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Practicing Inclusivity: 7 Tips for Using Gender-Affirming Language in Daily Conversations


Black LGBTQ Pioneers

The topic we will unpack today is about respect, empathy, and the power of words - specifically, pronouns. You know, those little two or three-letter words we often take for granted?  

 

He, she, they - these are more than just grammatical constructs. They are an integral part of our identities. 


Here’s why pronouns matter: Imagine walking into a room full of people who continuously refer to you by a name that isn't yours. You correct them, but they keep doing it.  

 

“Hey, Jenny!” 

 

“My name is Kim…” 

 

“So nice to see you, Jenny!” 

 

“Again… my name is Kim.”  “Have a great night, Jenny!” 

 

“MY NAME IS NOT JENNY - IT’S KIM!” 

 

Awkward, right? Now, imagine if instead of your name, it was your gender they were getting wrong - imagine that Kim actually identifies as John. Now, it’s not just awkward - it's deeply hurtful.  

 

This is what it feels like to be misgendered. 

 

So today, we’re giving you seven tips for using gender-affirming language in daily conversations. Whether you’re prepping for a meeting with a brand-new colleague, spending time with friends and family, or just chatting with a stranger at the grocery store, these tips will help you ensure that everyone feels respected, included, and seen. 


1. Ask and Use Preferred Pronouns and Names 

Inclusivity is not just a buzzword; it's a way of life that recognizes and cherishes the vibrant tapestry of human experiences and identities. When we use a person's preferred pronouns, we acknowledge and respect who they truly are. 

 

But, let's be real - sometimes, it can be confusing. You meet someone at a party, and you're not sure which pronouns to use, so you either avoid a conversation entirely or risk hurting feelings… what’s a person to do? 

 

Here's a tip: just ask! Not only is asking someone their preferred pronouns a respectful habit, but it's also a great ice breaker: "Hey, I'm Alex; my pronouns are they/them. How about you?" Boom! You've shown respect, acknowledged each other’s identity, and perhaps even started a meaningful conversation. 

 

And if you slip up sometimes, that's okay. We're all human. The important thing is to apologize, correct yourself, and move on.  

 

It's not about being perfect; it's about making an effort. 


2. Avoid Harmful Assumptions 

Making assumptions about someone's gender based on their looks or behavior is like trying to guess the end of a Netflix series after watching just one episode - it's hasty, often wrong, and can spoil the whole experience. 

 

Let's get this straight - or rather, not so straight: The world isn't just blue and pink. Gender is a beautiful and diverse spectrum of human existence with more intricacies and mystery than you and I can imagine.  

 

Long gone are the days when gender was assigned at birth and never questioned; now, people are taking ownership of their gender by making a choice in their representation. 

 

Assuming a person’s gender, sexual orientation, or relationship status based on appearances or behavior alone can have harmful consequences.  

 

In fact, transgender youth are currently considered one of the highest at-risk groups for suicide - and one of the main reasons? Being misgendered, misrepresented, and misunderstood.  

 

So when speaking of or approaching someone new, try to use gender-neutral  

pronouns so that there are no hurt feelings. It's also important to understand that gender is not limited to the binary categories of male and female; there are many different ways in which a person may identify, including non-binary, agender, genderfluid, and more. 


3. Broaden Gendered Language

The language we use shapes our perceptions and interactions. When we stick to binary gendered language, we unintentionally exclude those who don't identify with traditional gender norms.


Inclusivity isn't just about being politically correct; it's about respecting and acknowledging everyone's identity.


Here are a few helpful ways to be inclusive:

  • Swap out "ladies and gentlemen" for more inclusive terms. Try "friends," "colleagues," or even "esteemed guests.”

  • Instead of addressing an email to "Dear Sir/Madam," use "Dear [Name]" or "Dear valued customer.”

  • Use 'they' or 'them' when unsure of someone's pronouns. It's like the Swiss Army knife of pronouns - versatile, handy, and universally fitting.

  • Always ask for someone's preferred pronouns instead of assuming. It's as simple as asking, "What pronouns do you use?" It may feel awkward at first, but it's a small step towards promoting a more inclusive society.


Remember, language is fluid and constantly evolving, just like us. So, let's make sure our words are as inclusive as our intentions. It's a small change that can make a big difference.

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