Language and Inclusivity

Language and inclusivity – for societies, organizations and individuals

Language and Pronouns

Trans people should always be addressed and accommodated in the gender in which they present, unless they specify otherwise. This includes use of pronouns and titles, in notes, speech and correspondence. If in doubt, ask the person what they prefer; in general, trans people would much rather you asked which pronouns to use than be misgendered.

Most transgender people will use pronouns based on their identified gender. Trans women (people assigned male at birth who live as women) are ‘she’, trans men are ‘he’.

Some trans* people will find a gender-neutral pronoun to be more appropriate. ‘They’ singular is widely used, and is a useful default if in doubt. Contrary to some people’s belief, a singular ‘they/them/their’ is a correct grammatical alternative when the gender of the subject is not known and it is seen as inclusive of all (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they). Furthermore, it is used by the English government as their preferred style (gov.uk/designprinciples/styleguide).

Some other commonly used sets of pronouns are:

subject               object              possessive              reflexive

  • Singular they:       they,                    them,               their,                         themself
  • Spivak:                     e,                          em,                    eir,                             emself
  • Elverson:                 ey,                        em,                    eir,                             eirself
  •                                     ze,                        zir,                     zir,                              zirself
  •                                     xe,                        hir,                    hir,                              hirself
  •                                                                   xem,                 xyr,                             xemself

Note that this list is in no way exhaustive.

A large source of information on these matters can be found at nonbinary.org/wiki/Gender_neutral_language, which provides a relatively extensive list of potential gender-neutral words.

Inclusivity for Organizations

It is vital that organizations are trans* inclusive, as past adverse experiences and fear of discrimination can make many trans* people wary of accessing their services.

The following website is a useful resource on how organizations can be trans* inclusive: shakespearessister.blogspot.com/some-simple-steps-to-being-trans_12

Generally:

  • Try to be aware of potentially exclusive gendered practices. Is it really necessary to ask for gender on registration forms, etc? Does your dress code really have to be gender-specific (‘black tie for men, evening dress for women’), or could you use a less exclusive formulation (e.g. ‘black tie/evening dress’).
  • If you do have to ask about gender (for example, on forms), you should provide enough options and include the options ‘other’ and ‘would prefer not to say’.
  • If wanting to convey ‘all welcome’ for events, the use of limiting language such as ‘gay and straight welcome’ will not be sufficiently inclusive: a closed list of those groups welcome can never be long enough! Open language such as ‘all genders and sexualities welcome’, or simply ‘all welcome’ is far more useful.
  • Try to be aware of accessibility in venues used and events put on –  for example, try to use venues which have gender neutral bathrooms rather than single-sex ones.
  • If someone notes an area in which an event is not as inclusive as it could be, listen to them and respond constructively.

For more information about how you can be inclusive, please look at the following pages from the TOTB campaign: lgbt.cusu.cam.ac.uk/think/recommendations/