Stupid Words You Shouldn’t Use: Cisgender

We are obsessed with what is “normal.” We hear people saying not to “normalize” Donald Trump’s behavior toward women, or condemning our culture’s “heteronormativity” (i.e. the assumption that opposite-sex attraction is the norm, with same-sex attraction being anomalous). This concern with norms has to do with our wariness of the basic set of assumptions we share as a culture. Understandably, we do not want our assumptions to cause undue harm to any group of people. “Undue” is the key word, though. If there is, in fact, such a thing as human nature, then our assumptions should reflect that. It may be lamentable that these assumptions will inevitably impose burdens of various sorts on people who deviate from them, but it is not the role of society to assume these burdens. Indeed, there is no way to do so without imposing even greater costs on everyone.

The progressive-egalitarian left effectively wants to socialize all of the burdens borne by people who do not conform to our traditional norms. The way to do this is by radically altering our norms so that we no longer see anyone as deviant. Introduction of neologisms such as “cisgender” is one way in which the left subtly pushes to change our norms.

The term “cisgender” refers to people whose gender identity corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth. Even this is relatively ideologically laden language, though (you are chromosomally male or female long before you are born). I’d prefer to put it as follows: cisgender people are people who don’t suffer from gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a psychological disorder. I think even most trans advocates would concede that. They do not, however, believe that the desire to change one’s gender is inherently abnormal. It is only the disconnect between one’s feelings about one’s gender and the way one operates in the world that is a disorder, for trans advocates. I don’t think this is quite right, because even if you manage to transition and operate in the world as the other gender, your dysphoria isn’t exactly cured. Transition might be a good treatment for gender dysphoria, but it doesn’t make the problem go away. It is a coping mechanism that may or may not be helpful.

Given the relatively small number of people who suffer from gender dysphoria, it doesn’t make much sense to have a category devoted to people who do not suffer from it. “Cisgender” people constitute the vast majority of the population. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, shouldn’t we just assume that people don’t have gender dysphoria, much as we might assume that people don’t have other ailments, like tuberculosis or AIDS? We don’t have a word that specifically describes the condition of not having each particular disease or disorder, so why do we have one for people who do not suffer from gender dysphoria?

To “normalize” the transgender experience, of course. To use the word “cisgender” is to tacitly affirm that being transgender is just as normal as not being transgender, even though this just isn’t the case. Sex and gender identity don’t vary independently. People who experience gender dysphoria are rare, and their experience is a deviation from the norm. The way we speak ought to reflect that. When I say that men can’t give birth, or that women don’t have Y chromosomes, I shouldn’t need to qualify my statement.

It’s important for me to add a disclaimer here: I am not expressing a moral judgment about transgender people and others who suffer from gender dysphoria. I am, however, making a claim about what we ought to consider normal, and how this should be reflected in our language. My hope for transgender people is that they will be able to find a good way to cope with their dysphoria and operate in the world without too much difficulty. But destroying our traditional understanding of the relationship between sex and gender just isn’t the right way to go about helping transgender people, as it’s not clear that it will actually make anything better for anyone, and it will almost certainly make things worse for most of us.


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