Cis Is Not A Slur, Grues.

I guess, at the very least, interacting with the transphobes can provide a bit of amusement every now and then. Most of the arguments and positions are just the plain old exasperating kind of ridiculous, but every once in a while, you come across ones that are haha ridiculous.

Like “Grr! Stop calling me cis! That’s a slur! Grr!”

I wish it were physiologically possible to roll my eyes as hard as this demands, but sadly I’ll have to settle for less. Right now, I am a profoundly nonplussed emoticon trapped in a human face.

First of all, let’s just clarify the etymology here, because most of these people seem to have never taken an organic chemistry class (and brace yourselves for yet another hilariously bad argument that yes, people really do make):

“Cis” is NOT etymologically derived from the same supposedly violent root as “homocide”/”suicide” and “incision”/ “excision”/ “precise”. So cut out that idiotic urban myth right the fuck now. It is from the latin prefix “cis”, meaning “on the same side”, which has an EXTREMELY well-lived convention as a value-neutral antonym to the prefix “trans”, meaning (in this context), “across”. Like cis-acting molecules and trans-acting molecules.

So it pretty much just means “not trans”. Unless you want to argue that being called “not trans” is some kind of awful, demeaning thing (and please do, because there’s a chance I’d be extremely sympathetic to anyone arguing that trans people are so bloody fabulous that anyone reminding you you aren’t one of us is some horribly triggering insult), you don’t really have much of a leg to stand on here. They’re on the exact same semantic level.

(and that’s kind of the point… you know, specifically having a term that isn’t value-loaded. That’s what “cis” is there for)

Now, sometimes this is where the cis (OH NOES! Sorry!!!) people may start whining about external labeling, that they didn’t choose the term, that groups have the right to self-define the terms that describe them, that we’re forcing it on them, etc. Okay… take a deep breath, because this might come as a bit of a shock: we didn’t choose “transsexual” for ourselves either.

Kind of sucks, having terms you’re not necessarily comfortable with being imposed externally, does it? Feels a bit uncomfortable to have to articulate your gender within some kind of larger framework, where you’re not being accepted as unqualified, or treated as simply “normal”, simply who you are?

This is the world’s tiniest person doing the “world’s tiniest violin playing just for you” thing just for you:


Deal with it.

After all, you keep expecting us to deal with it. That and much, much, much more.

And you know? This isn’t about self-definition. When you try to “self-define” the terms for cis, which is also conceptually categorized as simply “not trans”, you’re not defining some particular location in some particular generally recognized set of genders. You’re definitively positioning yourself in relation to us. There is never a circumstance in which a cis person needs to call hirself cis (or zyspolak, or combritariolo, or whatever the hell you want to “self-define”) except when it’s semantically necessary to position oneself in relationship or contrast to trans people. This is not about a particular identity wanting the right to choose their own labels. It’s about a privileged, oppressive majority wanting to be able to control the conceptual frameworks around the disadvantaged other, and not wanting to cede even the tiniest square centimeter of linguistic ground. “How DARE you uppity trannies try to take any part in the language we’ve built around you! How DARE you challenge our right to semantically Other you and position ourselves as so thoroughly privileged that it’s impossible to even mention our existence without conceding that we’re the normal, superior, biological, real ones and you’re not!”

No sympathy for whatever silly, arrogant, privileged distaste you’ve got for the term, born of your ridiculously overinflated sense of entitlement around gender and your “right” to take it for granted. NONE. Like remember House of Leaves? And the big, impossibly immense empty spaces in the House? That were, like, deeper than the Earth itself? And kept expanding? That’s how empty whatever part of me you expect to sympathize with this argument is.

And I mean, come on, for fuck’s sake, do you have any recognition of how hard we’ve gone out of our way to not be bitches about all this stuff? How hard we have worked to be respectful in this discourse, despite the COMPLETELY MONSTROUS AND UNFORGIVABLE ATROCITIES you all repeatedly and continuously enact against us? I mean, by all rights, we should be self-immolating like Tibetan monks in front of your Womyn-Born-Womyn festivals and Bathroom Bill debates. The way you’ve treated us would make almost any level of anger, vehemence and disgust contextually understandable. But still we work to maintain civility and compassion and reason. We still limit our “extremist” acts of self-empowerment and radicalism to symbolic threats, there’s still been no incident of any trans person ever unleashing her anger in the form of unprovoked violence towards a cis person, we still bite our tongues and try to hint and politely suggest that we’d, you know, if it’s not too much trouble, rather you didn’t misgender us, or ask us about our genitals within five minutes of meeting us, or “kindly” tell us how you’d totally be “willing” to fuck us. Pretty please. With estrace on top.

And we still, when trying to reclaim the vocabulary for ourselves, deliberately avoid using a disparaging or hostile term for you. We pick the most basic, respectful, neutral, non-loaded term we can possible find.

And how do you react to our utterly unbelievably saint-like patience with you? To the fact that you, unlike all other privileged majorities, do not have a hostile, derogatory term used by those you’ve oppressed to describe you?

You complain about it anyway.

So fuck you. Here’s how this is going to work: I’ve figured out a solution, with a little help from my friend DJ Capelis. We’ve settled on a derogatory slur for you. “Grues”. Short (read: infantilizing) for “Gender Congruent”.

(and also because you have a habit of killing us after it gets dark)

So from now, whenever I’m having one of those days where I hate people like you, and want nothing to do with you whatsoever, and would rather just run off to some kind of magical Trans Island and never have to put up with your bigotry, ignorance, dehumanization, ridicule or omnipresent threat ever again, I’m going to just call you ‘grues’. Fucking stupid grues. Called me “dude”? Grue asshole. Getting defensive when I express annoyance with an act of supposedly ‘accidental’ misgendering? Whiny, entitled grue. Casually joking about male anatomy in front of a trans guest at my party, immediately after she arrives? Naive, oblivious, insensitive grues. Etc.

That way, although if you’re white and male and straight and such you’ll still NEVER know what it feels like to be the subject of an actual hate-loaded slur, one associated with violence, murder and systemic oppression, at least you’ll have some sense of the difference between “slur” and “value-neutral latin prefix”. And if we’re lucky, you’ll come to have at least a little appreciation for us having had the patience, kindness and sense of respect (even for a group whose boot has been on our necks our whole lives) to refer to you by the latter of the two.



