Words are incredibly powerful. So powerful they can hurt us more decisively than a sword and bring us together with a simple phrase —
Sí, se puede
Black Lives Matter
Hell, no we won’t go
Labels are a tool used to take words and build a community. For people who face oppression, violence, and discrimination, being able to identify who is in your community creates safe spaces — refuges from the daily crap someone who is outside the “norm” (read: hetero, white, cis-gendered) has to battle.
If you are not a safe space for transgender persons because you are still learning what it means to be an ally, do not read further. I’m specifically speaking to TERFs. TERF (also written terf) is an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. The term was coined in 2008. It was originally applied to a minority of feminists espousing sentiments that other feminists consider transphobic, such as the rejection of the assertion that trans women are women, the exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces, and opposition to transgender rights legislation. The meaning has since expanded to refer more broadly to people with trans-exclusive views who may have no involvement with radical feminism. (Thank you, Wikipedia!)
In honor of Pride Month, I am going to teach you a simple way you can be an ally to transgender folks.
PronounsI pulled out my handy-dandy dictionary because I love it and definitions are nuggets of wisdom in a chaotic world.
Pronouns [pro·noun] are any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose referents are named or understood in the context.
I am focusing on personal pronouns, and more specifically, the 3rd person pronouns: he, she, him, her.
Before we go any further we have to take a side journey to learn about gender.
Gender NeutralThe vast majority of language and writing uses male pronouns (he, him, his) as the default.
We default to the male.
Removing my emotional reaction to this I will calmly explain that this default is an embedded form of sexism. It does not present as overtly sexist. It’s not violent or mean. It is subtle dominance. It is a compounding message of control and a reminder that male is the accepted superior.
The premise of gender-neutral language is to simply remove gender from writing and speaking — to critically look at how we speak and write about life without assigning gender to every object. I practice this with my child and my life partner. I practice this in my writing, workshops, and presentations. The majority of the time there is no need to gender our language. We don’t go around talking about the eye color of every person we know and meet — “My blue-eyed child likes biking.” So why do we need to identify gender?
Gender is emphasized because it is a clear way to divide people into groups. Arguably, this doesn’t hold up no matter the decade because there are people always challenging the norms and expectations of a society from womxn wearing pants in the 1800s to men with long hair in the 1960s. The counter culture has always existed.
Using language to create safe spaces for groups of people who are more likely to be discriminated against or be subjected to violence is the next step beyond clothing and hairstyle choices. When we use language to be inclusive, we are wielding that mighty pen, amplifying the silenced voice, and building a community.
Three/Little/WordsWe have come to the simple act you can take as an ally to transgender folks.
Wherever your name is out in the world…
Signature on your emails
Name tag at work
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc etc etc
…add your pronouns behind your name e.g. Erin, she/her/hers or Sam, they/them/theirs or Bob, he/him/his
This identifies you as someone who supports, encourages, and holds safe non-binary and transgendered persons. I always want you to do more in your allyship and this is an important step you can take right now.
Learn more steps you can take to be an ally at guidetoallyship.com
HomeworkFirst, add your personal pronouns where you can and help to create a safe community. Second, work to remove gendered language from your vocabulary.
This second action is hard. You will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and struggle to not gender every object and being in the world. I’m asking you to try. When you are talking about someone, refer to them by they/them or their name. Use parents instead of mom or dad. Try inserting lover instead of husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. When you are reading a book take a page or two to be aware of all the gendered language being used. Rewrite it to be gender-neutral.
Inclusion is not an act of siloing or creating smaller communities, it is an act of allyship and growing communities.
As a white, able-bodied, cisgender woman I hold a lot of privilege. It is my responsibility to educate myself and my child about racism, accessibility, queer issues, and more. It is my responsibility to work in my community to help build safe spaces for Black and Indigenous peoples, for Queer folks, and disabled bodies. It is my responsibility to amplify Black, Queer, Disabled voices because my privilege affords me the space and freedom to live daily without fear and oppression. I will not do these things perfectly. I will likely not even do them well but I will do them. I ask that you join me in supporting the Movement for Black Lives – m4bl.org.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy
Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com