Note: This article is part of a series on terminology related to homosexuality.
This term is used to describe people whose biology and gender identity match, according to ordinary social expectations. Biological males who present as men are “cisgender,” as are biological females who present as women.
This term is inextricable from two larger overall projects of the sexual revolution. First, this term is bound up with the claim that biological sex does not determine anything about “gender”—that is, the social role and expectations that people adopt according to their sex. Second, this term helps to classify people according to their level of privilege in society. It is often said that cisgendered, straight, white, males are privileged and powerful, while gender-queer people are marginalized and low-status.
Both of these underlying ideas are false. The link between biology and social role is far too universal to come from a mere social convention or construct. No matter how many people insist that men and women can both be “birthing persons,” it is no accident that women generally have a more domestic role in society, and men a more outwardly-focused role. Biology and social role are deeply connected. They are both parts of human nature.
Human nature itself comes from God’s creative design, and so these norms are part of God’s law which is disclosed to us both in nature itself and in Scripture. For this reason, Paul holds even the Gentiles who never received Scriptural revelation accountable for engaging in sexual immorality “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26). When he rebukes his Christian readers for errors in ordering the social roles of men and women in worship, he says that they have failed to observe “what nature itself teaches” about the the subject (1 Corinthians 7:11). Whether we learn the implications of sex from Scripture or perceive them in nature, they are real norms, not mere cultural trends.
It is also false to claim that people whose gender and sex align naturally occupy a position of “privilege.” A female who lives as a woman is not exercising any power over anyone else by being who she is; she is just living in light of who God created her to be. She has not usurped any position of power over others who have adopted exotic and disordered sexual identities. To suppose that she has is to take the first step toward the unjust notion that we must penalize her somehow in order to “level the playing field.”
But a “level playing field” will not be the outcome. As we have already begun to see in the applause for Caitlyn Jenner, and in the success of biological males in women’s sporting competition, the true outcome will be the unjust exaltation of those who adopt deviant and sinful sexual behaviors.
Like the term “sexual orientation,” the word “cisgender” is freighted with false ideas about sex and human nature. Christians should use the term only for very limited purpose, such as in quotations, lest we are subtly conformed to worldly thought.
Calvin Goligher is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, California. He and his wife Joanne have four young children.
"Courageous Christian Sexuality" by William Boekestein
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
"Identifying Our Identity" by Jared Nelson
Revoiced Spirituality by Jonathan Master
Biblical Personhood & Gender Confusion, with Derek Thomas, Richard Phillips, and Rosaria Butterfield.