Beyond The Binary: Making Language Gender Inclusive

Language is our primary form of communication, therefore, it's vital that everyone feels included within it. All too often, those who identify as transgender, non-binary or gender fluid are excluded from the conversation because the words being used don't accommodate for them. These people will always be part of our society so it's time to start combating institutions which ignore and silence them and, instead, ensuring they are fully integrated into all aspects of society.
"Political correctness has gone mad!" The ignorant amongst us may say. "I literally can't say anything anymore!" Others will argue, however, those points are simply not true. Making language more gender inclusive isn't about being 100% PC, it's simply about involving everyone. Trying to fight against using gender inclusive language only highlights your own ignorance. Using gender neutral language only seems overly politically correct simply because you've become accustomed to speaking in a certain way. In the past, language wasn't as inclusive as it is now, therefore, many of us aren't used to going beyond the binary when speaking. This is mainly down to lack of education and just not being exposed to the existence of trans, non-binary and gender fluid individuals, which is fair enough. There is no shame in not being educated. Where the shame does lie, however, is in you refusing to being open to education and being so stuck in your ways that it totally invalidates people's identities. By not opening your mind and heart to the world that exists outside our heteronormative society, you're depriving yourself of many wonderful people and inspiring stories. You're also being incredibly phobic and, believe me, it isn't cool to be ignorant.

Some people just don't see the need to make their language gender inclusive because they've always spoken in a certain way, so why should they change? They've never come into contact with a trans person, so why talk as if everyone around them is trans, right? Wrong. Just because we don't personally know any trans, non-binary or gender fluid people, that doesn't mean it's acceptable to act as if they don't exist elsewhere and it doesn't mean you will not come into contact with the community in the future. Plus, it's just generally good practise to get into the habit of being gender neutral where possible because, firstly, you don't know who may be listening and, secondly, it'll provide education for younger generations. We have all been guilty of assuming someone's gender at some point in our lives, too, therefore, by using gender inclusive language all the time, for example, they pronouns, it prevents this from happening. Gender cannot be assumed from appearance so it's a nice thought to just simply be more neutral with the ways you speak. It will not harm anyone but could mean the world to some.

Change can be difficult, I understand that. When you're so used to doing things one way, flipping them on their head and doing them differently can take a while to get used to. However, the difficulty we may experience speaking in gender neutral terms is nothing compared to the struggles the trans, non-binary and gender fluid communities face. It is nothing compared to their oppression or the invalidation they feel when someone doesn't include them in the conversation. So, no matter how hard you may find it or how uncomfortable it makes you feel, it really doesn't matter. With time, your language will improve if you truly commit to it and make a conscious effort to include everyone. Yes, there will be slip ups, but that's all part of the learning process. There is no shame in wanting to make your language more gender inclusive. No one is telling you that you have to completely change your lifestyle, nor are they telling you to be trans, non-binary or gender fluid. These are small things which can make a massive difference to people's lives because being included can mean everything. This isn't some crazy phenomenon and it isn't the "PC madness" you may see it as. Including trans, non-binary and gender fluid people in your language is simply the right thing to do. Think about how you would feel if everything was so binary that you never felt like you truly had a place in society. Picture the scene, you're a non-binary person, sitting on a train and the driver makes an announcement: "Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome aboard this service to..." But you aren't a lady, nor are you a gentleman. You do not use either female or male pronouns so, in this instance, you are being cut out of the address. Why should you be? You deserve to be on that train just as much as anyone else. Why should they be greeted and not you? And why should you just tolerate it as if nothing will ever change? Language was made for everyone so it's time to start demolishing walls and make it work for all communities.

So, how can you make your language more gender inclusive? Of course, respecting pronouns is a brilliant place to start. Read my post on misgendering and the importance of pronouns HERE.
There are also other steps you can take which, really, require minimal effort but can really change the way trans, non-binary and gender fluid identifying people feel about themselves, and why wouldn't you want to make someone else feel good?

Below are just a few examples of making your language gender inclusive:

1) Instead of "ladies and gentlemen," try "distinguished guests 
Welcome distinguished guests and thank you for joining us this evening

2) Instead of "men or women" try "everyone"
These cosy winter outfits can be worn by everyone

3) Instead of "the lady/the man" try "the person"
Please can the person in the red shirt join me on stage

4) Instead of "guys" try "folks"
All of you folks are very welcome here

5) Instead of "his or hers" try "theirs"
Someone left their jacket in the library, I hope they can come back to get it

We may not realise how exclusive and restricting our language can be, especially when we've never known any different... but it's never too late to learn or make a positive change! Making our language gender inclusive will have a huge impact, particularly on younger generations, who will grow up exposed to trans, non-binary and gender fluid communities and knowing how to value them, something most of us didn't have the privilege of growing up.

Making our language gender inclusive involves adding in certain words and phrases, but it also means taking certain ones out, offensive words and phrases like slurs. Using demeaning names for trans, non-binary and gender fluid individuals can trivialise their experience, make them feel invalid and can are just generally phobic and hurtful. Language is constantly evolving, meaning many of the things we may have said in the past are no longer deemed acceptable. It's important that we don't question why, especially when a trans, non-binary or gender fluid person tells us not to say them. All we need to know is that there are certain things we can't and shouldn't say. There is no need to argue for using slurs, plus, it just makes you look like a nasty person. If someone tells you that a word you're using is harmful to their identity, you simply stop using and it and get educated on the proper terminology.
Having open and honest conversations with marginalised communities is vital if we want to learn and make the world more equal. Therefore, when in doubt, never be afraid to ask for clarification. Asking respectful questions will always be more than welcome to a trans, non-binary or gender fluid person, especially if it opens up an opportunity for communication or learning.

So, next time you're speaking, just stop and think first. Ask yourself, is my language necessary? Is it kind? And is it inclusive? Also, note that making your language gender inclusive isn't taking anything away from you personally but it could be adding a lot of value to the life of someone else.

Go beyond the binary.

Love, Emily :) xx

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