Writing with Gender-Inclusive Language

If we truly care about creating a more equitable society in which a person’s individuality is not reduced to their sex and/or gender, than our language should reflect that.

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Writing with Gender-Inclusive Language

A brief guide to writing tactfully as our language evolves  

By Carlisle Huntington

 

Language is a fluid and ever-changing system. It’s a practical tool that reflects our culture, and if our cultural needs are changing (and they clearly are) why shouldn’t our tools change to match them? Last year alone, more than 2,000 words were added to the Oxford English Dictionary. But when it comes to adopting gender-neutral language, many people in our society are resistant to implementing it. Oftentimes, conservatives argue that gender-neutral language isn’t grammatically correct. We feel that this viewpoint is a form of suppression under the guise of grammar policing. To counter that suppression, we’re offering this article as a brief introduction to using gender-inclusive/ gender-neutral language in writing. This is a beginner’s guide – the bare-boned basics– and we hope it serves a starting point rather than a destination to inclusivity in writing.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, though, it’s important to remember that addressing this topic is a delicate endeavor. As The Radical Copy Editor so eloquently put it in the introduction to their “Radical Copyeditors Style Guide for Writing About Transgender People,

“A style guide for writing about transgender people is practically an oxymoron. Style guides are designed to create absolutes—bringing rules and order to a meandering and contradictory patchwork quilt of a language. Yet there are no absolutes when it comes to gender.”

Now, let’s begin!

 

RULE # 1: Put the person before the gender-identity

This is an attitude that extends far beyond the issue of gender. A human’s person-hood should be emphasized before anything else. When writing about a person with a marginalized identity (or anyone, really), try and ask yourself, do I need to mention their gender identity? Is it relevant to the situation? If the answer is “yes,” still try to ground your writing in someone’s humanity before their gender-identity.

Remember that words like “transgender,” “non-binary,” “genderqueer,” “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual” are adjectives. A person isn’t just “a transgender,” they’re “a transgender individual.”

*This is the official policy the Associated Press, Reuters, and New York Times. For more information on how these major publications write about gender and identity, see GLAAD Magazine’s Media Reference Guide.  

 

RULE # 2: Pay attention to pronouns

This one is a no brainer: ALWAYS use a person’s stated, preferred pronouns. This includes, the singular use of they/them, which has officially been adopted by both AP and Chicago style guides. Other gender-neutral pronouns include “Ze/Hir” or “Ze/Zir.” While these pronouns are gender-neutral, a person who goes by these pronouns may identify as male, female, both, or neither. They’re designed to eliminate gender from the equation. You can read more about ze/hir pronouns in the article, “Ze Pronouns” published online by myprounouns.org.

Consider using the gender-neutral “Mx.” which has been used by the New York Times in the past. While The Times hasn’t officially adopted the term, claiming it “remains too unfamiliar to most people,” it may gain familiarity if more writers adopt its usage.

 

RULE # 3: Stop using outdated and/or derogatory language

Many people continue to use outdated terminology despite there being plenty of gender-inclusive or gender-neutral terminology at our disposal. While many of these terms were considered neutral in the past, they now carry negative or derogatory connotations. We recognize that the ability to stay up to date on this kind of terminology is, in many ways, indicative of a certain status of privilege, (such as access to the internet, education level, etc.) but if someone informs you that the language you’re using is hurtful or offensive to them, it’s important to seriously consider changing it. As a society – and as individuals – we must remain teachable. We’re not here to shame others or to police language, but we feel it’s worthwhile to learn how to be more compassionate and precise communicators.

Keeping the above guidelines in mind, here’s a chart outlining basic do’s and don’ts to writing with inclusivity, inspired by an article from GLAAD Magazine.

Avoid writing … Because … Write this instead
“Transgenders”

“A transgender”

Transgender individuals are people first. “Transgender people”

“A transgender person”

“Transgendered It adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. “A transgender person”
“Transgenderism” It reduces being a transgender person to “a condition” and is often used by transphobic activists “Being transgender”
“Sex-change”

“Post-op”

“Pre-op”

“Sex change” conflates sex with gender. These terms imply that one must have surgery to be a transgender person or to have fully transitioned. In most contexts, it’s better to avoid discussion of surgery altogether, as it’s an extremely personal subject. “Transition”
“Biologically male”

“Biologically female”

“Genetically male”

“Genetically female”

“Born a man”

“Born a woman”

These phrases are reductive and overly-simplify a very complex subject. As mentioned above, a person’s sex is determined by several factors, and a person’s biology does not trump a person’s gender identity. “Assigned male at birth”

“Assigned female at birth”

“Designated male at birth,”

“Designated female at birth”

 

“Passing”

“Stealth”

 

While some transgender people may use these terms among themselves, it’s not appropriate to repeat them in mainstream media unless (1) it’s in a direct quote or (2) you are a part of the community in which the terms apply.

