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27 October 2023

History of cis words

 Part I: life

Part II: Lexikon

Part III: history of cis words

Cis = this side of; Trans = that side of. Anyone who has studied history and/or geography is aware of Cis/Trans Alpine; Cis/Transylvania; Cis/Transkei; Cis/Transjordan. There are also cis/trans distinctions in chemistry and biology.

Inevitably given words like transvestism/transsexualism/transgender many play with replacing ‘trans’ with ‘cis’ and asking what does that mean?


Ernst Burchard is usually credited with the first such coining. Maybe he did coin it; maybe the term was in use among Hirschfeld’s colleagues, and as he was compiling a lexicon, he of course included it.

Marquis Bey writing in 2022:

“Before this, however, proto-cisgender discourse arose in 1914 with Ernst Burchard’s introduction of cis/trans distinctions to sexol- ogy. Cisvestitismus, or a type of inclination to wear gender-conforming clothing, was contrasted for Burchard with transvestitismus, or cross- dressing.”

However Bey is not being careful at all. Hirschfeld, Burchard and associates do not seem to mean what we mean. Here again is the translation of the term as found in Burchard’s Lexicon:

Cisvestitismus: the tendency to put on the clothes of another age group, ethnicity, or occupational class of the same sex for the purpose of sexual relaxation, analogous to transvestitism.

So Transvestitismus and Cisvestitismus are both dressings-up as what other people think one is not. Also both involve “sexual relaxation” or “sexual disposition”.

There is nothing in the English or French terms ‘transvestism’ and travestissement that signifies sex or gender. This is also true of the corresponding German word ‘Verkleidung’. German has the option of attaching ‘Geschlecht ’ (=sex or gender) to give “Geschlechtsverkleidung” which does specify gender crossing. While Hirschfeld used Transvestiten, the new loan word from French in the title of his 1910 book, in the contents to the book he mainly used Geschlechtsverkleidung, and in the text itself, he often shortened it to Verkleidung.

In English we may say ‘gendervesting’, but this term is not often used. Technically all the following are types of transvesting: theovesting (dressing as a god); ethnovesting (dressing as an ethnicity); chronovesting (dressing as per a different time in history); pedovesting (dressing as a child); dressing as a nurse or pilot; etc.

However, by common usage, most people do assume gendervesting if you say or write ‘transvest*’.

Both Mardi Gras and Halloween are occasions for Cisvestitismus.

Burchard did not propose a term for what we now call cisgender.

Here are some modern definitions of Cisvestism:

Wiktionary. cisvestism: The wearing of clothing that does not represent one's profession or status.

Wikidata. cisvestism: paraphilia in which a subject derives gratification from crossdressing.

The Free Dictionary. cisvestism: The practice of dressing in clothes inappropriate to one's position or status.

Homovestism, Homeovestism

The next proposal did not happen until 1972.

Georges Zavitzianos (1909 – 1995), a Greek psychoanalyst trained at Montpellier, France, emigrated to Montréal in 1952, and then to Bethesda, Maryland. His writings are concerned with female 'perversions' and he did not use the term ‘cisvestism’, but instead coined 'homeovestism' for erotic arousal by wearing the clothes of the gender that one is, either obsessively or with exaggeration, such as men who always wear a suit and tie, or women who never go out except in a skirt and makeup. His writings on the subject were derived from writings by psychoanalysts of that time about transvestism, and as such he sees it as a 'perversion' and a 'fetish'.

The term was re-introduced by Louise Kaplan in the early 1990s, in her book Female Perversions.

Before the 1960s it was of course difficult to distinguish homovestism from the socially required norms.

As there has not been much public usage of the words, the pathologizing connotations have been forgotten, and we are able to use them without the psychoanalytic baggage.

‘Homovestism’ means ‘as’ one’s own gender – dress styles already in existence. ‘Homeovestism’ means ‘like’ one’s own gender – e.g. the gay leather outfits that did not pre-exist their fetishization.

If there is ‘homovestism’, then by reverse formation there should also be ‘heterovestism’ - but no one seems to have proposed such.


It is no surprise that the term ‘cisgender’ did not appear until ‘transgender’ had gained sufficient currency. It is interesting that at least three persons coined terms independently of one other, all in the early 1990s:

Volkmar Sigusch, sexologist in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1991:

“The genuinely neological characteristic of transsexualism is that it casts what I have referred to as cissexualism, actually its logical counterpart‚ in a highly ambiguous light. For if there is a trans‚ a beyond (physical gender)‚ there must be a cis‚ a this-side -of‚ as well. By proving that sex/gender is a culturally composed‚ psychosocially communicated phenomenon‚ transsexuality shows that physical gender and gender identity among cissexuals‚ who up to now have been regarded as the only healthy and normal people‚ no longer unquestionably and (supposedly) naturally go together.”(summary in Sigusch 1998)

Dana Defosse, at the University of Minnesota in 1994, needing a word that did not imply normality to the non-transsexuals only, came up with ‘cisgender’ for a post on alt.transgendered.

Carl Buijs, a Dutch trans man proposed ‘cisgendered’ in alt.transgendered in 1995: “‘How come there's no name for people who are not transgendered?’”

Buijis did not know about Defosse, who did not know about Sigusch.

  • Ernst Burchard. Lexikon des gesamten Sexuallebens. Adler-Verlag, 1914.

  • George Zavitzianos. "Homeovestism: Perverse Form of Behaviour Involving the Wearing of Clothes of the Same Sex". International Journal of Psychoanalysis 53 (4): 471–477,1972. PMID. Online.

  • Louise Kaplan. Female Perversions: The Temptations of Emma Bovary. Doubleday, 1991.

  • Volkmar Sigusch. "Die Transsexuellen und unser nosomorpher Blick" ("Transsexuals and our nosomorphic view"). Z. Sexualforsch. 4, 1991.

  • Volkmar Sigusch. “The Neosexual Revolution”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27,4,1998.

  • Joyce H Wu. 'THE PRODUCTION, PROGRESSION, AND POTENTIAL OF CISGENDER . Thesis, Swarthmore College, 2015. Online.

  • Avery Dame. “Tracing Terminology: Researching Early Uses of ‘Cisgender’”. American Historical Association, May 22, 2017. Online.

  • Marquis Bey. Cistem-Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender. Duke University Press, 2022.

  • Dana Defosse. “I Coined The Term 'Cisgender' 29 Years Ago. Here's What This Controversial Word Really Means”. Huffpost, Feb 18, 2023. Online.

EN.Wikipedia(Cisgender) T-Vox(Cisgender)