I ran into a family member I don’t see so often a while ago, and with the best of intentions, he stumbled over how to talk about me, my transness, and my transition. It got me thinking about how few people are familiar with how to talk about transgender people. These are people who aren’t trying to be malicious or unfair, but haven’t encountered an opportunity to educate themselves on trans vocab; so here’s a quick lesson.
Gender (not gender identity): I’m starting here because it’s one that really gets to me. Why should cisgender people be allowed to have a gender but I’m only allowed a gender identity? Adding ‘identity’ as a qualifying word is a form of othering trans and GNC people – it’s a way of keeping us separate from everyone else.
Pronouns (not preferred pronouns): for exactly the same reasons as above. I don’t prefer they or he pronouns – they/them and he/his are my pronouns, full stop. It’s not a preference – it’s me asking you for a basic level of respect.
Different gender(s) (not opposite gender): the phrase “opposite gender” stems from a binarist view that there are exactly two genders, which excludes non-binary and gender non-conforming folk. I could likely write a 2000 word essay discussing why it’s usually unnecessary to separate people by gender in any form, but in the case that you really must do so, “different gender” can be used instead.
Menstrual hygiene/products (not feminine hygiene/products): not all women menstruate and some people who aren’t women do. Using terms like “feminine hygiene”, “women’s health”, or “feminine products” (to name a few), not only excludes Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) trans people who menstruate, it alienates trans women and cis women who don’t menstruate for any reason.
They (not he/she, s/he, he or she etc.): the problem with phrases like “he/she” etc., is again that it excludes people who fall outside of the binary. It’s uncomfortable for non-binary people to feel othered so often by society and phrases like that are a rude reminder that we are not treated or recognised in the same way. It’s actually kind of affirming to run into things, especially official or administrative documents, that use “they” instead of “he/she”. (And there’s another 2000 word essay in there about how it’s sort of pretty sad that I get excited about this kind of inclusive language.)
Before they transitioned (not when he was a she or vice versa): and in the same vein, don’t say “when (chosen name) was (birth name)”. Please. I don’t care if the person you’re talking to knows the trans person’s birth name or assigned sex. It’s rude. Unless you have express permission from the person to refer to them by their birth name, just don’t do it. And literally never use the wrong pronouns, even to discuss things they did before their transition. And if the story or discussion isn’t even relevant to their transition or trans identity, you can actually just leave it out. The only time when you should use different pronouns or a birth name for a trans person is if they ask you to, for example if they are not yet “out” to certain people, where it’s about their safety.
On a final note, if you’re ever unsure about how to talk to or about a trans person in your life, ask them. If you approach them in a polite and genuine way, they’ll probably be happy to clear any confusion or explain anything you’re not sure of. These are some basic ground rules to be more trans inclusive in everyday speech and writing, so it’s certainly not exhaustive. But I’d like to think it’s a good start.