These terms refer to a transgender person’s ability to go through daily life without others making assumptions about gender. However, the terms can be problematic because they imply “passing as something you’re not,” and “stealth” connotes deceit.

However, a transgender person living authentically – without their gender being questioned by others – is not being deceptive or misleading.

“visibly transgender” “not visibly transgender”


About the Author

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Carlisle Huntington is a junior at the University of Puget Sound, majoring in English and creative writing. She writes for University of Puget Sound newspaper Puget Sound Trail. When she’s not writing, she’s planning the next creative event for her local campus community. She’s the head of the UPS English Department Event Planning Committee and she oversees the UPS English Film Series, Holiday Book Swap, and Campus Book Club. Her Other hobbies include crochet, embroidery, and boiling her entire identity into a pithy paragraph.

 


A note from the publisher: Blue Cactus Press cares deeply about cultivating inclusivity in our community, and we want to be as mindful of that in our writing (and actions) as possible. We hope this article inspires dialogue about community, inclusivity, and evolving language.  

 

Anal Pleasure & Health

Filmmaker, writer and multimedia artist Jonah Barrett recently debuted a personal essay, “Anal Pleasure & Health,” at Creative Colloquy in January 2019. Jonah’s essay is authentic, humorous and heartfelt, and for those reasons (and many more), we’re incredibly excited to  feature “Anal Pleasure & Health” here at Blue Cactus Press. We’ve also included a video recording of Jonah’s performance at Creative Colloquy below. Go ahead, read your heart out, friends.

 


Anal Pleasure & Health

by Jonah Barrett

 

I’m bad at bottoming. I’m just horrible at it. Throughout my life I’ve successfully done the deed about four times, with three of those instances involving more than enough alcohol. As a cis gay man, I really should have the act down by now. It’s the act of preparation that really gets me. Who knew getting ready for fucking had to be such a chore? I won’t go into the details, but it usually involves planning a few hours in advance and hoping to God you’ve eaten at least one piece of fruit in the last 24 hours.

I know we’re approaching the 2020’s and the era of “sex can be whatever you want it to be,” but I actually would like to bottom more. It’s just something on my to-do list. People look at me and just assume I bottom: I’m short and I have this high voice and I’ve got just a hint of The Lisp, so I can’t really hold it against them. It doesn’t help that my boyfriend, Austin, is about a foot taller than me. Really, he should be doing at least half of the fucking. So bottoming, at least for me, is a major goal for this year, internalized homophobia be damned.

Whenever there’s something I need to learn more about, I buy a book on the subject. I just like to buy books in general. I feel guilty if I walk into a bookstore and get nothing. You can’t walk into an independent bookstore and just loiter like a common villain. And I can’t enter a town and not check out its bookstore. There are things to buy. Capitalism eternal.

One such a town would be Astoria, Oregon. Astoria was actually the first ever permanent settlement established on the Pacific Coast, so says Wikipedia. The Goonies was filmed there, if you care about that. I don’t really, but now you know—I only just found out after clicking through Wikipedia for a minute. I wanted to check if I could film something at the Captain George Flavel House Museum, but it turns out The Goonies already filmed at the Captain George Flavel House Museum, so what’s the point? Fuckin’ Goonies. Besides serving as the setting and shooting location of the popular Richard Donner 1985 adventure cult film at the Captain George Flavel House Museum, I would describe Astoria as a strange, scraggly little place layered over with history and barnacles, with a lovely independent bookstore. I forget the name, which doesn’t matter really because I’ll never set foot in there again. I have forever shamed myself in there.

