Cishet – Insult or Innocent Descriptor?

There’s been some discussion lately in a group I’m a part of about the term “cishet” – short for “cisgender and heterosexual” – and whether it’s an insult or just a word to describe a group of people. I’ve actually seen three sides emerge in this debate:

1. It’s an insult. Queer people (and, as it’s often grouped together as “white cishet men”, female people and people of color) use it to attack an entire group of people, disregarding the fact Not All White Cishet Men are against the values of the queer, female people of color. It alienates the allies among cisgender heterosexual people by reducing them to the same level as the attackers, and it should not be used.

2. It’s used as an insult to give the insulting group some sort of power over the majority, seeing as how A Lot Of White Cishet Men participate (knowingly or not) in the oppression of a variety of minorities. Depending on context, it might not be an insult, but it needs to be available to give back some of the power when necessary. Allies should recognize their privilege and be willing to admit to it, part of which is owning their part in the cishet-centric society, but they shouldn’t be attacked with it the way non-allies can be.

3. It’s just a word that describes a person or group of people. If you automatically take it as an insult, that says much more about you than it does about the person who used it. Even it were part of a phrase “white male cishet assholes”, it’s still not an insult – assholes is the insult, and the rest is just to be a bit more specific about exactly which kind of assholes we’re dealing with. Allies can be cishet, but so can assholes; cishet is not the most important word in that phrase.

Has anyone else encountered this debate? What’s your take on it?

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2 thoughts on “Cishet – Insult or Innocent Descriptor?

  1. Everything is context. Cisgender is great word for clearing up gender, just the way that straight is a useful word for clearing up sexual identity. Before cis, if you weren’t transgender you were normal.

    Cis-het, as opposed to cis-gay allows for a level of specificity that you can’t get by saying not part of the LGBT acronym.

    But context is important, and haters are going to hate no matter what terms they use – and the rest of us may find the term useful as a description, just like lesbian trans woman.

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