Abstract

This section includes eighty-six short original essays commissioned for the inaugural issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. Written by emerging academics, community-based writers, and senior scholars, each essay in this special issue, “Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a Twenty-First-Century Transgender Studies,” revolves around a particular keyword or concept. Some contributions focus on a concept central to transgender studies; others describe a term of art from another discipline or interdisciplinary area and show how it might relate to transgender studies. While far from providing a complete picture of the field, these keywords begin to elucidate a conceptual vocabulary for transgender studies. Some of the submissions offer a deep and resilient resistance to the entire project of mapping the field terminologically; some reveal yet-unrealized critical potentials for the field; some take existing terms from canonical thinkers and develop the significance for transgender studies; some offer overviews of well-known methodologies and demonstrate their applicability within transgender studies; some suggest how transgender issues play out in various fields; and some map the productive tensions between trans studies and other interdisciplines.

The term cisgender (from the Latin cis-, meaning “on the same side as”) can be used to describe individuals who possess, from birth and into adulthood, the male or female reproductive organs (sex) typical of the social category of man or woman (gender) to which that individual was assigned at birth. Hence a cisgender person's gender is on the same side as their birth-assigned sex, in contrast to which a transgender person's gender is on the other side (trans-) of their birth-assigned sex.

Cisgender emerged from trans* activist discourses in the 1990s that criticized many commonplace ways of describing sex and gender. The terms man and woman, left unmarked, tend to normalize cisness—reinforcing the unstated “naturalness” of being cisgender. Thus using the identifications of “cis man” or “cis woman,” alongside the usage of “transman” and “transwoman,” resists that norm reproduction and the marginalization of trans* people that such norms effect. Furthermore, though “nontransgender” is a synonym for cisgender, the term came under criticism for the negative quality of its identity description as the state of being the opposite of transgender. Cisgender can be thought of as a positive identification of a non-trans* identity.

“Cisgender,” when used appropriately, helps distinguish diverse sex/gender identities without reproducing unstated norms associated with cisness. For example, instead of simply saying “man” or “woman,” one would use “cis woman” or “trans man” in much the same way one would use “black woman” or “white man” (Stryker 2008). Finally, as a substitute for “nontransgender,” “cisgender” can be viewed as a way of including transgender as a categorical equal in the complex way we identify as sexed and gendered human beings.

However, not all scholars agree on this last point. Some argue that “cisgender” still retains some of the normalizing implications that “nontransgender” possessed. Although attempting to remove the difference associated with transness by adopting “cisgender,” the term seems to place normativity entirely on the side of cisness—and thus reinforce the difference of transness (Enke 2013). Although emerging out of the language of trans* activism for equality, “cisgender” does not necessarily do the job it was intended to do—to help position transgender people as equals to their cisgender peers by disrupting the assumptions implied in our language. However inadvertently, “cisgender” may still subtly reaffirm the “naturalness” of being born with certain sexed characteristics (Enke 2013).

References

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