  1. Anders says


    The appearance of Grue remains largely unknown due to their quick speeds and aversion to light. They are known to possess slavering fangs, razor-sharp claws, and make horrible gurgling noises. According to some, it has a fish-mouthed head.

    I must protest. I keep my nails neatly trimmed and I take medication to prevent unseemly drooling.

    • Anders says

      Did you know this was a monster in a computer game? Because the way we treat you it seems oddly appropriate… 🙁

      • dorfl says

        (and also because you have a habit of killing us after it gets dark)

        The grue is specifically the monster that kills you if you wander around without a light source, so she definitely did intend the allusion to the game monster.

        (it was originally invented to keep unsporting players from just wandering around the dungeons at random, without bothering to bring a lamp or torch or something)

      • Timid Atheist says

        I’m sure she knows, if for no other reason than from her comment in parenthesis.

        (and also because you have a habit of killing us after it gets dark)

        “You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.”

        I always hated when I’d bork the game that way. Damn Grues.

  2. says

    Have any of the people who have complained to you about the “cis” label suggested how they would like to be referred to? I’m just curious, if these folks have a preferred term, or if they’re just like, “I’m normal, so you don’t need an adjective to describe that!” or something equally lame.

    • says

      From what I’ve seen, no. The objection is solely to being labeled in any fashion at all against their will; something they’re entirely happy to do other people without the slightest concern.

      • Sas says

        Same here. If you ask them directly what term they’d prefer, they usually come back with either what James put in quotes, or something along the lines of “I want to be called a gay male and that’s IT!” and then something about how if trans people don’t want to be called “trannies” then they aren’t allowed to use a word for cis people.

      • ik says

        I’ve never thought it like a slur, but have occasionally been frustrated by the expectation that everybody seemed to be mentioning it. Especially given that EVERYBODY in the discussion was trans tolerant and it was only relevant when people talked about transition or whatever.

        The specific context was an enviroment that was mostly people who deviated from ‘normalacy’ in their gender or sexuality despite the fact that the discussion was supposed to be fairly mainstream-focused.

      • Anders says

        Cis- and trans- should really only be used when it is important to distinguish the two. And really, how often is it relevant that Natalie is “a trans woman” rather than “a woman.” It is important on this blog, of course but otherwise?

        Maybe if people stopped worrying about these terms (except in cases where it’s important, e.g. highlighting the risks that plague trans people for being trans) we could all sit around the camp fire and sing Kumbaya together. Except you really don’t want to hear me sing. Seriously.

        • NMF says

          idk, friend. ‘Trans*’ is a pretty damn important part of my identity to me, if only as an act of resistance against the fact that it makes me that much more likely to be abused by medical professionals, be fired from jobs or not hired at all, lose my home, be assaulted, raped, or killed, misgendered, lose friends, be disowned by loved ones, etc– if my family didn’t abuse me for expressing my gender to the point at which I developed a chronic anxiety disorder, if I didn’t have rocks thrown at me in the street where I used to live…

          Maybe we could hold hands and sing kumbaya and I could just be a happy nonbinary with all my sisters and siblings and brothers, no labels needed… if the above wasn’t true.

          I take strength in calling myself trans*. I take strength in having a family and a community in other trans* people (not counting those white straight trans men who are shitty to all other trans people and pretty much count as honorary grues in my book). I take strength in identifying as trans* despite the fact that the world really doesn’t want me to. Cissupremacist culture would really like me to shut the fuck up, stop “flaunting it”, and assimilate. Nope, that’s not what I’m doing. I am unapologetically, fiercely trans*, thanks for asking. Whether it’s relevant in your eyes or not– because it’s always relevant to how I’m treated. I don’t get to magically not be read as trans* in my interactions with cis people.

    • says

      Usually just the latter, wanting to be called “normal” or feeling they’re so normal they shouldn’t have to be called anything. Sometimes they’ll express the preference for “genetic”, “biological”, “real”. And sometimes rad-fems will say I’M JUST A WOMAN, THAT’S WHAT I AM AND YOU’RE NOT and stuff.

    • Cluisanna says

      *cough* Using “lame” as a negative descriptive word is not very nice nor tolerant. Just wanted to point that out.

    • says

      most grues just want to be called “men” or “women”. some of them even suggest we add adjectives like “bio”, “natal”, “natural”, or “genetic”. gag, right?

      fucking grues. i’m loving it, natalie!

    • alliecat says

      One time I actually asked a complainer to come up with an alternative that they’d be happy with, excluding “normal”/”biological”/”genetic”/etc. Did I get a response? Noooooooooooo

  3. eric says

    I think its nice to see some chemistry terms being used in other contexts.

    Anyone who objects to the term, start here if you want to know the modern non-social usage. And I challenge any objectors to explain how being compared to a molecule that has two functional groups on the same side could constitute a slur. Talk about reaching for something to be offended about!

    • Megan says

      Also: cis- and trans-alpine Gaul in the context of Roman history, if you’re more inclined to the humanities than to the sciences…

      • says

        Another historical usage: in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the two halves of the Empire were known as “Cisleithania” and “Transleithania” respectively.

      • TrannyLeftyFroggy says

        For a more recent use of “Cis”, consider “Cisjordan”, another name for what’s known in English as the “West Bank”. It is, literally, “what’s on the same side of the Jordan [River]”.

        Note, of course, the interesting political connotation in the fact that “same side” is obviously from the point of view of Israel. Just like the value-neutral “cis” in “cisgender” tends to be interpreted as “normal”, the “Cis” in “Cisjordan” tends to be interpreted as “it’s ours” in some circles…

        • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

          The country now known as Jordan was very recently the Emirate of Transjordan, or Transjordan for short.

    • says

      Well everyone knows that the cis conformation is more stericly hindered or stressed. And really who wants to be call stressed?

      Now everyone carry a torch to keep the grues at bay (Such a geeky term) ;P

    • Anders says

      I think we should call people (E)- and (Z)- sexuals instead.

      Also, anyone with me to form a group to reclaim the term?

      • says

        “E” and “Z” sexuals as opposed to what?

        There’s been a movement to force “zesexual” into usage as an antonym for “asexual” because some sexual people were getting mad at being called sexual. (Get it? A to Z?) But it’s so eye-rollingly stupid, and not to mention nobody in the English-speaking world outside of the US actually says “zee” for the last letter of the Roman alphabet, that I doubt it will catch on.

