Language matters folks! Using the correct word or phrase can make someone feel supported, seen and heard for who they are. The opposite is even more relevant. Using an outdated word or phrase can make someone feel crappy. I know when someone uses my child’s birth name, even by accident, it hits me in the chest like a sledgehammer. It hurts. I don’t know if it is an accident, on purpose, or if they secretly use it behind my back and it is slipping out right now in front of me. You get the idea. The feelings swirl inside me. I can only imagine what my son feels when this happens to him.
As an ally to the LGBTQ2 community, I also feel a pressure to “get it right” when speaking on behalf of my transgender son. Sometimes I flub up, sometimes I am not brave enough to correct someone, and sometimes the message seems so huge that I cannot possibly speak to everything I want to express. In short, I am not always the best at communicating a message of pride, and there is a learning curve, BUT at the very least I think I can make sure I get the language right.
So today I thought I would point out some common used words and phrases I hear (with a little help from my friends who are transgender!), and ways to say the same thing without sending that sledgehammer flying. Most of these phrases are in reference to speaking about a transgender person in the past-tense, or pre-transition. Our memories are tricky things and they like to flip our language back to what we used to say at the time. But I am living proof people, we can evolve and learn to use the correct pronouns and name even when speaking in past-tense. So here goes:
“When you were a girl”
Instead try “a few years ago” or “when you were younger”
“When you became a man”
Instead say “during your transition”
“Wow you really do seem like a guy”
Instead try complimenting that person on some great changes you are seeing in them!
“When she was ‘birth name’” or “When she was he”
This is a double whammy! Use correct pronouns even when speaking in past-tense AND current name. There is no need to point out a time when you referred to someone with a different pronoun, but if it is necessary for the conversation, try “pre-transition she …”
“transgendered” or “transgenders”
These words are outdated and make it sound like the person you are speaking about has a condition. They do not. Use the phrase “people who are transgender” OR in referring to one person simply “transgender”, “trans man”, “trans woman” or “non-binary person”.
“Ladies and Gentlemen”
Instead use … “Welcome everyone” to include those who are non-binary
This word is outdated and often very hurtful to hear, instead use ... “transgender”
Thanks for learning along with me! This week on Episode 5 of The Gender Diaries Podcast, Ruby and I talk about her experience sending out a message of acceptance on another local Podcast called Parent Talk, and how she felt that pressure to “get it right”.