Cis: Not to be Confused with Sis

Suddenly, we’re hearing innovative vocabulary in newscasts. Recently, I heard a guy refer to himself as cisnormative. It was clear from the monologue, he was referring to his sexuality. Among my many attempts at societal success, I was a collegiate biology major. I actually graduated with a degree in that field, so I was a bit embarrassed that I had no clue as to what he was talking about.

In my defense, I graduated in 1971 (yes, I’m old). As near as I can tell, terms like cisnormative and cisgender emerged in the mid to late 1990s—a period when I was thinking less and less about my preferred sexuality. Those sorts of things had long been established in my life.

It Kept Cropping Up

Consequently, I had to check this out. The terms kept cropping up, and I didn’t wish to remain in the dark. Some things can be allowed to slide in life, but human sexuality seems to be gaining importance as a topic to be mastered. I resisted for a while, but I finally succumbed.

As it turns out, there are a lot of folks out there who have a considerable amount of knowledge to share on the subject—newness not withstanding. I assume they know what they’re talking about. They are, after all, on the Internet. We all know what that means. Here is a definition that seems to encapsulate the meaning of the prefix, cis.

In Latin, the prefix “cis” means “on the same side” and “trans” means “on the other side”. So, a cis person is one whose assigned sex at birth is on the same side as the sex they are. Likewise, a trans person is one whose assigned sex at birth is on a different side from the sex they are.

If this doesn’t confuse you, you’re well on your way to understanding twenty-first century society—I think. I completed two years of Latin in High School, but the whole cis thing escaped me at the time. I’m guessing it was of little importance at that juncture. It has, obviously, become a big deal now.

Second Generation

All of this reminds me of what a deep desire we humans seem to have to label ourselves. We not only want labels, we want categories, groups, and classes as well. As Americans, we’re not satisfied with saying we are such. We need to break it down into nation of origin, state, and occupation. Merely to say, “I’m an American” just doesn’t seem like enough to us. (I’m an Italian-American, by the way—second generation if that matters.)

We come by this honestly, though. This practice began a long time ago. One day Jesus was sitting by a well and asked a woman for a drink. Before it was all over, it was established that she was a woman, a Samaritan, a divorcee, and a sinner. This was all done by Jesus, but only to establish that she needed a Savior. Once she knew Him, however, she became a mere Christian.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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