Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 09, 2020

What Is Cisgender?

Cisgender, or cis, means that the gender you identify with matches the sex assigned to you at birth. Transgender is when your gender identity differs from the sex on your birth certificate. In Latin, “cis” means “on this side,” while “trans” means “on the other side.”

A transgender woman had male genitals at birth but identifies as female. A transgender man had female genitals at birth but identifies as male.

People who are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual and still identify themselves as the sex assigned to them at birth are cisgender.

Sex and Gender Identity

Not everyone's sex at birth lines up with their gender identity. That identity is how you see yourself and what you call yourself -- he, she, they, or neither. Non-binary gender identity is when your gender identity isn’t one of the two categories used in modern society -- a man or a woman.

Some examples of non-binary gender identities include:

  • Genderqueer
  • Gender fluid
  • Agender
  • Bigender

Some people are gender nonconforming. That means they don't follow social expectations of how a person of a particular gender should dress or act.

Gender expression is how you show the world your gender. It includes the way you dress, groom yourself, and act. Someone who identifies as male, for instance, may dress in what’s considered "men's" clothes or have a certain kind of haircut.

In rare cases, people can be born with or develop issues with their external genitals, reproductive organs, or sex-related hormones. These are known as intersex conditions or disorders of sex development (DSD). They include things like:

  • Genitals that can’t be easily categorized as male or female
  • Gender differences between the genitals and the reproductive organs
  • Missing or underdeveloped reproductive organs
  • Too many or too few sex hormones or an unusual response to these hormones

Gender Identity vs. Sexual Orientation

The term sexual orientation is different from gender identity. It has to do with the gender for which you feel sexual desire or attraction. For example, a straight or heterosexual person feels attraction toward people of the opposite sex. Straight men find women attractive, while straight women feel attraction toward men.

Gay or lesbian means your attraction is to someone of the same sex. Gay men like other men. Lesbian women like other women. Bisexual people find both sexes attractive. Asexual people might not feel sexual attraction or may have little interest in having sex.

Gay, lesbian, or bisexual isn’t the same thing as transgender or gender nonconforming. For instance, a transgender person can be straight or gay.

Transgender Stigma

Societies often have fixed ideas about gender and what it means to be male or female. People who don't meet those expectations may face stigma. They may face harassment or even physical abuse because of their gender identity.

People can also face discrimination at work and when trying to find housing because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Thirty percent of transgender people surveyed said their company had fired them, denied them a promotion, or mistreated them in some way due to their gender identity or expression.

Transgender people -- especially transgender women of color -- are at a higher risk of violence and sexual assault than cisgender people. More than 1 out of every 4 trans people have experienced a hate-based assault.

Gender identity can also lead to health inequalities. Transgender people are more likely than cisgender people to have long-term stress, mental health issues, and medical conditions due to stigma.

Many transgender people lack health insurance, which may be because they have higher rates of unemployment. Without insurance, it's harder for them to see doctors and use other health care services.

Even when they do have insurance and can make doctors’ appointments, they may find that their doctors and nurses don't have the training to care for transgender people. And they may face harassment and may not get care -- especially if the sex on the ID they present at the time of service does not match their gender identity.

Other examples of areas where cisgender people may have more access or privilege than transgender people can include:

  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Legal protection

Show Sources


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: "It's Sarah, Not Stephen!"

American Psychological Association: "Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality," “Key Terms and Concepts in Understanding Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation Among Students.”

bStigmaFree: "Reducing Stigma About Transgender Identities."

GLAAD: "How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?" "Transgender FAQ." "Sexual Attraction and Orientation."

Human Rights Campaign: "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions," "Understanding the Transgender Community," "Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2019."

National Center for Transgender Equality: "Issues: Anti-Violence," "The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey."

Richards, C. Sexuality and Gender for Mental Health Professionals: A Practical Guide, SAGE Publishing, 2013.

SAGE Open: "Gender Roles and Expectations: Any Changes Online?"

Social Science & Medicine: "Transgender stigma and health: A critical review of stigma determinants, mechanisms, and interventions."

Sylvia Rivera Law Project: "Fact Sheet: Transgender & Gender Nonconforming Youth in School."

Kanigel, R. The Diversity Style Guide, Wiley-Blackwell, 2019. “Cisgender Privilege.”

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