Inclusive language is important

Megan Keane, Columnist

Non-binary or genderqueer identities can be daunting before you understand what they are. The most important distinction to know is that biological sex and gender are separate things. Biological sex is defined by the anatomy of a person’s reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. Gender is the social roles that coincide with biological sex. Sure, a lot of people identify with the gender that is traditionally tagged to their sex, but not all do. Non-binary or genderqueer is basically a catch-all for those who don’t fit the bill of the societal constructs of “male” or “female.”

As a society, we’ve officially moved into an era of singular they/them pronouns. This concept may be confusing for some. Normally, when we use they or them, what we’re referencing is a plural noun: A group, a gaggle, a flock. But, as a society, we’ve progressed past gender norms. We cannot assume that everyone is just either a him or a her, a he or a she. And we’ve definitely surpassed the belief that masculine pronouns are gender neutral. People are figuring out their gender identities, and those don’t always match the biological sex they were born as. Assuming someone/an audience identifies as either a “lady” or a “gentleman” can create discourse that distracts from your message.

And by that I mean, if you start a speech with, “Ladies and gentlemen,” but not all audience members identify as male or female, this can create a barrier from the audience hearing the rest of what you have to say. It’s not inclusive. Those genders that have been left out—agender, transgender, genderfluid—are erased by this type of assumption. It’s invalidating, but it’s an easy fix.

We should no longer assume that a member of the congress is a “him,” that a boss is a “him,” that a person has a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Of course, people misspeak, and these are old habits that can be difficult to break. Slips of the tongue, unconscious that you’re even making those assumptions, but language is a powerful tool. Work in the habit of using the singular they/them pronouns. Break the lens that you’ve been looking at the world through. If you’re ever unsure of a person’s preferred pronouns, ask!

Misgendering people is harmful and toxic, and so it’s best to avoid. I know the older generations joke about our generation being “way too sensitive,” but why would you want to be anything less than respectful? Educating yourself about this isn’t even about “politcal correctness”—although, that’s not a terrible thing to strive for—it’s about being nice and considerate to your fellow humans.

Megan Keane is a senior English and psychology major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].