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Politician says ‘cisgender’ is a new and ‘politicised’ word despite being used for decades

Vic Parsons January 10, 2020
Cisgender is a 'politicised' word that shouldn't be in the census, says Kenneth Gibson

Kenneth Gibson said he'd only learned the word cisgender six months ago. (SNP)

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson has objected to the proposed use of the word “cisgender” in Scotland’s next census, calling it a “politicised” and “contested” word.

Gibson also accused National Records Scotland (NRS), the body that runs the census, of having an “agenda” with its attempt to introduce new questions about Scotland’s transgender population.

Adding that he’d only heard of the word cisgender six months ago, Gibson said: “It has seemed that from the start NRS has had its own agenda on this, regardless of what other people think.”

Pete Whitehouse, NRS director of statistical services, said the body was “trying to use language that is understood that is not seen to be in any way pejorative or demeaning or insulting”.

Whitehouse added: “I’m sorry if that is the way it has been perceived. That is not the way NRS has worked.”

The 2021 Scottish census will attempt to measure the size of Scotland’s transgender population for the first time.

As part of this, questions on whether men and women are trans or cis are slated to be included – but Gibson said that “cisgender” is a “contested and politicised term that many people object to and many others are completely unfamiliar with”.

Whitehouse agreed there will be a “quite enormous” amount of work needed to promote the census and explain the changes across society, saying: “We are still working through what we need to do.”

Cisgender comes from the Latin prefix ‘cis’, which has been used since Roman times.

‘Cis’ is a Latin prefix that’s been used since pre-Roman times, meaning “on this side of”.

In the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, the Cisalpine Gaul was a region of northern Italy occupied by Celts (“Gauls”) and later taken over by the Romans.

Cisalpine meant “on this of the Alps” (from the perspective of the Romans), and was used to differentiate the region from the Transalpine Gaul, a region in the south of France also occupied by Celts (the prefix “trans” here used to mean “on the far side of the Alps”).

The prefix “trans” comes from Latin, and means “across from” or “on the other side of” – other situations where it’s used include for the Trans-Siberian railway and to describe right-angled waves in physics (transverse waves).

The prefix “cis” also comes from Latin and is used in chemistry.

The first known use of “cis” as a prefix to “gender” was in 1994, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Cisgender was first used by academic journal articles in the ’90s to describe someone whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Census will not count non-binary trans people in Scotland.

In June 2019, the Scottish parliament backed plans to introduce new questions on sex and gender in the 2021 census, although the questions and their wording were yet to be finalised.

But while NRS had originally proposed adding a question to identify non-binary people living in Scotland, it dropped this plan in August 2019.

This means the 2021 census will still only provide “male” or “female” options when asking for the sex of respondents.

James Morton of the Scottish Trans Alliance said: “In an ideal world, we would have loved to see the addition of an answer option for non-binary trans people. We worked at length to assist the Scottish Government to develop that proposed improvement but the Parliamentary Committee refused to accept it. We continue to campaign for non-binary inclusive data collection but sadly it is clear that will not be achievable in this census.

“The fight around this census is no longer about a chance of improvement.  Now, however, the key issue is protecting the existing rights of trans women and trans men to answer the census with the self-identified sex in which they live. The battle we face is to stop a roll back of decades of existing trans rights by Parliamentary Committee members who want to force trans people to only ever be regarded as the sex they were assigned at birth.”

More: cisgender, kenneth gibson, scottish trans alliance, SNP, Transgender

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