A New Use For The Prefix Cis-

By Maeve Maddox

Writing about gendered pronouns recently, I mentioned that “cis female” is a gender choice on Facebook.

The prefix cis- derives from a Latin preposition meaning “on this side of.” Cisalpine Gaul, for example, was the part of Gaul located on the Italian side of the Alps. The part on the far side of the Alps was Transalpine Gaul.

More familiar prefixes derived from Latin prepositions are trans, “across, on the other side” and circum, “around.” One of their uses is to indicate location, as in this example:

Armitage boldly observes, “We are all Atlanticists now.” Then, he defines three approaches to Atlantic history, which he calls Cis-Atlantic, Trans-Atlantic, and Circum-Atlantic. Circum-Atlantic history is “the history of the people who crossed the Atlantic, who lived on its shores and who participated in the communities it made possible.”—Review of The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800.

Chemists use cis- as a prefix and as a free-standing adjective to designate “a compound in which two atoms or groups are situated on the same side of some plane of symmetry passing through the compound.”

Here are some gender-related terms that are beginning to appear in the media:
cisgender
cissexual
cis man
cis woman
cissexism
cissexual assumption

Here are examples of their usage:

“Cissexual assumption” is a phrase coined by Julia Serano for her claim that cissexual people assume that all people experience gender identity in the same way.

It seems that some of this trans woman hatred from cisgender women is based on a fear that perhaps they are taking something from us.

I’m a Cis Girl in Love with a Trans Guy.

Cis writers in every media form are jumping on the trans story train.

Cis- is the logical choice of prefix to denote “assigned at birth” in contrast with transgender, “not conforming to birth gender.”

Unfortunately, with all such labels, the danger exists that cis may become an abusive epithet. The other evening, I heard the term “cis male” used in an episode of Blue Bloods. The character, a college girl, referred to another character as “a cis male.” Her facial expression and tone of voice made it clear that she was not using the term as a neutral designation.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


6 Responses to “A New Use For The Prefix Cis-”

  • Penn

    Yet another unnecessary coinage, and an ugly little syllable to boot.

    It just brings to mind “cisplatin,” in more ways than one.

  • Sean

    I’d be careful with the term “assigned at birth,” the difficult word here being “assigned.” Such a phrase carries with it the connotation that assignments are arbitrary, like seat assignments in a classroom. Clearly, that’s not the case. Keeping with origins of the prefix “cis-“, the word “cisgender” might be better defined as “conforming to biological gender” or something that gives a similar impression of ‘this’ side of a divide.

  • Michael W. Perry

    Let one and all know that I define myself a hans-male, meaning a male who is incredibly handsome, particularly to members of the opposite sex. All women should swoon in my presence.

    I am what I think I am.

  • Heather

    Yes, I saw that on “Blue Bloods,” too.
    It was a college woman who said this to and about “Jaimie,”–a “White, cis-male.” It meant, this policy guy couldn’t possibly understand (as a White man) this idea of “fluid gender identity” that many on the campus subscribe to. Yes, it was done in a derogatory way.

    Maeve, thanks for your post on this. (And while I don’t subscribe to the “cis” designation as a meaningful one, at least in my life and in my writing, I do believe that women in college should be referred to as such, not as girls.)

    Thanks,

  • Maeve

    Heather,
    DOH! “College woman” it is. I suppose I could say that I thought she looked to be under 18 and plead the AP recommendation:
    girl: Applicable until 18th birthday is reached. Use “woman” or “young woman” afterward.
    But I won’t. I’ll just take my lumps and watch myself in future. Thanks.

  • Heather

    Thanks, Maeve, I appreciate the note.

Leave a comment: