Trans-inclusive language is language that acknowledges that some people identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, including genders that our culture does not technically recognize as existing. It can be really hard at first (I’m trans, and I still used to have problems with it), but I really think it’s worthwhile. Not only does it make trans people reading your article experience less dysphoria, but it’s a simple way to raise awareness of the existence and humanity of trans people.
Unfortunately, some people’s use of trans-inclusive language… well, they’re trying. They’re definitely trying. (See also: my school advertising a self-defense class for “female-bodied” people. What the fuck does that word even mean?) So I have decided to write a guide to which words you might want to use in which circumstances.
To be used when: Gender is not relevant to the situation. There are lots of times that we only use “men and women” because we’re used to it, and you could actually say “people” just as well and be inclusive of nonbinary people such as myself.
Example: Replace “our servicemen and women” with “our servicepeople.” Replace “men and women are parents” with “people are parents.”
Word: People who have [insert gendered body part here]; people with [gendered body part]; [insert gendered body part]-owners/havers.
To be used when: You’re talking about health or particular body parts that happen to be gendered.
Example: Use “people with penises” in an article on blowjob technique. Instead of saying “the Republicans’ policies on abortion would seriously harm women,” say “the Republicans’ policies on abortion would seriously harm people with uteruses.”
Word: Female/male assigned at birth.
To be used when: What gender the doctor said you were when you were born is important. Practically, this is going to come up in about two major situations that I can think of: people talking about childhood and adolescence, and people talking about trans* issues. About half the time that female assigned at birth/male assigned at birth is used, some other term would be more inclusive. (For instance, don’t say “male-assigned-at-birth people have penises”, since many male-assigned-at-birth people do not.)
Example: ”Transmisogyny affects trans people who were male assigned at birth.” “Babies who were female assigned at birth tend to be complimented on their beauty as babies, while male assigned at birth babies tend to be complimented on their strength.”
Word: Read as female/male; presenting as female/male.
To be used when: What matters is whether other people see you as female or male.
Example: ”People who are read as female are far more likely to be sexually harassed.” “Many people are disturbed when someone they read as male cries in public.”
Word: Cis women/men.
To be used when: You’re just talking about cis people. It’s okay to do that sometimes! Cis people and trans people often have very different experiences, and it’s okay to discuss just cis people’s experiences without being inclusive of trans people. However, it is not okay to do that and not acknowledge that the people you’re excluding are still their genders. (It’s also not cool to always exclude trans people, but that’s a different topic.)
Example: Writing an article about cis women’s body image issues, because trans women’s issues intersect with transmisogyny and gender dysphoria in a way you don’t have space to analyze. Talking about cis men’s relationship to their penises.
Basically, trans-inclusive language is an exercise in thoughtfulness and mindful writing. Don’t just swap in “female assigned at birth” for “female” and expect to be awesome; instead, consider what you’re actually saying and say that.
Photo– public domain. The transgender pride flag.