Broadly speaking, cishet is a term used to describe someone who is both cisgender and heterosexual, says Rae D’Agnillo (they/them), a leader in various LGBTQ+ organizations.
If someone is cishet, it simply means that they are the gender they were assigned at birth and exclusively romantically and sexually attracted to those of the opposite gender.
(Reminder, “cisgender” is the term used to describe someone “whose gender is exclusively the one they were assigned at birth,” according to the Trans Journalists Association, and “heterosexual” is the sexual orientation used to describe someone who is attracted to the opposite gender.)
Being cishet is an identity with privilege because it means you are the sexuality and gender identity that is expected and assumed.
What is cishet?
As previously mentioned, the term cishet is used to describe someone who is both cisgender and heterosexual. And because cishets make up a majority of the human population, it is often assumed that most people are cisgender and heterosexual, according to The Queer Dictionary.
Sadly, though, this assumption contributes to cisnormativity, which assumes you should be of one gender only, and heteronormativity, which assumes that all relationships are between cisgender, heterosexual people.
These beliefs are problematic because it can make it difficult for those in the LGBTQ+ community to truly be themselves or embrace who they really are.
The difference between calling yourself cishet and calling yourself straight
First off, it’s helpful to remember that someone’s gender identity is different than their sexual orientation. They are two completely different things. So in order to consider yourself cishet, that would mean you are both cisgender (a gender identity) and heterosexual (a sexual orientation).
The difference between cishet and straight is that many people in the LGBTQ+ community can be straight but not cisgender.
Some examples of sexual orientation might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, etc. and this has nothing to do with their gender identity, which may be cisgender, transgender, non-binary, gender fluid, etc. Sexual orientation is solely based on who you are attracted to. And to be cishet, you need to check off both labels of cisgender and heterosexual.
The difference between cishet and comphet
Comphet is used to describe compulsory heterosexuality. This is the notion that heterosexuality is the only valid sexuality and that everyone should be or is expected to be straight, as Cheyenne M. Davis (she/they), a sex writer and founder of Unveild, previously told Cosmopolitan.com.
This can be seen when your aunt asks your gay brother if he’s going to settle down and find a wife or when your parents assume you are interested in someone of the opposite sex. This can also be observed in some gay individuals who feel the pressure to date those of the opposite gender simply because society told them they had to.
D’Agnillo says that the term comphet “describes an experience gay and lesbian folks have that stems from societal pressures. Individuals experiencing comphet can be any gender and identify with any sexuality.”
In other words, comphet is a belief, while cishet is just a term used to describe someone who is both cisgender and heterosexual. And just because you are cishet does not mean you subscribe to the ideas of compulsory heterosexuality.
Why is being cishet a privilege?
Being cishet is considered a privilege because, as D’Agnillo explains, it is a societal norm that is expected and often demanded from everyone. You don’t experience any judgment, oppression, transphobia, or homophobia simply because of your gender identity and sexual orientation.
This privilege means that you don’t have to worry about someone using incorrect pronouns and misgendering you or assuming that you need to be “fixed” because of who you are attracted to.
How to use your cishet privilege to make the world a more inclusive place
Here are some productive things you can do in order to use your privilege and become a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community:
Be a listener. When a friend who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community comes to you for support, simply listen to what they want and need. Sometimes that’s all they really need.
Be open-minded. This means that if you get called out by a member of the LGBTQ+ community over a comment or an action, be open to hearing them out and working on yourself to not perpetuate any phobia or judgment.
Be inclusive. Don’t push away those who are different from you, whether based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, or romantic orientation.
Don’t assume. Part of being an ally is shutting down the idea of compulsory heterosexuality. Don’t assume that everyone you meet is heterosexual and cisgender. Ask people their pronouns when you meet them.
Defend the LGBTQ+ community from judgmental people. If a friend or a family member makes a homophobic or transphobic comment, don’t hesitate to point out how their comment can be hurtful and talk to them about inclusivity. Although ignorance is not an excuse, it can definitely be fixed.
Believe that everyone is deserving of respect and dignity. Everyone is a human being and every human being has feelings. Just because you can’t quite comprehend their struggles does not mean you have the right to judge them or push them aside.
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