The usefulness of gender neutral language

Simon Croft, Director of Educational and Professional Services at Gendered Intelligence, shares his thoughts on how using gender neutral language can help to make everyone feel included and how small changes to the way we address people can make a big difference. 

Gendered terms are some of the most common words we use – pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’, titles like ‘Mr’ and ‘Miss’ and honorifics like ‘Sir and ‘Madam’. Gender is also present in collective terms such as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, ‘girls’ and ‘lads’.

There’s nothing wrong with using gendered terms, once you know what a person’s chosen terms are. Before we have that information, then gender neutral, or to put it another way, universally inclusive, language is how to ensure we don’t misgender anyone.

Misgendering means referring to someone with a gendered term that doesn’t match their gender identity, for example referring to a trans woman as ‘Sir’, a trans man as ‘she’, or a non-binary person as ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.

Many trans people find it extremely validating when their chosen gendered terms are used.  I can still remember how amazing it felt when people first said ‘he’ to me, even though it’s now over 20 years ago.  So using gendered terms correctly can be a really supportive thing.

Having other people refer to you with the correct gender is something that most people take for granted and therefore never notice.  If you aren’t trans (or someone who is regularly misgendered), it’s quite likely you haven’t noticed just how often other people decide what gender you are and then use corresponding gendered language, but if you make an effort to try and notice for a day or two, you’ll see how pervasive it is.

Once, after I’d delivered a training session where we’d spoken about the subject, my contact showed me back to reception where I handed in my visitor’s pass. “Thank you, gentlemen,” said the receptionist.  As we turned away toward the exit, my contact said “Gosh!  I would never have noticed that before…  I see what you mean!”

Misgendering is one of the most common issues trans people encounter.  For some people it happens multiple times each day, dozens of times each week, hundreds of times each month.  This has a cumulative effect.  It’s like being bitten by mosquitoes – one bite you can shrug off; a dozen is really annoying; a hundred and you’ll be feeling really unwell.

“I’m usually misgendered (miss / she / ma’am) and it’s exhausting and invalidating. I’m left in a position to either correct them which is awkward for everyone involved…, or to feel sad and invalidated…” Trans-masculine participant in a GI survey

It costs nothing, apart from a little effort and mindfulness, to change our language to be inclusive of everyone. This isn’t trans-specific – there are plenty of women who don’t like to be called ‘ladies’; plenty of ladies who don’t like to be called ‘women’; plenty of men who find ‘Sir’ too formal; plenty of people who find their first name too informal – it just shows we need to ask.

Universally inclusive language need not be clumsy. Changing ‘Good morning, ladies and gentleman” to “Good morning everyone” will go unnoticed by most people.  But the people who are not ‘ladies’ or ‘gentleman’, such as non-binary people really will notice the difference.

There are plenty of universal terms you can use.  A few might include: people, folk, everyone, colleagues, staff, workers, employees, clients, customers, beneficiaries, visitors, students, pupils, children…  If you need to talk about relationships, then terms such as sibling, parent, child and partner are very useful.  These terms include LGB people too – not assuming for example, that the partner of a woman is a man, or that parents are a male/female couple.

It doesn’t take long to come up with a set of universal terms that work for your particular setting – three or four people getting together for ten minutes is likely to produce a very workable list.

So our top tip is start with universal /gender neutral language, until you find out what gendered terms people have chosen.  That way, everyone is respected.

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New guidance for LGBTQI fans at the World Cup

New guidance for LGBTQI+ fans travelling to the World Cup in Russia

In the next few weeks, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia. Fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup can find guidance specifically for LGBTQI+ people in the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Free Lions Guide. The guide is a collaboration between FSF, the FA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A number of LGBTQI+ organisations, including Gendered Intelligence, were consulted on the content of the guide.

To assess the risks for travelling to Russia for the World Cup, it is useful to know more about the situation for LGBTQI+ people there.

