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So, I hear trans people recently invented this whole cis/trans thing…

By Cristan Williams


Using the cis- and trans- taxonomy to reference gender behavior was used as early as 1914. The transgender community didn’t invent its use, nor is its current use inconsistent with its use in 1914.  When discussing gender, cis simply means same and  trans simply means to cross. Whether it was 1914 or 2014, when someone uses cis regarding gender, it is simply a recognition that one is not trans. Likewise, whether it was 1914 or 2014, when someone uses trans regarding gender, it is simply a recognition that one is not cis.

From the Transgender Archive, Houston, TX

Some context: The above comes in the context of a sexology book from the beginning of the last century when it was popular to scrutinize (and sometimes overly-so) a great deal of human behavior through a psycho-sexual leans. Thus, whether one was dressing in a manner consistent with their sex assigned at birth or in a manner inconsistent with their sex assigned at birth, the vestments were viewed as sexual symbols.

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Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.
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  • hmm. a rough translation of this is “cisvestite- the inclination to wearing clothes of another age (i can’t tell if they mean time-period or child/adult/elderly), profession, or ethnicity- for sexual play (think fetish wear).

    So yeah, the prefix was used 100 years ago, but it wasn’t really used the same way we’re using it now. and definitely not in the “opposite of transgender” way.

    Before you attack me for being trans phobic, or hating the word cis- I’m a trans guy. But i also love linguistics. Beware of false cognates. just because a word looks like a word you know doesn’t mean it means what you think it does.

    • Context is everything.

      First, realize that this is talking about explicitly gendered behavior – crossing over or not.

      Second, realize that this use comes from a dictionary of German sexology where almost everything a human did was motivated by a sexual urge – including smoking.

      Criticising that the use is not 100% the same as our current use is to be purposefully obtuse. We use the cis- trans- dichotomy to indicate explicitly gendered behavior – just as they did in this context. You might as well assert that the trans+gender lexical compound isn’t linked to trans+vestitismus lexical compound because at the time the term meant using the clothing of the other sex for fetishitstic reasons.

      • Smithereens


  • “Cisvestitismus” v “Transvestitismus” … “Berlin Ostern 1914”

    Oh, too cool; congratulations on digging up this citation, Cristan!


    – bonzie anne