Cissexist vocabulary

I have a very specific set of vocabulary I use when discussing gender variance and trans issues. Although it has tweaked and developed over time, I don’t always stop to explain my reasoning for why I use one particular term and not another. Florence Ashley reviews some of the vocabulary used commonly in the media, and explains why other terms are preferable.

Prioritisation of cisgender embodiment

Terms such as “biological woman”, “genetic woman”, “chromosomal woman”, “woman-born-woman”, “biological sex”, and “real woman” are common. This terminological family prioritises cisgender embodiment by associating gender to cisgender anatomy, erasing the possibility of transitude, or relegating it to anomalousness or liminality.

These terms — let us take the term “biological woman” as an example — insinuate that trans women are not biologically women. Cis women are designated as women in every aspect, whereas trans women are excluded from the category of “woman” in some aspects of their being. If cis women are biological, genetic, chromosomal, and born women, it must be that trans women are biological, genetic, chromosomal, or born men. Quite contrary to terms that are closer to trans realities, such as “assigned male at birth”.

By affirming the invariable character of gender and by privileging the experience of cis people, trans women are relegated to the background as quasi-women, sometimes-women. The lived experiences of trans women who have identified as such since childhood is ignored. An artificial and undue division between trans women and cis women is created, weaponising the body of trans women in a way that excludes them from sisterhood.

Read more here.



  1. anat says

    Thank you for bringing the article to my attention.

    Humans like neat divisions into clear categories, and then have to struggle with the messiness of reality. As a biologist I know the natural world is messy and doesn’t particularly care about our preferences nor about the frameworks we use to simplify reality. So it is not surprising that for any division humans try to demarcate, there will be counter-examples that straddle the dividing line. When this applies to social interactions and people’s place in society we must remember that people come before concepts. That treating people with dignity comes before the neatness of our categorization system. And if we find this confusing we’ll just have to embrace the confusion and learn more, rather than force our concepts where they are inadequate.