“How do you identify?”
That’s often a tough question for me to answer. As a general rule, I’ve shifted away from identifying as anything because I’ve found that when I do, it can be hard to let go of that self-identity when things change. In my experience, life brings lots of surprises that are difficult enough to navigate without adding the challenges of changing an identity. When I hear people say things like “I can’t be attracted to that person. I’m straight/gay/queer/lesbian/kinky/vanilla/etc.”, I see how their identity crisis is complicating their situation and I try to avoid setting myself up like that.
At the same time, there are words that I sometimes use to describe myself because they convey some useful information. Some of them are: queer, kinky, poly, able-bodied, white, Jewish, pagan, atheist, male, and cisgender. But many of these have been mutable over time.
In the last couple of years, I’ve been playing more with gender. I’ve always run a lot of yin energy and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring how that plays out in my life. On an energetic level, I feel very balanced between male and female and I like how that works for me. At the same time, using words like “genderfluid” to describe myself hasn’t felt accurate. I’ve called myself cisgender because it seems to accurately describe my baseline. I’m very present in my masculine body and in being a man. I’m also very aware of how I move through the world and that I receive the privilege that cisgender folks accrue. I know that receiving cisgender privilege feels like a misgendering to some people, but it doesn’t feel like that to me (even while I resent living in a world that gives me that privilege while denying it to so many others). I don’t experience tension or conflict between how I feel physically and how I feel energetically and emotionally, and I don’t think that transgender fits how I feel. So how do I describe myself when I’m simultaneously a cisgender man and genderfluid?
Obviously, by creating a new word: cisgenderfluid. It honors the cisgender aspects of my life while making room for the gender-creative parts of my psyche and my life. It acknowledges that I don’t face the same challenges that most trans* and other gender-transgressive folks do, and recognizes that I don’t fit into the standard box that masculinity comes in. It gives me the freedom to play with gender and to queer it, and it provides a foundation on which to stand. It makes room for the fact that my baseline is cisgender while creating space for me to step away from that when I feel like it. It expands the conversation about gender in some ways that I really enjoy, and it recognizes that I often occupy the space of both/and.
I’ve been talking with friends about this over the last few weeks and the more I have, the more this word feels like a good description for where I am at this moment in my life. I think there’s a lot of room here to play in and I’m going to check it out for a while. And if you’re curious about these terrains or if you think you might want to explore them, I invite you to come and join me.
I love this. I have many friends who have been exploring this as well and have been running into a wall in terms of “terminology”. Cisgenderfluid is lovely and gives so much room to move and explore. Very nice.
Thanks, Charlie, for adding cisgenderfluid to the lexicon, and for the splendid explanation. You’re a true teacher and role model for defining our own sexuality.
I like the word, Charlie.
As as a person who is cissexual but not cisgender I use the catch-all “queer” but that also includes my sexuality. I am not cisgender and not transgender. Cisgenderfluid might be useful for me. I’ll roll around with it for awhile.
I can relate to almost everything you said. I identified as a cisgendered “girlfag” (a gay-male – not lesbian – woman) and I always knew about the “problem” involved to feel like a gay man and to have a sexual identity that kind of “belongs” to the other gender but nonetheless identifying as cisgendered, because of the same reasons you mentioned:
“I’m very present in my masculine body and in being a man. I’m also very aware of how I move through the world and that I receive the privilege that cisgender folks accrue. I know that receiving cisgender privilege feels like a misgendering to some people, but it doesn’t feel like that to me (even while I resent living in a world that gives me that privilege while denying it to so many others). I don’t experience tension or conflict between how I feel physically and how I feel energetically and emotionally, and I don’t think that transgender fits how I feel.”
Most girlfags I’ve met identified as genderqueer or trans* – but that never seemed right to me. But this explanation DOES: ” It honors the cisgender aspects of my life while making room for the gender-creative parts of my psyche and my life. It acknowledges that I don’t face the same challenges that most trans* and other gender-transgressive folks do, and recognizes that I don’t fit into the standard box that masculinity (in my case: femininity) comes in.”
“Cisgenderfluid” – excellent! Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for phrasing that so perfectly, I as well find it uncomfortable in labeling myself as anything specific other than fluid as I do not know how I will feel, who I find attractive, and how when I meet people, I do not want to hinder a relationship’s growth by implying a specific interest limitation.
I love your use of cisgenderfluid and reminds me of the term I recently started to use to describe myself when asked about my sexuality; I use the term “sexual”.
Thank you for sharing your POV. I appreciate your honesty and courage.
I’ve been trying to work this out for months now, for all the reasons you stated. I had just decided to use cis gendered gendernonconforming because it was the option Facebook shave me, but this more concise! thank you for all your work! You are awesome!
Interesting and useful ideas. I’d feel a lot more comfortable engaging, if I knew how to pronounce it.
Like: sis-gender-fluid? kiss-gender-fluid?
Also, if I knew what the word elements mean. I understand “gender” and “fluid”. but “cis”? What does cis mean?
My dictionary says “cis–indicates location on this or the near side” So, on the near side of gender fluid?
Or, sort of gender fluid?, a little bit gender fluid?, almost gender fluid?, somtimes gender fluid?, semi-genderfluid?
My dictionary has only two “cis” words: cislunar (between the earth and the moon) and cismontane (on this side of the mountain) Today is the first time I’ve encountered these two words, and I’m reasonably well-read.
