Understanding Gender Communications in the 21st Century
By Rose Strong
When I came out of the closet several decades ago, one was simply gay. Then that changed to lesbian for women and gay for men. Then there was the term ally, used to indicate that a person was heterosexual, but a supporter of gay/lesbian rights. Somewhere along the line, it moved to GLBT/LGBT to be inclusive of the bisexual and transgender community members. Today there’s a new list of letters to support those who don’t fit in the LGBT of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities. There are several, acronyms that according to the Associated Press Style Guide are all considered to be acceptable: LGBT, LGBTQ+, and LGBTQIA+.
I’m part of this acronym, and even I don’t always have a clear definition of all the letters enough to explain them. Beyond LGBT, the letters indicate the inclusiveness of Gender Expansive individuals. The term Gender Expansive, according to PFLAG (formerly Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) means:
An umbrella term sometimes used to describe people that expand notions of gender expression and identity beyond what is perceived as the expected gender norms for their society or context. Some gender-expansive individuals identify as a man or a woman, some identify as neither, and others identify as a mix of both. Gender-expansive people feel that they exist psychologically between genders, as on a spectrum, or beyond the notion of the man/woman binary paradigm, and sometimes prefer using gender-neutral pronouns (see Personal Gender Pronouns). They may or may not be comfortable with their bodies as they are, regardless of how they express their gender.
For more info on these terms and what they mean so you may use them properly, check out the PFLAG National Glossary of Terms. It’s insightful and well-done.
It is time to embrace diverse and inclusive terminology in the workplace. In fact, did you know that October 16 is International Pronoun Day? I certainly did not. CNN shared a detailed post this year: Why it matters what pronouns you use to refer to people and what to do if you slip up. There’s also a great post from the Human Rights Campaign: Talking about pronouns in the workplace. According to Pew Research Center, about one-in-five U.S. adults know someone who goes by a gender-neutral pronoun.
Many people today try to be politically correct, gender neutral, or polite in the midst of an overall disconnect with modern American English, the media, and one’s personal lexicon. However, many businesses and higher education universities are modernizing the way we communicate to embrace personal preferences. Colleges have led the way in this respect.
Personal Gender Pronouns (PGPs) are those linguistic tools individuals prefer used when they are referred to verbally or in writing. Today, it is becoming common for individuals to include “preferred pronouns” in their email signatures and on their online biographies such as on websites and social media profiles. They often include: they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, or he/him/his.
The Merriam Webster and Oxford English Dictionaries have both given a new meaning to the pronoun, “they.” From Merriam Webster:
They: expanded to include this sense: “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” It’s an expansion of a use that is sometimes called the “singular they” (and one that has a long history in English). When a reflexive pronoun corresponding to singular use of they is needed, themself is seeing increasing use.
Many educational institutions include detailed pronoun lists and gender-neutral language examples on their websites. Here are just a few that came up high in a search:
- Bryn Mawr
- Cornell University
- Duke University
- Elon University
- University of California, Davis Campus
- University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Another interesting example is the honorific use of Mx. (pronounced mix/mux) to address someone who neither identifies as male or female. A New York Times article discusses the new words being added to Merriam Webster and the Oxford English Dictionaries. The article addressed someone as Mx. I did a double-take then searched the internet and found the definition in the Merriam Webster saying the term had been introduced in the mid-late 1970s. I recall the term Ms. being a big deal in the 1970s, but not Mx. I suspect that it slipped under the radar until now.
As the world changes, our language changes with it. From the earliest of times to the changing and shifting of human movement around the globe, our language and speech has changed as we intermingle our cultures, trade, and other factors. The articles I linked to in this post are worth reading so you can have a better understanding of gender communications in the 21st Century, to increase your emotional intelligence and embrace diversity and inclusion.