'Cisgender’ meaning as Elon Musk brands term a ‘slur’ and JK Rowling voices her view

Elon Musk and JK Rowling who both refute term cisgender
Twitter owner Elon Musk has said Twitter users who use 'cis' or 'cisgender' in a hateful way will have their accounts suspended, while JK Rowling says she doesn't agree with the jargon. (Getty Images)

Elon Musk has said he considers the words 'cis' and 'cisgender' to be slurs on Twitter, while JK Rowling has said she "refuses" to adopt the jargon.

Musk, the 51-year-old billionaire, who bought the social media platform in October 2022, said that the terms counted as "repeated, targeted harassment" and, if used, could result in accounts being suspended.

The comments were made in response to a tweet by co-founder of Thoughtful Therapists, James Esses, who received backlash after posting a tweet saying he rejected the term "cis".

"Yesterday, after posting a Tweet saying that I reject the word ‘cis’ and don’t wish to be called it, I received a slew of messages from trans activists calling me ‘cissy’ and telling me that I am ‘cis’ ‘whether or not I like it’," Esses wrote. "Just imagine if the roles were reversed."

In response, Musk wrote: “Repeated, targeted harassment against any account will cause the harassing accounts to receive, at minimum, temporary suspensions. The words ‘cis’ or ‘cisgender’ are considered slurs on this platform."

However, when someone replied asking if someone self-identifies as cis, Musk said: "Call yourself anything you want."

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JK Rowling later retweeted Esses's original tweet and voiced her thoughts on the terms to her 14 million followers.

"'Cis' is ideological language, signifying belief in the unfalsifiable concept of gender identity," Rowling said.

"You have a perfect right to believe in unprovable essences that may or may not match the sexed body, but the rest of us have a right to disagree, and to refuse to adopt your jargon."

What do 'cis' and 'cisgender' mean?

'Cis' is the shortened version of cisgender, which is a term used to describe gender identity.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as an adjective and says it is: "Designating a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds to his or her sex at birth; of or relating to such persons. Contrasted with transgender."

Cis relates to a person's gender and not their sexuality. You can be a cis person and be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or any other sexual identity, or you can be a transgender person and have the same sexual identities.

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If you hear someone saying they are 'cishet' this means they are cisgender and heterosexual. It is often assumed that most people are cisgender and heterosexual, as they form the largest part of the population, though studies show the LGBTQ+ population is growing.

Who coined the term 'cisgender'?

The word cisgender was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015, but it was coined almost two decades previously.

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Earlier this year, researcher Dana Defosse claimed to have coined the term in 1994 when she was writing a paper on the health of trans adolescents. At the time, she put it on the site alt.transgender as she was struggling to find a term to describe people who were not transgender.

She looked to the Latin prefix of cis- for inspiration, as in chemistry this is what molecules with atoms grouped on the same side are called, while molecules with atoms groups on opposite side are called trans-. Thus, cis-gender, or cisgender, was born.