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.  

 

¡The 2019 Lineup!

Before 2019 gets any further underway, Blue Cactus Press has a big announcement to make! In celebration of two fantastic years of publishing under our belt, we’re announcing our 2019 lineup of authors! Please join us in welcoming three phenomenal local artists, poets, and writers to the Blue Cactus Press family:

 

Jack Cameron

author, blogger

Michael Haeflinger

poet, musician, educator

Kellie Richardson

writer, artist, educator

Keep an eye out for news about Jack, Michael and Kellie’s upcoming titles with Blue Cactus Press over the next few months, and join us for a night of readings on Feb 28 at Notes Coffee Company in Parkland, WA. There, Blue Cactus Press Alumni Lux Barker, Samuel Snoek-Brown and Christina Butcher will take to the stage alongside Jack Cameron and Michael Haeflinger. Event details can be found here. Learn more about each of our talented authors below! 


Jack Cameron

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Jack Cameron is the author of Ruin Your Life, a self-help book for hooligans, 15 Minute Stories, a collection of flash fiction, and Kickstart Your Kickstarter, an ebook on crowdfunding. His work has also appeared Creative Colloquy’s online and print collections. He maintains a website called TacomaStories.com which covers local businesses and events as well as every homicide that happens in the city of Tacoma.

He holds an Associates in Human Services from Tacoma Community College and a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College. You can find him online on his personal website, jackcameron.com, at @jackcameron on Twitter, or on Facebook. He also writes a weekly newsletter called Notes From Table 30 that you can subscribe to at http://tinyletter.com/jackcameron.


Michael Haeflinger

Michael Haeflinger

Michael Haeflinger is a local poet, musician and educator. He’s also the executive director of Write253, a non-profit youth literacy organization serving Pierce County. Michael earned a BA in Religion from Wright State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University. He is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: Love Poem for the Everyday (2011) and The Days Before (2013). In 2016, he released Let’s Don’t Be Crazy, a spoken word album partially funded by the Tacoma Arts Commission.


Kellie Richardson

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Kellie Richardson is a writer, artist and educator born and raised in Tacoma, Washington. Her work explores the intersection of race, class, and gender with specific emphasis on themes of love, loss and longing. She employs both classical poetic forms as well as contemporary mediums such as spoken word. Her work is provocative yet accessible, powerful yet vulnerable. In addition to publishing original work, Kellie created the blog, Brown Betty, in 2012. Brown Betty exists to provide armor and inspiration for real life; a place where commerce and community intersect to cultivate healing. The blog explores the complexities of navigating the human experience, and calls its readers to continue to be inspired to endure and overcome barriers to their happiness.

Kellie is particularly inspired and called to explore the experiences of women of color, and the intersectionality of identities. As Poet Laureate for the city of Tacoma, Kellie worked to ensure literary arts are both accessible to and representative of the diversity of the community.

Kellie believes her work has one purpose: to be used as a tool for liberation and healing. Sometimes through provocation or confession, other times through belly laughs or tears, Kellie works to center the beauty and power of everyday folk, and put some funk into the dread we call survival.

 

Find Our Books in Seattle

We’re UBER EXCITED to announce our expanded distribution into the Seattle book market! You can now find Blue Cactus Press books at Open Books and Third Place Books. More specifically, you’ll find:

Front CoverStill Clutching Maps by Christina Butcher at Open Books: A Poem Emporium

Open books

 

 

SSB Front_PageThere Is No Other Way to Worship Them by Samuel Snoek-Brown at Third Place Books in Seward Park

third place

 

We’ll keep you updated over the next few weeks as we continue expanding into new markets AND with new books (hint hint). Stay tuned!