“Cis gay man”

Is the phrase “cis gay man” offensive?

A gay man does not conform to the male stereotype, which is heterosexual. He does not pretend to conform, if he is Out, and he is gay not as a matter of choice but because of who he is. His expression of himself as a gay man contradicts and subverts that male stereotype, whether he is conventionally masculine apart from his attractions, or not.

More broadly, there would be more than two groups, whether you consider who people are, in their inward selves, or how we behave. There are those who fit fairly comfortably within the male stereotype, those who do not but pretend to, those who do not fit and do not conform, and those who transition. Those who pretend to fit are oppressed by gender- are they “cis”?

For me, the word “cis” simply means “not trans”. A cis gay man is someone who does not self identify as a (trans) woman, and presents as male, however camp. This is true whether Trans is something we are at the core of our being, so that I really am a woman, or a choice we make because transition is most comfortable, given the circumstances. I am trans because I have transitioned, even though I claim to be a feminine man who could not bear my attempt to conform to the male stereotype, so fled it.

If “cis” simply means not trans, it can include gender non-conforming people, and those oppressed by the stereotype. There is some problem when we talk of “cis privilege”, which they have only to the extent that they pretend to conform, and we never have. “Passing privilege” is something different. There is a grey area with people who are perfectly androgynous in presentation- you can’t always tell what gonads someone has, just by looking at them- but few people are in that grey area.

Am I boring you? I am almost boring myself. I read the suggestion that “cis gay man” is offensive, somewhere on the internet, and must use my felicity with words to establish that that suggestion is hostile to trans people, and unjustified. I have a right to exist.

I have a right to exist anyway, but now find myself in need of seeking to reassure myself of that. I can name me and not-me without being offensive!

I wish gender non-conforming could cease to be a thing, just be part of ordinary human expression. It is a thing because someone finds it objectionable or surprising- a child in the playground, a colleague, a passer-by on the street- and expresses offence, or displeasure, or institutes some sanction; and because we are permanently hurt by such displeasure, and ever after inflict those sanctions on ourselves; or we go into fight mode, always alert for the displeasure and armed to resist it.


Oh God, it’s frightening. The intolerant are the enemy, those who want to force us all into tiny gender conforming boxes, men, only ever attracted to women, never expressing any feeling but anger, and life would be so much easier if-

What does “cis” mean?

Well, it depends what “trans” means.

First, cis means not trans, as in trans-lunar or cis-lunar (this side of the moon), or cis-trans isomerism in organic chemistry; and not trans as in cis woman. The term prevents people othering us. Unless it is relevant, refer to a “woman” or a “person”- if trans status is really relevant, women are cis women or trans women. The only alternative is some variation of real v fake, or normal v queer. Yes you are a woman, but some are more woman than you– whether because they menstruate, or because of their upbringing, or for some other criterion you cannot possibly fulfil. Or, you are not a woman.

Cissexual has a clear meaning. It means someone has not physically transitioned from one sex to the other- though some deny that is possible. Someone who has not had SRS, then, and does not want it- because I was transsexual before my operation, because I wanted it. Cisgendered is more difficult. Everyone breaks gender rules. No-one is happy with all gender stereotypes. We express different parts of our personalities at different times, and when in purely professional role might be agendered, as in the moment of a doctor performing a physical examination. The doctor is still a man or a woman, but that does not matter.

If cis means “not trans”, then if we want a big tent, to include and affirm as many potentially trans people as possible, it becomes more difficult to say someone is definitely excluded, because everyone is redefining and influencing gender roles. Roles do not stay the same, not even “Biblical” understandings of gender roles, but are continually reinterpreted.

And yet if “cis” does not have a precise meaning, it still has use as a generalisation. If someone does not identify as trans, then calling them cis is no insult. Some of us fight gender stereotypes in this particular way. No radical feminist denies she is a woman.

None of this is clear cut. It resists clear definitions. I was rebuked for using the word “transsexual”- it implies that you need to have, or want, surgery to be proper trans, she said. Well, I want the big tent, and no-one should be required to undergo sterilisation before they can have gender recognition; but she can assert that without disparaging or erasing my experience. We are trans in different ways. No-one’s way of being trans means that some other way is impermissible or inauthentic. And no-one should disparage other ways of being trans, in an attempt to be accepted. Some cis people accept trans people, and some cis people do not; but no cis person imagines that one way of being trans is acceptable and real and other ways are not.

I started on this line inspired by Julia Serano again, but have gone off on my own line. She is worth reading. It is my current intention to blog again on 31 August, though it is possible I will before then.

William Blake Ruth, the dutiful daughter in law