Cisgender has nothing to do with an individual’s sexual orientation. Therefore how do sex and gender differ and where does cisgender fall within the spectrum of gender identities?
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Cisgender is a segment of the larger spectrum of gender identities. Also referred to as “cis,” it describes an individual whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth. Therefore if an individual assigned sex at birth is female and identifies as a girl or a woman they are a cisgender woman.
Gender is a social construct that refers to roles and behaviors that society assigns as being masculine or feminine. The construct infers behaviors that are accepted or appropriate based on how an individual behaves, speaks, dresses, sits, etc.
Today, gender is viewed as a spectrum where an individual might identify as one gender, more than one gender, or no gender. The definitions are often subtle and can often overlap, co-exist, and/or change. Gender identities include:
The terms cis woman or cis female are used to describe individuals who were assigned female at birth and identify as a woman or female. For cisgender woman, this means their gender identity aligns with their primary sex organs and secondary sex traits that include:
It can also involve cisnormativity – a concept that everyone identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. This could inform how a cis woman is expected to dress and act. An even more extreme concept is gender essentialism – this is the belief that gender differences are rooted purely in biology and cannot be changed. However, even cisnormativity beauty standards can influence the perceptions of transgender women that end up reinforcing gender stereotypes. (Monteiro D, Poulakis M. 2019)
Cisgender privilege is the concept that individuals who are cisgender receive added benefits compared to individuals who don’t conform to the gender binary norm. This includes cisgender women and men. Privilege happens when a cisgender individual assumes they are the norm and consciously or unconsciously takes action against those who are outside the definition of masculine and feminine. Examples of cisgender privilege include:
Clayton, J. A., & Tannenbaum, C. (2016). Reporting Sex, Gender, or Both in Clinical Research? JAMA, 316(18), 1863–1864. doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.16405
Monteiro, Delmira and Poulakis, Mixalis (2019) “Effects of Cisnormative Beauty Standards on Transgender Women’s Perceptions and Expressions of Beauty,” Midwest Social Sciences Journal: Vol. 22: Iss. 1, Article 10. DOI: doi.org/10.22543/2766-0796.1009 Available at: scholar.valpo.edu/mssj/vol22/iss1/10
Moleiro, C., & Pinto, N. (2015). Sexual orientation and gender identity: review of concepts, controversies and their relation to psychopathology classification systems. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1511. doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01511
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