While kickin’ the shit in Astoria one summer I managed to drag both my best friend, Sam, and Austin into the Astorian bookshop. It’s always been easy with Austin, our relationship started based off our love of books, and he could easily be suckered into buying at least one or two volumes with me. Burning cash was always more fun when you did it with others. You could share the guilt. Sam on the other hand wasn’t so easy. She was cheap as knockoff Sneakers and refused to ever spend a dime on anything unless it was for a pretty girl. Whenever Austin and I dragged her into a bookstore she would sulk until we left. For the record, she was an absolute asshole, we both were. It’s why we’ve been so close. We liked to think this made us quirky and original, but the common theme of general assholery is probably the basis for every best friendship known to humanity. 

But what do I know? Maybe some best friends are actually nice to one another—those kind of annoying BFFs you see on Instagram that you wish would trip into the asphalt and knock out all their teeth. Sam and I were not like that. Our companionship had been a series of continual roasts and jabs at one another, attempts to embarrass the other to no end whatsoever. But in a fun way.

In bookstore terms, the shop was literally perfect, if not a bit cliché. Warm lighting, cozy mismatched shelves, a few antisocial bookworms that would leave the aisle if you entered it; all the perfect elements of a bookstore. Typically, Austin would head for the fiction section while I perused fantasy and sci-fi with Sam. But on this day it took me a moment to realize I was on my own in the sci-fi section. Sam was over in the health shelves. I should have known by then she was up to something sneaky as shit.

I couldn’t really find anything in the sci-fi. You can only buy so many Bradbury and Le Guin novels before you think “Maybe I should read some of these before I get any more.” And I didn’t have the patience at that point in my life to get into another Golden Age author. Isaac Asimov would have to wait a few more years before I’d be ready to commit. But of course, I had to get something. Something! I was in an indie bookstore in a town by the sea. How was I going to retain these memories without a paper memento to seal the deal? I kept scanning the shelves, in search of literally anything that caught my eye. 

“Hey.” I turned around to see Sam walking toward me with a book. My savior. Or so I thought.

You see, Sam know about my bottoming hangups. We knew everything about one another, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me when she slinked her way toward me with a little blue book from the health section, this shit-eating grin on her face as if to say: “This’ll be funny.”

She put it in my hands. “I found this for you and Austin.”

Anal Pleasure and Health. 

“You absolute motherfucker,” I said. 

She snickered. “I just want to help you guys in the bedroom.”

“We don’t need help in the bedroom, we’re fine.”

“You need to learn how to put stuff up there. It’s time.”

I flipped through the book, glimpsing chapters with titles like: “Inside the Anus,” “Discovering the Rectum,” and “Opening a Dialogue.” On the back was a picture of the man who had written the book—a balding guy with a Ph.D. and a face just a little too small for his head, with a dimpled smirk that seemed to convey: “I know what I did.”

“Yikes. He really looks like the kinda guy who’d write this,” Sam said. “…I dare you to get it.”

I looked over at the cashier, this nice-looking man who was flipping through a book on sailing. He seemed kind, pure. Like someone who liked sex but didn’t enjoy talking about it in the open—much like Austin, actually. I looked down at the book, thinking about how this might actually help me out. Techniques! Tips! Discovering the rectum! All the golden tidbits I’d need to know how to truly bottom right in my hands. Sam’s smirk dropped.

“Wait, you don’t really need to—”

I turned toward the counter. Fuck Sam. Fuck Sam and her stupid dares. I was gonna do this for me and myself. And I guess Austin too.

It’s not like this was the 80’s and this was my one and only chance to learn the secrets of bottoming. We all have the internet. We all watch porn and take Buzzfeed quizzes on what sexual positions we are. But there was something about having the book in my hand, a physical volume of something that was once so taboo, that I wanted to chance it. My old habits kicked in. If I read all up on the subject, maybe I’d be good at it. Austin would be so impressed and think I was so cultured—a real man’s man: powerbottom extraordinaire. My face reddened at the idea. I quickly scanned the fantasy and sci-fi shelf and grabbed a random Bradbury to cover the butt book up.

I think this also taps into the fact that there aren’t a lot of basic resources out there for gay kids like myself. We never had even heterosexual sex education in school, but abstinence classes instead, which really stuck with me at age seventeen when I sucked my first dick. Something kicked in at that moment in the bookstore, this desperate grab at knowledge that I had felt like I’d never had access to (besides Buzzfeed).

I made it to the counter. The nice man perked up and smiled at me, this warm gentle not-shit-eating grin that I will never forget. Something about those kind, innocent eyes. The button up shirt underneath the argyle sweater. He probably owned a cat and named it Sophocles. Too pure for this world.