        • Anders says

          Chemistry joke. (E)- and (Z)- terminology is a more informative way of saying ‘cis’ and ‘trans’. It can handle some situations that cis/trans can’t.

    • Alice in Wonderland says

      I just came across another use of the prefixes, this one from astrophysics: “cislunar space” (meaning the volume of space lying within the moon’s orbit; as opposed to “translunar space,” which would be the volume of space which is outside of the moon’s orbit).

      I don’t know much chemistry or latin, so it was directly thanks to Natalie that I could immediately guess what “cislunar space” meant upon encountering the term.

  4. Gen, The Longest Tealdeer says

    I wish it were physiologically possible to roll my eyes as hard as this demands, but sadly I’ll have to settle for less. Right now, I am a profoundly nonplussed emoticon trapped in a human face

    No sympathy for whatever silly, arrogant, privileged distaste you’ve got for the term, born of your ridiculously overinflated sense of entitlement around gender and your “right” to take it for granted.

    Absolutely. I can not tell you how completely horrible this argument has always sounded to me. Of course, it’s not the most ridiculous or harmful out there, but hot damn.

    I mean, seriously? You have real people here who have been subjugated to actual, real-world, can’t-press-“load” violence in every form, including but not limited to continuous devaluation, constant psychological battering and cold-blooded murder, and it’s been going on for centuries, millenia, and it causes real pain that leads to real consequences like a higher prevalence of fucking suicide if you’re lucky enough not to be beaten to death by bigots just for being who you are, and you’re throwing a hissy fit over this?

    Yeah, no. Just no. Also, fuck you and the empathy-failed cis privilege horse you rode in on. (Or grue privilege. Whichever the speaker prefers).

  5. natashayar-routh says

    I do so love the term ‘grues’, it is so damn appropriate on so many levels. It has wonderful nerd cred and we do have to beware lurking grues in our lives all the time.

    The people who object to being labeled ‘cis’ do so in such totally self un-aware privilaged terms that it’s breathtaking. I’m going to have great fun using ‘grues’ for them bless their little harts.

    • troll says

      I’m sure they would object to any term other than “normal”.

      I’ll definitely admit that as a privileged, white, cis, straight male that’s a really, really easy mindset to slip into. I think that will change as trans people become more visible and speak out more. Sure, there will never be a shortage of assholes, but for many people it’s just lazy bigotry spawned from unfamiliarity. I know my attitudes have improved vastly just in the short time I’ve been reading Natalie here and on Skepchick (sure, I have plenty of room for improvement, but I promise I’m trying). Visibility really does make a difference.

  6. sithrazer says

    It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

    > what is a grue?

    The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is adventurers, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its fear of light. No grue has ever been seen by the light of day, and few have survived its fearsome jaws to tell the tale.

    It can be played online in a couple places. Here’s one, anyway:

    If the intro screen doesn’t load properly, just type ‘look’ and hit enter to look around where you start.

    • sithrazer says

      apparently I borked the [/a] tag somehow. Disregard the highlighting and underlining in that last sentence.

  7. says

    As a self-defining helstclane, I am offended. Okay, not really, but I like making words up (points for “combritariolo”).

    I like “cis” and I got it the first time I saw it – thank you AP Chemistry. (What might “para” mean?)

    As for “grue,” I dunno. I’m surprised Chris didn’t mention this

    • Anders says

      Ortho, Para, and Meta, right? Activating and deactivating the benzene rings. It’s all coming back to me now. Is SN2 changing partners when both contrahents are looking? And SN1 when only one of them are? And don’t get me started on Elimination reactions… :eeek:

      Maybe I should stop now.

  8. embertine says

    Mandatory chemistry lessons would take care of this. Which I advocate anyway, only because I so fondly remember the day we had to evacuate the building because we accidentally made TNT in A-level Chem.

    Whoops. Apparently we shouldn’t have boiled it for so long. Oh well.
    *entirely unrepentent grin*

  9. Jackson says

    As far as I can tell, the people pissed off about “cisgender” won’t be pleased with anything other than “normal”.

      • ik says

        I prefer cis. Non-trans is OK, but would get rather annoying if it was being used all the time, the way cis sometimes is. It seems like it either does become a reverse othering/normalizing, or that it’s “i am NOT this wretched anomaly”, rather than “I am this”.

        Incidentally, when is it OK to use “normal” to describe things like this where the vast majority of people have one characteristic?

        • says

          Incidentally, when is it OK to use “normal” to describe things like this where the vast majority of people have one characteristic?

          When you’re dealing with something that is an inherent aspect of people? That is a part of what defines who they are, on the most fundamental level? That is in fact one iteration of a perfectly normal range of variance?


          • Sofia says

            I use typical in any instance where I may have previously used normal. No value judgements there. If anything when used for cis people it makes them sound average, run of the mill, not exciting like us trans folks are!

        • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

          as invented/coined by trans folks, non-trans has an inherently liberatory aspect to it.

          Think of other categories of privilege and how words such as “non-white” are used. Non-trans flips normal/non-normal on its head. Because of this and for reasons of clarity with folk not in the know, I much prefer non-trans.

          Still, I’m not opposed to cis. I just recognize that not everyone is as geeky as me and thus it can require more explanation (or any explanation at all) compared to non-trans, which is obvious to almost anyone in context. And then the normalizing effect of having non-trans people be *non-* something, rather than just the default, we trans folk are the default in these discussions and non-trans people have to deal with it or take responsibility for inventing language that actually distinguishes them (normal? do you mean right handed? an IQ of 104? having a heartbeat? engaging in neuro-signalling using a combination of electrical potentials and chemical signals? having a temperature somewhere near 98f? “Normal” is so non-specific as to be useless… and genetic? As if trans people have no chromosomes? Get real.).

  10. Emily says

    Applause. Some of the RadFem rants I’ve read — DO NOT CALL ME CIS! YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO LABEL ME — would humble many former popes in terms of their hypocrisy.

    As I said yesterday, I am truly surprised there hasn’t been some collective trans jisatsu sâkuru as a form of collective protest, like an exiled monk, his feet still twisted from torture, in front of a Chinese embassy. Not that I am endorsing suicide as a form of political expression. But, you know, that it hasn’t happened is a testimony to the extraordinary self-restraint of our tribe.

