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Cishet

Updated: APRIL 12, 2024

Cishet is a descriptive term that usually describes anyone who is cisgender and heterosexual. People who are cisgender identify as the sex they were assigned at birth and feel sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender. Cishet is sometimes defined as a descriptive term for anyone who is cisgender and heteromantic, or romantically attracted to the opposite gender. Cishet can also be a noun for a cisgender and heterosexual or heteromantic person of any gender. Most people are cishet.

Brittany Steffan, an AASECT-certified sex therapist, says the term cishet is "often used in discussions around LGBTQ+ issues to differentiate between those who are part of the majority, specifically in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation, and those who are not (AKA those who may self-identify as queer). Of particular interest to readers may be that the difference between the labels 'cishet' and 'straight' is that many people in the LGBTQ+ community identify as straight, but not as cisgender."

She adds that "the term 'cishet' serves as a tool for discussing and understanding privilege, power dynamics, and identities within the LGBTQ+ community and broader society. It can be a useful concept for promoting inclusivity, awareness, and empathy towards individuals with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. For example, in educational spaces or the workplace, someone new to this language might be surprised to learn that they too have a label, and that new information in itself could spark a discussion regarding the privilege of cis and heteronormativity!"

Who are Cishet Individuals and Couples?

Cishet individuals are classified as cishet men and cishet women. A cishet man identifies with the male sex he was assigned at birth and feels attracted to women. A cishet woman identifies with the female sex she was assigned at birth and feels attracted to men. When a cishet man forms a relationship with a cishet woman, they become a cishet couple.

What is a Cishet Relationship?

A cishet relationship is an intimate partnership between a cishet man and cishet woman. This relationship may be sexual, romantic, or both, depending on your definition of cishet.

Origin of Cishet

The term cishet is an abbreviation of two words with historic roots: cisgender and heterosexual or heteromantic. The Latin prefix cis- translates to “on this side,” the opposite of trans, which means “on the other side.” The Greek prefix hetero- , which gets shortened simply to het, translates to another. People who are heterosexual or heteromantic feel attracted to people of another gender. It’s unclear who coined the term cishet and when, but by 2013 it was used in publications from universities and activist groups.

Cishet Pronunciation

Cishet is a portmanteau of the words cisgender and heterosexual or heteromantic, depending on your definition, so its pronounced by combining the first syllable of each word. Cis has a soft c sound, like sis. Het rhymes with bet or met.

Cishet, Gender, and Identity

People who are cishet have a gender and identity that aligns with the sex they were ascribed at birth. Cishet men were born with a penis and have grown up to feel that they are inherently male, while cishet women were born with a vagina and have grown up feeling they are female. As they grow up, they experience feelings of attraction towards people of the opposite gender, as the majority of society does. As their experiences of gender and identity align with society’s assumptions, cishets don’t experience any of the gender and identity dysphoria that some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and two-spirit (LGBTQ2+) community can feel.

Who is Not Cishet?

Anyone who is not both cisgender and heterosexual is not cishet. In other words, the members of the LGBTQ2+ community are not cishet. Some of these people may be cisgender but not heterosexual, some may be heterosexual but not cisgender, and some may not identify as cisgender or heterosexual. Along with the identifiers referenced in the acronym LGBTQ2+, people who are not cishet may use labels such as pansexual, asexual, sexually fluid, or non-binary.

Is the Term Cishet Offensive?

Cishet can be a neutral term or a derogatory one depending on the user’s intent. While people can use the term cishet simply as an identifier, some members of the LGBTQ2+ have been accused of using the term as a slur. They may use the term when stereotyping cisgender and heterosexual people or making fun of them. This can be harmful both to cishets and questioning members of the LGBTQ2+ community. In 2023, Queerty recounted the story of a questioning person who posted on Reddit that cishet-teasing made them anxious about whether they may lose the community’s support if they decided they were straight. Bisexual people in relationships with members of the opposite sex said they also felt attacked by negative talk about cishets.

Cishet Spaces

Cishet people enjoy privileges that come from having the sexuality and gender identity that’s expected by society. One of these privileges is access to most spaces, because they aren’t discriminated against based on their sexuality or gender identity. They can freely attend any school, church, or business, for example. Cishet people may also be welcomed in traditionally LGBTQ2+ spaces, such as gay clubs and pride events. If they treat people in these spaces with respect, many LGBTQ2+ people appreciate the allyship of cishets.

"It’s important for cishet folks to be mindful of the spaces they enter with respect to the boundaries and needs of marginalized communities—particularly within LGBTQ+ spaces where cishet individuals may not always be the primary focus, or even welcomed," Steffan explained. "There are groups and spaces that are specifically for LGBTQ+ individuals, and cishet individuals, who do not self-identify along that spectrum by definition, would want to respect those spaces and refrain from participation unless they were asked to join in the event."

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