“All finished?” he asked. 

I swallowed. “Yes.”

He picked up the two books, his eyes lighting up when he saw the first one, the sci-fi novel. The butt book lay there to the side unnoticed, seeping in filth.

“Ray Bradbury!” he said. He looked up at me, warmly. “I grew up on Ray Bradbury. I think his work is timeless.” 

I wanted to die right then and there, but of course, capitalism must be performed with a smile. “Yessiree,” I said. “He sure is the master of science fiction.”

“I just think he’s the best. I remember reading Dandelion Wine one summer growing up and how much that impacted me. He really captured the essence of childhood…” he kept on like this for what felt like minutes. I forget what he actually said; it was too wholesome for memory. We bonded back and forth about the Golden Age author, talking about how Bradbury had influenced us as writers and how wonderful of a man he must have been. It was all very pure. For a moment I actually forgot that I was buying the butt book. Such bliss can’t last forever. The man’s eyes shifted behind me, and I followed his line of sight to see Sam recording us with her phone. 

“What are you doing?!” I asked. 

Snickered again. “Nothing.”

The cashier gave her a puzzled look but smiled back at me. His last milliseconds of innocence. Then he picked up the other book.

“Oh.”

Our short-lived relationship was shattered in an instant. Nothing could repair what irrevocable damage had been done. I’m sure you’ve all had moments where one second feels like a year. It feels like the situation you’re in can’t actually be happening, so you disassociate and believe it’s not you that’s living this life, it’s someone else. You’re just watching it through a set of borrowed eyes, like a television. It’s not your body that’s turning pure red and all sweaty in the bookstore. It’s some other sucker’s. Someone who has made a horrible and embarrassing decision. 

Snicker snicker snicker behind me. I could hear Sam trying not to burst out laughing. The man looked back as well, and it suddenly dawned on him why this was being recorded. My heart broke a little bit… but I also wanted to laugh. I wanted to slap Sam. Maybe throw her phone to the ground and assure the man: “It’s not a prank. No, really. It’s not. I actually do want to put things up there. I’m serious!”

The man—the poor delicate man who did not deserve any of this—put the books in a paper bag without me asking, his final noble deed of our interaction.

“Have a good day,” I said. 

He nodded, not looking at me. I left in shame.

We exited the store in a hurry, forgetting we had left Austin in the fiction section. The two of us rounded the corner and burst out laughing—because what else was there to do? I was fucking horrified at Sam for doing that, but I also loved her for it. We watched the video and giggled together like evil school girls. Assholes in cahoots. What happened could never be undone, and I looked back at the store a little sad. There would be more bookstores, but never again this one by the sea.

Austin came out, confused. “Where did you guys go?”

“LOOK WHAT JONAH GOT!”

Austin’s face reddened, a scandalized look passing through his kind, innocent eyes.

I haven’t read Anal Pleasure and Health; it’s still on my bookshelf. I just took it off right now and blew off a layer of dust. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly read it. But sometimes books can also act as mementos, and not just sources of knowledge. Maybe this wasn’t such a big deal and we were overreacting. That man did the best with what he was given: two shitty best friends who can’t be adults about anything. I really did buy that book to become a better bottom, but like every thing I purchase: it evades me. Bottoming is this highly personal thing that I probably shouldn’t have written about, but it’s too late to turn back now. And no matter how old you are, it is never, ever too late to begin your own discovery of the rectum.


About the Author

JB

Jonah Barrett is a filmmaker, writer, and multimedia artist. His writing can be found in Creative Colloquy, Everyday Genius, Lit.Cat, OlyArts, and the bestselling Portland anthology City of Weird. Jonah has also directed and written two feature films, a dozen-ish short films, and three web series. He has worked as both a literary magazine and anthology editor, as well as journalist, assistant director, script supervisor, and art conservator. His favorite genres are creature features and romantic comedies, and he has found they are pretty much the same.

You can find Jonah’s films online on his YouTube channel, LazyEyesInc, or visit his website, Malicious Wallydrags, to peruse his portfolio and blog.

Hello, Carlisle!

