Talk to Me, Too! The Importance of Inclusive Language

Warning: The first paragraph mentions sexual stuff. If you are at work, you may want to hold off on reading this. If you are in class, read this at your own risk if you’re worried about people seeing the first paragraph. If any mention of sex is triggering, skip the first paragraph.

In November 2012, I was at a national conference related to my on-campus job. I was at a breakout session called “Are You Talking to Me?” that was hosted by a few college students. We were given a slip of paper and we had to watch a scripted sex education presentation as if we were the person described on the slip of paper (mine was “A guy who is in a sexual relationship with another guy”). Afterwards, we would discuss how the sex education presentation was not inclusive. For example, the presentation was only about safer penis-in-vagina sex between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman. They say “man’s penis” and “woman’s vagina”, which could alienate transgender and non-binary people.

That breakout session ended up being my favorite session during the three days the conference occurred. I felt like I really learned something that I could apply to life outside of educating my peers at my university. I can use my words to welcome marginalized people instead of harming them. I can make people feel that they didn’t waste their time by coming here. I hear the cries of people who want representation, and I will answer that cry. After the breakout session, I started using inclusive language more often.

Some people wonder why we should use inclusive language. You don’t know every single person in the audience, so why write or say something like everyone was the same? Imagine yourself being a gay male and you read something about relationships. They only mention “straight” relationships. Would you feel welcome, knowing that you are not straight? Would it seem like you wasted your time reading the article? Or imagine you are a bisexual person attending an LGBT event and there’s only mentions of gay or lesbian themes. Bi+ people and people who aren’t cisgender feel excluded. This is a sad, common reality in the LGBT community, but that will be a rant for another day. There are many examples, but the point is that you don’t know your audience and by catering to what is typical, you are excluding people. Word have power. Remove the barriers and treat people fairly.

So what can you say to be more inclusive? Talk about same-gender couples as well as different-gender couples. Use gender-neutral job titles (mail carrier instead of mailman, salesperson instead of salesman, flight attendant instead of stewardess). Include bi+ and transpeople in LGBT conversations. There are many other ways to use inclusive language too. Figure out how you can use inclusive language more often.


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