Cisgender is a word retroformatted from transgender, which in turn was coined in 1965 from two Latin words. Cisgender is first recorded in print in 1994.
Cisgender means that you still identify as the gender by which you were identified when you were born. Suppose that you were identified as a girl when you were born: then if you identify as a woman today, you are cisgender: if you identify as a man today, you are transgender.
Mostly, people shorten this to cis for cisgender, or trans for transgender. Because it is much more common to be cisgender than to be transgender, most people who are cisgender never see a need to identify themselves as such: including me, of course, most of the time.
Babies are identified at birth – mostly – by the external appearance of their genitalia: thereafter, to the majority of people the baby meets, by their name, by the length of their hair, by the colour or style of the baby’s clothing.
At some point after babyhood, a child understands what gender they are. Trust me: they do. Ask most kids at the age of speaking coherently “are you a boy or a girl?” and you will get an indignant answer, usually delivered in toddlerhood tones of “Isn’t it obvious?” disdain.
At some point after babyhood, a child may be able to let on their parents that the gender they were identified as when they were born, is not the gender they feel themselves to be.
This doesn’t always happen in childhood. Some people realise their identified gender is wrong in adolescence: some in adulthood.
I have no idea what that would feel like. I grew up identified as a girl, identifying as a girl, and as a woman. That doesn’t mean – obviously, I am a feminist, and a lesbian – that I was comfortable with the stereotypical or conventional ideas about what being a girl or being a woman were supposed to be. Cisgender says nothing about comfort: cisgender identifies me as a person whose gender identity, from as early as I can remember, was always the same as the gender I was identified as when I was born.
But just because I have no idea what it would feel like to be certain I had been identified wrong at birth, to have a gender identity different from the one on all my from-birth documentation, doesn’t mean that I should assert this doesn’t exist.
There are enough trans people who say “This experience is real” that we cisgendered people should not spend time trying to claim it doesn’t exist.
Changing the documentation that you have been being assigned since birth is a complicated process enough without trying to make it more difficult or expensive than it needs to be.
Medical treatment to make your body more comfortable to live in – hormone treatment, surgery – is a complicated process enough without mocking or harassing people who are going through it.
Trans girls, trans women, experience sexism and misogyny just as cis girls and cis women do.
Demonising trans girls or trans women as rapists, as sexual predators, as men with a fetish about women’s bodies; this is the kind of thing I expect from the political misogynists of the Christian Right, from the US Republican Party, from the tabloid muckers at the Daily Mail and the Sun and the Telegraph.
Attacking women for being trans is not something any feminist should do. Feminism is for all women, cis or trans, lesbian or gay or bisexual or straight, for women of every ethnicity or religion or none.
Women need to stand together, not to attack each other. Women attacking women only benefits our opposition.
I am a cisgender feminist. Feminist has a T.