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On Inclusive Language

Language is very important, especially when trying to include everyone, including those within the LGBTQ Community. This means using inclusive language, by including everyone and not making assumptions about people’s identities. Here’s just a small list of common words and phrases that are not inclusive and what to say instead. I hope you’ll take this into consideration in conversation with others.

1. “You guys”

I think this is one of the most popular phrases people think of when the topic of inclusive language comes up. In our society, “you guys” is used all the time when referring to a group of people. Examples include,

“Hey guys”

“Do you guys want something to eat?”and

“Bye guys”

However, what goes right over people’s heads is that guys is referring to gender, so it’s certainly not gender inclusive, unless you’re talking to a group of guys.

What to say instead:

It’s hard to think of alternatives, right? Saying “guys” has been so ingrained that it’s really become normalized. However, here are some:

“Hey friends!”

“Do y’all want something to eat?” and

“Bye everyone!”

**You might think “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls” would be appropriate alternatives, but this is excluding those who do not identify within those genders, so it’s best to stay away from those if possible.

2.”All Bodies Are Good Bodies”

This one might have thrown you for a loop. My mind was blown when I learned about this, especially because I am so interested in the body acceptance movement and the intersections between body image and LGBTQ identities. As activist Sam Dylan Finch writes here, this phrase (among others) is excluding trans people because not everyone is happy with their current body. When someone doesn’t feel their body matches their gender identity and they wish they could change it (or maybe they are in the process of changing it), how can you tell them it’s good?

What to say instead:

While body acceptance may be very important to you, it’s important to also make sure you’re being inclusive and thinking of everyone’s feelings towards it when educating or discussing it. Try not to say phrases that are telling people what their body is because they may not feel that way. Instead, I think we should focus on the reason why this movement even exists, which I think stems a lot from the way our society is run. Some alternatives that Finch suggests are:

“Riots not diets.”

“My body, my rules.” and

“Fuck society’s bullshit. You do you”

These examples are not referring to the looks of a person’s body or being gender specific. They are just talking about bodies, body acceptance and liberation.

3. “Boyfriend/girlfriend”

We live in a heteronormative society, or one that assumes everyone is heterosexual and heterosexuality is superior to other sexual orientations. Additionally, our society is very binary, where one is assumed to be either a woman or a man, and use she/her or he/him pronouns. As a result, it’s common for people to assume that anyone who appears to be a woman is one and that any partner or lover is a boyfriend, or the reverse for men. But because there are so many different gender identities, not only may they not be heterosexual, their lover may not be referred to in the binary of boyfriend/girlfriend. If someone mentions a lover, imitate their language.

However, before you assume, try using these words instead of assuming binary terms:

“Partner”

“Significant other” and

“Lover”

4. “She or he”

As I always talk about: pronouns. With so many different gender identities, many people who identify outside of the binary genders opt for they/them or other pronouns, so it’s best not to assume pronouns. Until you know someone’s pronouns, I suggest opting for they/them until you can ask the person or someone who knows them.

5. “Boy or girl”

Just like not assuming a partner’s gender, more importantly, it’s best to not assume anyone else’s gender identity. Using boy and girl when talking about a person is assuming that they don’t identify as nonbinary or any of the other genders. Instead try to use inclusive words like:

“individual”

“person” or

“folks”

6. “Lesbian”

While I identify as a lesbian, not all women who like women do. With sexual orientation being so fluid, there are many people who identify as queer, pansexual, or bisexual. Despite this, many people correlate women who like women with lesbian identities and men who like men with being gay. So while lesbian is a valid identity, instead of assuming a woman who likes women is a lesbian, it’s best to just say “within the LGBTQ Community.”

**You may think that queer or gay is a good idea, since these are often broad identities, but using “within the LGBTQ Community” is even more broad and inclusive.

7. “LGBT”

The Q in LGBTQ is definitely not always added in conversation, but I think that LGBT is kind of erasing queer identities and all of the other identities that fall within this community that are not in the acronym (like pansexual and two spirit). To be more inclusive, I would suggest just saying the LGBTQ or LGBTQ+ Community.

8. “Step”

This is probably another one that you didn’t really think of. At my school’s LGBTQ Center, we have guidelines in groups and trainings and one of them is “move up, move back.” The idea of this is to try and get people who don’t normally talk to move up and speak and those who do to move back and let others do so. At some point, I was informed that the guideline is move up, move back and not step up, step back because that leaves out those who cannot step. Not everyone is able to physically step, so try to use move or movement to be more inclusive.

Being inclusive can be difficult because we forget who were excluding or the assumptions we are making about people in conversation. I hope this list helps you recognize how you may be doing this and gives you some alternatives that you can use.

 

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