With states like North Carolina insisting on turning back progress on transgender rights, influential dictionary company Merriam-Webster have just added the terms “cisgender” and “genderqueer” to its unabridged dictionary. This illustrates how prominent the gender-identity debate has become.
In its “Words We’re Watching” post, Merriam-Webster defines cisgender as “someone whose internal sense of gender corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.” It’s risen to prominence mainly alongside the term “transgender,” where that internal correspondence doesn’t automatically exist, though the usage of transgender goes back to 1970, maybe earlier, while “cisgender” started existing in the 1990s. Cisgender is often shortened to “cis.”
As for “genderqueer,” Merriam-Webster defines that term like so: “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.” Vox says the addition of these two words to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary shows how far we’ve come in acknowledging gender fluidity in our culture, and that we’ll soon be able to work out how to address people who define themselves as “genderqueer,” where a “he” or “she” pronoun won’t suffice.
But how do you refer to an uncle or aunt if they identify as genderqueer — so male or female don’t necessarily apply to them? Or niece and nephew? These are issues that we just don’t have good answers to, but will likely get worked out eventually. After all, language is hugely adaptive and changing all the time.
It’s also hopefully a sign of our progress, even if lawmakers insist on passing bills to undermine that.