By Molly Barrett
Languages can be unnecessarily gendered. How can we change this and why should we? Using informal gender slang can be common in everyday language. Check out this article to learn how you be more gender-neutral with your word choices, avoid gender biases in recruiting, onboarding to gender-neutral pronouns and how to use them, and what you and your team can do to encourage diversity.
The purpose of this article
The goal is to shed light onto the top of non-binary gender. At the beginning of 2019 the company I work for, Project A introduced something new. Each 1/2 year there is a company-wide focus topic and the very first one was diversity. Everyone working at Project A was asked to make an extra push and contribute in ways that we could about different types of diversity. At Project A, diversity has been a huge topic in the last few months. We are actively trying to raise awareness, and show that we are an equal opportunity employer. We have taken the initiative to prove this by hosting meet-ups, panel discussions, and even internal training. For me, I decided now was a good time to share the knowledge I’ve obtained of being a genderqueer person, and my years of studying developmental psychology to increase the diversity awareness at Project A.
By reading this article, you will have already increased your diversity knowledge!
What is non-binary gender?
Western society as I know it can be pretty binary. We have built it this way to be male or female. As a result, we have gender roles and gender stereotypes. If you think about it, most of these things can be divided into “female” and “male” activities, names, and even hairstyles for example, BUT… what if I told you that there are other ways to identify gender outside of “male” and “female”?
Outside of male and female, there is non-binary! We will get back to this term later. For now, look at the different types of diversity above.
How many people do you know in each category?
If you do happen to have people in your life from different categories of diversity, that means you will be receiving different perspectives from those people. The cool thing about diversified groups is it opens you up to new ways of thinking and unique perspectives. It can be super interesting!!! Think about all the times you’ve found out how someone from another country does something? E.g. — What people from other countries eat for breakfast, how their language works, “sayings” from their language, what they do for fun. These unique aspects relate to a culture, but what does that have to do with gender?…
How does gender belong in the LGBTQIA+ community?
Gender identity belongs to its own culture: The LGBTQIA+ community. What does it stand for? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic. We have this community in place for people who identify outside of the sexuality and gender norm. In result, it is a group of like-minded individuals who came together to fight for their equality rights. No one is alone! So how does gender play a role in the LGBTQIA community?
I promised I’d get into defining non-binary gender…
…So let’s talk about non-binary gender! What is it? Non-binary is an umbrella term. An umbrella term a word that groups other words into a single common category. When you are looking at the umbrella non-binary gender is its own category. Under that, there are different forms of expression and behavior such as people who identify as Gender Fluid, Gender Queer (represent!), and so on, they all belong to the category of Non-Binary because they are outside of the male/female binary. To give some light on the unique differences in Non-binary individuals, we can check out some of our celebrity non-binary friends below.
What kind of non-binary influences are there?
Tilda Swinton (she/her) who likes to keep a gender-neutral appearance and personality, is non-binary/gender fluid. She plays androgynous characters in movies.
Jonathan Van Ness (he/him) from Netflix Original Series Queer Eye. He is gender non-conforming/gender fluid and is often found wearing heels, makeup, and skirts depending on the day.
Amandla Stenberg (they/them) played Rue in The Hunger Games. They have been a been an open activist for more representation in the media.
What are gender pronouns?
You may have noticed various pronouns above such as she/her, he/him, and they/them. It is common that non-binary people go by they/them, (which is a neutral pronoun) but not all. After all, gender is how you identify, and how that is expressed is up to that individual. If you are a cis-woman or cis-man, image someone constantly calling you the wrong pronouns.
A cisgender person is when you were born, when the doctor said “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!” if you still identify with that, then you are considered cisgender.
If you are cis-woman and someone says to you “excuse me, mister?” to you, or you are a cis-man and someone says “hey lady!”. How would it make you feel? It can seem incredibly obvious to you, like hello? I am obviously x gender! To others, it might not be so obvious. That is called misgendering. This is not a fun time for anyone! If we want to be friendly to our non-binary friends and colleagues then we should avoid this.
Let’s go back to biology class!
Biological sex and gender are often categorized together. I want to stress that they are different. Biological sex is something that we are born with. Gender, on the other hand, is a construct, subjective, made-up by humans. Gender looks different in different cultures too, if you look at beauty standards cross-cultures for example.
What is the difference between binary and non-binary?
Basically your gender is considered binary if you identify with being a woman or a man. The opposite of binary is non-binary. When it comes to the words we use, have you noticed how gendered the English language can be?
Is our language really that gendered?
There are words or phrases that we makeup and everyone goes along with it because it makes sense or sounds cool. This term, colloquialism, is important because we have built a lot of these slang words around it. Somehow some slang words end up being gender-related. We are often using colloquialisms in our everyday lives as well as in the office, no matter how formal we try to be at work.
What slang words are gendered? Can you think of any?
These terms above, in my opinion, are quite common for an English speaker. Why we chose such gendered terms as slang words? I have no idea. Some people are totally fine with being associated with words, but others don’t appreciate it. At the end of the day, we can have the argument that “guys” is gender-neutral, but if you ask “which bathroom is the guy’s bathroom??”… there will be a clear response. When the word “man” is used as slang in a sentence like “what’s up, man”, it is actually short for “human”. However, for some people, being addressed as “man” can inflict feelings of not being addressed properly.
How can you use a more gender-neutral language?
Rerouting your language can be very difficult! Here are some suggestions to use in your personal life and at the office, on what phrases are genderless and ways to avoid unnecessarily gendering things. You can always ask someone “are you okay with me calling you ‘dude’?” They can say either yes or no. It is only your job to respect their answer. In the workplace, you can make a positive impact if you are a leader to address your team neutrally. Hosting an event or meet-up or leading a meeting are ways to win big bonus points with your crowd and not leave anyone feeling left out based on how you greet your audience.
To reverse the situation, if you are in a place where someone is using terms that you are not comfortable with, I have a solution for you.
What can you say to someone who is using terms you’re not comfortable with?
Your answer should be respected, no questions asked.
Stay tuned to listen to my take on gender diversity in recruiting. I will talk about interesting action points that you can use at work to inspire more office diversity:
Non-binary social media influencers you can follow
If you feel like you need more non-binary influences in your life, get to know these social media influencers! These people are actively posting about their experiences being non-binary, what it means to them, and their life:
- Jeffrey Marsh (Non-Binary)
- Mars Davis (Queer/trans/non-binary)
- Jimmy Ohliv (Queer/non-Binary)
- Trans IRL Youtube Channel (Transgender you-tubers)
- Queery Podcast