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Are you cisgender?

Cisgender (often abbreviated to cis) = Cisgender is the opposite of trans and is a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.

In Latin cis means 'on this side of' and trans means 'across from' or 'on the other side of'.

When I first started running LGBTQ awareness workshops for counsellors a few years ago it was very common for almost the whole room full of counsellors to look back at me blankly when I asked if anyone knew what cis meant.

I clearly remember one of the groups I taught where, after I'd defined cisgender, someone put their hand up and said something like 'I find it strange that I don’t know this word when that describes me, I know the word trans but not a description for my own gender'.

This got us talking and many people in the group started agreeing. And then the penny dropped as the group realised this training was not about other people it was about them. To this day I remember that fab group of counsellors as it helped highlight to me the true importance of framing learning about gender and sexual diversity as exploring ourselves first!

So I ask you, reading this. If you have talked about gender in the counselling room with trans clients, have you ever talked about your own gender in your personal counselling, and if not, why not?

Fast forward just a few years and I’m happy to say that nowadays most counsellors I meet tend to have heard the word cisgender, and mostly sort of know what it means. This is a relief but I wonder how many counsellors are using the term cisgender in their work in the counselling room?

Do you find the word 'cis' helpful?

Do you feel confident using the word 'cis'?

Personally I find cisgender very useful when talking about gender with clients. It can be a helpful word to use to distinguish between trans and non-trans people.

For example, when talking to a trans woman about pressures to present femininely, I might say something like:

'Isn’t it strange how society scrutinises gender expression in trans women but not in cis women?'

By taking away the word 'cis' in this sentence we are left with just the word 'women' which would imply we think women who are not trans are somehow more real and don’t need a prefix.

E.g. 'Isn’t it strange how society scrutinises gender expression in trans women but not in women?'

To help clarify this point further, try taking away the word 'trans' in this sentence and you might see more what I mean.

E.g. 'Isn’t it strange how society scrutinises gender expression in women but not in cis women?'

We can of course just say women without a prefix, because trans women and cis women are all women. However in this context where we are talking about trans women we need to also use the word 'cis'.

I’m sure you'd agree that the words we use when we talk about gender and sexual diversity are so important. Our choice of words as counsellors can leave our client feeling either respected and understood, or hurt and different.

As counsellors, I believe it is very important that we, as counsellors, take the time to understand the vocabulary of the client group we’re working with. I’m not talking about just swallowing a dictionary of terminology, but learning why in the LGBTQ community we use each word.

For example some words can have multiple different meanings and others can be reclaimed derogatory words. Knowing the terms to avoid or use with caution is also important.

I’m so passionate about this as I’ve had countless counsellors say to me that they fear working with LGBTQ clients in case they make a mistake with the words and cause offence.

When counsellors say this to me, I remind them that they may already be working with lesbian, gay, bi, trans or queer clients and not know, so it’s a great they’re starting to think about this.

I hope this blog has got you thinking too …

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