Goodbye snow, hello spring! Well, almost spring 🙂 As we await blue skies and warmer weather, we’re also saying hello to a new addition to the Blue Cactus Press team: Carlisle Huntington. Please join us in welcoming Carlisle to the literary fold as a much-appreciated publishing intern! Carlisle is a student at University of Puget Sound, and she’s studying English and Creative Writing. Over the next few months, she’ll assist with all sorts of pesky editorial, marketing and distribution tasks here at Blue Cactus Press.

But before Carlisle’s work begins, we think it’s important to give you – our friends and readers – a sense of who she is and what she stands for. We held a quick Q&A session with Carlisle to do just that. Here goes!

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Q&A with Carlisle Huntington

 

Q: What draws you to literary arts?

Carlisle: I’ve always been a voracious reader – ever since I was a little kid. There’s a great Shel Silverstein poem, “Magic,” which I think really sums things up for me:

“Read this to yourself. Read it silently.
Don’t move your lips. 
Don’t make a sound?
Listen to yourself. 
Listen without hearing anything.
What a wonderfully weird thing, huh? 

Reading is just a wonderfully weird thing! I’ve always been fascinated by the sheer magic of it all- that you could take a bunch of arbitrary squiggles and shapes on a page and create this beautiful internal experience. It feels like a super power.

 

Q: What interests you about publishing, in particular?

C: Publishers act as gatekeepers in a lot of ways, and when you read a lot, you notice which stories – which voices – are privileged over others. Despite the growth of digital media and online platforms, and that anyone can publish their work nowadays, a lot of people’s work isn’t necessarily being seen. I want to do my part to change that. I want to help worthy and deserving artists be seen and different stories being told. I want to change the narrative and (hopefully) change the world along with it.

 

Q: Do you create art? If so, tell us about it!

I used to write a lot of poetry when I was younger. I even competed in my hometown’s  first high school poetry slam competition. But lately, I identify more as a fiction writer. Even when I was writing poetry, it was very narrative-based. I also crochet, embroider and dabble in water color painting every now and then. I’m really big on the DIY scene, in general. I just love being able to make something where there wasn’t anything before.

 

Q: What inspires you creatively?

The obvious answer is other writers. Nothing makes me want to write more than reading good fiction – the kind that makes you stop and reconsider the world for a little while. I’m also a big film fan, so movies can be a big source of inspiration – especially animated films. There’s so much craft and care in each frame and the world-building is astounding! Particularly, I’m a fan of the director Hayao Miyazaki … He really takes his time to tell a story … pausing the action to meditate on a single image like preparing ramen or watching grass move in the wind.

 

Q: What do you enjoy reading?

I love romantic poetry. I’m a big Wordsworth and William Blake Fan. I also love my ladies of modernism, like Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, or Marianne Moore. They’re just so wonderfully bizarre … Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories. I love magical realism. Karen Tai Yamashita is a new favorite of mine right now … I also just finished Her Body and other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado and it absolutely slew me! There’s something so engaging about folklore on a real primal level, and it’s such a ripe landscape for deconstructing our gender and sexuality.

 

Q: How are you involved in your local community?

I’m very much involved in my campus community at University of Puget Sound. I do a lot of work with the English Department to plan literary events on campus. A big goal of ours is to draw-in students from across all disciplines and show them literature is for everyone. One way we do that is with the campus book club, which is open to all majors and minors. Every semester we have a different theme. This semester, the theme is metafiction – or writing about writing. We’re starting with Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s been incredible to see people who’ve never taken an English class get so excited by literature.

 

Q: What changes would you like to see in our community?

One of my favorite things about writing for Puget Sound Trail is that I get to interact with the literary community off campus and serve as a liaison between UPS and the greater Tacoma community. There’s such a great artistic community in Tacoma that is growing more and more each day, and I love finding more ways to get other students involved with it.

 


More about Carlisle:

Carlisle Huntington is a junior at the University of Puget Sound, majoring in English and creative writing. Originally from Orange County California, she’ll deny ever having lived there. She’s had a passion for reading and literary arts for as long as she could hold a pencil and turn a page. Though poetry and fiction were her first loves, she also has experience with journalism. She writes for University of Puget Sound newspaper Puget Sound Trail. When she’s not writing, she’s planning the next creative event for her local campus community. She’s the head of the UPS English Department Event Planning Committee and she oversees the UPS English Film Series, Holiday Book Swap, and Campus Book Club. Her Other hobbies include crochet, embroidery, and boiling her entire identity into a pithy paragraph.