    I think ‘Grue’ is a perfect term: grues absolutely despise adventurers who set forth carrying their own light source. Grues are totally indistinct and inconspicuously blended in with the backdrop of black that lies at the edges along every journey’s trailblazing path. Grues doesn’t let you know they’re there, until they ambush you suddenly (with their teeth, often with a quip about genitals) The analogy works for me.

  11. Rinz says

    Just this morning I was poking around Reddit (bad idea, I know) and saw some people getting all mad over being called cis. I am cis and I still cannot wrap my head around how anyone could be offended by the word. Is it really so hard for some people to admit they’re not trans?

    • karmakin says

      It depends on the usage of the term, to be honest. (I actually lean in direction of being balanced…I know that sounds weird..between direct usage and historical/cultural baggage as where to the power of a word/term comes from)

      If “cis” is used in the fashion to where it’s indicating that people who are Cis are always actively discriminating against transexual people/community that’s going to offend people in its usage. But more often than not, I think this is a matter of writing style and less about actual intention.

      I don’t feel like doing a call-out, but there was an article I read the other day (off this network), which was writing about a certain incident and as such it wrote about it in a way that I think was unnecessarily “slurring” although as I respect the author, and in the comments it was made clear that it wasn’t intended that way.

      The refrain is that the people who do that are supposed to pick up on it and not let them bother us. Which I guess is true, but still, people do tend to get emotional and it sometimes can cause unnecessary strife.

    • M Groesbeck says

      I think some cis people object to cis status being marked because it works against the impression that cis is the default state. Part of why the term’s important in the first place, IMO — privilege gets made invisible to the privileged so much through unmarked status that making that status marked seems like an important step.

  12. Vene says

    Natalie, a minor error in your post, “cissexual” was coined in 1991 by a cis scientist. You could argue “cisgender” was coined by trans people, but the prefix was already in use. Of course, this means the argument about it being a slur is even more unfounded.

  13. says

    Wow, I’m totally in for using “grue”. The geek cred just makes it better, geeks my age will notice there’s an insult in there. And it works too, already has me thinking “people wouldn’t use that on me, right? Wouldn’t I have to do something to deserve it?” :-X

  14. says

    I always took this to be a troll argument. They’re trying to parody other other labeling debates. The subtext if that if you can label them “cis,” they can label you “tranny homofag” or something like that. It’s basically the same argument as straight guys who decide to call themselves butch lesbians as a way of daring you to find some reason to contradict them so they can undermine trans gender narratives. Poke around the net and you’ll also find people claiming that the term “white” is offensive for similar reasons.

    • Anders says

      The people at the Cotton Ceiling, where I encountered this argument, really took it seriously. But they’ve taken down the post now – apparently they finally understood that they were becoming the laughingstock of anyone who understood what they were talking about…

    • Sally Strange says

      Funny thing about the term “white”… it exists in part because of the historic oppression of non-white peoples. So it has that in common with the term “cis.”

    • ik says

      White is not offensive. That is stupid. It’s a freaking physical description. My skin is really pale, more pale than that of people descended from native populations outside Europe.

      However, I get hugely frustrated when I hear of ‘ending whiteness’, and I can never be sure of whether it’s a case of non-magical intent or them actually wanting to destroy the identity. And most people seem to be angry at having identities destroyed, and expect others to have that anger, even if the destruction of the identity serves the greater good.

      It’s also an example of how I am very annoyed about how racists have spoiled ‘being proud of European culture and history’ for me.

      Fortunately this is (almost) never heard of in gender stuff.

  15. sonyafiset says

    Grue? Ahaha, I love it. And I will be using that from now on. Thank you for sharing, Natalie. C:

    I’m positive I can get my little sister into using it too, she loves geeky references like this. I’ll give her a flashlight too, for good measure.

  16. Movius says

    It is dark, you are likely to be e… oh everybody has beat me to it.

    I instantly disliked the term ‘cisgender’ the first time I read it, because it looked exactly like the sort of superficially complex, made-up jargon typical of the relativist faux-academic crowd. Over time I realised I actually quite like the term and my objections were really quite silly. Mainly because there is no other suitable word in the language and more importantly it’s very specific and unambiguous in its meaning, thus it is useless to said relativist faux-academics and their word games. (Unless they try the weird mythical etymology described earlier.)

    • Aubergine says

      Ha. In my circles we refer to ’em as “muggles” because they are so clueless. But “grue” definitely has a ring to it!

  17. bspiken says

    Heh, I’ve been such a fucking grue before reading this blog (without the whole killing in the night bit, only the naive and not terribly emphatic bit) but even I got the meaning of cis the first time anyone told me about it, it is, if anything, tremendously neutral, I just don’t get this “I’m gonna call shit what I want no matter what science, practicality or good fucken sense say!” thing.

  18. M Groesbeck says

    Called me “dude”? Grue asshole.

    I try not to be a grue. This is something I should probably pay more attention to — I grew up as a San Diego surfer in the 80s and 90s, and somewhere along the line developed the tendency to use “dude” as just about every part of speech, as well as referring to people without regard to gender. (My mother has been “dude” on a number of occasions.) I hadn’t thought about how offensive that could be to someone who’s casually and deliberately misgendered on a regular basis…cis-privilege blinders. Time for a behavioral adjustment on my part.

  19. Erin W says

    A Zork reference and a [blue]House[/blue] of Leaves reference in one post? Awesome.

    On a substance note, I like the idea of ‘grue’ as a derogatory term. It has a ring of the term ‘grup’ from some science fiction show where all the adults died out and children grew to distrust any ‘grown-up’. Though of course this is just going to light the whole ‘Die Cis Scum’ arsenal off again, but really, I welcome their hatred at this point. I’m enjoying my life. Clearly, they aren’t enjoying theirs as much.

  20. Anders says

    We’re all grues from time to time. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t like grue-dom. You shouldn’t revel in it. You should question it. And you should apologize for it afterwards.

  21. TBS says

    I think I’d like to be a Grue. I’m old enough to have played Zork.

    So let me lay out a couple of things.

    I am engaged to a transsexual girl. As far as terminology, I tend to prefer, ‘girl’, ‘my girl’, or ‘my beloved’ when referring to her.

