender (“cis”) is defined as someone who identifies with the gender that was assigned to them at birth. Most people don’t second guess or question the decision their parent(s)/guardian(s), or health care provider made regarding whether they were a boy or a girl. But some people do…they start to wonder if the gender they were assigned is correct – if it’s who they truly are.
Being cisgender is often seen as being “normal” because cisgender people make up the majority of society. In 2016, according to the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/01/health/transgender-population.html), about 0.5% of the adults in the United States of America identify as Transgender/Gender Nonconforming. Even though that seems like a very small percentage, it’s still roughly 1.4 million individuals; and this statistic doesn’t even include people under the age of 18.
As a T/GNC person explores their gender, they start to realize that not everyone has to question their identity. Their peers are satisfied with the gendered expectations that are in place. They don’t mind wearing the clothes, or playing with the toys, or behaving a certain way that is considered traditional for their assigned gender. Often times T/GNC people can feel like they’re drifting further and further away from the “norm” and they may feel isolated and alone.
There is a lack of knowledge and visibility because of the limited conversations about the T/GNC community. Since there are so few self-identified T/GNC adults, it’s hard for the them to educate the rest of society about these issues and their very real identities. This is why identifying as “cisgender” is important.
By identifying as cisgender you are doing a few things:
- Normalize questioning your gender identity
Identifying as cisgender begins to move away from the concept of a default “normal.” The current standard of society is that when a child is born, they are assigned a gender due to their physiology, and they grow up with gendered expectations and they are fine. But we know that sometimes this is not the case. By identifying as cisgender you acknowledge that the “normal” we know is just one potential outcome of gender identity.
- Spark conversations about gender identity
Since cisgender is a fairly new term, claiming this identity can spark conversation about gender identity. You will get questions about what it is, why you are identifying with it, etc. and this can start a conversation. This is an excellent opportunity to have conversations with your friends and family about gender identity. As a cisgender person it’s easier to have a conversation about gender identity and approach another cisgender person. Often times when a T/GNC individual attempts to educate a cisgender person about gender identity, the conversation can get steered to the T/GNC individual’s private journey which can be very uncomfortable and inappropriate.
- Educate your peers about the T/GNC community
The questions you are receiving about being cisgender are a much milder version of what members of the T/GNC community face when they come out. Having these conversations can alleviate some of the burden from the T/GNC community and can make you a successful ally because now you are educating your cis-peers!
As a cisgender person, it is your responsibility to be an ally to the T/GNC community. There will be times where you need to advocate for them; which means that you will need: to educate your friends/family, educate yourself, support and validate T/GNC individuals, and listen what needs they are communicating. If you need more information there are plenty of online resources, local LGBTQ Community Centers, social media support groups, and books to look into!
Here are some local North East Ohio Resources!
LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland: https://lgbtcleveland.org/
Equality Ohio: https://www.equalityohio.org/
Margie’s Hope: http://margieshope.org/