“Cisgender” is a word used to describe gender identity. “Straight,” on the other hand, is used to describe sexual orientation.
Being cisgender isn’t the same thing as being straight, but they can overlap. In fact, people can be both cisgender and straight.
Here’s what you need to know about when these labels apply, other terms to use, and more.
When you were born, people looked at your genitals and decided that you were a girl or boy based on what they saw.
As you grow up and learn about the concept of gender, you might identify as the gender you were assigned at birth or you might not.
If you do identify with that gender, you’re cisgender, or “cis.”
For example, if you were born with a penis and identify as a male, you’re a cisgender man.
Similarly, if you were born with a vagina and identify as a female, you’re a cisgender woman.
If you don’t identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, you may find that you’re transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming.
It’s not that simple.
Cisgender is considered the opposite of transgender, but some people feel that they identify as neither cisgender nor transgender.
Some people identify as nonbinary, which means they don’t identify strictly as a man or a woman.
Some nonbinary people consider themselves to be transgender, but some consider themselves to be neither entirely transgender nor cisgender.
For example, let’s consider a nonbinary person who was assigned male at birth. This person might describe themselves as genderfluid. They might feel that their gender identity shifts over time and they could identify as a man some days and a woman on other days.
In this case, the person shifts between the definitions of cisgender and transgender. They might identify as both cisgender and transgender, or neither.
So, cisgender and transgender aren’t a part of a strict binary. It’s possible to be neither cisgender nor transgender, or to identify as a bit of both.
The word “straight” is often used to mean “heterosexual.” It can also mean “heteroromantic.”
Heterosexual means you’re sexually attracted to the opposite sex only.
Heteroromantic means you’re romantically attracted to the opposite sex only.
Generally, “straight” means you’re attracted to the opposite sex, whether it’s in a sexual or romantic way.
This is also not so simple.
Some people are straight and some people are gay, but there are many other possibilities.
For example, you can be:
- Bisexual or biromantic: you’re attracted to people of multiple genders
- Pansexual or panromantic: you’re attracted to people of all genders
- Asexual or aromantic: you experience little to no sexual or romantic attraction
- Sexually or romantically fluid: your orientation changes over time
- Queer: you’re not straight, though this term means many things to different people
These are only a few examples of how people may describe their sexual or romantic orientation. Of course, some people choose not to label their orientation.
You can be sexually attracted to one group of people and romantically attracted to another group of people.
For example, it’s possible to be homoromantic and pansexual. This means you’re romantically attracted to people of the same gender as you, but sexually attracted to people of all genders.
Orientation and attraction can be complicated — it isn’t just a matter of simply being gay or straight.
“Cishet” means someone is both cisgender and heterosexual. It could also mean both cisgender and heteroromantic.
In other words, a cishet person identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth, and they’re attracted to people of the opposite gender.
There are many cisgender people who aren’t straight. So, you can be cisgender and gay, cisgender and bisexual, or cisgender and asexual, to name a few identities.
Similarly, you can be transgender and straight. Some trans people find themselves exclusively attracted to people of the opposite gender.
Every human is unique.
There are different terms to describe orientation and gender identity because there are so many ways to experience attraction and gender.
The diversity of terms actually reflects the diversity of humans.
Having a term to describe who you are can be validating for many people. Often, these terms help people find community so they feel less alone.
Some people tell you what terms they use to describe themselves. For others, you might have to ask.
If you’re not sure and you aren’t comfortable asking, don’t assume the labels someone does or doesn’t use.
Remember that some people might feel uncomfortable talking about their gender or orientation, especially if they’ve experienced discrimination in the past.
If you’re unsure about what terms to use to describe yourself, take time to think about it. Read up about terms that might describe you. Check out forums on Reddit and Facebook groups.
You can’t always tell what pronouns someone uses by looking at them. They might state their pronouns up front, or you have to ask. Remember, it’s better to ask than to assume.
If you’d like, you can share your pronouns when you meet new people.
For example, you could simply say “Hi! My name is so-and-so and my pronouns are they/them.” You can also add your pronouns to your social media bios and email signature.
There are many places where you can learn more about gender, sexuality, orientation, and attraction. For example:
- LGBTA wiki
- Everyday Feminism
- TSER (Trans Student Education Resources)
- National Center for Transgender Equality
Healthline also has a transgender resources guide.
If you’re an LGBTQIA+ person looking for support or community, it might also be helpful to reach out to any LGBTQIA+ social and activism groups in your area.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.