    It is not difficult to see the problems, though, that transpeople face. Every other day, my dear one either gets misgendered (which doesn’t sound like much but I can see how it makes her unhappy), or on occasion just flat out called a devil demon abomination by people with little sense and hateful belief.

    I realize I’m a heterosexual white young man. The world is my ‘freakin oyster. But before I can even talk to anyone about trans things, I have to self-identify a bit, and say cis. It puts me in a place, sure, and I’m not pissed about it. It is a bit of a lodge pin, that I’m making an effort to understand terms, and as a reflection I’m making an effort to understand the diverse and generally negative experiences trans people have had overall.

    But I think I can fairly be called a grue. Before I met R my only exposure to anything remotely relating to anything trans was watching the crying game once. I’m trying to understand trans people better mainly to know what to do when R wakes up crying at night from nightmares I can’t seem to do anything about.

    I always hated saying cis, so grue to you!

    Grue TBS

    • says

      They could. Actually winning the case is another matter. Legally, they’d be on good ground if they could actually demonstrate intent, which may or may not be easy.

      I used to work for a phone company. We had a male-sounding customer who called in frequently. If you addressed them as sir, she’d say she was a woman and threaten to sue us for tens of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of the therapy she would need to repair the damage we had done. There was a note on her account about it, but you generally don’t have the account up until you’ve asked the customer at least one question. I think she was sincere, just unreasonable.

      I suspect any harassment (criminal) or intentional infliction of emotional distress (civil) claim based on misgendering would look like this to a jury, regardless of the facts. You could likely win employment claims, since those tend to been decided by judges, but a jury trial depends on getting empathy from at least seven out of twelve members of the public. Sadly, this is difficult for trans people at the moment.

      • Anders says

        *sigh* It all comes back to that…

        How do we make it as boring news that someone is trans as it is that someone is an accountant?

  22. julian says

    Just to join the chorus of “No shit!” in reference to cis. Seriously people, homocide?!?! You couldn’t just look the fucking thing up?

    • supaluminal says


      As a chemist, the first time I saw cis- (where the term is often used) used as in opposition to the concept of transgendered, I thought “that is awesome. Obviously the counterpart to trans-, and powerfully useful.”

      That people get worked up about things like that provides a great insight into the psyche of some people.

  23. says

    It is just a wee bit disturbing how transphobic radfems sound *exactly* like whiny white males complaining that white men are oppressed. Becoming what you hate…

    As it stands, I don’t find cis offensive. Hell, I don’t even understand why people think “breeder” is anything but silly.

  24. geocatherder says

    Goodness! This blog was my first introduction to the prefix “cis-“, and my first thought was, hey, there’s a word for those of us who aren’t “trans-“. How cool!

    Clearly, I haven’t associated enough with the “I’m just normal” crowd. My bad.

    The thing is, there’s a difference between normal and common. My gender identification matches my birth physical sexual characteristics; that’s common. It isn’t necessarily more normal than people who’s gender identification doesn’t match their birth physical sexual characteristics. There’s nothing about that that isn’t necessarily normal. We are humans. There’s a lot of variation — normal variation — between humans. Some variations are uncommon. What says they’re not normal???

  25. Anders says

    The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The [grues] begin to stir.

  26. Pierce R. Butler says

    My little widget dictionary says “grue” is derived from the Scots grue, “to feel horror, shudder”, and dates back to the 16th century; my American Heritage Dictionary takes it back to a Middle Low German root with the same meaning.

    But I recall reading someplace that “grue” meant a prostitute, and that “gruesome” signified grotesquery from wearing too much makeup (see [if you must] Tammy Faye Bakker).

    Either way, I suspect this one will catch on.

  27. says

    Honestly I’ve found the term “cis” to be useful in discussing these things. Maybe it’s just the scientist in me, but I like being able to have a term that describes a concept that would, otherwise, take unravelling every time I wanted to talk about it.

    Maybe it’s just me, but for some reason when you say “grue” I think of the Groosalugg from Angel.

    Anyway, speaking as a cis white male, Thanks for the heads up – it’s useful to know, if I’m being, what the insult means. That way I can try to figure out if the insult has merit and I need to get my ass in line (or some other relevant part of me).

  28. Bill Door says

    people may start whining about external labeling, that they didn’t choose the term, that groups have the right to self-define the terms that describe them, that we’re forcing it on them, etc

    And don’t get me started on ‘Anglophone’ or ‘Homo sapiens‘… more of that supicious PC foreign-speak. You know who else spoke a foreign language?*
    No commie liberal deviant’s gonna label me!

    * Yes, Hitler. And Mao Tsedong. And Yakov Smirnoff.

    • says

      And your transphobia has been made quite explicit on ERV. You know the internet is visible to others, right? Sorry, John, but you used up the patience and trust I was willing to offer you, and along with it the credibility I perceived in your opinions.

      • John Greg says


        Natalie Reed, you are lying.

        Natalie, there is no other way to say it, but you are a liar.

        I am not, and never have been, in any way, shape, or form what you call transphobic. And I challenage you to prove otherwise. C’mon, provide a link to any post I have made anywhere in the last 20 years that shows that I am transphobic.

        I challenge and demand that you back up your foul slander.

        Darling, you cannot do it, because it does not exist.

        As I said, you lie.

        So, instead, what you will almost certainly do is simply not post this comment, as a way of re-inforcing your bullshit claim.

        Like almost all of the FfTB bloggers, I suspect you will “prove” my anti-trans stance by moderating and/or deleting and/or editing my comments to suit your agenda.

        So it goes.

        Natalie, what saddens me about this (and unlike such cockroaches as LousyCanuck, PeeZus, or almost all of the other FfTB bloggers) is that I am being quite honest and truthful here, and that you, of all the FfTB bloggers, most closely approach a state of what we might be called honest rhetoric: it would appear that for the most part you discuss what is meaningful to you not because you want to win points, but simply because it is meaningful to you.

        Nonetheless, when you encounter someone like me, it seems like you must attack, villify, and dismiss simply because you do not like what I say. It seems that it matters not what my life experience is; it matters not what I do, or do not, know. What mattters is that you do not like what I have to say. Therefore, you must dismiss me.