Five years ago the LGBT propaganda law was passed which prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional” values to children. The bill is purposefully vague and its use is highly unstandardised. At its extreme, it could be used to effectively ban the queer rights movement and any expression of queer identity in public. There are also no anti-discrimination laws or specifics protections for the community so while being LGBTQI+ isn’t criminalised and people aren’t persecuted against in the vast majority of the country, life can be extremely difficult.

The understanding of what “non-traditional” could mean is crucial for understanding the impact of these laws and policies on people’s lives. For example, there are mechanisms for trans people to change their names, however, if a trans man wanted to change his name to one regarded as “traditionally masculine” there would be a slim chance of his attempts being successful. Whether or not he succeeded would be determined by the officials overseeing the procedure and be subject to their views. Likewise, applications to change one’s legal gender vary depending on the court overseeing the case. To change one’s gender, a medical diagnosis of “transexualism” is required but this is also one of the “mental disorders” that can be used to deny someone a driver’s license. For non-binary people, there is no form of recognition available outside of the gender binary.

In addition to the issues at the state level, the mainstream view of the general public is much more hostile to the community than in the West. However, this does vary considerably by region and thus, so do the experiences of LGBTQI+ people from different parts of the Federation. St Petersburg is the most liberal city in Russia and there are LGBTQI+ venues, although like in the West, most are aimed are cis gay men. On the other hand, the situation in the North Caucasus and Chechnya in particular is completely different.

While the Chechen government’s persecution against (perceived) gay cis men has been well documented, it has affected people of all gender and sexual minorities. Trans women have been subject to similar levels of violence as gay men. From the society’s perspective, they are seen as one and the same and denied their womanhood. As is normal around the globe, their stories have received much less coverage in the media. Queer cis women have also been targets of violence and persecution, however this is much more likely to come from within their own family in the form of honour-based violence rather than from the authorities. This is a different experience to most gay men and trans women who have been targeted more heavily by the regional government. There is no readily available information concerning the experiences of trans men and non-binary people.

As always, trans voices are going unheard and there is a danger that the experiences of trans people in Russia, and the hardships they face, will be forgotten amid the excitement of the World Cup. Instead there must be continued pressure on the Russian government to lift the propaganda law and properly investigate the atrocities perpetrated in Chechnya. While interest from the general public has waned, there is ongoing effort to change the situation such as lobbying from Amnesty International and work to support and evacuate LGBTQI+ people from Chechnya by ILGA-Europe and the Russian LGBT Network.

All those attending a game in Russia will receive a copy of the FSF’s Free Lions Guide guide with their tickets and it is also available here.

To see the latest update from Amnesty International on the Chechen Purge click here.

To support ILGA-Europe or the Russian LGBT Network click here or here.

New Gendered Intelligence & GEO guidance on providing services for transgender customers

Trans Guidance

Transgender people, like any other customer, want to shop, open accounts, seek entertainment and go on evenings out, yet they can face discrimination and prejudice in day to day life. Some of it is intentional, most of it is unintentional: the use of the wrong title (e.g. Mr, Mrs, Miss etc.) pronoun (e.g. he, she, they etc.) or being barred from a changing facility. Mistakes like these are easily overcome ensuring that trans customers or clients have a positive experience and service providers are rewarded with future loyalty, business and recommendations

Providing services for transgender customers : A guide

Today the Government Equalities Office released new guidance on providing services for transgender consumers, co-produced with Gendered Intelligence.  Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan introduced the guidance during this morning’s Women and Equalities Parliamentary Questions (see video at 10:00) in the House of Commons.

We are pleased that service providers across all sectors will have clear guidance to make sure transgender customers and clients are comfortable and feel welcomed.

We would like to thank all those who completed our survey and supplied us with some insightful testimony. It is the voices of trans people and their experiences that really bring the guidance to life.

The GEO has simultaneously released new guidance for employers on recruiting and retaining transgender staff.