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Beyond Labels – Questioning The 'Cis' Tag In Allyship

Written by: Richie Perera, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Richie Perera

In today's constantly changing society, the debate over gender identity has attained unparalleled significance. To better understand the nuances of gender identity, the transgender movement, which actively campaigns for the rights and acceptance of persons who identify outside of their birth-assigned gender, has adopted a plethora of terms. The terms "cisgender" or "cis" refer to people who identify with their biological gender.

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Is there, however, more to the story when it comes to the term "cis"?

The movement, which has pioneered as a vanguard of diversity, inclusion, and allyship, has met criticism on occasion, with some fearing that it may unwittingly step on delicate terrain. Indeed, the pressing question of "permission" remains unanswered.

Has the trans community, in their zealousness to champion understanding, possibly become too forceful in their rhetoric? While the primary goal might be clarity, one cannot ignore the fine line between enlightenment and entitlement.

In 2019, John Boyne wrote in the Irish times, “As a gay man, I’m part of the G in the LGBTQ acronym, but my experiences with the Ls, the Bs, the Ts and the Qs are no more or less than anyone else’s. And while I support the rights of trans community, it will probably make some unhappy to know that I reject the word “cis”, the term given by transgender people to non-transgender brethren. I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man.”

A 2020 study by the Williams Institute found that only 33% of Americans had a clear understanding of the term "cisgender." A 2020 survey by the University of California, found that 52% of cisgender people said they were comfortable being called cis, while 48% said they were not comfortable.

A 2023 article by the publication Spiked reflected a similar sentiment, noting an increase in assertive campaigns. Where they quoted ‘Misgendering’, the act of getting someone’s preferred pronouns ‘wrong’, whether intentionally or indeed accidentally, is now seen as a cardinal sin.

Drawing on these observations, a critical concern emerges: Could certain labels be unwittingly counterproductive in the drive for understanding and tolerance, especially when a major segment remains unfamiliar with or feels alienated by them?

An important reflection anchored in the core of self-identity further complicates this discussion. The transgender movement, renowned for its zealous campaign for acceptance and diversity, appears to be caught in a conundrum at times. Advocating for one’s identity should not inadvertently eclipse another’s. As more data unfolds, showcasing varying perspectives, it becomes clear: The trans movement is at a pivotal juncture.

Is there a gap in understanding and embracing the majority's self-perception? To clarify, if a person naturally identifies as male or female without the "cis" prefix, does an external label, no matter how well-intended, run the risk of being prescriptive?

This fragile terrain necessitates a sophisticated approach. While the trans community's quest for inclusion is clearly admirable, a potential blind spot arises when one group's narrative overshadows another. Advocacy is critical, but so is ensuring that it does not accidentally alienate.

"Managing People in the New Normal," a fundamental book written by Richie Perera, provides insightful insights into this paradigm. Chapter 8, in particular, is a goldmine of techniques for promoting a more literate workplace, particularly in terms of gender identity management. The book articulates the importance of adaptation, mutual respect, and an inclusive approach – qualities that resonate strongly in the context of this conversation.

Without a doubt, the trans community faces significant hurdles. A landscape tainted by bigotry, prejudice, and an urgent need for empathy bears witness to their plight. However, long-term allyship necessitates introspection and adjustment. It is not just about championing terminology, but also about adopting its essence and ensuring that it is broadly understood.

This isn't a call to do away with terminology but rather a plea for mindfulness. As the trans community seeks acceptance for how they see themselves, so too should they ensure that they're not inadvertently relabeling others against their wishes. After all, a world of mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration is the goal.

Workplaces in the United Kingdom and the United States are in a state of flux, with diversity and inclusion at the forefront. In this changing period, it is critical for movements, particularly those as influential as the trans community, to constantly examine and adapt their strategies in order to ensure complete inclusivity.

It's essential to reiterate that the trans community's mission is rooted in acceptance and understanding. However, sustainable allyship demands a two-way street. Respect for self-identification should be universal, irrespective of majority or minority status.

In our common quest for a more understanding world, it is critical to recognise that each tale is unique, and each voice is priceless. By ensuring that all points of view are acknowledged and valued, we may move closer to a world where acceptance is more than just a phrase but a lived reality for everyone involved.

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Brainz Magazine Richie Perera

Richie Perera, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Richie is an award-winning CEO and Founder of Mental Health and Life, an organisation that delivers Mental Health First Aid, Race Equity and Suicide Intervention training. Richie is recognised as a global leader in people management and the author of the groundbreaking book, Managing People in the New Normal. Richie is a speaker and consultant on workplace mental health and wellbeing describing it as the most overlooked, undervalued, yet most lucrative facet of business.



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