        Tell me something Natalie, am I trans? Or am I gay? Or perhaps I am white, or black, or maybe even brown. I might be female, male, het, trans, Martian, hom, or even native american (for most of my life I carried the nickname Nonnabnoujous also spelt nanabohjoh, nannaboujoh, nannaboojaoh, etc., (bequeathed to me by my deeply beloved “aunt” Alanis Obomsawin (, and many, many variations — but you wouldn’t know that would you, because scientist, variable expert, deeply wise and educated wizard that you are, you know all that is unknowable.

        Or summat.

        Natalie, being the uneducated master that you are, what am I?

        Do you have the metaphorical balls to answer my question?


        • Andi says

          Well, you’re certainly misogynistic if you think this is an acceptable form of addressing people:

          “Darling, you cannot do it, because it does not exist”

          Or do you refer to men you engage with on the internet with the same term? I very much doubt it.

          And you then go out of your way to use an inherently transphobic snark with this gem:

          “Do you have the metaphorical balls to answer my question?”

          Because that’s _clearly_ an appropriate metaphor to be confronting a trans person with.

          But maybe you’re just an ignorant wanker. It’s all up in the air really.

          • says

            I don’t know anything about John, aside from the evident discontent, but personally I DO use the term “darling” (or dahlink, or some other variable) regardless of the gender of the person I’m referring to if I’m very frustrated.

            It’s a form of condescension from me, along the lines of trying to explain something to a troublesome child while attempting to contain my frustration. More to do with exhibited maturity than with gender – I’m pretty sure most of the people I refer to as “darling” are men.

            Again, though, I can’t answer for John.

        • says

          To be fair, I just read through your whole posting history and there was nothing overtly transphobic, just misogynistic and weirdly obsessed with PZ and Jason and with impressing everyone with what a clever troll you are.

          • says

            To be fair, Ao’7s, over several months he hasn’t uttered a single reservation about the obvious transmisogyny of several of the other posters in that thread at ERV. His silence says volumes.

          • says

            Oh? I guess you missed the back and forth about mocking queer politics and saying, to paraphrase, “I’m offended by shirt buttons for men and women being reversed because I’m a bloushirtily-clothed manwoman! (keep up Natalie!)”. And of course, as said, there’s the just quietly laughing along with the more overt bits done by others, such as the misgendering and “Nathan” thing and everything.

          • says

            ^^ Good catch – I’d read that one at the time, and had forgotten it was JG’s work. (I’m not totally au fait with every last piece of hateful rhetoric over at ERV, nor do I want to be. Eww.)

        • says

          Of course I don’t know much of your life history, or your story is. It doesn’t make me cowardly to not answer your question. It makes me know when I don’t know… and when it’s not important. You, on the other hand, have a history of making a lot of assumptions about my own: that I must be middle-class and well off because I have internet access, that I obviously don’t have any academic background in linguistics, etc.

          Here, what you said I “couldn’t” do, the quote in question:

          Did you know that they intentionally put the buttons on different sides depending on if it’s meant for a man or woman?”

          I had, to my everlasting shame, forgotten about that. As a bloushirtily transgendered manwoman (catch up Natalie!) — I used to wear women’s blouses when I was a young rock star — I am, in sordid memory, crying tears of rage amid the deepest blue horror: gentian blue.

          I too am profundly triggered.

          (Posted by: John Greg | March 9, 2012 6:47 PM)

          Nice job mocking us there.

          I’m sorry, John, I gave you a chance. I really did. I wanted to trust you, and be patient, and try to see whether MAYBE all the bitterness and hatred on the other FTB blogs really WAS just frustration with them not letting you have your say. But in response to that patience and trust, you’ve been explicitly mocking me in your little angry circle jerk for MONTHS (not to mention remaining silent on matters of far more striking bigotry, like the misgendering). Not very gracious of you.

          I tried, and I didn’t ban you, because when I was starting out here I was still new to this. I still wanted to give everyone credibility, and take their positions into consideration, and not dismiss anyone offhand. But after being around a bit longer, I’ve dealt with the Be Scofields and Amy Dentatas and Cathy Brennans (THAT’S what a rad-fem looks like, btw, if you kids ever want a point of reference) and Jennifer Ushers. I know that you just CAN’T offer everyone credibility. Some people aren’t participating in any kind of conversation, and are just lashing out with whatever personal shit they’ve got going on. Taking them on board, and treating them as though they ARE really interested in some kind of discussion, is just destructive, exhausting, draining. And it’s wholly pointless.

          So I just don’t care about every opinion anymore. To my mind, the ERV kids, Brennan, Usher… it’s all in the same little mental drawer of things I don’t, and can’t, offer any credibility. You’re angry, bitter, arrogant, hateful and you need a target. “FfTB” just happens to be that target, and I just happen to be included in it. But it’s got fuck all to do with me, or anything I’ve ever said. It doesn’t matter what I say, or even who I am, you could swap out any woman in this space and you’d mock her just the same as you mocked me.

          I gave you a chance, John, and you returned it with ridicule. Thanks for that, but no. I’ve dealt with enough in my life that at this point, I know how to draw lines.


    • Anders says

      There is nothing wrong with being proud, if you have a lot to be proud of.

      And those who accuse others of hubris are often very humble, and have a lot to be humble of.

    • says

      @John Greg:

      “catch up Natalie”, out of nowhere?
      “I too am profoundly triggered”, in complete pretentiousness?

      You fucking arrogant bloodsucking GRUE.

      May your keyboards jam when you use them, your browsers spam you with ads and forget your cookies, your online payments fail, and every computer you own fill with viruses and crash, until you learn to be a civil user of the Internet.

  29. keusnua says

    The “don’t call me cis” people remind me of assholes about a decade ago saying “don’t call me straight! I’m normal“. Haven’t heard/seen that for a while, though. Perhaps part of the normalisation process of queer lives? Now even the bigots view ‘straight’ as nothing more than a value neutral description.

  30. says

    This pings memories of how some young adults I knew reacted aversely to the label straight. Of course, I had the pejorative, breeders, to fall back on in a similar fashion to the way one might use the word grue as explained above (good choice, BTW!), as if breeding is all that straight people are good for.

    As for cis, I like it for what it does and its root meaning, but I do feel it is unfortunate in a small way in how it might be misunderstood by people hearing it or reading it for the first time as a shortened form of the slur, sissy, especially if taken to be the opposite of the commonly strewn about slur for transgendered people. However, I have yet to see anyone point this out, so it might be something that is limited to my own imagination and personal sensitivity to the word sissy.

