What Does Cisgender Mean? A Short Explainer

“I hope I’m the last cisgender man playing a transgender woman,” Jeffrey Tambor said at the Emmys on Sunday

Jeffrey Tambor
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The word “cisgender” had a moment in the spotlight Sunday night when “Transparent” Emmy winner Jeffrey Tambor used it in his acceptance speech for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.

If you’d never heard it before, it simply refers to a person who is not transgender — in other words, a person who identifies with the sex that he or she was assigned at birth. According to Time, the word applies to about 99 percent of the population, whether they’re familiar with the word or not.

On Sunday night, Tambor, who plays a transgender woman on Amazon’s “Transparent,” said during his speech, “I hope I’m the last cisgender man playing a transgender woman.”

Tambor also implored producers and casting directors to give transgender actors a chance, a plea later echoed by transgender actress Laverne Cox, when she presented an award. Cox thanked her “Orange Is the New Black” showrunner Jenji Kohan for hiring her.

This fall, Cox will star on CBS’ “Doubt” and become the first series regular transgender actor playing a transgender character.

The issue of cisgender actors playing transgender characters has come into focus in recent days due to controversy swirling around the indie film “Anything,” in which cisgender actor Matt Bomer plays a transgender female sex worker.

Mark Ruffalo, an executive producer on the film, said he sought out Bomer for the role after working with him in the HBO film “The Normal Heart,” and said he is “glad we are having this conversation.”

Transgender actress Jen Richards said she auditioned for the role and made her concerns about casting a cisgender actor clear.

“I auditioned for this. I told them they shouldn’t have a cis man play a trans woman. They didn’t care,” she said on Twitter.

Richards has since been cast on “Nashville,” becoming the first trans actor cast on CMT. She also praised Tambor’s speech Sunday.

“I know well the pace of institutional change,” she said in a series of tweets. “That moment was 40+ years in the making, due to work of countless people. But it’s here now… And yes, the moment will culminate with actual trans actors, writers, directors walking those stages. This moment is only beginning.”