Gender modality refers to the correspondence or lack of correspondence between one's assigned gender at birth and one's actual gender identity. The two primary, and most well known gender modalities are cisgender and transgender. However, those are not the only possible modalities one can have.
While the term "trans" may be defined as a lack of correspondence in any form between gender assigned at birth and gender identity, some individuals may find the all-or-nothing nature of ‘correspondence’ too constraining or may feel that their relationship with their assigned gender at birth is more complicated than described through the terms cis or trans. The cis-trans binary is challenged by some non-binary individuals (especially agender and abinary individuals), as well as some intersex individuals and plural system members, who feel they do not fit into either cisgender or transgender.
Gender modality has, in some cases, been expanded by LGBTQ+ individuals to a more general relationship or directionality of one's gender irrespective of assigned gender, exemplified by adgender and genderqueer.
Gender modality was a term created by Florence Ashley, a transfeminine jurist and bioethicist, some time around February 28, 2019. The term was coined because Ashley noted that the notion of ‘gender identity’ as used in law, perpetuates the idea that ‘gender identity’ is something only used by trans individuals (whereas cis individuals would just have 'gender'). Ashley traces this misuse of the term gender identity to the fact that a conceptual category such as gender modality was not available when policymakers attempted to speak of discrimination against trans people by virtue of being not cis. The benefits of using gender modality as a concept include:
- Moves away from the othering nature of using the term "gender identity" when trans individuals are the sole intended subjects, which normalizes terminology that describes non-LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ individuals as equals.
- Enhances our vocabulary when discussing the various aspects of gender (e.g. gender assigned at birth, gender identity, gender expression, and now gender modality).
- Resolves controversies surrounding appropriate terminology when referring to the fact of being trans, with terms such as “transsexuality”, “transgenderism”.
- Opens the door to gender modalities outside of a cis/trans binary, by enabling us to talk about one's “gender modality” instead of one “being cis or trans” (in the same way that “sexual/romantic orientation” gives us conceptual tools to avoid reproducing a “straight/gay” binary).
Ashley advocates for the usage of gender modality in the WPATH Standards of Care version 8 and has written several essays on the topic of gender modality. The term has since been used in research about transgender health. The need for a categorical term of one's relationship to one's assigned gender had been explored prior to Florence's coining as early as 2014.
- Florence , Ashley. "Gender modality: Proposal for new terminology" Medium, 28 Feb, 2019, https://email@example.com/gender-modality-proposal-for-new-terminology-d78df51b299f.
- Ashley , Florence. "‘TRANS’ IS MY GENDER MODALITY: A MODEST TERMINOLOGICAL PROPOSAL" florenceashley.com, 27 Mar, 2019, https://www.florenceashley.com/uploads/1/2/4/4/124439164/florence_ashley_trans_is_my_gender_modality.pdf.
- Felt, Dylan; Xu, Jiayi; Floresca, Ysabel B.; Fernandez, Ella S.; Korpak, Aaron K.; Phillips, Gregory; Wang, Xinzi; Curry, Caleb W., and Beach, Lauren B. (30 November 2021). "Instability in Housing and Medical Care Access: The Inequitable Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on U.S. Transgender Populations". Transgender Health. https://doi.org/10.1089/trgh.2021.0129 (forthcoming)
- Phillips, Gregory II; Xu, Jiayi; Ruprecht, Megan M.; Costa, Diogo; Felt, Dylan; Wang, Xinzi; Glenn, Erik Elías; Beach, Lauren B. (30 Jun 2021). "Associations with COVID-19 Symptoms, Prevention Interest, and Testing Among Sexual and Gender Minority Adults in a Diverse National Sample". LGBT Health. 8 (5): 322-329. http://doi.org/10.1089/lgbt.2021.0002 (online)
- "Anonymous asked: Yeah, but can you explain the cis gender thing?" Tumblr, queeranarchism, 2014, https://queeranarchism.tumblr.com/post/76889334992/yeah-but-can-you-explain-the-cis-gender-thing.