    • says

      There are several words that begin with that sound: sister, system, systolic … as well as some proper nouns. If someone assumes that it must have some connection to the insult sissy by default, that actually tells you something about their mindset.

  31. says

    Natalie: “So it pretty much just means “not trans””

    From this statement, I would guess it is the way you, as a transgender person, qualify non transgender persons.

    Well, I see no problems with that. And as I was totaly unfamiliar with the term “cis” before last year (not a native english speaker), I don’t see any problems with the appelation in and of itself. Now, would this be a good time to fast-rewind to last year and remember the systematic labelling (and sometimes banning) of people who used “gender slur” altogether, regardless of cultural backgrounds?

    • says

      If you’re trying to create some kind “cunt is okay because English people use it” derailment, or re-open some done-to-death controversy from “last year”, I’d kindly ask that you just shush right now.

      • says

        No, my apologies, I don’t want to derail or create yet another controversy. I was quite clumsy in my late-night commenting. But there is a strong cultural element to what one may perceive as offensive or not, such as your article seems to point out. English is apparently the lingua franca of the international atheist/skeptic community, and I really think these cultural differences should be taken into account (take the British and their love for hyperboles and absurd humor, for exemple). Yet they tend to be ignored and people from outside this etheral, vaguely US-centric, vaguely undefined culture in these here parts (FTB in general, not you in particular) get shot down if they happen to have different views on what does or doesn’t offend.

        And it doesn’t go this way only for “bad words”. Some of us non-US commenters sometime have to fight our own incredulity at the stupidity of some stuff that happen in the US, because we don’t have your level of problems with religion. Yet some of us still make the effort to suspend our disbeliefs in order to understand the issues at stake. Same could be said of the back-and-forth with Taslima, Greta, yourself and others: I am in total agreement with you on the subject of sex workers, but I can also totaly understand where Taslima is comming from. Probably because I am more familiar with the culture she grew in than you are. Clearly explaining things, like you just did for “cis”, is most likely the best way to level out the playfield. But maybe there are cultures where “cis” is extremely offensive (that’s just an hypothetical, I’m not aware of any), and if someone from this culture tells you they find it offensive, then you might want to refrain from using it, except maybe as hyperbole or as a mean to piss off a troll…

        Sorry for the rant. I just don’t think it’s a derail on your article. I might be wrong, though, happens all the time.

        Have a nice Sunday!

        • says

          I’m sorry, but the only culture in which “cis” could be considered offensive is one in which the oppressive majority strenuously object to being labeled in any way other than normal, and conversely insist on reducing all minorities to labels that denote their distance from “normality”. Or in short, a culture of bigots.

          So you you’ll excuse me if I have no sympathy when people from such a culture take offense to a term that simply means “not trans” or “gender congruent”.

          • says

            Miri: sure, I agree, which is why I pointed out that the best way to level out the playfield is to give clear explanations of the used term, such as Natalie did here. You won’t educate or change someone’s mind by constantly using a term they find offensive. You have to know where they are coming from, in terms of culture and upraising, and then try to educate them on why X or Y should or shouldn’t be taken as offensive. Happened to me (the hard way), and I don’t ever use gender slurs anymore, although I have to admit that at first when I discovered it enraged those I was pissed at, I let the floodgates open for a while. But now, even I understand this is stupid and counter productive.

            I’m still of the mind that you can’t basely blame someone for the culture they grew in. If they get stubborn and refuse to acknowledge the rational behind the use of certain terms, then by all mean, carry on calling them whatever they dislike (hell, we do it with the religious all the time).

        • says

          Tee hee: as a Roman history buff, I should have noticed it before, but I do live in Cisalpine Gaul, whereas my family originates from Transalpine Gaul. Funny, I indeed knew the terms before but never made the connection.

          How can one really be offended by such terms, I have to wonder. I guess those being offended must just be huge poopenshafts (thanks Sacha baron Cohen)…

          If there is “trans”, “cis” logically follows.

  32. virginiafell says

    I am baffled by the existence of people who are outraged that they are being called cisgendered instead of “normal.” I guess maybe they consider every label to be inherently derogatory because it points out that a thing needs to be linguistically marked and I guess that is inherently degrading? Calls into question THEIR intentions when they refer to LGBT people, doesn’t it?

    Maybe I just know too many chemistry geeks, but everybody I know immediately got that “cis” is just the companion term to “trans.” That’s it.

    I suppose this is more from the files of people who don’t mind equality as long as by “equal” we mean “everybody is okay but I am obviously more so and please don’t imply that you are good as my kind.” As long as we can define “equality” so that it preserves their sense of natural supremacy and superior “rightness,” they’re okay with it.

    Never mind that this makes no goddamn sense at all even linguistically. If these people were better at thinking about words and what they mean, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

  33. says

    I’ve been thinking about this whole “cis” thing. (Yes, I know, dangerous thing to be doing.)

    I came to one conclusion: YAY! I get a nifty prefix!

    Does… does that make me weird?

  34. Tracy says

    I have not the time to read every single comment here, so maybe this error has been noted…

    You are in error about the origins of the use of cis-trans. In chemistry, they indeed designate different rotations of the same molecules. But the “trans” community, errs when using cis to describe anyone non-trans as cis. Trans in this context originates linguistically from an entirely different root, along the lines of the trans in transverse, transparent, transplant, transoceanic, etc. which is quite different.. meaning across, beyond, through. In this linguistic context, cis is a total misnomer, and not an innocent one.

    There is no such thing as a soul, gods, spirits, or genders. I am a vagina, a womb, a brain, breasts. What goes on in my brain is the direct consequence of the very same hormones that grew these organs on my body.

    Cis is a slurr that the trans-community uses to belittle females, inferring some sense of female privilege, inferring that the sexually confused brain is superior to a female brain. This sense of superiority is displayed by many mtf trans people, I have seen it displayed many times in my own living environments. In the feminist movement we females fight against male privilege, half the human population fighting subjugation from the other half. We do not choose who we are, we are born as we are.