I feel uncomfortable using a word I have to explain to everyone I’ll ever say it to. Why don’t you try a term that is more readily understood?
I admit I’m not involved in sex theory.
Eric Carruthers, “cis” is pronounced “siss,” and I wrote this piece about what the word means.
I understand you’re reaching for an enlightened way to “play with gender”, but for those of us who don’t have a comparable choice to opt out of being trans, it comes across as trivializing our experiences. Seriously, if you approached me at a party and started chatting about how you’ve been feeling “cisgenderfluid” lately, I’d have to make a monumental effort to respond in a positive manner.
It’s not that I resent your being a gay man who’s encroaching on my turf, as I was myself a gay boy before transitioning decades ago. I’m sure you’re aware of how femme-phobic and anti-trans many gay men are, and really, we do appreciate seeing men like you speak up for us as allies. But it’s just as obvious that however fluidly you may regard your own sexuality, you’re not trans, much as I had to accept I wasn’t honestly gay, regardless of how fun it was to be a part of it all.
From a wider perspective, I don’t see the value in coining more trendy gender salad words. After all the work that went into reclaiming the word “queer”, I’d really rather see you employ that as an all-embracing umbrella term instead. And as an outspoken advocate, you should be aware that “cis” is not a term that emerged natively out of trans sub-culture. It’s a fabricated prefix coined by academic gender activists in a semantic judo campaign to eradicate the use of “normal” as the opposite of “trans”. Many of us think it has a counterproductive, pseudo-scientific air that does nothing to improve understanding of real-life trans issues.
The problem with “cis” is not only that it sounds like “sis” (i.e. “sissy”), but that most people don’t even know what it means until you pedantically explain it to them. In social conversation, you can just say “non-trans” when that’s a distinction you want to make. What’s worse is that “cis” makes it sound like you mean to group everyone who isn’t trans into the same category. And it’s not just harmless over-generalization, some people take offense at having this awkward label laid on them as it’s obviously not something that anyone actually chooses to identify with.
Aside from this little gripe, however, I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and insight you put into your essays. Your queer perspective on male sexuality speaks authentically to me in a way that I’ve rarely seen straight men express.
Let me see if I got this right: So homosexuality is an “identity crisis” rather than a real thing? Are you slowly inching toward the transactivist dogma that if lesbians don’t want penises in their sexual lives, they’re bigots for it? If so please just be intellectually honest and disclose your support of this thesis. People familiar with queer theory and transactivism can already see it in your posts like this one, but not everyone has time to familiarize themselves.
@qwe- can you tell me where I said anything about homosexuality in this post? I assume you’re referring to where I wrote “When I hear people say things like “I can’t be attracted to that person. I’m straight/gay/queer/lesbian/kinky/vanilla/etc.”, I see how their identity crisis is complicating their situation and I try to avoid setting myself up like that.” If that’s true, then you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying.
I’ve talked with straight folks who suddenly find themselves attracted to someone of the same gender. I’ve talked with gay men who find themselves attracted to a woman, and with lesbians who find themselves attracted to a man. In these kinds of situations in which one’s attraction to a person seems to conflict with one’s identity, it can cause a crisis. As in “how can I be attracted to them when I’m [fill in the blank]?”
So with that being said, how do you jump to the conclusion that I’m saying that homosexuality is an identity crisis?
I also don’t know where you’re getting the idea that I’m saying that “if lesbians don’t want penises in their sexual lives, they’re bigots for it”. I know that some people say that (though the vast majority of the trans* folks I know don’t say that at all, whether they’re activists or not).
Holy shit, just came across this post after hearing you on Poly Weekly this week. I identify with this label so much! Thanks for giving me new language to describe myself, it’s amazing!
I fear putting your point in the language of gender identity might prove confusing. Masculinity and femininity are not about identity, but cultural norms for genders – norms that are often very harmful and limiting. These norms can change and could probably be dissolved entirely. Gender identity, however, despite being formed and informed by culture, cannot be dissolved in the same way.
In a culture that stops policing gender and accepts that both masculinity and femininity are for everyone, making these concepts basically meaningless, gender identity would presumably still be a relevant concept, because transgender people would still exist.
Being transgender is not primarily about gender norms, but identity and body. It doesn’t help a trans man to tell him that he could be a tomboy or butch woman (and is plain absurd for a feminine trans man), and vice versa for trans women (many of whom are tomboyish). This is also true for genderqueer/non-binary people, who are extremely diverse.
Cisgender men and women, too, can and do question and fight against limiting gender norms, rules and stereotypes, acknowledge privilege and work to change the system, and show solidarity with other genders but their own.
As a gender-norm-questioning, gender-nonconforming, gender-expansive or gender-creative person, you can incorporate this facet of yours into your identity, of course, and go on to identify as genderqueer. However, you can also identify as a cisgender person who refuses to be limited by norms and stereotypes.
My understanding is that your identity is completely, strongly and exclusively male (but I might be wrong here). If you strongly feel about being addressed as either male or female, it would likely cause confusion to describe yourself as genderqueer or non-binary.
Admittedly, this is a shortcoming of terminology. There does not seem to be no widely known term that unambiguously denotes the phenomenon of cisgender-identified people transgressing and transcending gender norms. “Cisgenderfluid” is a possibility, but sounds too much like a non-binary identity. Gender-expansive and other terms mentioned may not be clear enough. Maybe something like “cis-expansive” would be better.