Hi, there, everyone! A while ago, Queer Intersects posted some ideas about the link between AIS (androgen insensitivity) - my own form of intersex - and cisgender. Cisgender can be broadly defined as identifying that your body form "matches up" with your gender identity. For example, "I am a biological female and I feel like a female! I am a cis-gender female." This term is often used in contrast to transgender, which can be defined as identifying that your body form does not match up with your gender identity. For example, "I was assigned male at birth, but I am a female! I am a female, who happens to be transgender." Other examples may include those who identify as genderqueer, where their biological sex does not necessarily match up with their gender identity, and/or their gender identity may not be either male or female. For example, "I was assigned female at birth, but I [do not identify as male or female] [identify as male or female some of the time] [identify as genderless] [do not use any labels to describe my gender]." There is a lot of variation in what it can mean to be transgender.
Before talking more about cis-gender, let's define AIS. AIS, or androgen insensitivity - is my own form of intersex. There are two main forms of AIS - CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity) and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity). It's important to note, though, that there's not just two kinds of AIS; within each of these two broader categories, there are many variations within of how one's body may function and look. One of the hallmarks of AIS individuals, in general, is that they "look feminine" because they are adrogen insensitive to some degree (= their bodies cannot use testosterone at all (CAIS), or their bodies can use testosterone to some extent (PAIS)). Although some clinical literature states that AIS bodies may be "hyperfeminine," this concept has been challenged by Queer Intersects about what it means to be and look feminine in the first place. AIS bodies may be be albe to be accurately characterized as hyperfeminine, but regardless, AIS individuals walking down the street would not be labeled "male" by other passers-by by virtue of their intersex.
Why is this information about AIS relevant here? Weren't we going to talk about identity and cis-gender? We definitely are! This information is relevant because intersex indviduals may tend to have body features that result in others reading them as more masculine or more feminine, depending on their form of intersex. (Any individual - intersex or not - may look more masculine or feminine anyway, based on individual differences, but this isn't what we're referring to here.) Individuals with AIS variations happen to conform to stereoteypical ideas about what women look like, so they are almost alway regarded as exclusively female. Since most mainstream societies assume a link between biological sex and gender identity, AIS individuals are labeled as cis-gender females, even if passers-by on the street don't exactly use that terminology. (They'd be more likely to go, "Oh, look! A woman.").
While cisgender sounds relatively straightforward, things become more complex when considering AIS. Are AIS individuals actually cis-gender? Can an individual be both cis-gender and intersex? If you identify as intersex, does that inherently mean you cannot be cis-gender? What happens when others label you as cis-gender, but you don't feel like you are?
One thing to consider is that identity comes from different places. Self-identity and perceived identity by others are different phenomena. For example, I self-identify as intersex but am never identified as anything other than cis- female by others, unless those people know them me and are aware of my intersex identity. Since I'm read as cis-female, though, does this cancel out my self-identity? Is my intersex identity less real? No, it doesn't mean that it's less real; it simply means that there is sometimes a discontinuity between self-identities and perceived identies. If perceived identities are incorrect (= others assume you are someone you're not), it doesn't mean that one's self identity is less real, although it complicates communicating who you are since intersex is still largely misundertood or unheard of. If self-identity is about knowing who you are, then perceived identity is about visibility. AIS individuals who identify as intersex may feel uncomfortable being perceived since their intersex identity is not visibile. The fact that intersex is stgmatized, and discussing intersex in a meaningful way is uncommon, does not make it easier to clarify such situations by communicating one's intersex identity.
It is also worth nothing that identities may not be static, but fluid. Identities may shift over short or long periods of time - for example, over the course of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. Individuals that have a fluid sex and/or gender identity - whether on a frequent basis, or a one-time event - may also feel dissonance between their self-identities and perceived identities if they feel that their self-identity has changed over time and their perceived identity has not, or vice versa, or if both fluctuate.
Another interesting point in sussing out the relationship between cis-gender and intersex is that whether one identifies as cis-gender or not, AIS individuals still receive cis- privilege by virtue of being read as cis-gender. Some intersex individuals may variably be read as either male or female by others; some people may feel uncomfortable and verbally or physically assult individuals they feel are not easily labeled as "male" or "female." AIS individuals are not subject to this kind of discrimination since they are almost always identified as "female," and thus don't any difficulty in being labeled male or female by others because of their intersex. Going further, the relationship between intersex and the cocnept of cis-gender itself merits scrutiny. While Queer Intersects points out the difficulty in finding clear-cut, inclusive definitions of what "cis" really is, the concept of cis-gender is really simplified in thinking that it's when your body "matches up" with your gender identity - i.e., "I identify as female and I'm female-bodied"; "I identify as male and I'm male-bodied." (Of course, this assumes that sex and gender identities need to "match up" in a certain way, which is not the case. You are who say you are! Period.) Accounting for intersex bodies, it becomes clear that biological sex is not binary - there are many variations. If we agree that intersex bodies exist legimately in their own right, and aren't "in between" or "ambiguous" with regard to male and female forms, then the concept of "opposite" doesn't make sense. For an individual who identifies as intersex, what would the opposite be? What would the not-opposite look like? Is the concept of your-identities-don't-need-to-match-up-in-a-particular-way-to-be-valid relevant here? is that I need think more about this.
Part of me thinks that if we embraced the fact that there are not only two kinds of biological sex - male and feamle - then the utility using the terms cisgender and transgender would break down. If we accepted that there aren't just two kinds of sex, describing one's gender as the "same as" or "opposite" one's sex cease to be meaningful. However, this line of thought assumes that individuals that could be included as intersex individuals actually identify as intersex - something that is not necessarily the case. Individuals may identify as males or females, who happen to be intersex, for instance. They acknowledge that they are intersex, but it's not a part of their IDENTITY. In these cases, using terms like cis- and trans- may be more useful in describing their identity.
In short: THIS STUFF IS REALLY COMPLICATED.
Intersex identities make it clear that the concept of cis-gender, and its use as an identity label, is much more complex that it may initially seem. Here, we've got several different viewpoints that may contradict one another in various ways. It may be tempting to conclude that there's no answer to how intersex and cis-gender relate, but I think that the answer is that this issue is complex and a diversity of thought exists about these concepts. The answer is that things are really messy, and more discussion is necessary to clarify the relationship between intersex and cis-gender. Answers don't = easy answers, for sure. What do you think?