    I am not a “cis” female, there is no such thing. I am simply a female, as opposed to being a male. Our society needs to invent a third sex… for all those who refuse to inhabit their natural bodies. Trans-sexuals for reproductive organs, as well as trans-humanists who are eager to get rid of their biological limitations, in order to be machine part or entirely machine.

    If the LG community wants to add a bunch of letters to their accronym in order to accomodate the infinite sexual preferences that exist, that’s fine by me. LGBTQ and any other letter from the alphabet they so desire. But myself, as a female who is sometimes bi (vs the erroneous terminology bi-female), I do not feel any compulsion to consider all these questions as being part of the same issues. Some days I behave stereotypically male, some days I behave stereotypically female. These are but stereotypes, and I don’t need to change my ID to behave any way I please. I just accept myself, as I am, with my quirks.

    One does not become male or female, one is born male or female, or in rare instances intersexed, the brain is indistinct from the rest of the organs.

    • says

      Wow. This is a MOUNTAIN of ignorance, fallacies, misconceptions, and cissexism.

      I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend you PLEASE do some more reading on the subject, as you’re clearly basing your views on a lot of mistaken assumptions (such as, for instance, the idea that trans people require belief in a “soul”, or literally buy into the “trapped in an X body” metaphor). I’ll refer you to the little menu on the right, “Essential Reeding”. A lot of your misconceptions are addressed in those posts. Please read. And if you can’t be bothered to do so, and educate yourself on these issues, then please at least keep your mouth shut and don’t engage in privileged cisplaining of concepts you’re either too lazy or too arrogant to educate yourself about. At LEAST learn enough to understand how little you understand.

      As for your other points, I’ll leave it to the other commenters to explain what you’ve gotten wrong. Come on, Reeders! Impress me. 🙂

    • says

      Gender is determined by that thing between your ears, dearie — NOT by what’s between your legs. The sooner you can grasp that concept, the better.

      My breasts, uterus, ovaries, and other lady-parts are there BECAUSE I am female. They do not MAKE me female. My BRAIN is what holds my innate sense of “femaleness”. Some women just need a little assistance to gain those parts.

      May you step, barefoot, on a thousand LEGO bricks.

    • Anders says

      Yay! Someone more ignorant than me. Is this a radfem which I see before me?

      First of all, with regards to cis/trans – the cis/trans isomery and the cis/trans gender identities derive their names from the same place: latin, with cis meaning “same side” and trans meaning “other side”.


      What goes on in my brain is the direct consequence of the very same hormones that grew these organs on my body.

      So hormones make all the difference? A couple of points

      a) many trans women take estrogen and anti-androgens – what goes on in their brains should be no different than yours, unless you can point to changes that occur during an androgen-dominated puberty. Please do. (An aside – if I understand correctly trans women no longer need anti-androgens once they have had an orchiectomy. Is that correct?)
      b) worse, once you hit menopasue your ovaries will stop producing estrogens. That’s why many post-menopausal women take estrogen, since there is an increased risk for osteoporosis. But if you don’t, you apparently stop being a woman. Have you told your mother she’s something else?
      c) it would also be interesting to hear your position on men who have been castrated. They are apparently neither men nor women.

      “But I still have breasts, womb, ovaries, vagina!”

      Well, yes you do. Unless you’ve had the bad luck of getting a nasty estrogen-dependent tumor, in which case you may have a mastectomy, a hysterectomy and a ovarectomy. Suddenly you’re left with a vagina, which apparently is the necessary and sufficient cause for being a woman (and believe me, we can reduce things further if you want to). Seems a trifle reductionistic and misogynist to reduce the entirety of female-dom to a single anatomical feature. But then, I’m not a radical feminist (you’ll have to pardon me if you don’t identify as one because you sure sound like one).

      I presume that male-dom can be reduced to the almighty penis. In Germany a couple of years ago there was a teenage boy who tried some Angel’s Trumpet. Under the influence of this drug he wandered off into the garden and used a pair of hedge clippers to cut his penis and tongue of. The teenager was rushed to a hospital where they managed to reattach both organs. What gender was the person while ze was in the ambulance?

    • says

      “Some days I behave stereotypically male, some days I behave stereotypically female. These are but stereotypes, and I don’t need to change my ID to behave any way I please. I just accept myself, as I am, with my quirks.”

      Good for you. So do I, and so does practically everyone else who isn’t forced to conform. Maybe some people actually fit all the gender stereotypes, but they could be cis or trans–that’s NOT what being trans is about.

      I’m cis by the way, which I’m only mentioning because I have yet to see even *one* commenter here, who is trans, express a sense of superiority over cis women. Frustration, maybe–superiority, no.

      If you don’t have time to read, then don’t waste *our* time with a long ass-comment.

  35. Anders says

    Thought for the day:

    Transphobia really is collectivism for dummies. Barnyard-level philosophy, that claims that you can know all that’s important by looking between their legs. To ignore that our future is no pre-destined by our genitalia, that we are more than mere hunks of meat – that we have a mind as well, that we build and re-build our personalities constantly as a part of living, is inane, dangerous, and wrong. These ideas are used to justify oppression and murder. They have no place in a civilized society.

  36. says

    So, I’m a philosopher, in training if not in profession. We have this term, ‘grue,’ which developed to describe a concept coined by Nelson Goodman to refer to a color that is at one point green, but will at some point become blue. Hence ‘grue.’ The alternate is bleen (blue to green)

    So, this term to refer to cis people seems a touch ironic, in light of that use, because that philosophical use would seem to point more to trans than anything. I’m surprised nobody else pointed that out.

  37. MartinSS says

    Yes I can agree to an extent – but stating the etymology of a word and using this as “proof” that it is not offensive is a dangerous game: “homo” has good etymological explanations for it as well, but it has definitely been used as a slur word. “Nigger” also has etymological reasons for its existence, in fact most slur words do! That is how they become attached to a certain group. What makes a word a slur is not what its derivation is, it is how the word is used. If “homo” is spat at people as an insult, then it is a slur word. The same goes for “cis”.

    • says

      No. Slurs are not simply words that are used as insults. Also, cis is not, in and of itself, used as an insult, like “homo” is. It’s used as a descriptor. The etymology is not what distinguishes “cis” as not a slur. It is the fact that “cis” is value neutral, on the same semantic ground as “trans”, and is also a descriptor for the group with the relative social power imbalances acting in their favour, rather than vice versa.


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