What Is Cisgender?

You may have heard people use the word "cisgender," but never been sure exactly what it means. Or maybe you've mixed it up with the word "transgender." The terms mean different things.

Cisgender, or cis for short, means that the gender you identify with matches the sex assigned to you at birth.

By contrast, transgender is when your gender identity differs from the sex on your birth certificate. A transgender woman has male genitals at birth but identifies as female. Transgender men had female genitals at birth, but they identify as male.

People who are gay or lesbian but still identify themselves as the sex assigned to them at birth are considered 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, them, or neither.

"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 "men's" clothes or have a certain kind of haircut.

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 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.

Gay or lesbian is not the same thing as transgender or gender nonconforming. For instance, a transgender person can be straight or gay.

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.

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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 higher risk of violence and sexual assault than cisgender people. More than one out of every four trans people has experienced a hate-based assault.

Barriers to Health Care

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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella on August 15, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

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

American Psychological Association: "Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality."

bStigmaFree: "Reducing Stigma About Transgender Identities."

GLAAD: "How is sexual orientation different from gender identity?" "Transgender FAQ."

KidsHealth.org: "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.

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